How can I not drink heavily and keep a social life?
January 20, 2012 4:57 PM   Subscribe

How can I not drink heavily and keep a social life?

Hi! I'm a new grad student and overall I'm really enjoying the for one thing.

The drinking.

Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks it's wrong to drink. I will order a beer, or a wine at dinner. I have been known to keep a bottle of wine in my fridge from time to time.

My problem is that I feel kind of alienated because of how I drink. The field of work that I am going into depends heavily on networking. Teachers have told us repeatedly "you need to be out at the bars, especially at conventions". My friends often get together on weekends (occasionally weeknights) to drink...but, I feel very uncomfortable going to drink at the level that they seem to be.

For example, last weekend, I went to dinner earlier in the evening. Everyone there ordered a drink with food, intending to go drink afterwards as well. I had a beer, that was fine...but some of my friends were ordering several vodka's and were clearly intoxicated before going out to do more drinking.

Though I haven't been present, I've also heard stories of some of my friends getting a little crazy when drunk, and of them getting very, very inebriated. I'm not trying to condemn any of them, if they want to drink that's fine...I just feel really uncomfortable doing it that hard. I feel unsafe, disoriented, and like someone is about to take advantage of me. Since I'm kind of new to it, I have a low tolerance level. Usually, it makes me really tired and I will fall into a heavy, heavy sleep having had very little...I think you can see why I might as a young woman feel uncomfortable.

Neither of my parents drank while I was growing up, and for years I couldn't drink because of medications. Very often, I also have a workload that is too intense for me to allow myself to be drunk. Topping that off, I don't really have the kind of money to be going out that often. So yeah, a glass of wine, or a beer here and there, that I can do, and if you are kind enough to offer me a drink, I won't turn it down, but what they do is on a level I really don't like being a part of.

I like these people a lot when they aren't drunk, and I feel I'm really not having an easy time making as close friendships with them as I'd like because I'm not drinking. Earlier, before they realized I wasn't big on it, I would be invited to a lot of, I keep finding out about things after the fact.

I don't feel I've ever been condemnatory about them going out, I usually say "I've got to drive" and have been the DD often when they press me to drink, and I've tried to make friends outside the department, but this has also been hard since I spend most of my time in class.

It's really getting to a point where I feel kind of alienated and frustrated, but being drunk is really an uncomfortable state for me to be in. Anybody have any ideas? Has anyone been in this situation before?
posted by Rosengeist to Human Relations (66 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Many, if not most people, drink moderately if at all. Go to dinner, go to the bar for one hour, go home. No one will notice when you leave. Problem over.

If you want to do non alcohol related things then set them up and invite people. Bowling, sledding, watching movies, outdoors stuff (hiking, kayaking etc). There will be people who will never take you up on this but others will.

Pretty much every group of young people splits eventually into the party crowd who won't do anything without booze and the more activity oriented crowd (which subdivides based on athleticism usually). You can all still be friends and do some things together but that's the basic split.
posted by fshgrl at 5:06 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's no rule that says you have to keep up with the heaviest drinkers in the group. You can always have a drink or two if you're comfortable with that and drink club soda after that.

If you can stand the people when they're drunk and you're not, they'll appreciate having a DD if nothing else.

If you're uncomfortable with other people drinking, that's a different can of worms entirely and it will be more difficult at your age.
posted by wierdo at 5:07 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was like you, not wanting to drink much in social events, and I felt awkward, and worse, I made other people feel awkward. You don't have to drink to fit in, you can have a good excuse, or you can fake it.

You can offer to be the designated driver, and often get free soda from bars. But if you're DD too often, that might become your role, and people will expect you to be available to drive them, even when you don't want to go to the party/gathering.

You can drink non-alcoholic beverages, and if anyone asks, say you've had a drink or two already, and you're re-hydrating or somesuch.

If everyone is drinking from beer bottles or cans, you can carry one around, sipping if you wish, or keeping it only as a prop, and dump it out when the evening is over.

Don't feel bad that you don't like the experience of being drunk. You're not the only one. You'll probably find a few people like you at work or professional events who aren't drinking, and you can have sober conversations with them.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:08 PM on January 20, 2012

but being drunk is really an uncomfortable state for me to be in

So don't? I'm a little unclear as to whether - and how and by whom - you're being pressured specifically to drink to drunkeness, or whether it's more that all the networking takes place in bars. Or both, I guess.

You can stand around with a glass of club soda with a lime wedge in it and everyone will assume it's a vodka or gin & tonic.

If you are being pressured specifically to *get drunk* (not just show up and chat at the bar for a while), that is a problem that you may want to bring to someone's attention, because that's not okay.
posted by rtha at 5:09 PM on January 20, 2012

I drank hard in grad school; it was definitely part of the culture. But I don't really recall noticing what other people were drinking -- only that they were there (or not). So feel free to switch from wine (or whatever) when you feel comfortable to a non-alcoholic drink. Club soda with lime works a treat for this purpose. If you don't want to get drunk, don't.
posted by scody at 5:10 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't drink and never have, and I've never had problems making friends or being invited out with the gang. If you are an eager Designated Driver and do not make an issue about their intoxication (or your lack thereof) you can be a well sought-after drinking buddy. Be careful you are not using the drinking/non-drinking thing to cover up some other social issues you might be having.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:10 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

To Rock Steady.

