I’m 24, Single, and Don’t Drink—But Yes, I Have a Social Life

It’s a Friday night and I’m a young single woman in New York City, but instead of sipping $15 dollar margaritas in designer heels on a Manhattan rooftop, I’ve just wriggled out of a pair of sweaty leggings. I've got a busy night ahead of me, one filled with a beauty mud mask, a new cauliflower rice recipe, and a hot FaceTime date with a friend.

Or maybe, after showering away the inevitable “I’m so busy” stink of the week, I’ll invite my CrossFit crew over for takeout sushi and Friends reruns. If I’m feeling particularly flirty, I’ll slide into my gym crush's DMs to suggest an evening of RomWod and chill (not as dirty as it sounds, people). Pass the protein balls and extra-fluffy comforter, because in my world, staying in isn’t just the new going out, it’s how I choose to socialize.

And, you'll notice, there's not a bottle of rosé in sight.

Friday night in
Photo: Stocksy/ Javier Diez

I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve drank in my life (I’m 24) and on one finger the times I’ve been truly drunk. In high school, I was more Mandy Moore in Saved than Lauren Conrad in Laguna Beach (i.e. no throwing parties while my parents were out of town or crashing at my friend's house after downing one too many screwdrivers). Then, in college, I preferred cozying up with reruns of Friday Night Lights to downing jungle juice and booty dancing against a far-gone frat boy. The few nights I did slide on a little black dress and try to ignite my inner Greek-life goddess, I left the party after a couple of rounds feeling anxious and uncomfortable—on more than one level.

As I became increasingly connected to my body, I learned to respect and understand what is was telling me: Alcohol makes it feel meh.

So instead of seeking comfort from the loneliness I felt as a new college student at the bottom of a bottle of Skinnygirl margaritas, I sought movement. I taught myself how to weight-train, I joined the rugby team, I became a Zumba instructor, I ran a marathon, I tried CrossFit. As I became increasingly connected to my body, I learned to respect and understand what is was telling me: Alcohol makes it feel meh.

I came to realize that alcohol was to thank for those post-night-out stomach aches, my supercharged anxiety, and a poor night of sleep. When I call up J. Ryan Fuller, PhD, clinical director at New York Behavioral Health (years after I decided to swap sangria for smoothies) he says, “Alcohol impairs our judgment, dampers the immune system, can interfere with the way the liver stores fat, impacts sleep, and and increases risk for some diseases.”

And, he tells me, I'm far from alone in deciding to live without alcohol. There's even a term for it: sober-curious. “Some people are sober-curious because of weight loss, others because they want the health benefits, and some because they see it being part of their greater spiritual or wellness journey,” says Dr. Fuller. I fall into the latter category.

But when I said goodbye to alcohol, I had to say “hello” to justifying my choice and navigating a culture centralized around booze.

“We are so much more aware of how our lifestyle choices affect our overall sense of wellbeing,” Ruby Warrington, founder of The Numinous and Club Soda, an event series for the sober-curious, told Well+Good when we named "staying in" one of our Wellness Trends in 2017.  “Nine times out of ten, drinking does not align with the feel-good factor that comes from cleaning up your diet, taking up yoga and meditation, or going on a run,” she said.

But when I said goodbye to alcohol, I had to say “hello” to justifying my choice and navigating a culture centralized around booze.

friends chatting
Photo: Stocksy/ Ivo de Bruijn

When I got my first “grown-up job” out of college, I realized that drinking culture wasn’t limited to frat houses and dank basements. “Across the board, drinking and socializing are ubiquitous. Alcohol has made its way into birthday and holiday parties, post-work events and happy hours, and even exercise-focused socials,” says Dr. Fuller. In a high-pressure culture where work days often end in rounds of drinks, collegial boozing is the norm—and it brings a whole new set of challenges for someone who chooses not to drink.

When I do go socially out and express a disinterest in drinking, the question, “But how do you relax?” is as commonplace as “Oh, have some fun” or “Live a little!” Once, a probing coworker went so far as to speculate that I was pregnant.

You'd think that what I put in my body would be a personal decision, but I can't name another scenario in which my actions have been so irritating to other people.“People who drink are usually incredulous towards others who don’t drink, because they feel it threatens their own drinking behaviors," Dr. Fuller says. "It causes them to think about why they drink."

When I got my first “grown-up job” out of college, I realized that drinking culture wasn’t limited to frat houses and dank basements.

While sticking to my guns was never an issue, learning how to be social as someone who doesn’t drink took time. It took me a solid year in NYC to make friends as a non-drinker, but I learned that when I searched the right places, there were so many non-drinking scenes and communities I could be part of. Just like in college, for me, joining fitness communities was the trick.

I quit my big box gym (where I had diligently done my time on the treadmill as an anonymous exerciser for 12 months) and joined both a CrossFit box and yoga studio. It was there that I found like-minded millennials who would happily ditch the bar for the barbell and the downtown concert for a green juice and walk over the High Line. I have since moved in with one of the girls I met at my box, and it's not uncommon to find us hosting poke-bowl gatherings after a workout.

When I ask Biet Simkin, guided meditation leader and Club Soda co-founder, how to navigate social situations while sober-curious, she says, “Well, for one, stop hanging out in bars. Fish who hang out in the water will get wet.” Dr. Fuller, meanwhile, suggests ordering a club soda or ginger ale so that other people won’t know you’re not drinking (and won't hassle you for your choice).

While both are good tips if they help you feel more confident about your decision not to drink, you shouldn’t feel like you have to hide, disguise your order, or explain yourself if staying sober at a bar is what you’d like to do. Personally, I've reached a point where I don't mind occasionally going to bars with my #fitfam after a particularly grueling WOD, and I usually voice my preference to stay alcohol-free if anyone asks.

sober curious girl
Photo: Stocksy/ Guille Faingold

The first few times you hit the bars as a non-drinker, Dr. Fuller recommends being prepared. To deal with the ribbing and teasing that could come your way, he suggests have stock phrases at the ready, such as “I’m not in the mood to drink” or “I’ve decided not to drink, just to see how I feel.” When I’m with friends, “I’m okay with water,” works fine for me. But if I’m with a new group of people “I can’t! I already booked a HIIT class in the morning!” does the trick. (People seem far less willing to object to my decision when a $35 drop-in fee is on the line).

Whether you're sober-curious or not, looking outside the standard dinner-and-a-drink Friday night or rosé-all-day Saturday helps you open your mind—and maybe your heart—to new interests and passions. “Start by making a list of everything you wanna do but haven’t done and then just start doing shit," Simkin says. "Either go alone and make friends or ask a friend or lover to join you. Meditate or pray. Find bliss. Don’t settle." I'll raise a glass (of kombucha) to that.

One of the toughest parts about going alcohol-free may be navigating the dating scene. Check out some tips on flirting while sober. And if you’re looking for something new and healthy to sip on, how about these trendy drinking vinegars or these 5 grab-and-go turmeric drinks?

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