I can't drink you under the table. The table's already floating away...
November 13, 2014 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm a super lightweight (even if I've eaten) who sometimes goes out drinking with new colleagues, in small groups, often as the only female in the group. I'm a happy melty drunk who gets dreamy and quiet rather than more social -- not the worst of all possibilities, but clearly not right for these important professional contexts. Any strategies for always being the non-drinker or less-than-one-drink-er in occasionally competitive and/or macho drinking cultures?
posted by kalapierson to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am that person (I never drink, and I often hang out in groups of heavy drinkers), and it is decidedly not a big deal, unless I make it one. "No thanks" "oh, not tonight" "no thanks" "I'm good." Some people advocate having a nonalcoholic beverage that looks like it could be alcoholic (e.g. sparking water with lime) but I never bother with that, and as long as I keep smiling and just waving off and saying "oh, I'm good, thanks" and going back to conversation it just isn't a big deal, and it isn't.
posted by brainmouse at 12:07 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm you.

You actually can get away with nursing a drink if you just keep talking away to everyone. If you always have something in your glass, whenever someone gets up to "get another round", if you still have plenty in your glass you can hold it up cheerfully and say "I'm still workin' on this, thanks!" Or try being the one to go get the drinks for the table - and just make sure you always get either cranberry juice, ginger ale, or club soda with lemon or something, and then just be drinking that. You don't need to tell people what you've gotten.

I actually wouldn't sweat it, though - there are enough non-drinkers in the world who are non-drinkers for legit reasons that people probably won't make a stink or even care.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:08 PM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Really the only thing to do is turn down drinks or build up a tolerance.

If you start having two glasses of wine with dinner every night, this problem will go away, I promise.
posted by 256 at 12:11 PM on November 13, 2014

As someone who drinks sometimes but not all the time, I just want to say that your presence as a non-drinker or just-a-few-sippers can be really helpful and encouraging for others who may want to drink less but are feeling pressured to. I had a coworker once who never drank and I always felt more secure and relieved when he was around as a counter to the guys who were wanting to have five rounds. So, uh, thanks.

But yeah -- just have something in your glass and sip very, very slowly. Doesn't need to be alcohol. Anyone who specifically asks you what you're drinking and/or shames you for not drinking alcohol has the problem. You don't.

(Also, randomly, have you tried drinking caffeinated drinks like Irish coffee or something with Red Bull to counteract the dreamy feeling? This might not be the healthiest of options...)
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:13 PM on November 13, 2014

I also am a super lightweight, and I work in the land of the fabled three-martini lunch. The only time people give me crap is if I'm holding NO beverage, or an empty glass. I usually get A Thing (cocktail, wine, champagne, punch, lemonade, etc.), nurse it forever, and then maybe switch to water, since talking does make you thirsty. I think indulging around someone who is conspicuously not consuming anything makes people feel funny, but as long as I'm holding something, people are pretty chill about it. I get pretty salty with people who insist that everyone must binge drink whether they want to or not, and I suggest you do too.

I've never had to get a "fake drink," like club soda with a lime wedge, but I suppose you could do that if you wanted.

Actually, now this makes me want to order a Shirley Temple on the first round at my next conference, just to see what happens!
posted by bowtiesarecool at 12:15 PM on November 13, 2014

Choose drinks with lower ABV. Many bars and most restaurants will list this on the menu, so I will actively choose a beer that's 4.5% rather than one that's 9%, and never hard liquor. If you always go to the same places, you'll figure out which drinks are the safer ones and which ones aren't and then just get your usual every time.