Can you elaborate on what issues I might be having? For some reason that kind of struck a chord..
posted by Rosengeist at 5:12 PM on January 20, 2012

I feel I'm really not having an easy time making as close friendships with them as I'd like because I'm not drinking. Earlier, before they realized I wasn't big on it, I would be invited to a lot of, I keep finding out about things after the fact

Are you perhaps giving off some judgmental vibe about how much other people are drinking and acting visibly uncomfortable at these events? No one wants to invite people to events who clearly aren't having any fun there. Are the drunk people in some way harassing you, resulting in discord when you and the drunk people are in the same place?
posted by deanc at 5:16 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

"you need to be out at the bars, especially at conventions"

I think you might be slightly misinterpreting your professor's advice. I'd take that to mean you have to make sure you're involved in the social scene in your field (which will often involve bars), not that you have to party hard if other people are partying hard. No one is networking at 2 am. I would go to the bar, have a drink, and leave after an hour or so if that's what you feel like. People will remember that you showed up, not that you left early.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:16 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

To rtha...It's kind of a combination of both. A lot of the networking and socializing takes place in bars, and while no one is specifically pushing alcohol on me I can tell that it's making people feel uncomfortable that I'm not doing it. It's almost like they want me to be doing the same thing they are. I mean, this is to the point where if I do order a drink, they've made a big deal about it (though why, I don't know, they're all aware I do drink). I've at times had to make up excuses to not drink. "I'm feeling a little ill," or "I've got to be up really early tomorrow, I'm in charge of something". I hope that makes more sense?
posted by Rosengeist at 5:17 PM on January 20, 2012

Find a drink you enjoy for its taste, not just the results on your constitution. I like a nice, single malt whisky. Straight.

Nestle a couple of these to your breast throughout the evening. Watch with joy as fools do foolish things. Have fun talking to the other drinkers who manage to sustain your own, balanced, constituency.

I am in my late twenties. Late 20 somethings drink socially more than drink in order to be social. Conversation is the focus. Make it yours and you shouldn't have anything to worry about.
posted by 0bvious at 5:18 PM on January 20, 2012

I've never been harassed to the point where I'm like yelling at anyone...but now that you mention it deanc, it's likely that I probably do give off an uncomfortable vibe. It's hard for me to drink too much without actually getting kind of paranoid that I'm going to get ill or pass out from it. Once I feel tipsy I get kind of worried.
posted by Rosengeist at 5:19 PM on January 20, 2012

From what you've said, the answer's simple--go out with them once in a while and stick to your limit. If you know they're going drinking after dinner, don't have a drink at dinner and have one at the bar later, or whatever. If you feel like you're getting cut out of the planning, organise something, either with alcohol or without.

However, I wonder if the issue is something else: either that you're not comfortable being around people getting sloshed or that they're pressuring you to drink. (Or, on preview, that Rock Steady has nailed it and it's something else entirely.*) The latter is bad news and I don't know what to do about it. The former really comes back to sticking to your limits, but in terms of time/their drunkeness. I'm definitely known as the guy with zero alcohol tolerance who goes to bed early, but I don't think that's been an issue. People have invited me to the bar and stressed that I wasn't obligated to drink.

*I've found it exceptionally difficult to make friends in grad school, to a much greater degree than at any other time in my life. I'm not sure why. Probably because everyone has more autonomy.
posted by hoyland at 5:19 PM on January 20, 2012

I've been in your situation. I never drank in my younger years and struggled with having a good time at parties and mandatory social functions, but I imbibed a bit as I got older, and overall alcohol is indeed kind of a mixed bag with mixed results (seemed to work better when I was younger, too).

I do think that social paralysis is definitely something to address, as that's happened to me a couple of times where I snuck out of a party. So there is some value in short-circuiting that. You may want to look at as-needed use of Metaprolol, anxiolytics, or Lyrica, all of which are safe if not abused or used heavily, and which I think work better than alcohol. Your doctor can help you sort through this and many will consider writing you something for off-label & as-needed use without going straight to the SSRIs, especially if you do your homework.

The only other thing I can think of that will help is finding a way to socialize frequently but in short intervals (like a couple of hours at a time, so you need excuses to leave) so that you can put more effort into that window of time and have an end in sight in your mind, instead of allowing the whole thing to overwhelm you. So yeah, what a few of the people said upthread. At the same time, you can take up some of the slack in e-mail and text messages, or however you usually are in touch with them.
posted by crapmatic at 5:19 PM on January 20, 2012

To no regrets, coyote. It's possible that I'm misinterpreting it...but I kind of feel that it's been pushed on us enough that it's been made clear. Teachers have been known to go out drinking with the grad students on occasion, and this is something we are told repeatedly and pointedly as being an important part of getting jobs.
posted by Rosengeist at 5:21 PM on January 20, 2012

Its fine not to want to drink, and as a grad student drinking is a part of the culture. No one will care if you drink/how much its more of just being social. It is really easy to just ask a fellow student, especially when you are working on similar things as well as being in each others classes semester after semester, to go grab a burger and a beer after class. One doesn't have to drink, it is more about being social and building relationships based on a common experience.
posted by handbanana at 5:21 PM on January 20, 2012

I have, in the past, taken the waiter aside privately and requested that, after 8pm, no matter what drink I say I am ordering, make sure that drink is water on the rocks and nothing else. These days I just order water without it being a secret. No one that matters seems to care.
posted by bz at 5:22 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

To crapmatic. Unless there is a specific social paralysis associated with drinking, I'm not totally sure that's the case. I don't generally perceive myself as a shy person and I will make pretty concerted efforts to interact with others. There is the possibility that I'm over analyzing my capacities to socialize, but I still feel I'm a social person outside of alcohol.
posted by Rosengeist at 5:25 PM on January 20, 2012

P.S. I re-read your post and my takeaway is that this is more about the peer pressure & fitting in, so if I was a bit off the mark I apologize.
posted by crapmatic at 5:25 PM on January 20, 2012

Well, I don't know you so I can't say, but I just mean that you might have other issues that are causing you to have difficulty making friends with people in your department. It could be anything from being overly judgemental to bad breath. I'm just suggesting that you take a look at other aspects of your personality than just your lack of drinking as the possible roadblock you are hitting with your colleagues.

