While shopping at Express last week with a friend, I was digging through the bargain bin for t-shirts I knew I still couldn’t afford. Every time I found a nice one, it had an alcohol reference on it. “Run, I Thought You Said Rum.” “Mornings Are For Mimosas.” “I’ve Tried Running But I Kept Spilling My Wine.”
Each t-shirt got me more and more frustrated because while they were cute, I don’t drink.
I expressed my annoyance at how alcohol-centric even clothes can get, and my friend launched into a rant about work events. Every time she’s excited for the chance of free food, she said, it turns out that there’s nothing offered there but drinks. No good non-alcoholic options, either. My friend actually used to drink but is trying to give it up, and I have to hand it to her. I can totally see why someone would relapse—it’s impossible to escape.
As I move into the “adult” world, I find that alcohol culture is pervasive. When you’ve got a new idea that you want to discuss with a potential partner, they ask you out for drinks. When the office wants to celebrate a promotion or take the time to wind down together, there’s an email invite for cocktails at the bar.
And while it is totally possible to go anyway and just not drink, you feel the pressure.
You feel like an outcast.
According to a friend who works on Wall Street, the biggest reason he drinks is that business deals are made over booze. While on the interview trail for residency, my fiancé told me about how he commiserated with a fellow non-drinking Muslim over the difficulty in networking with potential colleagues, when you’re the only one not drinking at the post-interview dinner.
Maybe it’s why I’m one of the few people who actually miss high school. While people did drink when we were teenagers, access wasn’t easy nor was it frequent. It wasn’t the focus of every social scene. But once I got into college, I found that not only was it harder to make friends as a teetotaler, it was even harder to keep them.
People immediately assume my reasons for abstaining from alcohol are entirely religious. It’s a logical assumption to make, although some of the biggest boozehounds I’ve ever known are Muslim. While religion does factor in, I have multiple reasons for why I don’t drink.
Yet it often seems like I’m being punished for every single one.
In college where beer is abundant, friends started to drop like flies. My best friend, later fiancé, and I found ourselves often left out of plans by friends who just wanted to drink. Having juice or soda in our cup apparently just wasn’t enough. Everyone seemed to make friends in their dorm building except me. Because I wasn’t imbibing the same thing as everyone else, I had lost my social worth.
It was baffling to me until I went to a housewarming for a childhood friend and his boyfriend. A friend of our friend offered me a drink, and as usual, I declined. It wasn’t until she inquired further that I mentioned that I don’t drink at all. Immediately, she was concerned that I might be offended by them drinking around me. I laughed and told her not to worry, that I don’t mind a bit.
But she kept checking in with me and apologizing for basically just enjoying herself. She was honestly so sweet about it that I almost felt bad, but it was this encounter that made me realize that somehow, for some reason, my not drinking seems to make others uncomfortable.
And, pardon my lack of eloquence, but that’s just so freaking unfair.
I’ve half-jokingly debated telling people that I’m an alcoholic, just so that others stop acting like drinking is an affront to my teetotaling sensibilities. I’m tired of feeling like I’m a total freak for not wanting to do something that isn’t even essential to spending time with others. I can easily hang out where there is alcohol, and I have—when I’m invited.
It’s somehow even worse among our Muslim friends. A friend told my fiancé that part of the reason why our popularity had decreased is that people assumed the teetotalers would also be tattletales.
I’m not going to lie, that utterly pissed me off.
These are people who should know me. In all their fear of us judging them, they ended up judging us. And honestly, it really hurt.
[bctt tweet=”It’s somehow even worse among our Muslim friends.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Of course, we do have friends who are more than down for our non-alcohol related plans. We spend our days in escape rooms, amusement parks, playing laser tag, watching movies, and going on food adventures, bank accounts permitting. But even our nearest and dearest sometimes leave us out of plans to go the bar or just share a bottle at someone’s house.
I’ve come to realize, however, that it’s their loss, not ours. Although you’d think people would take advantage of having a built-in designated driver.