Advice for Awkward People

Dear Ruth,
With each weekend comes yet another challenge. It’s the time when college students ditch responsibilities, forget that annoying Monday night deadline, coordinate Ubers, and head out.

There’s just one problem, though. I don’t drink, and my friends are desperately trying to change my mind. In high school I always pulled out the classic “My parents will totally freak out, dude.” But now I’m in college, so gone are the days of pinning it on my parents.

I do enjoy going to parties. It just seems like everyone around me is drinking, and I feel pressured to join in. I try to meet my friends half way by joining in and using water instead of alcohol, but it doesn’t usually appease them. I’m firm in my beliefs and I don’t want to start drinking. But I need help on trying to navigate the party scene.

Seriously Over Being Endlessly Ridiculed

For as often as CMU students like to joke about how nerd and socially-awkward we are, our party scene is surprisingly strong. And pretty awesome, so no one should have to miss out on having fun with their friends if they want to. With that in mind, let’s talk about some practical strategies you can use to avoid drinking:

— There’s usually juice or soda as a mixer. Put one of those in a red solo cup — people don’t usually ask what you’re drinking, and even if they do you can say there’s a shot of vodka or something in there.

— Say you’re on meds that restrict drinking, your family has a history of alcoholism, or you’re a designated driver. Basically, say anything that people will accept as an outside reason of your not drinking.

But here’s the thing: none of the options should actually be necessary. No one should ever pressure anyone into drinking if they don’t want to. If a friend doesn’t understand that, well, do you remember those “I feel” statements they teach in middle school? Try sitting them down (when sober) and explaining that you don’t want to drink and that it bothers you when they can’t understand that. Then, give them a chance to learn, if they can’t — well, then I would think about whether you want to continue partying with them.

There’s another layer to this question, though. It sounds like at least some of the pressure for you to join in on the alcoholic reindeer-games is self-inflicted. Which really — who can blame you? The vast majority of college-related media revolves around drinking, and while there are always stories of “college drinking gone wrong”, even those assume that drinking is inevitable. (Not to mention the usual message that gettin’ crunk is the best way to be cool, and anyone who doesn’t drink is a stuck-up fundamentalist weirdo.)

Drinking at parties is usually the expectation. Going against expectations is always going to be harder than going with them. If you genuinely want to drink? Great! Find a friend to keep an eye on you, go in moderation, and live your life. But if you don’t? Then stand by your decision. Your choice is valid and totally reasonable, so don’t let anyone — even yourself — convince you otherwise.