Must I drink to socialize?

It bothers me that without a drink I'm sort of shy and awkward

By Cary Tennis

Published October 9, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Hi Cary,

I love your column, and I am struggling with a problem I think you and your readers might have some insight on. I'm a 24-year-old female living on the West Coast. I have a fairly active social life but I have trouble making close friends. I am a bit of an introvert --  I don't like being the center of attention and I feel most comfortable in small social settings.

I'm shy and a bit socially awkward, and I feel like I fumble along when too many people turn their eyes to me. However, I am no stranger to the powers of alcohol. As soon as I have a couple drinks in me I become intensely more sociable. It's like my brain finally turns on, and I finally have something substantial to contribute to the conversation. I know that this is the seductive power of alcohol -- it makes you seem more interesting, more charming, more charismatic, and I think in my case it really does make me a little bit more of all these qualities. Now that I've had a few years of experience with the powers of alcohol, I want to make sure I don't develop a social crutch where I feel like I need alcohol to be interesting and responsive in social settings. I'm definitely not going to actively avoid alcohol because it's such a prominent aspect of my social life with my peers and I don't feel like I use it recklessly, but I do want to figure out how to trigger the "me," that inner sparkle, that is revealed when I drink alcohol, without having to drink alcohol. It's time for job interviews, and dating, and networking, and I feel like once I harness the inner charm in me that is so often dormant, I will thrive. Am I forever doomed to be the boring girl until I get some drinks in me?

Buzzed and Fun/Sober and Boring?

Dear Buzzed,

Many of us who turned out to have alcoholic tendencies will tell you that our personalities changed quickly when we drank. We say things like: Alcohol gave us the ability to express what we were feeling; alcohol was like a light going off in our heads; alcohol made us feel the way we'd always wanted to feel.

I'm probably biased because I see so many alcoholics and hear so many stories. But if the above rings true for you, you may be one of those people who just shouldn't drink at all, and you may want to consider eliminating alcohol from your life altogether.

Regardless, I do recognize that it's hard to know what to do when everyone is drinking and you're not. Here's how I handled social drinking situations after I quit: I pretended to be buzzed. It wasn't hard. I'd had lots of experience being buzzed. Seriously. You know how when you're a little buzzed you're happy to see people and want to touch them and laugh at their jokes? You know how things seem a little more interesting and exciting when you've had a few drinks? You know how you're a little more demonstrative? Well, I'd been doing that for years. I just kept doing it. I faked it. It worked.

It worked until it got boring. I could still laugh along with the craziness and appreciate the antics but some other part of myself was emerging, a more thoughtful, honest, realistic self, and this emerging, thoughtful self would be saying, Could we go now?

So how to maintain connections with people and network and have fun while not drinking? Well, when you are drinking, you belong to lots of "clubs" -- places with regulars, informal social groups where you are recognized and missed if you do not show up for a while. Not that people will go to your apartment and sniff for gas, but they may ask after a month's absence if you have been on vacation or sick or something.

When we move away from drink-centered social life, we need new clubs. That is why I think joining actual clubs -- civic organizations, political organizations, etc. -- is a good idea for introverts who do not want to have to drink all the time to have social contact.

If you are in a club, you do not have to act extremely exciting and charming. Decently polite and occasionally funny will do just fine. You can stuff the envelopes and talk. Or bake and talk. Or bake and not talk, just show up with cookies. Clustering around activities and purposes is a good way to keep in touch, network and not have to be "on" all the time. You might even make some friends. When drinking, it is easy to forge strong emotional bonds quickly. When not drinking, it takes more time. So if you see people regularly over a period of time, it begins to click who they are. Think about your college years: You made friends because you saw people all the time. You need new ways to see people all the time that doesn't involve drinking. I say: Join clubs!

Here are some other tips for living a normal life without drinking:

Say provocative things while sober.
Show affection while sober.
Dance and shout while sober.

Cary Tennis

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