If you are worried about getting drunk, try not drinking at all! If they already think of you as a non-drinker they won't blink when you stick to cranberry juice or ginger ale or diet coke all night. This will remove the source of the worry, and maybe make you more friendly.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:25 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Its not them, its you. If you don't want to drink, then just don't. It doesn't sound like you're getting hassled about it and even if you are you're an adult, right? Just have the guts to say "I don't want to. period."
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:26 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

No worries crapmatic.
posted by Rosengeist at 5:27 PM on January 20, 2012

I'll look further into that Rock Steady. That's probably a venue that deserves a further investigation.
posted by Rosengeist at 5:28 PM on January 20, 2012

Actually, I kind of have been hassled about it blaneyphoto...I thought I put that in my original post. If not I will have to go back and edit it. Usually I've found being confrontational about it makes other people feel uncomfortable and feel like I'm judging them. Usually the only way for me to avoid that is to give them an excuse that provide's me with a situational escape like "I don't feel well right now" or "I have to be up early".
posted by Rosengeist at 5:30 PM on January 20, 2012

It sounds to me like you are overthinking this, and that reaction is underscored by the fact that you are thread-sitting.

1. If you don't like to drink a lot, don't. Seltzer with lime & nonalcoholic beers are A-OK.

2. If you want to go home before everyone is shit-faced, go ahead. What's crucial is that you not be judgey. People in their 20s drink. Grad students drink.

3. +1 to "no regrets, coyote". You are misinterpreting your professor's advice. S/he meant that you need to take part in after hours social activities, including going to bars. That doesn't mean that YOU have to get trashed, or that you have to stay until 3 AM. (I'm a professor. I know whereof I speak. Drinking at conferences *is* a bonding experience, but I know plenty of people who don't drink, or don't drink much, who fit right in.)
posted by kestrel251 at 5:31 PM on January 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

Yep, nobody really cares if you are drinking alcohol or not. You don't really need to prove yourself. Have a cranberry juice, have a gingerale. Sometimes people make up excuses, say they have to meet their trainer early or something but even that isn't necessary. Sometimes if I am drinking a diet coke in a bar and people ask I tell them it is a quadruple rum and coke just to mess with them, but then again, I have a reputation to uphold.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:38 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe have a conversation with other grad students you're friendly with about this problem and the YOU MUST DRINK MOAR vibe you're getting from some people. If you had a few people who knew you didn't care to drink and didn't see it as a big deal, that might make you more comfortable. You can also make up a good long-term excuse like "I have GERD (acid reflux) and I pay heavily for every drink I take". Looking back, I see that you couldn't drink for years because of medications; there's nothing to stop you from continuing to cite that as a reason. Curiosity is typical, but there should be no need for confrontation because nobody ought to be confronting you about YOUR choices for YOUR body.
posted by epj at 5:39 PM on January 20, 2012

You're clearly overthinking this, and it seems like you have some anxiety issues (and maybe control issues). I don't know you, so I don't really know what your deal is, but you're making this much harder than it needs to be.

Go out with them. Don't drink. Or don't have more than one. Or two, or whatever you're comfortable with. When I was in grad school, I went to bars and had drinks (and sometimes even got drunk) in groups of people which included non-drinkers. I still had a good time, as did my drinking friends and classmates. If you think that they're bothered by your drinking, I'll place good money that you're wrong.

If you're bothered by you're drinking, and they're picking up on that, well, you have a problem. If you don't like hanging out with drunk people, you're going to need to either stop hanging out with drunk people or fake enjoyment.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:44 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I drink socially, and I will frequently drink a lot more than you would choose too. I have friends who do not drink, or do not drink very much.

The non- or low drinkers who come across best in bars are those who are comfortable around tipsy people (not necessarily drunk people), do not judge, and join in with social banter in a relaxed and friendly fashion. They also drink at the same speed as drinkers - it's just that they drink mostly or exclusively soft drinks. Or, they drink halves of beer at the same speed others are drinking pints, or whatever.

When I'm not drinking, or drinking less, I tend to order tonic water. This is a drink that I don't guzzle quickly, because I don't like it that much. And sipping at a drink whilst chatting is the hallmark of a bar experience for me (that and the social permission to be slightly less inhibited). The alcohol itself? Not so much.
posted by plonkee at 5:45 PM on January 20, 2012

Anyone who hassles someone to drink more than they're comfortable drinking and is older than 15 is a jerk. I think the thing here is to just own the fact that you don't like drinking too much. If someone says "are you sure you won't have another?" just say "no, two glasses and I'm out of it, I'm afraid--but I'll have a club soda, thanks." But truly--nobody who isn't an infantile jerk thinks there's anything at all wrong with you choosing how much you want to drink.
posted by yoink at 5:46 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't drink much for visually obvious reasons (I'm super tiny, so people assume that I'm a lightweight without my having to say anything) but I have to agree with Rock Steady and Crapmatic. It sounds like more of an attitude issue than anything else. I have friends who don't drink at all, or who drink lightly, and they do just fine at bars, parties, etc. And I'm pretty shy, and I've found this to be an issue, so no judgment here.

But a few practical tips: I usually get whiskey on the rocks and drink it very slowly. I like whiskey, though, so that helps. I've also asked bartenders for less than the full dose of alcohol in a mixed drink. I realize that I'm overpaying for a G&T with only half a shot of gin, but I don't like getting sloppy when everyone else is just getting started.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:47 PM on January 20, 2012

My solution, which I have use many, many times before, is to order one beer and just sip it all night and to be sure that I have that beer in my hands at all times...

A beer doesn't lead people to asking "what're you drinking?," because it's obvious, if you don't want to lie about drinking water and no one really notices that it's the same beer all night. "can I get you a drink?" will get the response "oh man, I'm still working through this one! I'm so bad at chugging beer. But thanks!"
posted by sawdustbear at 5:47 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

The fact that people make a big deal about you ordering drinks suggests to me that you might come off as uptight about drinking (even though you drink yourself) in general or are hypocritically judgmental about other people getting drunk.
posted by thisjax at 5:48 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

What kind of exchange happens?

