There is something really insulting about a shitty cocktail. When you know that the person could have made it better — or even just stronger, which is often an acceptable substitute for well-blended flavors — it just feels like such a profound letdown. Something whose only purpose in life was to be a perfect little contained moment of delicious levity has now become further proof of why you should have just stayed in tonight. When you were already upset about having to come out, it’s the discolored little nail in the coffin of your already-dead evening.
That particular night, it was someone’s birthday. I didn’t know the person that well, but she was a friend of a friend and I felt that we had met one another just enough times to make my presence at her birthday celebration an appropriate gesture. But it turned out that the bar was so heavily populated with her friends already that my attendance was completely superfluous, and totally unnoticed. This, of course, wasn’t really a problem. I’m always happy to see people being happy on their birthdays, and it certainly wasn’t my night to be noticed by anyone. But I had dragged myself against my better judgment on the premise that I was doing the right thing by going. When I was handed the mojito that seemed more like a salad with a dash of flat seltzer water, I felt my evening had been officially deemed a waste.
The thing about being unhappy while out is that everyone feels it is their job to get your spirits going and/or figure out why you’re not enjoying yourself. There will be a veritable stream of people — as though you are the bride at some sort of horrifying wedding greeting all the well-wishers — of drunk acquaintances who believe that enough cries of “What’s wrong, girl?” will elicit a satisfying response and an offer of tequila shots. “I’m just not really feeling it tonight” is never an acceptable answer. And that’s understandable; we’ve all been on the other side of that, trying to convince someone that your own fun is actually contagious if they just let themselves breathe in enough of your air.
I looked over at the birthday girl who was having far too much fun to notice that the drinks at this place were at once absurdly overpriced and aggressively-mixed, and felt envious of her. She had clearly gotten into the groove that we are all trying to get into when we go out, the one that we convince ourselves we need to find in order to truly enjoy ourselves. It’s a kind of pressure to have this Perfect Evening — the one where you looked like the birthday girl, all laughs and clinking glasses and flashing cameras — that can never really be lived up to. I remembered even otherwise-wonderful evenings that somehow felt in the moment like an acute disappointment because we hadn’t achieved that nebulous “going out” vibe that is required to make the event a success.
And on the evenings where you want to avoid that vibe at all costs, going out is a crucial mistake. Because once everyone around you gets into that mode, they feel that everyone must be taken along with them, that the party isn’t really a party unless everyone is dancing on the table and thinking about all of the photos they’re going to post on Facebook in the morning. When they ask you what’s wrong, when they look across the bar at you like you have become the boring friend, you can start to feel like they’re right. You feel like a quiet night at home, or even a relatively quiet night out with friends, is somehow insufficient. You feel guilty for not wanting to party like everyone else, for not experiencing fun in the way they are so eager to. And it might come back to you in a few days, but that doesn’t matter in the moment. All you need is to put your “fun” face on and start to enjoy yourself int he way we have all somehow deemed is the acceptable, fruitful way.
The drink was too bad to finish, and I didn’t really know enough people to make a whole round of goodbyes. I gave my regards to the birthday girl and hugged her on the way out. She was at the phase in her drunkenness where every hug is a sloppy bear hug accompanied with slurred promises to hang out as soon as possible. Even in my stark sobriety, it was endearing. She was having a good night, and I was a bit sad that I couldn’t really share it with her. But I accepted that, at least for that night, I was the boring friend. I knew that a few people would whisper about how weird I was acting, and how I didn’t drink my mojito, and why was I so boring. It didn’t bother me, even though I knew I wouldn’t see myself in any of the photos from the event the following day. It was kind of good in a way, though. Without photographic evidence of my presence, it would be like I wasn’t even there — and when you’re the boring friend, it’s not too far from the truth.