I’m Allowed to Not Drink, You Know
So the other day I was at an evening work event. There were some delicious appetizers, a bunch of beer and wine, and some fancy sparkling water. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not big into beer or wine, but that I love bubbles. So I grabbed a can of the seltzer and was enjoying it when a sweet and well-meaning former colleague came up and said “sparkling water? So? Any chance that a little one is on the way?” I laughed and said no, I just like seltzer water and am driving later, and left it at that. But it bothered me, and I realized it bothered me for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is this idea that adults are required to drink alcohol if it is available. It seems that adults are thought of as abnormal if we choose to drink non-alcoholic beverages when wine or beer are around, and I quite literally do not understand it. I don’t drink often, and when I do, I usually limit it to one or two drinks at the most. And I certainly don’t drink if I’m going to be driving in the next couple of hours. I like some alcoholic beverages (sparkling wine, Irish whiskey, rum-based tropical delights), but they are definitely what I would consider ‘sometimes’ things. I get that many people enjoy beer or wine every night, but I’ve reached the point where I find it a little bizarre that the default assumption of adulthood seems to be “evening + gathering of other adults = MUST DRINK.” Why is that? I don’t recall agreeing to that.
And to be as clear as possible – there is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with drinking wine. Or beer. Or liquor. I don’t think people should do that before driving, obviously, but I get that many people drink. A quick Googling for some data shows that in the U.S., on average, adults consume about 4 drinks per week. I probably consume maybe that many per month, so obviously some people are going to consume more. But somehow it has gotten so engrained in society that adults are going to drink at night, that someone choosing not to do so needs some sort of reason – in my case, since I’m a woman of childbearing age, it must be because I’m expecting. I don’t like that. I’d like to be able to choose whatever beverage sounds good and not have it somehow be a signal to the world that I’m in the midst of growing a human.
The second reason that bothered me is that whether I’m pregnant or not is really no one’s business. Again, anyone who knows me at all is VERY clear about the fact that if I’m pregnant, a) something has gone horribly, horribly wrong, and b) I’m not going to be pregnant for long. So even asking me that question shows that you and I? We’re not that close. And since we AREN’T that close, why would you feel it necessary to ask me such a personal question? If I were pregnant and wanted you to know, guess what? I’d tell you.
Now, I can’t speak for women who actually have been pregnant and have faced these situations, but they always strike me as very uncomfortable. I feel that asking if someone is expecting (whether it is due to abstention from alcohol or not) puts women who ARE pregnant in an unfair situation: either they tell the person they are (even if they had no intentions of doing that), or they can lie and say no. Again, if someone wants me to know they are pregnant, I really, strongly believe that it’s up to them to tell me. Sure, I’ve asked friends about timelines, in terms of a ‘hey, are you guys still thinking about going the kid route?’ more from a wanting to know what’s up in general frame, and it’s possible I’ve even forgotten myself and veered into the territory about which I’m currently complaining. Especially with really close friends – I know I’ve been tempted to want to ask how things are going when they’ve faced reproductive challenges. I want them to know I care! But over the years I’ve learned that there are ways to express support for those friends without repeatedly asking “are you pregnant now? How about now? How about … now? I see you didn’t have any beer tonight – are you finally expecting?!” I get the curiosity when someone knows that people want children, but I think it’s a really good thing to remember that people will tell me when they feel it is appropriate, and my timeline of wanting to know really doesn’t factor into it.
Are these superficial things to complain about? Possibly. But I do think they demonstrate a couple of broader problems. I think the fact that people need to find a reason for why someone chooses not to drink shows that we don’t really have a healthy relationship with alcohol in our society. It’s almost as if some people who do choose it feel insecure about that decision, and want to be reassured that it’s acceptable to have that glass of wine. I just wish they’d keep their issues to themselves, or at the very least, consider asking WHY they care about what I choose to drink.
I think it’s fairly obvious that the idea that an individual woman’s reproductive choices are fair game for discussion by anyone is problematic, and this is just but one teeny tiny (and possibly not that common?) example of the entitlement to know about those choices. It’s just one manifestation of how women of a certain age are seen almost as public property, even by those with the best and sweetest of intentions. Again, I wish more people would just take that second to think “hey, if she were pregnant, she’d probably tell me when she wanted to” and leave it at that.