1 "Hey Rosengeist, wotcha drinkin?"
2 "Um, I don't drink"
1 then he says?
2 and you say?

I'm wondering if there's some way that people are interpreting your not-drinking as judgement of their drinking? Or as some sign that you don't want to be spending time with them? If so you might just have to find some other ways to counter-act those mixed messages.

I've been in situations where I felt pressured to drink just because everyone was SO excited and someone had already ordered the shots and here's mine and ... one!two!three!dammit.

I think being the non-drinker works best if you have a simple story (no need for it to be 100% true) for it and redirect attention to matters of common interest. I usually tell people something like "Oh, I'm a total lightweight and if I have another drink I'll be dancing on the table singing Pour Some Sugar on Me." *rueful smile* "So that's why I'm drinking a coke. HEY, what happened with that project you were working on? It sounded awesome!" (<>
Or "Oh, I'm just not much of a drinker. By the way, did you hear about (interesting development in our field)?"

If you do order a glass of wine and someone makes a comment, drawl, "Yeah, I'm walking on the wild side tonight!" And change the subject.
posted by bunderful at 5:52 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Grad school and both jobs I've had since then have relied heavily on networking, usually with a drink or two in hand. A good response to someone getting in on you on how much you are drinking is "Why do you care so much? I'm having a good time, aren't you?"

There is an assumption especially among the younger people that the end result of drinking is that you must get drunk, and that if you are in a bar not drunk you are not and cannot be having any fun. You basically have to be confident in knowing your limits and sticking to them -- waffling won't win you any friends. I have had friends in all three of these environments who never drank and they were still social, so a good part of it is attitude.

And, I have had friends/coworkers/bosses who would get drunk and do/say things that make you go "hmm...?" and it's much more fun to laugh about it the next day than to be that person -- something I point out when I'm pretty sure I've had enough to drink and everyoen else is still going.
posted by sm1tten at 5:52 PM on January 20, 2012

I have experienced a similar dilema. I'd like to share my experience with you in hopes it may be of some help, although I can't directly offer you any new advice.

I do not drink alcohol. I don't like how it makes me feel and I don't like how it makes other people act. My partner does not drink for the same reasons. We do not plan to raise our children in a home were alcohol is present.

Unfortunately, my partner and I are the only people we know or socialize with that feel this way. This could be cause for some awkward times, but it doesn't. I try to own that I don't drink, but I never try and tell someone else how to live their lives. I still attend social and networking opportunities where drinking is involved, and I do just fine. I'm up-front about the no drinking thing if the situation requires it, but many times it never comes up.

There are certain aspects of bonding that people think happen when they go out and get trashed together. I don't get it. But I also don't want to miss out on it, so I force myself to be a part of the party or bar scene when I'm out. Some nights out I genuinely enjoy myself, but there are also many nights that have been really difficult. It's uncomfortable to be the only sober person in a group of really drunk people. But it's just something I gotta do.
posted by OsoMeaty at 5:53 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nobody actually cares whether you drink or not. People just want to have fun. If you are a heavy drinker, saying "I can't drink tonight" often means I have to go home early and can't have too much fun tonight. So people might be like, "Come on! Stay out! Have a drink!" But they really don't care at all whether or not you actually drink.

I have one friend that will go out with us and stay out late dancing and is lots of fun, and she's always dead sober. I have some other friends who usually don't drink and they are much less fun. Sitting in the bar, looking pretty bored, just waiting to go home. If I were to not drink, I'd probably be the latter in most situations. I can be fairly awkward; alcohol helps me loosen up and connect with people. Also, I find lots of these situations incredibly un-fun sober.

Why would anyone think to keep inviting me out to a bar if everytime they did I looked bored to death and like I was having a miserable time? If I was having a good time however, no one would care what's actually in my glass.

If you don't find them fun, that's fine. Find other ways to hang out with these people. You can be the person who is fun to get meals with, do activities with, etc.
posted by User7 at 5:53 PM on January 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

I should also mention I'm young (24) and drinking is a huge part of the culture I grew up in.
posted by OsoMeaty at 5:55 PM on January 20, 2012

Trust me -- you can DEFINITELY network heavily without imbibing .I don't drink, and never have. First it was because I was born with a kidney disease and wasn't supposed to. Later I could, but then had never developed a taste for it, and now I have another medical condition where I can't drink. I went to college, grad school and worked in television, where just about everyone drank. And yet with very few exceptions, my not drinking alcohol had no impact on anything because people rarely pay that much attention to what you're drinking as long as you are drinking (and don't act like you disapprove of their drinking habits).

Drink something with a lime in it (tonic and lime, soda and lime, or find a great old drink from the thirties or forties that's alcohol-free but not widely known -- i.e., not a Shirley Temple) and order that. For example, a Bloody Shame looks like a Bloody Mary but has no alcohol, and the name doesn't tip anyone off--and you get part of your recommended daily requirement of vegetables!
;-) If someone asks what's in it, start yammering on about how hard it is to find someone who knows how to get the proportions just right, or whatever, and chances are, they'll lose interest and forget what they asked you.

As a non-drinker, if someone does give me a hard time, I lean in and say, "I really can't. The ambulance might not get here in time." I say it quietly, conspiratorially and make eye contact. If you actually want to drink a few glasses of wine, you'll have a harder time with that, but seriously, just keep a drink in your hand, and nobody is likely to pay a lot of attention. If you don't focus on it, they won't focus on it. (It's like being a vegetarian; if you're not actively trying to make a statement, other people won't stop to listen.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 5:59 PM on January 20, 2012

Now I'm beginning to just wonder if I'm inadvertently coming across as condescending without realizing it. Though I'm not a vegetarian (not in any way, shape or form) I've also been harassed for being one. I think this is turning into a "how am I being condescending" thread. Though, since no one here actually has seen me interact with anyone irl, that's probably not an easy question for anyone to actually address. :/
posted by Rosengeist at 6:03 PM on January 20, 2012

You are out with friends and everyone is drinking and wondering why you aren't. Make a joke out of it. Make them laugh with you. Tell them that you are a 'cheap drunk,' one drink and you are gone. Change the subject.

