This past summer, a few of my relatives tried to buy me beer at restaurants or make me margaritas on Friday Ladies’ Nights on the back deck that overlooked Lake Champlain as the sun was setting. Normal attempts to provide me with alcohol, you know? And all I had to say was, “Oh, I’m not 21 yet,” and my aunt or uncle or cousin would nod understandingly, a little embarrassed that they had not remembered when my next birthday would be, the big twenty-one that is supposed to change everything.
Well it’s happening soon. My 21st birthday. It’ll be here in a few weeks, before I know it, and I will no longer have a backup excuse to avoid the alcoholic beverages willingly thrust in front of me. “Oh, this tastes so good, you have to try it!” “Oh, let me buy you to a drink, seriously.” “Come on, it’s not like it’s illegal to drink.” Spoiler alert: I’m not interested.
It’s more difficult to explain that I physically do not want the drink being offered to me than it is to explain that I am not old enough to drink. Simply “not wanting to” is absolutely a fair response (in nearly every college weekend scenario), but it carries such little weight to the inebriated people who offer the alcohol, and I am intimidated by its weakness.
My decision to not drink is nothing dramatic, nothing worth preaching. It’s simply a personal preference. Alcohol is inherently unappealing to me, just as some people are inherently uninterested in marijuana or the female population or (hopefully) methamphetamine. That’s all. And it’s okay for other people to do these things, for other people to enjoy them or love them (not so much meth, but you get the point). I’m still not interested, though. And that’s all.
Being sober does not mean that I do not want to be friends with people who do drink; it does not mean that I do not want to dress up in a Canadian Tuxedo to attend a 90s theme party, even when it’s all the way over in the townhouses; and it does not mean that I do not want to receive slurred phone calls at 11:30pm to tell me that the Pub just put out leftover desserts for free. Rather, being sober means that I am perfectly content with quiet evenings in pajamas and desolate laundry rooms (eight empty washers and dryers? Yes please!).
Or even better, I am perfectly content with open notebooks and the pens with fresh ink which let me practice my favorite hobby: writing. This is fun for me, exhilarating, even. Just because it does not involve alcohol and loud music in hot, stuffy rooms and half-naked peers does not mean that I am incapable of finding pleasure, that I have nothing enjoyable happening during my weekends. It just means that my activities are different from the typical college population.
Once I turn 21, it will easily be assumed that I have tried alcohol before, that I sometimes (or all the time) drink on the weekends, that I have been drunk maybe once or twice before. At least tipsy, for sure. But none of these allegations are true, and I am disappointed that our culture revolves around such assumptions. Because I am human, because I am a female, because I am a college student, and now (soon) because I am 21 years old—I must be a drinker, right?
As the big twenty-one approaches, I am preparing myself for everything to change. Not because I will suddenly be legally able to drink, not because I will suddenly be able to buy my underage friends alcohol, not because the assumptions of turning twenty-one apply even remotely to my lifestyles. Rather, I am preparing myself to take a new stand on my decision to be sober. It is time I stopped using the excuses, using my age and the law as my justifications for avoiding something that I simply don’t want to do.
Yes, I’ll be 21 soon. And I probably still won’t want to drink. And that’s all I need to say. And that’s okay. My words will carry the weight I give them; inebriated peers, perceptions of “fun,” cultural assumptions—none of that pales to my choices, my reasons, my ideals. It’s been almost 21 years and I am still content with my sobriety. And that’s okay. Forget birthdays; this knowledge alone is something I find worth celebrating.
-Maggie Sullivan ’15