My venti Salted Caramel Mocha Espresso was getting cold in my hand, and didn’t taste the same as it usually did at 8:45am Monday through Friday. Maybe that was because Michelle and Tricia don’t work weekends. So I slowly sipped my espresso and listened to what my friends had to say. Once my groggy haze had vaporized leaving me in a sober mess of sweatiness, nappy headedness, and self-disgust, I was able to pick out a few key elements from my friends’ realizations.
While it is perfectly acceptable to be a drunken mess Thursday nights and pass out on the lawn of Campus Club mid-urination, we realized that to be caught drinking from a bottle of red wine midday Wednesday while writing a paper is judged even more harshly than wearing the freshmen class fat-squirrel T-shirt.
I’m sorry if you’re reading this thinking, “but I like my fat-squirrel T-shirt”, and I especially apologize if you’re wearing the shirt right now. To everyone out there judging the drinkers, I am right there with the wine connoisseurs who find it relaxing and gratifying. For this I’ve gotten my fair share of shit, but hear me out before you continue to categorize us with all the raging alcoholics, because context matters.
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People throw the term “Alcoholic” around as if it were free food on a listserv. Some of my friends continue to give me grief over my alcohol consumption. But it’s not my fault that I am comfortable with the idea of Baileys Irish Cream in my coffee at 8:30am every morning. The questions to ruminate over have to do with circumstance. What is the appropriate context for social drinking? What about drinking to excess? And which contextual form is more appropriate for us at school versus later in life?
The context is always different, and where do we draw the line? While it’s not something that we usually think about, our ideas of context are screwed. We clearly see the context for drinking at the street, or at a bar, or even at a fancy dinner where we pretend to be cultured. We see the context for all of this, but at the same time, we reject even considering other situations. A small amount of liqueur added to one of the most common morning beverages has a just context in itself.
I wasn’t brought up with the idea that alcohol was something to be wary of. For me, it was always natural to have alcohol around. Coming to Princeton, I was surprised to see the number of students consumed by the prospect of drinking heavily at the street, and treating alcohol like the spawn of Satan during the day.
It concerned me most that I was judged for drinking casually, by friends, by friends of friends, and even people I like to small talk with about my day. It wasn’t as if I was flaunting my drinking habits. Why shouldn’t I be able to have Baileys in my coffee almost every morning? It gets rid of my daily headache and adds the perfect amount of kick to my 9am Italian class. Granted, that’s not particularly normal, but everyone has vices to keep them going. We’re all like those annoying fucking Energizer Bunnies. But occasionally we run out of juice and die a miserable death, due to a combination of sleepless nights, the annual flu outbreak, and of course the onerous problem sets, especially right before midterms.
My vice, no matter how bizarre it may be, isn’t very different than taking Adderall or Ritalin because of a learning disorder, or maybe—just because you’re as strange as I am—popping pills instead of a smooth glass of Baileys on the Rocks. While you’re at it, coffee and Red Bull are no different than the rest.
Let me clarify something. I don’t think that taking Adderall or Ritalin is quite the same thing as drinking a glass of Merlot. I’m not going to pretend that people who take them don’t need them for a learning disability, but the point is, we as a society take so many things for granted despite their peculiarities. There are plenty of people out there that frown upon drugs just as much as they do alcohol, if not more, whether prescribed or not. At the same time, we see no cause to worry when someone takes Adderall if they’ve been prescribed it, but what about when they weren’t prescribed it? When something is taken to help a person focus, purely because of its effects and not the prescribed recommendation of a doctor, this person has crossed a social line of deviancy.
Looking at it like this, alcohol doesn’t necessarily fix a problem, but facilitates socialization and creation. Our idea of prescribed alcohol would be the watered-down piss-beer at parties, but the most natural use of alcohol would be considered un-prescribed. Its like abusing alcohol is drinking it slowly and moderately and the proper use is chugging.
