The waitress looks at me. It’s my turn to order a drink.
“I’m good with just the water for now,” I say, giving her a little head nod, like I haven’t said those words a hundred times before; like the real drink order, the one that includes an alcoholic beverage, will come next time she visits the table. It won’t, but it feels like a natural thing to say in the moment.
I’m 30. I’ve never had a drink in my life.
I’ve thought about writing about this choice for a while, because it’s sparked a lot of curiosity in others. People who don’t know me well (and even those that do) have struggled at times to understand it. I give them, and have always given them, the same explanation I’m about to give you.
It just doesn’t interest me.
But WHY, they then ask, after stating that “that’s so cool!” or “good for you!” as if there has to be some other, deeper answer.
So first, let me get this out of the way for the armchair psychologists: I’ve never experienced any alcohol-related trauma. Basically everyone around me drinks. Wife, brother, parents, friends, colleagues, aunts, uncles, cousins, dentist, I presume, though hopefully never when I was in the chair. No issues. There’s not a bad story or anything. It’s just never interested me. I’ve never felt compelled.
I kinda like when someone asks why I don’t drink. I know that some people who haven’t asked me about it have wondered at one point or another, and maybe come to their own conclusion. So, when someone asks, while it can be awkward for a second, I like the chance to address the subject.
And for the record, I get it! When I hear about someone else who doesn’t drink, I wonder what’s up. I think it’s a really natural thing to wonder about someone. It’s especially curious because we live in a society where alcohol pervades almost everything we do, in one way or another, to an extent that drinkers can’t fully appreciate because they’re in it. Forget about social lives, that’s obvious — think about the alcohol-only Yankee Swap at work. There are a ton of little things like that that you just learn to navigate. And I don’t begrudge that…it’s a choice I’ve made, and it hasn’t really been an issue.
But it is interesting to me that in a world where we’re pretty adaptable to all sorts of dietary restrictions and understand the motivations and realities of those cases, when someone doesn’t drink, it can be different.
This non-drinker thing has been a part of my identity for about a decade. For a while, I didn’t really think about it much. Family and close friends are cool, and get it. Over the last few years, I’ve examined it a little more.
It’s funny. When we’re out, and someone asks about it, I do this little schpiel describing (100% genuinely, maybe to a fault) how I feel absolutely no judgement toward anyone drinking, and how I almost feel self-conscious just being there, because I worry that people think I’m judging them. To re-trace that for you, I would stress out of fear that someone else was thinking that I was thinking something. And I’d recount this for people, inviting them into my head, to try to make them understand.
It’s taken me a few years to unwind it, but it now feels like such a dumb, unnecessary exercise. And that’s not to say I’ll never go through it again. Because this is still something I’m grappling with.
It’s ironic, too, because I’ve experienced way more judgement because I don’t drink than anything I’ve cast on anyone else because they do drink. In fact, I’ve never implied — even to my closest friends and family, at the craziest part of a night…not that there are a ton of those (lol) but there have been some — disapproval of anyone else drinking. But my worry that others were having a less good time because they were self-conscious about my (potential) judgement would make me go that extra mile to explain my situation.
Now I don’t care. Why work so hard?
I used to think that maybe I’ll drop this at some point and start drinking, at least “socially.” But as the years go by, I’m more and more set in this. It’s not the health, it’s not the good night sleep, it’s not the smaller bills when we’re out…it’s just that I’m not interested. I feel content.
So maybe, rather than going through my whole thing the next time someone asks why I don’t drink, I’ll just say “because I don’t want to.” And if that’s not enough, I can tell them to visit whyadamdoesntdrink.com (I spent $8.97 and redirected that domain to this article.) And they’ll say “are you serious” and I’ll say “yes” and then the waitress will come back, and I’ll skip the drink and order an appetizer…probably nachos.