But in a lot of groups it's fine to drink nonalcoholic, as long as you have something in your hand it counts. If your colleagues are jerks about this, you have a bigger problem.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:17 PM on November 13, 2014

Also, previously and previouslier. Some good suggestions there.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:19 PM on November 13, 2014

Response by poster: (Thanks all! FYI, I don't feel ashamed [or actively shamed by anyone] -- it's more the layer of further perceived otherness / non-adultness, in a profession where females are still often perceived as less senior and less legit until proven otherwise. And these are not steady colleagues, always new people in new contexts/cities.)
posted by kalapierson at 12:20 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I am not a drinker and it gets pretty extreme for me - I really only drink coffee, water, and tea. Which makes those social work gatherings where everyone is milling around with drinks a lot harder. Especially when the drinks are free! So, I just hold a glass of water because usually the people hosting the parties get prickly if you don't have a drink, and they can't fathom not wanting soda even if you're not an alcohol drinker. It feels like an affront to them I think if they paid all this money to have free alcohol and soda etc available and I'm just not interested in partaking. So water it is. It puts off any questions (although I have had people ask me if I'm pregnant, which is a different ball of wax entirely, because being a pregnant woman at my stage in this career path is a detriment, unfortunately). And yes - I am a tiny woman, and not drinking makes me seem like more of an outsider in a male-dominated profession where everyone is getting at least a bit tipsy. The glass of water helps because me not drinking doesn't become a topic of conversation.
posted by sockermom at 12:22 PM on November 13, 2014

Just for the record, I don't really like drinking (any liquid) when I'm not eating. I don't put a glass in my hand, even of water, because it's cold and I don't like holding it, and it's never a big deal, because I don't make it one. I don't answer any "why" questions (again "oh, no thanks" "oh, not today" "i'm good, thanks", etc, repeated with a smile, even when they don't answer the questions asked, all work just fine, repeated ad infinitum).
posted by brainmouse at 12:23 PM on November 13, 2014

But in a lot of groups it's fine to drink nonalcoholic, as long as you have something in your hand it counts.

Yeah, this is truer than most people realize. You probably feel more out of place than you are actually coming across to others.

My husband quit drinking almost a decade ago. He has been at the same job for four years now, and has attended many departmental meetings and Christmas parties where everyone is drinking. Nobody has ever noticed that he doesn't drink, which he knows because last week at a launch party someone handed him a glass of champagne in his office (which he let sit there for a while and later poured out and, again, nobody noticed).

Have a glass of wine, switch to ginger ale or Sprite, drink it slowly, hang out and socialize. The chances anyone will notice are very slim. And of the people who notice, most won't care.
posted by something something at 12:28 PM on November 13, 2014

I always get lemonade or water when other people are drinking alcohol. I just don't like the taste or the smell of alcoholic drinks.

No one has ever asked me about it. I think it is that thing where you don't want to embarrass someone in case they are in AA or something; it would be rude to ask.

Once you have a regular thing that you get instead, everyone will be doing their best to make sure you get your regular thing. After so many years of ordering lemonade, there "Oh no!" is echoing all around the table when I am informed there is no lemonade available.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 12:38 PM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I studied in England and the amount of alcohol at every event was higher than my past experiences, I sometimes ordered beers that I did not actually like very much (or cloudy cider, which I find challenging to gulp down) in order to prolong them. Or gin and tonics, heavy on the tonic-- also just a tonic or seltzer with lime. I also really like scotch, which is great for sipping for ages, but it gets expensive if you have to drink out a lot. When I didn't drink, I would usually get something to hold and sip anyway-- I happen to really like seltzer water in general!-- because that way I wouldn't feel left out. But I think it's true that most people won't comment on it even without a soda prop.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:45 PM on November 13, 2014

I don't like getting sloshed with colleagues, but as a married woman age 28-35, not drinking implies that I'm pregnant (which is not a huge deal at my company, but prefer to avoid for now). So, I have a few go-to drinks: white wine spritzer, campari and soda, and st germain and soda -- all "drinky" enough to shout "NOT PREGNANT" but light enough to not get too tipsy with one. I order a club soda at the same time, and focus on drinking the soda and sipping the boozy drink. When people go up for refills, I ask for a refill on the soda, because I'm still working on the other drink (this way I'm not drawing attention by "switching" to water).
posted by melissasaurus at 12:53 PM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

And these are not steady colleagues, always new people in new contexts/cities.

