“Why don’t you drink?” is a question I’ve probably been asked eight thousand times in my life. And here’s the problem: There is no good answer—and by that I mean an answer that will get people to leave you alone. There is no answer that doesn’t involve someone trying to push a drink on you anyway or worse, push a bunch of questions on you.
I know this because I’ve tried nearly all of the available excuses at one time or another, some truthfully and others out of desperation. The real reason is somewhat boring: I don’t drink because I dislike the taste. But if it were otherwise, I still wouldn’t drink. Less out of any religious or moral reason, but because I have trouble with compulsive behaviors and try to steer clear of such territory. That is to say: I’m not an alcoholic, but I easily could be. I’m addicted to about a half dozen other things already—and those things aren’t even addictive.
But none of this should matter. I made a choice. A personal choice. Not an ironclad one by any means, but generally a healthy, responsible one that I try to stick to.
And yet…And yet…as anyone who doesn’t drink can tell you, the result of their decision not to drink is not any sort of relief or respect, but endless obnoxious conversations about it.
-Do you want a drink?
-No, really, what do you want to drink?
-It’s ok, I don’t like to drink. I’m good.
-Are you sure? It’s on me.
-No, thank you. I appreciate it but I’m ok.
-Why? Do you not like the taste? Do you have to be somewhere later? Are you in recovery?
What if I was in recovery? Is that going to make for light bar chatter? Should one really need some harrowing, rock bottom story to opt out of this inane exchange? Does one really need a centuries old religious ban to justify passing on a beverage? Apparently. Because God forbid, you make the mistake and try to give any other reason, like: “Look, I don’t like it.” This is probably the worst mistake someone can do.
Because instead of faux-concern, any discussion about not liking the taste of alcohol is inevitably populated by idiots who assume it’s because you just haven’t tried the right drink. Have you tried [insert fruity drink]? But have you tried really good alcohol? Maybe you would like [insert other obvious drink]? Have you tried that?
Yes. Yes. Yes. All of them. Is it so inconceivable that there would be a difference of opinion when it comes to a drink that most people have to throw back quickly or dilute with other liquids in order to tolerate? Is it really that the person who doesn’t like drinking fermented old fruit or potatoes that is the weird one?
Most people who don’t like alcohol have tried to. Like, really tried. Life, they’ve found, would be much easier if they did. They tried it as kids, they tried it as adults, they’ve bought and sipped plenty of beers just so people would leave them alone. Maybe they’ve finally had enough.
For me, it was trying a cocktail made with cereal milk from David Chang’s Milk Bar and realizing that it was practically a milkshake and I still hated it. It’s hopeless. And the idea of acquiring a taste by doing something you don’t like a lot? That’s got to be the worst idea I’ve ever heard.
Because drinking is so central to adult culture, because so many people are insecure about their own relationship with alcohol, the idea that someone might choose to live their lives a little bit differently from there’s is grounds for a double take. I would also guess that the same inability to relate socially to others that contributes to drinking in the first place might have something to do with particular insistence on discussing this topic with non-drinkers. I don’t know.
What I do know is that for the contrarian in me, it has all had the singular effect of hardening my dislike and avoidance. There’s that line from Mark Twain—the one about how, whenever one finds themselves on the side of the majority, the correct move is to pause and reflect.
I have to ask: What the fuck does it matter to you so much anyway?
But if you really are so curious about it, let me tell you what life has been like as a non-drinker: I still go out. I still get into trouble. I still say what I think. I still relax and decompress. I’m just actually present for all of it.
What I don’t have to deal with is any of the baggage. No hangovers. Fewer embarrassing losses of self-control. No awkward apologies. No large bar tabs (unless I’m buying, which happens often enough). No DUIs, nor a worry about how I might get home somewhere. Alexander the Great once killed his best friend in a drunken brawl—none of that either.
All of these little bonuses added up. Looking back, I see they were instrumental in succeeding at an early age by the way—of getting an edge on the competition. While my peers had a nightly habit to support or a crutch they depended on, I didn’t. Especially working with figures like Dov Charney or Tucker Max, I could be around temptations without being distracted. It was harder at first, but easier in the long run. Drinking now wouldn’t have much of an impact on my life, but it certainly did early on.
There are some tradeoffs of course. As Cicero observed a rather long time ago, “No one dances sober—unless they are a lunatic.” So dancing is pretty much out. Deciding not to drink is pretty much a de facto decision to never dance again, that is true. One must know that going in.
The other tradeoffs are not so much that as they are a sense of clarity. For instance, a sober person can more clearly see, as they get older, just how much their friends depend on drinking–it’s their past time, their relief, their excuse for getting together, and sadly, a growing problem in their lives. It also provides a new perspective on certain things. It becomes absurd and funny rather than enviable to watch the apparently obligatory wine fascination that comes with any sort of wealth or status. (for fun try challenging them to a blind taste test). And no sober person has ever walked into a nightclub and said: “I like this. Let’s spend more time in places like this.”
So that’s why I don’t drink.
It’s also why I don’t give two shits if you do. Because with a few exceptions, it has no impact on my life. And therefore, it’s not my business one way or the other.
Now please return the favor.