As far as remaining social and remaining sober, your options are immense.

Join a running club, even if the best you can do is walk. Even a drinking/running club will drink less than your current friends.

Become a music snob. Find the best local bands and tell your friends that you only go out for the music. Imply that they are total losers with no style if they go to bars that do not have live music.

Be the one 'in the know.' Facebook is great for finding the coolest, newest thing in your area. If you are the first to know about every cool thing in your area then you become the trend setter. You lead, not follow.

If anyone pushes you to drink more than you are comfortable with, look them in the eye and ask, "Why, are you planning on date raping me later?" Pause for a moment and then laugh. They will never push you to drink more again. This works on men and women.
posted by myselfasme at 6:03 PM on January 20, 2012

Yeah, try cheerful non-sequitor/vague excuse and then redirect if someone is rude enough to confront you directly about why you're not drinking/not drinking enough. I haven't been in grad school, but I went to a hard-drinking college and spent my share of parties wandering around with the same half-empty cup of beer for hours and no one noticed. I also spent my share of parties hammered, and completely oblivious to the lack of drunkenness in other people. People may be noticing your not-drinking a whole lot less than you think, but when someone *does* remark on it, that's what sticks with you.
posted by rtha at 6:06 PM on January 20, 2012

It's true comment about it and you spend the rest of the night anxious about it.
posted by Rosengeist at 6:07 PM on January 20, 2012

Though I'm not a vegetarian (not in any way, shape or form) I've also been harassed for being one.

Okay, that's really weird. What the hell is wrong with people?
posted by rtha at 6:08 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rtha...I have no idea. It's not the same people who harass me for drinking though, which is why I wonder if perhaps it's not a general vibe I project.
posted by Rosengeist at 6:10 PM on January 20, 2012

I've been told before that I can come off as condescending or intimidating when I totally don't mean to. Usually I'm just awkward. Is there anyone who knows you well enough that you can ask if it's looking that way?

If it *is* the case that you are giving off a vibe, I think you can neutralize it fairly easily by making statements that show that you like the other people and you're pleased to be out with them. "No, I've had my one glass of wine for the week. Heh heh. But I'm really glad I came out anyway, this is such a neat place, can't believe I've never been here before!" Keep smiling.

I think also that you feel a little frustrated at the obligation to socialize (which I totally understand). If you can, think of it as a decision you've made - you need to socialize for your career and you don't like it but you've compromised by spending an hour or so with colleagues and then leaving before everyone gets sloppy. And it's all going to pay off one day. If you're at peace with it and it's *your* decision, that might also help eliminate the discomfort that could be contributing to the vibe.
posted by bunderful at 6:28 PM on January 20, 2012

I wonder if perhaps it's not a general vibe I project.

Yeah, I kind of think that might be what is happening here. There are people who, for whatever reason, make every choice they make seem like a silent judgement of what everyone else is doing. I have no idea how you begin to remedy something like that, but maybe start by having some brutally honest chats with some very good long-term friends about your personality and your non-verbal communication? Maybe there are coaches for this sort of thing?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:29 PM on January 20, 2012

First of all, please stop commenting in your own thread. The way AskMetafilter generally works is that one person posts a question, and then other people give their answers, and then at the end you get to decide which answers you do and don't like. There is no reason to keep commenting in your own thread unless you absolutely have to clarify a specific point.

Though I'm not a vegetarian (not in any way, shape or form) I've also been harassed for being one.

That's weird. Very weird. It suggests the problem is all about attitude and not drinking at all. I've been a vegetarian for 20 years (I'm 30), and I can't remember ever being harassed for being a vegetarian in my life. That's probably because I don't make a big deal about it. I don't bring it up unless someone else asks me about it. If they do ask, I briefly explain and don't dwell on it (unless the other person seems genuinely fascinated in getting into a discussion about vegetarianism).

So, try that. Do whatever you want. Don't bring it up. If someone asks you, "Why aren't you drinking more" (which is unlikely), give the most simple, honest possible answer. Don't make up an excuse. If the reason is you just don't like drinking more than one or two drinks a night, or even no drinks on that occasion, say that. If it's that you aren't feeling well, say that. But don't say you aren't feeling well when you actually just don't feel like drinking more than you are.

Remember, nobody really cares. Other people probably aren't going to be paying any attention to this. You're the one paying attention to yourself. Other people are going to be too busy worrying about themselves.

When I was in law school, there were a lot of social functions in bars. I remember two law students who went to them all the time, but they never drank. It took me months if not years to notice that fact about either of them. I have no idea if they were sitting around drinking cranberry juice, seltzer, cola, or nothing. It just didn't occur to me.

People don't tend to notice absence. You don't notice when someone isn't doing something. You notice when someone is doing something. (Yes, there have been actual psychological studies on this — see the book Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert.) That's why you notice people drinking a lot and acting silly. I'll bet there are other people who aren't drinking much and are acting normally. You might not notice them as much because what they're doing is so utterly unremarkable. Feel free to be one of them.
posted by John Cohen at 6:34 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

If people are reacting to your perceived vegetarian snobbish (when you're not a vegetarian?) and your perceived disdain for drinking (even though you do drink?) then I think you definitely have some weird social issue that is inviting these comments.

