If I was looking for more evidence that we are living in a booze-obsessed culture, I found it in an article about dating in one of the women’s weekly mags. Some Americans had written a book about the “rules” of dating, which all verged on the high camp, so old-fashioned were they (and all predicated on the idea that all women are desperately trying to find a husband in order to validate their existence, tedious).
The Americans had advised, among their least ridiculous tips, to abstain from drinking on a first date/s, while the editors had added the caveat that “you might want to have one or two drinks, just to calm your nerves.”
It was striking that even in this situation, where you might have an imperative interest in remembering what the other person says and maintaining razor-sharp judgement throughout the night, the British default response is that having no alcohol is unthinkable. I have often been in conversations with people who have suggested “one or two” as the answer to difficult situations in which others are drinking. It proves to me that some alcohol at least is considered the norm, while total abstention is viewed as an extreme, even impractical or unrealistic approach.
Where do these assumptions come from? Why do we talk in the playground to each other without needing a social lubricant, but then hit our late teens and can’t talk to strangers without it? What happens to our confidence that we can’t meet strangers sober, that the very idea is thrown out before being properly considered?
I must come clean here. I’ve had “one or two” on a number of occasions now, with the almost superstitious fear that doing that might be the road to ruin. Another unquestioned assumption is that all those who drink too much will have to abstain forever or risk falling back into old habits. I know there are people like that, and I have no idea if I will continue with this approach or go back to nil by mouth, but so far I have been able to have a single glass of champagne at weddings/Christmas parties etc. with no ill effects. I will keep coming back to this here, as I do think the existing approaches to problem drinking deserve more scrutiny and analysis.
That declared, the British way of combining vast amounts of booze with their love lives seems nothing short of disastrous to me. When I first started dating (I hate that word, but that was what it was) after giving up booze, lots of friends openly told me it would be impossible sober. Best have one or two, then. There is no doubt it was incredibly nerve-wrecking, but equally I didn’t end up in the arms of anyone I didn’t really like, and felt pleased with myself that I was able to do it. We all have to do job interviews sober, so why not this? One guy who I met and liked was so drunk on the second occasion, I texted him to cancel our third date, saying I thought our different drinking habits made us mis-matched. He didn’t even respond.
Another guy tried to hug me and hold my hand not long into the first date. When I said afterwards there wouldn’t be a second, he apologised and said he’d had a lot to drink beforehand. Yet another was clearly upset about getting to nearly 40 without getting married. Which I would never have known about if it wasn’t for his habit of drinking at home alone and sending me bizarre, slightly alarming and dreadfully maudlin chat messages about his desperation to settle down. The assumption was that whatever you do in drink, no matter how unpleasant for others, is basically ok and not to be judged by sober standards. I ended that one as well.
In yesterday’s Sunday Sun, in the Fabulous magazine that comes with it, a sex survey revealed that 46% of British people surveyed had had sex they were too drunk to remember. I suppose for the majority, it just wasn’t very good, but for others, these experiences are disturbing and lonely. The alternative to the painful process of internet dating, which we Brits generally drink heavily through, is the meeting of bodies in a mentally unconscious state, and the waking in an unknown bed with pounding head, overwhelming nausea and no recollection of how you got there.
I promise that I do try to avoid taking a judgemental or opinionated approach to this topic, as I know that I used to drink a lot myself, and there are no easy answers to a lot of this. Not every drunken experience is terrible, even including drunken dates and liaisons. However, I can’t help but think we’d actually have a lot more success meeting potential partners without being so hammered all the time.