The first (and last) time I went out for drinks with co-workers was a disaster. I have been a teetotaler most of my life. Social environments intimidated me somewhat, but I felt honored that they had invited me out to shoot the breeze and toss back a few.
My co-worker Kim gallantly offered to buy me a martini; scrutinizing the menu, I chose a pretty aquamarine one that looked like my favorite flavor of Powerade. As it turns out, I hated the main ingredient of martinis (vodka), which tasted like organic dirt. I was embarrassed, stuck nursing the drink and trying not to let my face reveal that I didn’t like it. I ended up passing it off surreptitiously to another friend, who promptly gulped it down like a pro.
Since then, I have picked up a few nuggets that help me navigate social environments without alcohol when I choose not to drink. If you’re like me, hopefully these will help you; and if you are a social drinker, maybe you can learn how to accommodate friends who stick to Sprite instead of Stoli.
Own Your Non-Drinking Status Like a Bawse
It took me a while to understand that, despite social pressure and advertising, there’s nothing wrong with not drinking alcohol at social functions. I would try and try to drink every time I went out, but never found an affinity for it. Your choice to not drink (or your dislike for the taste of alcohol) does not make you weird or anti-social. Don’t let anyone ridicule you for it and don’t ridicule yourself.
Cocktail or Mocktail? They can’t tell!
You don’t have to miss out on the obligatory pretty drink Instagram shot! Restaurants and bars often make non-alky versions of popular drinks. Try that virgin strawberry daiquiri and tell me it doesn’t taste good! Plus, virgin drinks don’t look as staid as a glass of water sitting next to your friend’s Sex on the Beach. You can have Sex on the Beach with Clothes On and no one will know the difference.
Turn Up without the Downers
Many people drink because the alcohol lowers their inhibitions and ratchets up the perception of fun. Consequently, they may go from 0 to 60 quicker than you. Follow the tone and pace of conversation so you don’t feel left out. Smile when you hear something funny. If your crew dances on tables after a few rum and Cokes, you can either be on the table with them, or the one snapping pics for posterity. Turn up to your comfort level, but don’t feel like you have to hug the wall just because there’s no drank in your cup.
Don’t Get Stuck Driving Miss Daisy
Few things suck worse than having to drive drunk people home. Be careful not to establish yourself as the de facto designated driver just because you don’t drink. Make sure you state this at the beginning. If your friends are too toasted for their own keys, call them a cab before you leave and make sure they get in it, and then go home.
Be a Good Friend to Yourself and Them
Drunk people can be annoying if you’re the only sober one in the room. If it stops being fun for you, know when to pack it up. But don’t judge friends too harshly for their antics, or go lording your hangover-free existence with a 6 am phone call the next morning. That’s the best way to alienate drinkers.
All of my greatest moments have been liquor-free, since I’ve never been drunk; you can still have fun without alcohol. Life is better without me pressuring myself to drink, but I remain open to trying new things. Best of all, I have friends who love my chaser-drinking self. My last and most important advice is to find friends who like you with or without liquor in your system.
(Note: this is largely not aimed at recovering alcoholics, whose friends need to be sensitive to the ongoing journey that is recovery).