No one cares how much you drink. I have never kept track of who was drinking what or how much at any party or bar, and I like to drink. People want to go out and have fun, not keep score. If you are sitting in a corner with a "gosh I hate drinking and drunk people and can't wait to get out of here" attitude then of course no one is going to invite you to social events because you're no fun. Lighten up, drink whatever you want, and focus on having fun and being social. Don't like being around trashed people sober? Then just leave after a drink or two. Nobody is watching the clock at a bar, they won't care or remember. I often have to get up very early for work, and even though I like drinking generally do not like staying at bars past midnight. So I just leave. It's no big deal.
posted by bradbane at 6:34 PM on January 20, 2012

(Also: Ever been out to eat with a really vocal vegan? No one wants to sit through 10 minutes of someone grilling the waiter about every single tiny ingredient of every dish. If you are annoying about it, people will stop inviting you to dinner. I don't care what you do or don't eat, but I want to enjoy my friends company not discuss the food politics of honey production every time we go out. My girlfriend is vegan and I often forget because she doesn't go into every meal loudly proclaiming "CAN YOU ASK THE CHEF IF THIS PASTA IS MADE WITH EGGS!?!?!" like it's life or death).
posted by bradbane at 6:40 PM on January 20, 2012

At the risk of screwing up the MetaFilter system, I'll just call my bad on that John Cohen. It's my first time posting here, wasn't aware that's how it works.
posted by Rosengeist at 6:43 PM on January 20, 2012

I can tell that it's making people feel uncomfortable that I'm not doing it.

maybe you're wrong? it happens to the best of us - mindreading is famously inaccurate, projection is much more common. here's the deal: if you go into a situation expecting to get tense attention you will have a tense expression on your face and draw tense attention.

to me, it sounds like you are psyching yourself out. just in the course of this thread you have half-convinced yourself that you give off a snob vibe or whatever. to me that's evidence that you are looking for the weird rather than looking for the good.

this is not criticism, i hope you understand.
posted by facetious at 6:50 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I spent my student years (more undergrad than grad school, but FWIW) in the hardest-drinking subculture at my university. I don't drink at all.

My standard line when asked why I don't drink is "Drinking just doesn't interest me." or something along those lines; the variations all make it clear that this is something that I'm personally not interested in, but it's not something that I disdain. Many people who don't know me ask if it's religious or health reasons, and I quickly reply that it's neither of those; it's just not something I'm personally in to. I'll sometimes volunteer that, if I'm getting a quizzical look. What I think this does is it emphasizes that I'm not thinking that the people around me are bad people, or that I'm suffering as I watch them do something I can't have, but want. The topic usually gets dropped around there.

And I'm truly fine with it, and in general with hanging around people drinking to excess, provided they don't turn into total assholes. (Not so much with the partiers these days, but that's just my mid-30s taking effect.) I teach people new drinking games and drinking songs, I've held people up while they do kegstands, whatever people in the group do.

This is very much in line with what OsoMeaty said above; the bright line may be clearer to work with than one drink is okay, two iffy and no more.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:31 PM on January 20, 2012

I did a graduate program (masters) that was also very networking-heavy and I will say that I drank a lot my first semester. I know what you're talking about - there's a lot of socializing in the beginning, and much of it is oriented around happy hours, house parties, etc.

A few things from my own experience that might be helpful to you:

- Seriously, very few people care what you're doing. They might care if they feel like you're quietly judging them, but if you're just causually nursing a beer or a glass of wine at a party, no one will notice - and if they do, they won't make a thing of it unless they're an asshole or extremely insecure.

- The beginning of grad school (at least in larger professional programs) is not unlike freshman year of college. At the beginning, everyone is super excited to be with all these interesting people who have the same interests, and everyone is trying to Make Connections. But after a while, things sort of shake out, as people naturally sort themselves by personality, what they like to do, identity, etc.

For instance, at the beginning of grad school, I somehow found myself hanging out quite a bit with this group of super-stylish women, mostly from NYC, who were into going to clubs and fancy restaurants and doing a lot of other stuff like that that I wasn't really into. We gradually stopped hanging out with each other, but it wasn't a big deal because I had found other people who were more into the things I was into, like going to dive bars to see bands or watching marathons of Lord of the Rings.

So it might just be that you need to find your people - and they probably are there, you might just not have found them yet. Also, just because these people who love to party aren't your core group doesn't mean you can't be friends with them. One of the aforementioned stylish girls is still a friend and actually helped me get an interview for a super-prestigious job after we finished school. Another one and I ended up volunteering with the same extracurricular group our second year and wound up being friends that way.

- The partying will probably die down as people get into their schoolwork, theses, other work.

I know what a pressure cooker grad school can be. People often talk about this in terms of the workload and professional stress, but it's true socially as well. If you're not invited to something, you hear about it later and you know. The more you can get comfortable just doing your own thing and letting friendships develop as they will, the less the stress will get to you.
posted by lunasol at 7:43 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and on the whole networking thing: the connections I made in grad school HAVE been very, very helpful to my career. I've had four jobs since finishing, and my classmates helped me get two of them. They've helped me get interviews for a half-dozen other jobs (I've also helped a bunch of people get jobs and interviews, too). So yes, it's very important. But the people who helped me were people I knew from classes or extracurriculars, or who were very good friends. None of them were the random people I only hung out with at happy hours. So don't worry too much about how the not drinking will impact your career.
posted by lunasol at 7:49 PM on January 20, 2012

Obviously, I don't know you, but I still feel pretty comfortable saying this, because it applies to the vast majority of people:
You spend more time worrying about what other people think of you than everyone else in the world combined spends thinking about you.

Don't drink? Fine. Neither do I. I have close personal friends -- people with whom I have literally been in combat -- who don't realize it. Because when they ask me whether I want a beer, I say, "Nah, I have to drive home," or "Not just yet," or "I'll go grab one -- you want anything?" and then I get a Coke instead. They don't care, because I'm not judging their drunkenness.

