The rules of drinking are talked about quite a bit, but how to behave around nondrinkers is rarely mentioned.
Well, nondrinkers have feelings, too, and they want to be heard. We asked our nondrinking readers on Facebook what they want drinkers to know about them. This is what they said.
1. Check-splitting is rarely fair to nondrinkers
Americans spent an estimated $799 billion in the nation’s restaurants last year. Most restaurants aim to make about 30 percent of their revenue from alcohol, so those beverages can make up a hefty portion of the tab. Who hasn’t been out in a large group and when the check came, someone suggested, “How about we just split it?”
Few people want to be the only one who meekly raises a hand in protest.
“I feel extremely awkward and I find it unfair [that] I have to pay the portion of someone else’s expensive alcohol drink,” Leila Mostafavi said. “I feel it creates a silent tension and I get judged for not wanting to pay more. Is it fair for me to pay more when I drink a $3 soda?”
This was a common refrain: If alcohol raises a tab by about 30 percent, why should someone who didn’t drink any alcohol have to cover it? In any group meal out, some people will order appetizers, desserts, coffee, or a higher-priced entree, and sometimes the check roughly balances out. But when one friend orders a salad and drinks tap water and another orders the 40-ounce rib-eye and a bottle of wine, that’s not a check that should be split evenly, nondrinkers said.
If the drinkers in the group don’t step up and insist the nondrinker should pay less when everyone else had three rounds of $15 cocktails, then it’s perfectly fine for a nondrinker to pipe up and ask, “Would anyone mind if I just put in for what I ordered?” There’s no need to explain why, according to the Manner Matters etiquette column.
Reader Sheri Rego noted that while it may “sound petty,” she sometimes orders a dessert or an appetizer just to even the score when she’s out with people drinking alcohol.
“But they all expect me to share that with them,” she wrote. “They didn’t share their fancy expensive cocktail with me!!”
Several nondrinking readers said they’ve hung back and waited for others to order first. If everyone else is ordering alcoholic drinks, they ask the waiter for a separate check when it’s their turn.
2. Nondrinkers need support, too
Many people recovering from alcoholism or participating in Dry January or Sober October don’t appreciate having their abstinence turned into a “thing.” A little sensitivity would be nice, they said.
Diane Williams McMullen, who has been sober for more than 32 years, said she should not have to explain why she doesn’t drink. But still, she’s asked regularly. When pressed, she tries to use humor and says she is “allergic to alcohol ― I break out into a drunk.”
David Lawrence also tries to make a joke of it. “I just tell people I haven’t been arrested in 30 years and I’d like to keep that streak alive. That generally shuts up anyone who expects me to join in,” he said.
Not everyone who doesn’t drink is in recovery or needs to be. Yagana Shah, a former HuffPost editor, pointed out she doesn’t drink because her faith forbids it. Jeff Perlman said he quit drinking after college for health reasons. Some nondrinkers are trying to lose weight; others are trying to save money. Many others just don’t care for the taste or effect of alcohol.
According to a 2014 study out of North Carolina State University, nondrinkers felt they had to use a variety of strategies to attend social events without making themselves, their co-workers or their clients feel uncomfortable. Some study participants said they stop just short of lying about the fact they don’t drink, as if not drinking alcohol is something to be ashamed of. Instead, they would tell people “I’m not drinking tonight” or “I’ve got an early morning.”
Other study participants said they would buy an alcoholic drink, but not drink it, in order to fit in. Some said they are afraid of being seen as judgmental or “holier-than-thou.” One woman, who didn’t drink because she was taking prescription drugs for a mental health issue, told co-workers alcohol gave her migraines.
3. They don’t appreciate you badgering them to drink
“People who drink are obsessed with the habits of nondrinkers; it becomes the focus of at least part of the night’s conversation,” said Reem Baroody, an IRL friend. “At some point, someone is sure to imply that my not drinking is some kind of judgment on them and their choice to drink. This says much more about them and their insecurities than it does about my Coke with no ice.”
And yes, there is pressure on nondrinkers to drink.
