I was at a holiday party recently when someone asked if I wanted a drink.
“No thanks,” I declined.
“Are you sure?” he replied.
“I’m fine with water,” I answered.
After he called my choice of beverage “boring” (I’ll admit, water is kinda boring, but so are a lot of things), he kept pressuring me to have a cocktail… or a glass of wine… or a bottle of beer… or a shot. Finally, I just had to be completely forthright.
“I don’t drink,” I said, matter-of-factly.
He looked back at me with a shocked expression on his face. “Like… ever?” he asked, incredulously. And when I answered in the affirmative, he acted even more shocked. “Wait, wait, wait,” he said in feigned disbelief, “you’re telling me you don’t drink? Not ever? Not even at a party?”
I can’t tell you how many times some variation of this conversation has played out in my life. I’m at a holiday party, or a wedding, or a dinner and word gets out that I don’t drink. Someone in the group inevitably cannot believe it. Often they call me “boring.” Sometimes they want to know why.
It happens at restaurants, too. Everyone will order drinks and when the waiter or waitress gets to me, I’ll say I’m fine with water, and he or she will say something like, “The bartender makes a great mojito” or “Not even a glass of wine?”
I know 99% of these people don’t mean to be pushy or rude or insensitive, and they almost always back down when I tell them I’m not a drinker. Some even apologize and feel bad. And then I feel bad for making them feel bad. Which is why I decided to write this essay. My hope is that it can help us all stop feeling bad about an issue nobody should feel bad about in the first place.
When a person turns down an alcoholic beverage or says “I don’t drink,” it’s usually best to leave it at that. Just say “OK” or “no problem” or, if you really want to be polite, offer to get them something non-alcoholic or fix them a mocktail. Or don’t say anything at all. That’s fine, too. Most sober people are 100% fine not talking about their sobriety with people they don’t know.
What you shouldn’t do is act flabbergasted, like you can’t believe they would go to a holiday party and not consume alcohol. You also shouldn’t say things like “That’s boring!” or “You’re no fun!” And you definitely shouldn’t ask, “Why not?” Not only is this question rude, but it’s none of your business. Anyway, do you really care? Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t think of anything more uninteresting than another person’s beverage preferences.
Now, there are a lot of reasons why people don’t drink.
Personally, I don’t drink because last February I was diagnosed with a neurological disease that causes me to experience chronic pain and headaches. I’ve been learning how to manage it, though, through help from a neurologist, physical therapy, medicine, and making lifestyle changes, one of which was giving up booze.
If I drink even half a glass of wine, it sets off a trigger in my brain, which sends out pain signals that can fire off for days. The last time I had a glass of wine, I felt the after effects for six days. So I don’t drink. It’s not worth it to me. And it sucks because I used to love a good happy hour.
Having chronic pain is not something I talk about often (until now), not even with my family, and especially not with strangers at holiday parties, because it’s not something I’m particularly interested in talking about, and I’m pretty sure nobody else is interested either. (Honestly, who under the age of 80 enjoys taking about their health problems? On that note, do 80-year-olds even enjoy it?) I’d much rather discuss Saeed Jones’ new memoir (which is incredible) or the latest news of Queerty (which I read every day).
I have a friend who doesn’t drink because she doesn’t enjoy the feeling of being intoxicated. She tried it a few times and it just wasn’t her thing. So she became a proud teetotaler. But she has no qualms with other people drinking. And she can still have a great time at a holiday party without nursing a peppermint martini.
I have another friend who doesn’t drink because he’s a recovering alcoholic, and another friend who doesn’t drink because alcoholism runs in her family and she doesn’t want to awaken any potential beasts lying in wait.
Of course, there’s no shame in being an alcoholic. It’s well understood that alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, and is not reflective of a person’s character. It’s also very common. One in 12 people struggle with alcohol use disorder. But most alcoholics would rather not have to say, “I’d love that glass of eggnog, but I can’t because I’m in AA.” Nor should they have to.
