I don’t drink, but trust me, I’m normal

How I survived dating in today’s world where drinking is a social certification of normalness

This wasn’t some hippie fad that I was trying out. This wasn’t some dry January or body cleanse detox fad where I just had to let everyone know how cool I was for taking some time off from drinking.

No, this was serious. And this was permanent.

Towards the end of my college years, I had received a diagnosis from my doctor that after years of heavy drinking, my liver was at risk of failing. I received the warning that if I continued to drink, even just a little bit, I was at risk of losing my entire liver and potentially my life.

And so I stopped. After years of building up my entire social life centered around drinking, I suddenly realized I had to start over. I had lost that social crutch that I didn’t even realize how dependent I was on it until after it was stripped away from me.

But alas, despite the lemons that life throws at us, we must move on and find a way.

Dating in NYC without drinking

Shortly after I graduated from college, I had the privilege of moving to one of the most diverse, energetic, and populated cities in the entire world, New York City. In such a dynamic city, it seemed like the potential list of dating partners was limitless.

The story would always start the same way.

I had managed to match with (or meet in person) some girl. I had managed to keep the conversation going well enough to invite her out on a date. I had manged to get her to agree to get dinner with me.

With each successful step, came a small hit of dopamine. Each small little victory made me feel a little happier. It made me feel like my dating life was going somewhere and that I was one step closer to finding that meaningful connection we all crave.

And so I entered every single first date with optimism. But that optimism would be quickly shattered during that inevitable point where we spoke about what drinks to order. The conversation would always follow some variation of this:

Her: What do you want to drink? / What are we drinking? / Red or white? / Cocktails?

Me: I’m not drinking tonight / I don’t drink / I’m okay with just water / I’m taking a break from drinking

Her (with a nervous look like I was a murderer, terrorist, hoarder, etc.): Are you sure? / Uhh.. why not? / Wait, like you don’t drink at all? / You’re kidding me right… / Are you a recovering alcoholic?

Me: I don’t drink, but trust me. I’m normal.

After those awkward 5 minutes, the rest of the night would proceed somewhat smoothly. But that was always the end. It would be rare for me to ever hear from her again. Or if I did, it was clear that her romantic interest was gone.

No, I’ll never know what actually happened. And there is certainly some minute chance that I could have been such a terrible date that I managed to turn off almost every single person that I met.

But part of me has another hypothesis. Part of me has a hypothesis that my refusal or inability to drink leads to an instinctual rejection. Not because she needs to date an alcoholic. But, because in today’s society, drinking is so much more than sipping on some beverage.

In today’s world, drinking symbolizes social certification. A symbol that you’re a “normal” person. A “normal” person who can participate in “normal” social functions.

And when I refused to participate, I had signalled way more than just an inability or lack of desire to drink. When I refused to drink, I had signalled that I wasn’t a fun person. I had signalled that somehow I was less masculine and less desirable. I had signalled that I couldn’t be trusted in a social setting.

But alas, despite the lemons that life throws at us, we must move on and find a way.

The beauty of self-selection

Mentioning that I don’t drink to a stranger when I first meet them is an incredibly awkward thing to do. So I can’t go around doing that.

But, I learned that there are plenty of other things that can be done. For example, at a party, I can walk around and socialize with other people without carrying a drink, all while appearing confident. On a dating app, I began to suggest dates ideas in which drinking in that situation is seen as socially awkward rather than socially normal (such as going for coffee, something athletic, seeing a exhibit/museum).

Sure at some point, that awkward conversation is bound to come up again. But what in life has a 100% chance of success? The best that I can do is put myself in the best possible situations and let self-selection work its beauty.

I realized that once I, myself, took the focus in dating off of drinking, I tended to surround myself with people who did not themselves focus on drinking.

I began to more directly seek out those women whose lives didn’t center around alcohol. I began to meet those women who have actual hobbies and interests outside of just drinking.

I, myself, began to attract women who were looking for a man who doesn’t center his life around alcohol. Being sober and able to focus on the date goes a long way.

Dating is tough. Dating with a drinking handicap is even tougher.

But alas, despite the lemons that life throws at us, we must move on and find a way…

Asian American dude // left the US and never looked back

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