Drinking & lifing

Living in a college town, when you are still young enough to occasionally be confused with the undergrads and happen to be a grad student yourself (even though you are going to school on nights and weekends while holding down a full-time job), it’s not easy to admit this. In fact, what I am about to disclose doesn’t seem to go over well when you fall into the category of single at any sexually viable age.

I don’t like to drink.

I don’t like going to the bar. I especially dislike it when someone asks me to meet them for drinks as part of the dating process. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate good alcohol, because I do. A well-mixed cocktail with a house-made infusion is something I’m likely to order while out to dinner. I’ve spent a shameful amount of money on fine scotch. I enjoy trying microbrews. In my apartment, there are usually several bottles in the wine rack, a few beer options in the fridge, and a prominent liquor selection displayed near my entryway. But I have a confession. The same beer sits in my fridge for months unless I have people over. The bottles of wine collect dust until I have company, too. I bought the liquor because I find the bottles aesthetically pleasing and they reflect light nicely on this antique mirrored tray I found, especially with the set of cut crystal tumblers I have.

Alcohol is something that I like the idea of more than I like the reality of. A cold beer on a hot summer day at the ballpark can be wonderful—for the first sip. If I have the entire beer instead of a water, and we are sitting in the sun, I am going to still want the water and end up with an instant headache, then need to miss part of the game to wait in line to pee. The delicious pitcher of sangria split over conversation with a friend will invariably leave me massively hung over the next morning. Hung over means more than vaguely uncomfortable anymore. It means water-retention: bloating and visible puffiness in the face. It means a splitting, sneaky late-afternoon headache after I thought I had gotten away unscathed. My tolerance was definitely higher as a college student that imbibed regularly, but I am starting to wonder if at some point I just accepted these discomforts without question because they seemed merely a part of the cycle and the process in that particular social environment. So maybe I simply chose not to be in tune with what it does to my whole system. With adult responsibilities, I certainly notice it now. My free time is invaluable, and I don’t want to spend hours that I could sneak in a workout or thoroughly enjoy a new book curled up on the couch, half-interested in a shitty movie and sipping Alka-Seltzer.

My reasons go well beyond this, though. What I’ve offered thus far is just the easiest explanation.

Recreational drinking is a lot like recreational eating. We have social norms about sharing food and meeting for drinks—they tend to be the two default options for spending time with other people. They both tend to result in over-indulgence and offer a buffer for the actual visit. Eating and drinking both give you something to do with your hands and your mouth that cut down on awkward silences and give you a sense of purpose in the moment. I am eating. I am drinking. There is less pressure to just talk, because you are also doing something functional.

Alcohol isn’t good for you. There are studies that show that a glass of wine can actually be good for your heart, or that hops have nutritional benefits. Well, other safely ingested items also contain these beneficial properties without all of the empty calories. It’s never going to be the best choice for any form of health benefit. Alcohol is a simple carbohydrate. It gets converted to fat quickly if the energy isn’t used immediately. I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to pre-drink as a warm-up for exercise. I tend to drink while seated. I tend to remain seated until I decide I am unfit for public and need to retire to bed. In the past, there was sometimes the activity of embarrassing dancing or inadvisable horizontal recreation, but now I prefer to be sober for those endeavors. Crazy, I know. Truth be told, I find awkwardness very revealing, and often endearing. If you can’t weather the potential discomfort of being naked, literally or metaphorically, then you should probably not be doing certain things in the first place.

All of this said, it is a challenge to sidestep drinking as soon as you are of legal age. The bar is where people tend to want to meet, especially singles. Ordering drinks with dinner has some tag of hipness attached to it, like you never quite get over the assertion that you CAN order alcohol. And I am finding that the peer pressure associated with drinking is strikingly similar to the people you know who are likely to passively sabotage your attempts at healthy eating or portion control. It often comes from those same people. They want to imbibe and they would feel more comfortable if you did, too. Or they don’t want to go out alone.

Drinking alone and eating alone are similarly seen as pitiable by those that would never dream of doing either if at all avoidable. I have never really enjoyed drinking alone, but I live alone so lo and behold, most of my meals occur alone. One has to eat. In the process of these meals consumed in solitude, there has been a healthy shift away from seeing eating as a social event and starting to connect food more with fuel. But it means that I am getting protective of my routine and it can be really difficult for me to be confronted with the food issues of others because I have worked so hard to address my own. It is not always easy to prevent your decisions about food from being influenced by those around you. Someone orders dessert and it makes you feel entitled to it, too, even though you are already full to bursting. . . someone asks you to share dessert so you feel like a party pooper declining. . . same with appetizers. Or shots at the bar. Do you really want to be the lame one? The answer for me is becoming a resounding YES 90% of the time. Part of me can’t wait to grow into the middle-aged woman with the confidence to make these decisions and choose not to notice how they make others uncomfortable. You know why it makes other people uncomfortable? If you actively choose to do the right thing for you, they are confronted for a moment with whether or not it is actually the wisest choice for them, too. And if someone is trying to cut loose, they don’t want to consider that.

2 Responses to “Drinking & lifing”
  1. John says:

    I am in almost exactly the same boat as you, Teal. I constantly imbibed throughout college, and to think of doing that again now that I’m nearly 30 is almost enough to make me sick. I kept it up until I turned 26, finally realizing that if I couldn’t stop then it would be nothing but trouble for the rest of my days. And now, a few years beyond, I finally see that all that “social drinking” was never as much fun as I probably perceived it. I don’t think you are the first person to come to this realization. And you’re dead on discussing how one should use their time valuably instead of wasting it away on drink. If only we were more insightful when we were in college… :) Anyways, thanks for the great piece today.

  2. Nicole says:

    I mostly gave up on social drinking toward then end of sophomore year of college, and I haven’t looked back. Still, though, it’s difficult to give up on the need to consume something while socializing…I prefer “drinks” with friends to mean “coffee or tea” with friends, and while usually cheaper than drinking alcohol, it’s not free and it’s still a crutch of some sort.

    Also, glad to see you on here. Between you, Jill, and Lindsey, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to read!

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