COLUMN: Don't judge me because I don't drink

Monday, September 13, 2010 | 7:08 p.m. CDT; updated 10:31 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I enjoy a good night out. Usually I’ll never turn down a night of clubbing in Columbia. I love to dance and have a good time with my friends. But no matter how much fun I’m having, there’s always one thing that’s never a part of my night: alcohol.

Take a few seconds to process that.

You might be thinking, “Doesn’t everyone drink in a college town?”

No. Not everyone does.

Last semester, I went out with a group of people, a few of whom I hadn’t met before, to a club. While we were leaving, a guy who was among the people I didn’t know asked me if I drank. I said, “No.”

Then, he asked me the next logical question, “Do you smoke?” I can't be sure if he was referring to marijuana or cigarettes (although he smoked the latter later), but because I don't smoke either of them, I replied, “No."  

Because I was the only sober person in the group, I drove people back to one of their friends' apartments, as I usually do. I was sitting on the couch inside when someone asked me if I wanted something to drink. After getting tired of being asked about alcohol, I casually said, “No, thanks, I don’t drink,” hoping I wouldn’t have to field the question again. Generally, I don’t bother drawing attention to the fact that I don’t drink for the exact reason of what happened next.

An underage, intoxicated girl across the room erupted, yelling (and slurring), “You don’t drink? This is Columbia, what else do you do!?”

At that point, I immediately rose from the couch and stated that I was leaving and that anyone who needed a ride home should come with me.

That instance is only one of the reasons I’m hesitant to tell people I never drink. While it’s a pride-point for me, it’s usually not worth the trouble of (a) getting a blank stare, (b) being asked if I smoke instead or (c) being asked the inevitable question of “Why not?” Despite being asked “Why not?” multiple times, I have yet to come up with a definitive reason. Before I was 21, I would always say because it was illegal. I can’t really fall back on that anymore.

I moved on to, “Because it’s irresponsible.” That always resulted in the person asking why I'm not a "casual drinker," a term I'm not even sure I can define. I think it means having maybe just one glass of wine with dinner or only one beer at a party. I guess that's OK. But if driving is involved, it's still probably not the best idea, although I understand one beer will not throw many people into a drunken stupor.

Lately, I’ve been simply using, “Because I don’t want to,” because that pretty much sums it up. Drinking alcohol and getting drunk are things I simply do not want to do. I like to be in control of situations, and I want to be able to watch people to prevent bad things from happening. Is that so unusual?

Given the number of awkward stares and inquiries I’ve gotten in six semesters at MU, I’d have to say yes. I think I've gotten fewer blank stares about being gay than about not drinking, which is coincidentally a relief. Sometimes the fact that I'm gay and not a drinker seems like a huge disconnect, since a stereotype seems to exist that all homosexuals are raging alcoholics.

On a handful of occasions, I’ve unloaded a whole spiel about not needing alcohol to have fun, wanting to remember the occasion the next day, not wanting to be hungover, not wanting to vomit, not wanting to spend the money on booze and wanting to drive myself, and others, home after the occasion.

While all the above are true, I only unleash that fury if someone is unnecessarily rude toward my nonalcoholic nature. There’s no reason to have an attitude toward me for not drinking. I might be the one who drives you home later.

Drunk driving gets under my skin more than almost anything. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a story about someone getting pulled over in Columbia while he or she was driving under the influence of alcohol and was let off with nothing more than a warning by police officers.

While I certainly can’t prove these stories are true, I believe them. The way a person telling one of these stories flaunts it as if he or she earned the “get out of a DWI free card” is unbelievable. As if he or she somehow won the game. If getting a DWI is losing then what would a collision with a family of four be? 

I think winning is getting home via a driver who isn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Then waking up the next morning, hungover or not, and realizing you made the right decision to let someone else take the wheel.

Next time you encounter someone who doesn’t drink, however rare that may be in Columbia, instead of immediately assuming he or she smokes, or giving him or her a blank stare, try a friendly high-five instead. Say thanks in advance because that person might be there to stop you from doing something stupid, whether that ranges from simply falling down to driving home.

Corey Motley is a fresh member of the Op-Ed team this semester. He blogs about video games on under the username Survival Shooter, tweets under the username CoreyMotley and writes video game reviews for Vox Magazine.

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Parker Scott September 14, 2010 | 11:44 a.m.

I sort of suspected you were a non-drinker. Nothing about you suggests you're one to regularly get crunked (split infinitive - deal with it). I don't drink because I was raised not to do so, but so is everyone where I'm from. So there's little pressure to drink amongst the circles I run in. But where you're from, it's not only now legal for you to drink, it's also culturally accepted and, like you said, somewhat expected that you would drink. It's just what you do. And that makes it all the more impressive, Corey Motley.

(Report Comment)
Rachel Brekhus September 15, 2010 | 10:36 a.m.

When I have people over at home, I'll offer drinks and not make a big deal when someone says "no." When out, I'll order my own drink (alcoholic or not, depending mostly on whether I'm driving) or ask who wants to go in on a pitcher, and not make a big deal of the answers I get.

I've learned that there can be many reasons for that "no," and that talking about those reasons is usually not on the person's agenda. The person might be taking medications that conflict with alcohol and not want to go into their whole medical history with me; they might have come from a non-drinking culture; they might just be like you and value being in control and acting as "catcher in the rye" for those who might otherwise drink and drive; they might be low on cash and saving on drinks.

I may be curious about it, and be genuinely interested in what the choice is actually saying about the person, but I find that if somebody really wants to talk about it, they'll bring it up themselves, or maybe it will come up naturally in a conversation about related topics, if it's a person I get to know more over time. But when I hear other people obsessing about somebody's non-drinker status, or try to push drinks on them after that first "no," it makes me want to squirm.

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