And I also know people who do care about how drunk I am and make a big deal about it, even after I say that I don't drink nor do I feel like telling them why. I don't hang out with those people anymore. Fuck 'em.
posted by Etrigan at 8:54 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is one of those things you will live down in time. If you keep hanging out with them, your not-drinking will stop fazing them, it will just become part of the social landscape. Drink an O'Douls or something and make a joke out of it. Learn to sip whiskey. Don't drink at all. Whatever. But loosen up, take their ribbing in good fun, and watch it fade in importance as you get to know people and they get to know you.
posted by jayder at 10:27 PM on January 20, 2012

I can speak to the convention thing specifically, because I've been to a lot of them and I'm in a tiny, often hard-drinking field (it's kind of a running joke in some circles.) A couple of points in no particular order:

- Networking is great. Networking when sober is often more useful than networking when drunk. I cannot count the number of people I have met and had long conversations with whose names, places of work, or contact information I never even learned at convention parties. (And I don't usually get all that drunk - it's just that the formalities tend to slide as the evening goes on.)

- The solution to this? LUNCHES. Seriously. Line up lunches at conventions like mad. If you don't have a specific target, find someone to tag along with. Even if everyone has a beer with food, lunch is not so much an occasion to get hammered (except for the genuine problem drinkers, who...)

- ...everyone knows and gossips about. Seriously, even when it seems like everyone gets sloppy, there's always a line past which you become That Drunk Girl (or Guy.) This is important to know not so much because you're in danger of taking that role, but because it puts things in perspective a bit - just because drunk is good in these circles, drunker is not always better and people react badly to outliers on both ends.

- If everyone is pretty drunk, it's probably time for you to leave the party anyway. Past a certain level of jollity, no one will notice you're gone - but everyone will remember you were there. That's pretty much the benefit of these things anyway, unless you make a hobby of collecting blackmail material. (Which can be a fun hobby, don't get me wrong.)

It sounds like this is not a current problem for you (and as I've never been to undergrad, let alone grad school, I'll leave that topic to the experts) but I can say with confidence that conventions are totally manageable on the one-drink-a-night limit. (Or none, or three, or whatever you feel ok with.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:43 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have been known in the past to drink heavily and to be part of a heavy-drinking group of friends. I have also experienced push-back from some of those drinking friends when I didn't want to go to the pub or drink lots or stay out late etc. With some people, it seems to me they take it as a personal affront when you are not drinking, which I can only interpret as some sort of deeply subconscious issue on their part about the amount they are actually drinking themselves. It shouldn't matter to anyone else but I agree it seems to.

In business / conference situations, it seems to be almost a macho thing, even among what you might describe as non-macho cultures (and I'd put higher education / academic atmospheres in that category). The thing is, if you're feeling uncomfortable, you can bet that there will be other people there who feel the same way - the trick will be to find them and then cultivate a strategic lighter / non-drinking coterie among your contacts and networks!

Your background sounds very familiar - my parents didn't drink (not in the house, certainly - Dad was in the Army and worked as a bouncer for a while, so had come from a drinking background, but when we were born it was infrequent and always outside the house, and mom and dad would occasionally go out with friends now and again to the pub - it wasn't something that was a part of my conditioning at all). Perhaps you're feeling a bit alarmed around the unpredictability and irrationality that some people can display when drunk? That could come out as an unintentional drawing-back from people, which can be interpreted as standoffishness or censure.

The thing is to try to relax and if things are getting a bit rowdy or incoherent, just slide away - nip off to the toilet or start talking to other people (you're there to network, right? So, network).
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 6:18 AM on January 21, 2012

1- While it is metafilter tradition to not over-comment on threads, I think the comments here are a fine exception. By asking and answering questions, we have made progress into solving the problem. We eventually learned about the "vegetarian" thing, and that led to the right answer, which is that there is some little thing about the asker's tone that seems to put people a little on edge.

2- It sounds like your professor (or your interpretation of your professor) is a little too pro-drinking. Maybe they are just an extrovert, trying to encourage you to get out there and network. Or, maybe they are one of those weird control freaks who like to "hold court" in the after-party, free of the constraints of someone else running the seminar.

3- That said, the professor is half-right. A lot of the value of conferences and seminars is in what you do during the downtime. But this doesn't have to be at the hotel bar- you can also look for what the other people who aren't at the bar are doing, and go do what they are doing.

This reminds me of a time a bunch of friends and I went to a beach town for a long weekend thing. Think "8 20-something year old dudes in one hotel room" kind of thing. One afternoon, there was a massive argument about what to do. Half wanted to go "do something" and half wanted to just go to the beach and chill. We realized we weren't arguing so much about what to do, but about who would bend to whose will. We split off and both sides enjoyed their day. (I went to the beach.)

Some people always need to be "doing something". Many of us probably have that aunt or cousin or brother-in-law who is always being "meta" at family parties. They stand off in the back while people are singing happy birthday and fret about whether there is enough ice, or planning the next party, or worrying about jockeying cars in the driveway. In many contexts, those people are planning the drinking afterwards.

4- I have a friend who doesn't drink. We gave him hell when we were youths, but he was thankfully confident in his stance and never gave in. Over the years, I've come to learn from his example and rarely drink myself. But that is because he was completely non-judgey about it. It is HIS decision, and if we would just ignore it, we would see that it makes no difference whatsoever what he chooses to ingest. And we eventually did. Only the hardest-core alcoholics still bug him, because his choice offends their choice/addiction.

But I do notice that because I found value in cutting down my drinking, I find that no matter how hard I try, I can occasionally come off as judgmental about other people's. I don't mean to- I don't look down on them or anything. But I DO feel myself needing to justify my decision to them, and that can sounds like judging even when it isn't. Just the other weekend I heard myself doing it, because some friends of mine were relating how they had made friends with an older couple down the block who seem to take their drinking as a professional sport. The kind of people who know which bars have drink specials on what night, who plan their vacations around what places have the most liberal drink coupons, etc. I was concerned about my friends, because it seemed to me like these neighbors were leading them down a bad path. Unfortunately, I couldn't articulate that without sounding like I was judging or lecturing.

