When I go to parties, clubs, dive bars, open bars, or really anywhere there is alcohol available, my answer to, “What do you want?” never ceases to raise eyebrows. My response of “water” (and occasionally “a Coke”) is generally followed up with “Do you not drink?” and “Why?” For some reason, my reasons, not liking the taste of alcohol, having a desire to spend money on other things, answer the questions, but leave people unsatisfied. What is it that makes the decision to not drink as strange as people make it out to be?
I wasn’t pressured into not drinking. My parents both indulge every now and then, and there was much merriment to be had at my cousin’s wedding in India a couple of months ago. Nor do I claim to have never drunk in my life. There was that one night at home when I decided to figure out exactly how much alcohol it would take me to get drunk (sorry, not sorry Mom and Dad), the caipirinha and chincha de jora in Ecuador, and that 21st birthday shot with a friend in NYC last summer. Tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts, and I often love foods that have been cooked with wine. And yet when it comes to drinking the stuff straight, I have no taste for it at all.
My not drinking has never really had an effect on my social life, mainly because once people get to know me in person, they tend to like me for some reason. I’ve traveled, have fun stories, like to go on adventures, and converse about science, politics, morality, current events, gender norms, and sports with equal enthusiasm. I just happen to do all of these things sober. I don’t care if others drink, I just choose not to. This was never an issue until delving into the world of online dating…
My experiences (or lack thereof) with online dating are probably worthy of another blog post entirely, (which I’m sure now people will eagerly await but this article sums it up well for now), but what brought my current ponderings about was my lack of responses to the messages I send out. There are plenty of reasons for people to not be interested in me: I’m young, relatively short, not classically attractive, and I have way too many personality quirks to list (I promise, I have endearing traits as well, but those aren’t nearly as fun to mope about, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so I’m told). Even though Indian guys have the lowest response rate of any ethnicity-gender combination, my response rate was way lower than could be expected from those stats (less than 1% for those of you keeping track at home). Barring location, which I can’t change at the moment, I wondered if my response to drinking was a deal breaker for so many of the messages that I’ve sent out. Being the science-driven data nerd that I am, I posed the question to the internet.
The responses were surprisingly honest (hooray internet anonymity!), and could really fall two distinct categories. For some, drinking is an important part of their socializing and they are self-conscious if not everyone is drinking. Fair or unfair, that is just the way some people socialize and that is their prerogative. The other category is the assumptions associated that are associated with people who don’t drink include: you are a prude and can’t have any fun, you are overly religious, you are a recovering alcoholic, or you are too poor to buy alcohol. For the record, I don’t fit into any of those preconceived notions, and I’d be willing to bet that a large chunk of the 25% of the population that refrains from drinking doesn’t either.
The last impact that not drinking can have an effect is in the business world. Business over drinks is a fairly common practice. Friends and co-workers tell me stories about drinking socially actually builds relationships, both business and personal ones. My friends that recently just came back from SXSW said that some of the best moments they had there were the parties, not the keynotes. And I haven’t gotten there yet, but as people grow older, taste in alcohol and wine is a sign of maturity. I’m young enough that it isn’t much of an issue (yet), but I do wonder if it will hurt me in the long run.
Regardless, the point of this post was to pose a question or a topic rather, and I welcome responses. What is it about drinking that makes it such a societally accepted norm? What is it about not drinking that makes it such a taboo?
P.S. Special thanks to my good friend at The Red Angel for helping me get my writing up to snuff. Any grammatical errors are definitely my own.