In Defence of Sober Socializing

2020 has posed unprecedented challenges to personal mental health. Such issues stem not only from health concerns and financial uncertainties, but prolonged isolation and lack of a social life.

Shelter in place, social distancing, and ban on gathering are advised, or even strictly enforced in many countries. During lockdowns, social media takes up even more of  our waking hours. However, it’s called “screen time” for a reason. We still miss physical interaction.

One can’t help but think about how our socializing behavior will change after the pandemic. Contracting the virus no doubt is an acute health hazard, but what about the other aspects of social life that are less scrutinized but can chronically harm our wellbeing?

Although socializing practices are culture-specific, the majority revolves around festivity and feast, where alcohol plays a central role. From backyard barbecues to weddings to music festivals, offering alcoholic drinks is almost non optional.

For people who don’t drink for health or other reasons, the social world is very different. If you search “how to socialize without drinking” on google today, the number one answer on the top result is “have an excuse ready”.

Non-drinkers in an event, especially a nighttime one, where most people drink can be labeled as uptight, anti-social, or even judgemental, even though they are the ones being judged.

Having to elaborate on why they don’t drink or come up with excuses is a common experience. The truth is many people who drink in social gatherings don’t want to drink, or only want to drink in moderation because of health concerns, or how alcohol makes them feel.

Peer pressure is only one factor. Some people don’t want the inconvenience of having to explain themselves, or be overly self-conscious and in the spotlight without a drink in hand. Others want to come off as more extroverted and sociable because alcohol “loosens them up”.

Party-goers who don’t drink alcohol wish that there’s a better drinks offering. The most common non-alcoholic offerings are soda and fruit juices. The high sugar content doesn’t appeal to health conscious people. Going around a social gathering with one glass of these conventional options may be perceived as unsophisticated as well.

But this status quo is now being questioned. The “Sober Curious” movement started around 2018 resonates with the quest for a no-question-asked, no-judgement kind of normalcy of non-drinkers or moderate drinkers. Party planners, mixologists, restaurants and bars tuned into the need of non-drinking, and health-conscious socializers are adding New Age Beverages such as kombucha, flavored water, sparkling tea to their mixed drinks, or drinklist.

Another way of mindful socializing is gathering for healthy activities. From urban millennials sharing a dance class in New York city to digital nomads enjoying a spa day of biohacking facilities in Bali together, health conscious socialization is bound to gain more traction.

Hopefully soon the number one search result for “how to socialize without drinking” on google will become something like: “just pick one with no alcohol, there are plenty, and they taste great.”