5- See if you can find this week's "The Office" on Hulu or something. Jim was trying to be the "make a memorable appearance and cut out early" guy. Instead of just being in the moment for a small amount of time, he was never "there" except to try to give the impression he was in attendance.
posted by gjc at 7:25 AM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

It seems to me that you're putting booze on a particular pedestal where it doesn't belong. To those who are going out and drinking, alcohol is just a fact of life. It's in the background. But it seems to be a Thing for you, one that carries certain weight and meaning. Even when you repeat that you don't judge people for drinking, I think you doth protest too much; as someone who drinks regularly, it wouldn't even occur to me that you might judge me for it. I don't even understand what there is to judge. It's just a thing I do.

You need to take a deep breath and stop ascribing so much significance to booze. I think you seem insecure and a little intimidated by this very routine aspect to the lives of many of your peers. It reminds me of the anxieties and fears that sexually inexperienced people project about sex, when, after some experiences, you realize, oh hey it's just sex and I'm still just me. Frankly, you sound a bit inexperienced with the bottle, and if you're not opposed to it, I might even suggest you give full-on drunkenness the old college try just to see what it's about (in a safe environment, with people you trust).
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:43 AM on January 21, 2012

Most heavy social drinkers aren't drinking to get drunk, they are drinking to have a fun, exciting time. Drinking != fun, exciting time, but a subset of the population finds that the most reliable way to manufacture fun and excitement is to be in a crowd of heavy drinkers and do outrageous things. It's unfortunate that some heavy drinkers can't accept that others can drink less and still be part of the fun, exciting group, but it seems that you are encountering that problem - when you drink less, they don't feel like you're as much a part of the experience.

I used to be one of those people who drank heavily in hopes that it would lead to fun and excitement, and I get it - frankly, it often works if you have the right crowd. But now I'm becoming a much more moderated drinker, and I've had to come up with some strategies to keep my heavy-drinking friends feeling comfortable and make myself feel comfortable as well.

1) Be gregarious and open to things. One of the big impacts of alcohol is lowered inhibitions. So work on selectively lowering your inhibitions without much alcohol. When in a situation where people want to party: Laugh loudly. Be super friendly. Agree with dumb ideas (as long as they aren't harmful) like dancing awkwardly or singing karaoke. When somene comes up and puts their arm around your shoulder and is way too friendly or overshares, smile like it's totally awesome and not awkward. Basically, do the fun things that drunk people do, without the excessive booze and bad judgement.

2) Get fake drinks for yourself. Any clear carbonated liquid (Sprite, soda, tonic) with a lime looks like a variety of drinks - vodka and soda, G&T, etc. When others are drinking more heavily than me, I usually alternate 1 alcoholic drink a tonic with lime. No one has questioned me or hassled me, ever. Occasionally you might have to "run to the bathroom" and intercept the waiter to tell them "I'm not drinking heavily tonight. When I order a G&T, don't put any gin in it." Then order G&T with wild abandon. Works like a charm, moderates your drinking, and keeps you hydrated.

3) Every once in a while, let yourself go. Choose one night a month when you can sleep in the next day and roll with it. Don't black out, but if you want to have 3 drinks in an hour do so. Just have a plan - when are you going to slow down (fake drinks are great for slowing down), and make sure you can get a cab home. Sleep in the next day, then get back to work. You'll have a good story with your new fiends without an implicit promise to drink every weekend.

Also, this depends on the age of people in your department, but many people go to grad school at a time in their lives that is the tail-end of heavy drinking. As people age, mature, and gain responsibilities (not just coursework, but careers, marriages, and kids) they simply have to cut back on the drinking. So if you can use the strategies above to remain friends, as others begin to slow down you'll be in a good position to spend more time with them doing non-drinking or less-drinking activities.
posted by Tehhund at 8:26 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think right now, you're the 1 in 10 that doesn't care to get looped; in a couple of years, you'll be part of the 4 in 10 that don't do it. Five years from now there will still be 2 in 10 that like to do it, and they will, and that's fine. There will be 8 of you that are getting things accomplished.

There's a lot to be said for NOT having to learn things the hard way. Be pleasant, always go by and say hello, and always be on your way to something else...
posted by halfbuckaroo at 10:11 AM on January 21, 2012

I used to have a male friend that would drink out of a pepsi can all night. If anyone asked him why he wasn't drinking, he would hand the pepsi can to that person and ask them to take a sip. The pepsi was mixed with vodka. After a while, no one asked anymore and everyone assumed he was drinking, even though there were times he was just drinking straight pepsi.

As far as I'm concerned it's nobodys business whether you're drinking or not. You're an adult capable of making your own decisions. If they can't understand that, that's their problem. Immature people judge whether you're not "conforming with the crowd."
posted by sybarite09 at 10:35 AM on January 21, 2012

I have friends who drink a lot. I have friends who don't ever drink. We have good times together. No one cares what the others are consuming.

If people are reacting to your perceived vegetarian snobbish (when you're not a vegetarian?) and your perceived disdain for drinking (even though you do drink?) then I think you definitely have some weird social issue that is inviting these comments.

That's one possibility, but there are 2 more:

1) You're wrong, no one cares, and you're seeing behaviors that aren't there.
2) You hang out with assholes.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:20 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get one drink and sip it very slowly. Get the bartender to pour you a fake drink, like seltzer w/ lime. And people who pressure you to drink when you don't want to should make you question THEIR desirability as friends, not YOUR possible flaws. Not liking to drink or to be drunk is a completely fine preference to have.
posted by prefpara at 5:20 PM on January 22, 2012

« Older Taking my funny face to Paris   |   Enough of TAL, I want something else Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.