I used to cry for hours because I thought I didn’t know how to make friends.
“That’s silly,” my friends would scoff. “You’ve made plenty of friends before.”
“That’s true,” I agreed. “But that was before people really started to drink.”
I dislike alcohol — or, more accurately, I dislike the effect that it has on me or on others. I don’t enjoy being around people who have been drinking. And for these reasons, social life has been tricky. For over a year, I’ve nursed a nagging feeling that I can’t make friends because I miss out on all the social activities. Pick-ups for clubs? I try to leave before the alcohol comes out. A night on the Street? Not exactly known for being dry. Pregames are an obvious no. Much of social life on campus revolves around drinking — and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. People enjoy drinking, and they have every right to do so.
And to be fair, much of campus life is substance-free. Choir and theater rehearsals are dry, as are club meetings and classes. But those also aren’t situations that are designed to be social encounters. Grossly put, people come to parties to meet people; people come to choir practice to learn music. Parties have alcohol; choir practice doesn’t.
To give the University credit, we have the Alcohol Initiative Committee, which sponsors social events and clubs that do not feature alcohol. We have the Undergraduate Student Government movies, which allow a dry evening alternative to the Street. It’s undoubtedly fun to go these events, but let’s be real — the stigma associated with attending them instead of going to a pregame is palpable. When certain people find out that I choose free popcorn and soda over alcohol, they’re categorically shocked to find that I spend my Saturday nights sober. It can be really hard to make friends if you don’t drink and don’t like being around people who do. And, frankly, people will just think you’re a prude.
That said, you can make friends without drinking. It might be a cliché, but it’s worth finding your “core group” — people with whom you can spend time without feeling the pressure to drink. The same people to whom I complained that I have no friends are, in fact, my best friends, so it’s not at all like I’m alone on campus. That’s not to say that it was necessarily easy to find them; it took several months before we were well-acquainted, and about a year before I could call them my best friends. But it was worth it, because now I never have to worry about spending a Thursday night alone again.
Naturally, it helps to find alcohol-free activities on campus, of which there are a fair amount. But also don’t be afraid to take the initiative to organize dry events of your own: Host a get-together in your room, go bowling with friends, or maybe host a movie night. It’s very possible to have a good social life without alcohol; it just takes more work. These events are also great opportunities to meet people who, hopefully, will become part of your “core group.”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not drinking and not wanting to be put in situations where it’s ubiquitous. It just means you have different tastes than those who do drink — and with that, different activities, friends, and hobbies. There’s no crime in eschewing alcohol and the activities associated with it; it just means you’ll have a different college experience. It is tricky to start a social life that avoids alcohol, but once you’ve begun, you’ll realize just how fulfilling it is.
Leora Eisenberg is a sophomore from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.