So as the countdown to 2020 approaches, if someone declines a glass of champagne at midnight, don’t look back at them with crazy eyes and call them boring, don’t pressure them to drink just because you think that’s the only way to have a good time, and please, for the love of god, don’t ask them “Why not?” Just say “Happy New Year!” and leave it at that. Respect their sobriety and everyone can enjoy themselves.
Yes but if you go to a party where you know just about everyone else is drinking maybe just hit up some friends or find a non alcoholic party. I mean that’s what I would do.
It’s like a non smoker going to a cigar club and complaining about the other smokers offering you a smoke. Gee if only there was a way to avoid that..
No, it’s nothing like that.
Sorry, but a lot of people don’t go to a party to drink. They go to a party to dance, to have fun, to flirt or to spend time with friends.
And i don’t understand why so many people find almost offenssive that other people don’t drink. You want to drink, just do it, let the rest do whatever they want
There are addicts who can control themselves or not give in to peer pressure. Then there are others. If you’re not self-assured when it comes to your sobriety then you have to avoid any type of temptations, and that includes parties and clubs. You also don’t need to be a party pooper who’s judging people for drinking or making them feel guilty for drinking. Just like you don’t want to be judged for not drinking.
@Donston, well said!
You’re asking people to ostracize themselves. The author has shown no desire to drink. Why should he keep away? That’s the boring part, unless you think you can’t stop yourself from drinking while in the presence of alcohol.
I haven’t had similar experiences. I probably wouldn’t go with water but no one raises an eyebrow if I order it or something like seltzer with lime. I’ve never had a waiter or bartender question my choice (unless for clarification purposes). All they really care about is getting a tip out of it.
I’m just grateful that this isn’t another one of Graham’s shallow and borderline fetishistic “closeted guys or guys who only date women but hook up with dudes are so sad/hot” type articles. The obsession would be fine if he did the proper research on sexuality, fluidity, the spectrum, sociology and psychology. Instead, they come off as articles either meant to shame “gays” or as barely veiled slash fiction scenarios. Because of that, you forget that Graham has some insight and is a passable writer when he wants to be. Anyways, there should be no shame in being sober. While folks should know that “queers” have a higher rate of drug dependency. So, judgement from abstaining is harmful. You do have to be practical though. If you know you’re a recovering addict then actively putting yourself in situations where folks are gonna be drinking and/or doing drugs is not the smartest thing to do.
If this is true, it should be a news story headlined, “SOME ACTUAL, LIVING ADULTS HAVE NEVER HEARD OF ALCOHOLISM.”
This points to a troubling belief that is not just prevalent in the gay community but society in general. Though it sometimes feels that it affects the gay community more for a myriad of understandable reasons. Alcohol, drugs, etc. = fun, a life lived, etc. You see it everywhere in popular media. Whether it’s a song celebrating rampant drug use or a TV show or movie where drinking among even high school students is treated as a “rite of passage.” Hopefully a trend develops where not only its it unacceptable to attempt to pressure anyone, regardless of their past struggles with substance abuse, to partake in alcohol or drug use because “it’s cool” or make you “fun.” I feel like Nancy Reagan writing this; but it’s still true.
Why be so polite. If someone is ignorant enough to ask any or all of these questions I would lost if pretty fast. There is another reason to not drink, though there are several listed that are reason’s for me, such as health matters. But there are these folks called police that if they stop you and you blow (not the fun kind of blowing) a high number it will cost you thousands of dollars, after you get out of jail. I made the decision years ago to not drink, and with few exceptions I think most of it tastes horrible anyway. Just remember, it’s your life and you don’t actually owe an answer of any type to these boorish people.
So you go to a party to drink certain beverages and not because people you like are present? I hope you work at a liquor store to keep you mind happy.
I had to stop drinking because I am an alcoholic. Responses have been varied. Some saying why not, for ever? Etc. Others giving you that knowing look of understanding. And others like health conscious who welcome you into their cult of sobriety. It becomes less awkward as time passes. Sometimes, if asked, I blatantly state that I am sober for X amount of time and then conversation is stopped.
I don’t drink due to a mixture of hating the taste and feeling of being drunk. Its fine, I usually just drink a soda or lemonade.
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