My Super Sweet (Dry) 21st

There’s always an awkwardness when you refuse a beer.

It’s college. This is the point of our existence, right? This is our premier social activity.

Telling someone I don’t drink usually goes over about as well as a fart in church.

“…Oh.” I get this a lot.

“Why?” is a common question.

“Have you, like, ever had something to drink?”

“Oh, are you Mormon?” (A personal favorite.)

“Oh, girl, me neither.” Funny, I’m pretty sure I saw you passed out last week.

There’s an assumption that there are only three reasons for not drinking in college: You’re too timid, you’re religious, or you have some deep dark back story that explains everything. And for some reason, strangers (specifically 19-year-old ones) feel like you owe them an explanation. It’s demanded. And when it doesn’t come, it’s uncomfortable.

But still, there is a grace period for those souls under 21. You say you don’t drink and people let it slide, assuming you’re just mega-paranoid. But 21 is that momentous birthday we have all waited for. It’s the birthday that marks your college career.

Unless you’re me.

Yes, I have personal reasons for not drinking. Maybe I have a deep dark story in my past. But shouldn’t it be enough for me to just say, “I don’t want to?”

Mostly I don’t drink because I dislike the taste. Additionally, I’m a lightweight who gets sleepy after one sip. And I’m a control freak. I greatly dislike losing control of my faculties. Furthermore, I greatly dislike the person I am when I drink.

Which is why when my 21st rolls around next week, I will be more excited for my free Starbucks than my first “legal” drink.

Not everyone treats me like a Cyclops. My friends know I don’t drink, and they don’t give me a hard time about it. In return, I don’t give them a hard time about it either.

Just because I don’t drink doesn’t make me an uber-religious fun killing mongoloid. I sit around and watch movies while my friends mix disgusting concoctions of vodka and flavored sodas. They get drunk while watching wedding shows, and I get (relatively) left alone.

If I’m not standing in the corner judging you, why do you need to seek me out to judge me?

I don’t understand why drinking is this great bastion of college experience. I know it’s a way to flex your muscles and freedom once out from under your parents. But I just don’t get it.

I wish it wasn’t such a staple and so ingrained into our perceptions of who we have to be as young adults. I wish people would understand—there is nothing weird about not drinking!

See Also
person pouring liquor on drinking glass

Our society doesn’t judge people who don’t smoke or do drugs—so why is drinking such a heavy line?

I wish I could change this perception of nondrinkers. I wish that when I tell people I don’t drink, I wouldn’t get responses like, “Whoa, I would never have guessed. You’re so normal!”

So, for those of you who drink, try to keep an open mind. It is possible to have fun without alcohol. Not everyone who abstains is a Mormon or crazy or something. When someone says “I don’t drink,” just go “OK!” and move on. More beer for you.

For those of you who don’t drink—don’t make excuses. You have nothing to apologize for. Don’t be the kid in the corner with the crossed arms judging everyone. Find your own way to let loose.

So let’s find some acceptance, and work towards a world where you don’t have to drink till you puke to make friends. Puking is never cute, ladies.

(And PS: you’re all invited to my 21st pizza party).


Photo by Abbie Redmon

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View Comments (9)
  • I’m sorry, but this article feels like a massive pat on your own back. Not drinking in college isn’t this huge thing. I know plenty of people who don’t drink- and no one cares. You act like its this huge novel concept and people have treated you badly about it. It just strikes me as massive priveldge. In college you get to pretend this is some huge thing, but when you get out into the real world you’re going to have a slap of awakening. No one is going to care that you don’t drink. No one is going to give a shit about your “morals”. Or maybe your life will suck so much that you’ll decide to take up drinking.
    Just a thought, before you get on your high horse of supremacy.

    • As a 27-year-old who doesn’t drink a ton, people DO care post-college. There is still a ton of pressure to drink, despite the fact that my friends are more my age now. I don’t know why this article made you so defensive when drinking is the prevailing “acceptable” social thing to do, and I don’t think she’s particularly on a high horse about it.

    • I agree with Val, I’m well out of college and still get stares at work parties and other events when people expect just everyone to be drinking. I’ve gotten a lot of strange looks and just as many questions like “Oh my god! Why not?!” and so on and so forth. If you happen to frequent social circles and gatherings where that’s looked upon as nothing out of the ordinary, good for you. The rest of us, however, do not have that privilege.

  • Love this, thanks for posting. I completely disagree with Donna. I think this is sending a really positive message – that we should all be cool with each other’s choices, and just enjoy life. And in my experience, the questions do continue after college, but people are cool once they see you let loose without the help of a drink

  • I like the overall idea, but I felt kinda judged because I drink. That probably wasn’t your goal, but it just felt weird that you hate being judged, say you don’t judge your friends, but then put in a sentence like: I sit around and watch movies while my friends mix disgusting concoctions of vodka and flavored sodas. They get drunk while watching wedding shows, and I get (relatively) left alone.

    It just seemed a little judgmental to me.

    • Hey Jenna-
      I totally see where you could feel that way. I promise the intent was not to judge! The “disgusting concoctions” was a joke. What college kid hasn’t made some gross combination of alcohol with whatever you have on hand? Everyone at some point has had that “this is a great idea!” moment, and then later realized that maybe they’re not the pro-bartender they thought they were. It was mostly poking fun at my friends.
      It was less a judgement on the act of drinking, and more a judgement of why would you ever think bourbon went well with Dr. Pepper?

  • Context is key here. Stigmas surrounding drinking, especially in collegiate communities, really vary. In some places, even the responsible, legal consumption of alcohol is forbidden and stigmatized, which often creates unsafe approaches to drinking as secrecy becomes paramount. Other schools create the opposite environment, in which unhealthy binge drinking is the social norm and those who abstain or drinking in moderation are stigmatized. I do think that, for many non-drinking or light-drinking college students, there is a reasonable perception of stigma, and that’s a really important thing for us to talk about – and for that, I really appreciate Hope’s strength in discussing an experience that’s often overlooked. But, I do think that this piece is addressing a particular kind of drinking and presuming some universality there. Drinking at college (and in life) happens in a lot of different ways, and what Hope seems to be characterizing is just one iteration of that. In addition to binge drinking, in addition to the kind of gross combos of cheap alcohol and sweet sodas, there are also college students who drink responsibly (and I include underage and of-age drinkers here, although of course the former is illegal, but also, it happens, etc.). I have a lot of friends who party in the way Hope describes alcohol consumption at college, but I also have friends who brew their own beer, friends who like to enjoy wine with dinner, friends who are amateur mixologists. And all of that is really cool, totally healthy, and a legitimate iteration of the college experience! I really empathize with the experience that’s being represented here, by Hope, but I’d also just like to note that not all people who drink in college drink in the way that’s being described here, and that there are a lot of valences here. We shouldn’t see this as a case of drinkers versus non-drinkers. There are people who drink moderately, people who have a glass of wine with their families, people who like really good beer and that’s it, people who go to parties regularly but drink lightly, people who like to get drunk but do so considerately and safely, and so on.

    And, one final note: binge drinking to the point of vomiting is actually a sign of a pretty unsafe experience with alcohol. That’s an extreme version of drinking at college (and in life), and it shouldn’t be normalized as an expectation – but it also shouldn’t be characterized as a generality.

  • I love this, thank you so much for writing this. It makes me glad to know that I’m not alone! I mean, I knew I wasn’t the only one in the world who doesn’t drink, but everything you said is exactly how I feel!

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