These habits—i.e. not addictions—allow me to be a decent human being when I get to Starbucks and have to talk to Michelle, Melissa, and Tricia as they make my usual espresso. But should I feel guilty about starting my day off with two shots of 36-proof creamer? Like anyone that has a routine, I find comfort in the way I do things, and I’ve realized that most people do the same.
I started to look around for other places where alcohol played a role on campus—other than the street at night—and was socially acceptable. In my efforts to prove that I was not an outlier I found that wine plays a role in social life. Aside from my own tendency to drink a nice red cab as I write at my computer, friends of mine have had laid-back wine tastings or wine and cheese events, and of course for members of eating clubs there are plenty of opportunities for social drinking during meals and other social events. But the more interesting cases I’m talking about happen to be primarily activities of the underclassmen; the woes of underage drinking.
The most exciting atmosphere for wine is a small intimate group meeting. What’s better than sitting in a crowded room and drinking wine out of a gallon glass container and red—or that awkward baby blue—solo cups? Or maybe it’s not a glass of wine, but instead a beer (preferably out of a bottle). We’re not here to get smashed and go wild, let’s just have a good time and enjoy a tolerable .05 BAC.
In fact, according to a 2011 study done at the University of Illinois at Chicago, intoxicated subjects, (below a .08 BAC) were more adept at solving certain creativity tests. Hold on a minute! Does this mean that drinking casually during the day can actually improve your creative skills? So when it comes to brainstorming a new idea I’ll be better off with a drink in my hand? That can’t be! Drinking during the day is bad! We only drink at night!
When you think about it, barring the solo cups, adulthood is the epitome of day drinking with wine and fancy spirits. When we’re 30, we won’t be judged for having a glass of wine at 5pm. But I guarantee if you’re thirty, bragging about how trashed you were last Thursday, blackout drunk and raging like a bull, you will be judged. Or at least, I will be the one judging you.
Is it a stretch to compare adulthood to college? According everyone I that has already gone through the process, college is just the place where you learn how to behave like an adult. It’s the first time in our lives that we are let go and on our own. We are responsible for our own actions and are expected to act like adults, as if we were in the real world instead of this orange bubble. While these responsibilities may just be farces: actually going to precept, or doing this essay tonight, even though I need to catch up on How I Met Your Mother, we still have some semblance of responsibility. What is college for other than to prepare you for the responsibilities of adulthood anyways?
Let’s embrace the culture of social drinking, not the culture of drinking to be social. I wish more people had wine socials and discussed politics rather than tried to remember someone’s face when they saw them the next morning, questioning whether they’ve hooked up or not.
Whenever I watch television I see people drinking classy beverages and talking about work. Who doesn’t want to be like Don Draper or James Bond, ordering a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. We all tend to look down upon the social part of drinking, and only think about the drinking. From my few years of experience, I’ve only noticed that downing shots of tequila one after the other doesn’t sit well. It doesn’t make you more social, unless your idea of social is hibernating in the fetal position, afraid to projectile vomit across the room.
Sometimes, the best nights don’t even involve the street at all. Having fun isn’t about the brand of vodka. I’m sorry to disappoint, Grey Goose doesn’t make you cool, rich maybe, but not cool. And who decided all of a sudden that not remembering the night was more satisfying than remembering what you did and where you went. If you haven’t tried something, you shouldn’t pass judgment, or at least that’s what I’ve been taught. Try hanging out with friends and having a real conversation for once. I know it may be hard to try this, seeing as most of us are under the age of 21, but I swear to you, it is worth the effort to enjoy yourself and keep the hangover at bay at the same time.
Life isn’t about the promiscuous late night trysts and the deathly hangovers. Granted, this is college; this is the place for being belligerent outside Cap & Gown, or realizing how magical Prospect Garden seems after a trip to Terrace. But, after these glorious four years, this “time of our lives” that we call college will be over and we’ll move onto the next step in our journey to adulthood.
Just remember, while you may be judging me now as I sip my spiked coffee walking to East Pyne, I’ll make it a point to be there and judge you when you’ve blacked out at age thirty in some dingy bar in New York.