Amy Flynn Eldridge, who founded the Love Without Boundaries charity, said her least favorite line is, “‘Come on … have just one. Loosen up a little.’ As if I can’t still have a great time perfectly sober.”
Thomas Pease said people have told him, “Surely one won’t kill you.” He replies, “Well, no, technically it won’t [kill me], but I still don’t want one.”
Julie Wallach, who hasn’t had a drink in 30 years, said she’s lost count of the number of times people have told her, “Oh, you can have a drink now! It’s been long enough!” She told HuffPost, “Ummm, right… When I drink, I black out, get violent and cry uncontrollably to Bread songs. Trust me, you don’t want me drunk.”
Nikki DiFrancesco isn’t a big drinker. “That said,” she commented, “it is deeply annoying when people try to peer pressure me into drinking with them. If you don’t want me to start policing you to STOP drinking, I don’t want to be policed to start.”
Elliott Almond said that when he goes out with “the guys,” they will “once in a while try to foist drinks on me like I’m a member of their teenage sports team.”
“It’s embarrassing and disrespectful,” he added. “I can’t have alcohol because I take a strong medication that could damage my kidneys by mixing the two.”
4. Nondrinkers aren’t there to take care of you
While most nondrinkers would certainly try to make sure an inebriated friend got home safely, drinkers shouldn’t assume that responsibility for their safety while inebriated falls to the closest nondrinker.
Janet Paul Eiser said nondrinkers are frequently treated as babysitters. And several readers said that, although they’re glad to be the designated driver, they are less happy watching the evening extend long into the morning hours while they just sit around waiting to play taxi driver.
Vassi Bieber recalled how, years ago, she agreed to be a designated driver. She was pregnant at the time and made it clear that she needed to be home no later than 11 p.m.
“Midnight came and went and I kept begging and begging and begging [my friend] to leave with me, and [she] still refused,” she said. Bieber wound up arranging another ride for her friend.
Maureen Fay Topper said: “There is nothing fun about being stuck at a table with a bunch of drunk people ― especially if you somehow got snookered into being the designated driver. Because then you can’t just leave when they start getting obnoxious ― you have to spend even more time with them because you have to drive them home.”
5. Nondrinkers need better alternatives to alcohol at restaurants and parties
Several readers issued strong calls for restaurants to offer nonalcoholic options beyond soda, iced tea, coffee or water. Can’t food be paired with something more complementary than Diet Coke? Why should staying sober mean your only option is to nurse an overpriced bottle of sparkling water all night?
While there are “temperance pairings” at some high-end restaurants, it is far from a sweeping trend. Still, soft beverage pairings, as they are also commonly called, aren’t new; chef Thomas Keller has offered them at his famed restaurants Per Se and French Laundry for more than a decade. But when it comes to the place around the corner from the office where the gang gathers after work? Not so much.
Nondrinkers wouldn’t mind a heightened awareness that they, too, desire beverages at restaurants, parties and dinners.
Annelies de Bruijn has been to house parties where she was offered a drink and all the options were alcoholic. “I ended up with tap water and a confused host,” she said.
But at least she still gets invited to parties.
“I know I’m excluded from some invites because I don’t drink and somehow that makes others uncomfortable,” Lori Turner said.
6. Being around drunks isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Nondrinkers say that drinkers should occasionally hold a mirror up and decide if they like who they see.
Eden Darigan Almog has a couple of friends who don’t hold their liquor well. “One gets apologetic and says ‘I’m sorry’ about 50 times per minute,” she said. Another, who has since quit drinking, would become “angry and violent.”
“It can be hard to watch people make decisions, or say things that they wouldn’t ever say/do sober. It’s one thing when they have a glass of wine or two, but when they get drunk, it’s somewhat embarrassing to watch,” said Almog, who chose to stop drinking after years of working as a paramedic and seeing too many drunken driving accidents.
Tonnie Katz noticed that when people have had a lot to drink, “they think their conversation makes total sense, when … [it] is often just the opposite.”
Micah Smith said a surprising number of his friends get “very sentimental” and will start telling “anyone who will listen how proud they are of our friendship, or what they love about me.”
While the chatter starts off as sweet and flattering, the friends often ignore their filters and “divulge too much information,” he added.
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