Let me make one thing clear from the start: I do drink.
I have no opposition to alcohol, moral or otherwise. I like being in control, but not so much that I can't enjoy the feeling of letting loose after a cocktail. I love a glass of rosé over an al fresco dinner, a Champagne toast at a wedding, or a frosty blended drink (or three) by the pool at a resort. And don't even get me started about the wonders of a margarita on Taco Tuesday.
I totally drink.
I just don't drink every time I go out to dinner or after every rough day.
Given the choice, I'm now the kind of girl who would rather "cheat" on a weeknight with a bowl of ice cream than a glass of wine. I'm also starting to listen to my sensitive stomach, which voices its objections when I've had even a little too much to drink at the wrong time. Plus, with every passing year, I've come to understand that hangovers are, in fact, real (they definitely weren't real in college, right?). With all of these factors in mind, I'm learning that I prefer socializing without a drink in my hand.
It's not always easy to explain this to my loved ones, especially those who have gotten more accustomed to watching me booze it up over the years. Drinking is such a key element to socializing in our culture, so I can sort of understand why my friends' first instinct when they catch me trying to pass off a glass of water as a vodka soda is that I've suddenly turned a corner to No-Funsville.
Understanding their concern, however, doesn't make it any easier or more comfortable for me to fly under the radar on a night when I'm opting out of drinking.
It usually goes something like this:
Well-intentioned friend: Wait, I thought you were drinking vodka sodas! Is that water?
Me: Oh, this? (Casually pointing to my glass, as if they could be referring to anything else ... ) I'm just hydrating!
Friend: Didn't you not drink at dinner either?
Me: Yeah, you know, my stomach was kind of upset …
Friend: Well, I'm going up to the bar to grab another drink. I'll get you something!
Me: I'll just, um, go with you!
Friend (to the bartender): Two gin and tonics, please!
At this point, I usually have two options. I can accept the drink (which, in the ridiculously overpriced city where we live will probably cost about $15) and pretend to sip it gingerly for a few minutes before I ditch it on an empty table. Or I can do the mature thing and gesture wildly to the bartender through a series of pantomimes to try and explain that I'm really looking for another water. Of course, I know there are other choices, but these are the two that generally come to mind.
I realize, as I write this, that I am making my infinitely wonderful friends sound like aggressive alcohol pushers of some sort. They're not! Spelled out as dialogue in black and white, I see how it can come off that way, but the situation isn't that simple. Sharing gin and tonics on the dance floor or a third glass of white wine over dinner was once a given for me and my friends. We'd meet for happy hour after work because that was the best activity we could come up with and we enjoyed catching up over half-priced drinks and snacks.
As I've revised my own relationship with alcohol, however, I've realized …
I don't always like drinking very much! (There, I said it.)
Yes, I know it's really up to me to be comfortable with my choices and to get more confident communicating them to my loved ones. And I'm working on it! Ultimately, no one else should be responsible for how I feel about not drinking.
Still, this adult peer pressure thing is new and difficult to navigate. While it's totally well-meaning and (I'm sure) not even intended as "pressure," it takes me back to my middle school days, when all of my friends were wearing their pajama pants to school, but I knew my mom would be mad at me — making the whole mission so not worth it — if I followed suit. Peer pressure was awkward and stressful then, and even though I'm now a real adult woman making my own decisions, I still hate to let my friends down.
They half-jokingly boo me when I tell them I'm not drinking tonight and they insist on bringing me drinks anyway. They're used to drinking with me. They still want to drink and they think that I have to do the same if I want to have any fun.
My advice to you if you have a friend who once loved an open bar and now sticks to a single glass of wine … or water? Hold that friend accountable for bringing her usual dose of fun, not booze. You can still drink. Just don't give her guff over it.
Our relationship with alcohol — just like our relationships with people — is bound to evolve overtime, so as long as your friend still has her proverbial dancing shoes and party pants on, don't make her sweat what's in her cup.