“Why don’t you drink?” The question itself is innocuous enough. In a sea of college students who couldn’t imagine St. Patrick’s Day without jugs of green alcohol from Thursday night through the duration of the weekend, it can seem off-putting when someone chooses not to indulge. To me, the real question is, “Why do you?”
Truthfully, the whole concept of drinking has always been a little bit odd to me. I’m not talking about the occasional beer or glass of wine, but rather the ritual of dedicating every weekend to trying to set a new personal record of alcohol consumed. The idea that you have to reduce your inhibitions or change who you are in order to have fun or feel comfortable socializing is something I’ve never resonated with. I like myself and my friends. I don’t need to change my personality to have fun with them or to feel confident in who I am.
I regularly hear stories recounted by my peers who list off their drunken escapades like a series of trophies they’ve collected throughout their time at college and will proudly display at a moment’s notice. A common theme of many of these tales is a reduced sense of control and memory. Stories I’ve heard just recently have included not being able to find their way home, forgetting which frat boy they had made out with or, worse yet, not being able to remember anything at all — a complete black out. This level of drinking is not only perplexing, but also downright dangerous.
That said, this isn’t an article to bash those who choose to embrace the drunken party culture, but rather to question why this culture is the status quo and why anyone who dares to shirk its expectations gets slapped with the label of social deviant. That is not to say that I feel Cornell is running rampant with direct peer pressure — though history has shown this can sometimes be the case on our campus — but indirectly, drinking culture at Cornell and even beyond is always implicitly present. If it wasn’t, the response to “I don’t drink” wouldn’t be “Why not?”
There are so many reasons why someone may choose to not drink, either just for a night or for their whole lives. Perhaps they have a medical or religious reason. Maybe they watched a family member struggle with alcoholism or even experienced its effects firsthand. Maybe they just don’t like the taste. They could be trying to get pregnant. The list is endless, and you aren’t entitled to an explanation of someone else’s personal choices, drinking related or not.
Even among those who know better than to question why someone may not drink, the responses, or lack thereof, are often still lacking in social acceptance. The phrase “I don’t drink” is often met with silence or puzzled stares. It’s heard so infrequently that it can be borderline jolting — this shouldn’t be the case. If you choose to drink, that’s fine, but choosing not to should be met with the same level of normalcy.
When you really think about it, it’s actually super strange that society views drinking as the norm and abstaining as the outlier. The benefits of alcohol rarely outweigh the risks, which can include accidental injuries, violent interactions, car accidents, long-term health problems, negative effects on mental health and more. Yet, for some reason, we think not drinking is the strange choice.
I had my 21st birthday on Wednesday. In the weeks leading up, everyone wanted to know how I would celebrate, and they seemed to imply that there was really only one right answer. But rather than getting so blackout drunk that I wouldn’t even remember the night I had, I bought myself some snacks and hunkered down to watch Harry Potter with my boyfriend. And honestly, it was a lot more fun that way. We need to get to a point as a society where drinking isn’t the expected default. Until then, when someone asks me why I’m not drinking, I will simply respond, “Why are you?”
Halle Swasing is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] Goes Without Swasing runs every other Sunday this semester.