That makes it even easier, in some ways; if someone actually notices that the glass of whatever in your hand is not full of alcohol, you can say that you think you're coming down with something, or you're just getting over something, or you have an early call in the morning, or a call when you get back to your hotel that you need to be sober for, etc.
posted by rtha at 1:10 PM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's fine to not keep up in drinks, but it helps to keep up in buying rounds. I have a coworker who doesn't drink at all, but goes to our company-sponsored social bar outings. He is a great socializer, and sometimes it's me, a couple of Russians (pounding seriously), and him. He never lets go of his coke, and makes sure he buys a round at least once when he finishes his (and teetotallers usually don't refill as often as serious drinkers).

"You're buying me a drink? I like you!"
posted by IAmBroom at 1:24 PM on November 13, 2014

Order a pint of Guinness. Nurse it as long as you require.

Reasons a pint of Guinness is the best thing to get if you're a lightweight:

- Very low alcohol as compared to almost any other alcoholic drink.

- Not terribly cold, so it doesn't matter if you drink it slowly.

- Filling, so you won't accidentally down it and find yourself wasted. The filling aspect also helps if everyone gets way ahead of you, because you can just say you're full.

- Looks substantial and serious, so if your social circle is all macho about shit, they will have no ability to pick apart your choices re alcohol.
posted by Sara C. at 1:30 PM on November 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Here's a post on the Blue about Jim Koch, owner of the Boston Brewing Company, and his trick for staying sober when drinking all night.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:37 PM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

further perceived otherness / non-adultness, in a profession where females are still often perceived as less senior and less legit

Whatever tactics you end up using, I'd suggest a self-pep-talk before any of these events, where you remind yourself how awesome you are and what a privilege it will be for the new colleagues to get to work with you. The new colleagues might turn out to be anti-sexist allies. Or if they are sexist, it might not impact you. Or if they are sexist in a way that denies you an opportunity, that'll be their loss, and so sad for them not to have to opportunity to work with you or enjoy your work product, and kind of lucky for you in the long run because when that door closes another one will open that will be even better. If they get weirded out by your not drinking (or drinking very little), that is their problem, and if they make it your problem in any way, however subtle, how unfortunate to have encountered such terrible people.

What I've written above is a little over-the-top, but I think it's helpful for those of us who have an acute understanding of how social structures are arrayed against us, to indulge in enough optimism or bravado or humor or whatever it takes to balance our psychology back out enough to maintain confidence. The confidence you project in your choice--if you can truly deep down assume that whatever you choose to drink or not drink, it's not going to be a big deal--will be the key to make any of these tactics work for you.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:40 PM on November 13, 2014

Agree with all the suggestions above to keep a drink (even non-alcoholic) in your hand all the time, to avoid standing out. Also a good idea if the group is doing rounds, is to buy the first round. This establishes you as part of the group immediately. Think of it as a business expense!
posted by dave99 at 1:52 PM on November 13, 2014

If you want to drink but not get drunk, that's what white wine spritzers are for.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:49 PM on November 13, 2014

I usually order a ginger ale with a lime. It looks like something and if you don't make a BFD about it, no one will ask.

Don't get drunk, don't drink if you don't feel like it. Guys really don't care if you're drinking, they just don't want to be judged. I doubt they even notice what anyone else is drinking.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:15 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have done a little searching because my mother once told me her father ate something (fatty) in specific before going to parties so he could tolerate the alcohol better without actually being impaired (he was a businessman of some sort, so I am guessing he needed to keep his wits about him and that parties were part of doing business). It won't make you magically able to keep up, but it might shore up your ability to drink a smidge. This article fits with my vague memory of what my mother told me:

Best Food To Eat Before Drinking

Plus, you know, a lot of the other stuff said here about faux drinks and whatever.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 5:21 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Order drinks that you don't actually like very much, like very bitter beers. It naturally slows you down.
posted by empath at 5:58 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a two drink limit - I drink mine slowly, or I try to, but even if I don't, I have a limit and that's it. So after that it's club soda with lime. Which I'm sure most people could mistake for a gin and tonic because they're not actually paying attention to what I'm drinking. I guess if I really had to disguise the lack of drinking, I'd order a gin and tonic for my first two drinks and then once making the switch it would hardly look much different at all. I figure, however annoying peer pressure might be, there's no way resisting it could be worse than the miserable day-long hangovers I get from anything over three drinks.
posted by citron at 8:19 PM on November 13, 2014

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