I Don't Drink...Why Does that Make you SO Uncomfortable?
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York based writer who has a deep affinity for weight-lifting, living mindfully, and the em-dash. She has been published at Women’s Health Magazine where she worked on the online editorial team, Feather Magazine where she was a contributing health writer, and ICE NYC where she works as the social media editor. In her free time she can be found reading self-help books, making soup, and practicing hygge.
Major buzzkill alert: I spend my happy hour not-so-happily explaining that “no, I am not Mormon or Muslim or Southern Baptist, nor am I in AA or straight edge”.
I haven't drank since my freshman year of college (where I went to a party school), and even then I prefered ordering-in and cozying up with pad thai and reruns of Friday Night Lights or The OC (Yes, I know, I have fabulous taste in TV shows) to downing jungle juice and shaking my booty against some beer-bellied frat boy from New England who was born and bred at some pretentious thousand-dollar high school.
Perhaps it was watching these frat boys grope and mark girls that looked like me (blonde-haired, underweight, black-dress clad) that unknowingly fueled a disinterest in alcohol and what it came to mean for a seventeen to twenty two-year-old girl trying to navigate a social sphere pumped fat on sexual assault, cocaine, and spiked punch.
But, I never decided to stop drinking. Instead, I took cues from my body. My body, which prefered remaining sober to the stomach-ache, beer-shits, and increased heart-rate I often felt during and after a night of casual drinking, was telling me in subtle ways that it did not like alcohol. As I became increasingly connected to my body through movement: rugby, weight-lifting, marathon-training, and zumba, I learned to respect and read what my body was telling me.
When I started listening to the signals of my body I was able to say goodbye to the anxious-stomach that always followed a shot of vodka, the fear of being a small intoxicated woman on a college campus, and the unfounded certainty that every sip of alcohol I took would fill my body with roofied poison. But I also had to say “hello” to justifying my choice, navigating a culture centralized around booze, and “unhappy” happy hours.
People are absolutely incredulous towards women who don’t drink, truly baffled by the concept that I would CHOOSE not to drink. The question, “but how do you relax?” is as common-place as “... never? You never drink?” and “try this!!” He or she says while shoving their weird drink in my face as if I would want to take a sip from their back-wash filled beverage. “Oh, have some fun” or “Oh, live a little!”. “How can you even have any fun?”... All of these statements imply that it’s not possible to have fun in social situations without alcohol.
When I got my first “grown-up job” out of college, I realized that drinking and a centralized drinking culture wasn’t limited to frat houses and dank basements. Instead, in a high-pressure culture where work days often end in rounds of drinks, collegial boozing and after-work happy-hour bring a whole new set of challenges for a woman who chooses not to drink. These “happy hours” happened often enough at my first job that I learned the excuse of “I can’t, I have a workout class tomorrow morning and I don’t want to wake up hungover” were more relatable than “I’m okay, I don’t drink” or “I’m okay, I don’t feel like drinking tonight”.
In a sphere of working women, a glass of wine has become symbolic of a job well done, and and a mid-week martini is representative of the modern-day women who can do it: work, play, and drink. As a woman who doesn’t drink but strives to, as they say, “do it all”, I was a walking oxymoron.
And it’s not surprising that as women as a whole have begun drinking more that there would be a cultural shift and a new expectation to drink. An article written my Self.com states that “a new study in the American Journal of Public Health reveals that between 2002 and 2012, the rate of binge drinking among women increased more than seven times that of men. Another study found that 15 percent of women binge-drank in 2013—more than double what it was in 1993. In 2013, an estimated 50 percent of women over 26 were considered drinkers, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” These percentages are not negligible… but are they surprising?
While as women we have become increasingly aware of when potential sexual partners are pressuring us to drink more, go home with them, or have sex with them, have we also become aware of the ways that we pressure each other to drink? Or how our drinking has become a commonplace activity at work and after-work shindigs? Has the trend of lady-dates, grown-up play-dates, and girl-time encouraged drinking in pajamas, while making the same event, sober, feel kiddie or too PG?
Are we aware how justifiable and explainable mid-week drinking has become as an act of self care? (Ah, yes, even the buzzword of 2017 has been used to explain away a bathtub glass of wine, an after work martini with girlfriends, and a scotch at the 1 year anniversary party of a work client). Has the trend of self-care normalized drinking wine at the end of the long day so much so that not drinking has become an act of self-denial or self-neglect?
Even fitness-focused events like Tough Mudders, Spartan Races, Warrior Dashes, and Rugged Maniacs advertise the free beer you will get at the end of the 3-13 mile race. The gym I work at convinced 60+ CrossFit athletes to come to a Friday night workout by promising BEER (and free food, but… BEER).
Also… did you know that beer-yoga is a thing? And vino vinyasa? And how about pinot pilates? The advertising for these fitness classes and events has been inseparable from the free booze they promise after (and sometimes during) the sweat-sesh. Do we really hate working out so much that we need to be persuaded to do so with free alcohol?
While I’m not “morally” opposed to providing a glass of wine or bottle of beer to athletes after they get their sweat on, if it increases the number of people who are moving and connecting with their bodies, I worry that the trend misses the point. Exercise alone can be the release that we need at the end of the day. As someone who doesn’t drink, exercise is how I relax, how I breathe after a hard day of work, how I “let go”. The exercise is itself a reward.
As an athlete with a voracious appetite if I'm out with friends, I'd much rather buy an appetizer than a round of drinks. Does it bother you if I'm nomming on chips and guac while you're guzzling down a beer? Does it irritate you if I order a caesar salad with chicken or side of sweet potato fries while when you order your second round?
You'd think that what I put in my body would be a personal decision… but when it comes to alcohol, other people get involved. As a woman, this feels especially true, especially as the government (insert side eye here) has normalized the controlling of the general maintenance of a woman's body, such that my CHOICE not to drink is seen as something up for debate. Yes, I am invoking a woman's right to choose a conversation about drinking to point out the absurdity of others thinking their opinion is welcome in regards to my personal choice not to drink.
Personally, I've been subject to both strange looks and judgy reactions ("Are you really not drinking?") over the years. I can't name another time when my actions have been so irritating to other people. I'm already there, spending time with you… doesn't that matter more than what I've chosen to imbibe (or not)?
I don’t drink. I just don’t want to. And I’m not judging you for choosing TO drink. But just because I don’t want a glass of champagne doesn’t mean that I don’t have the right to a happy happy hour. So, if you notice someone is not drinking at your pinot pilates, work happy hour, or at the bar, do them a favor and don’t ask why. They'll definitely appreciate it, which will make their happy hour (and yours) even happier.