On Dating Without The Drink

By Kerry Neville 01/04/17

"I'm a much happier, much nicer, less embarrassing date without it," I said. "For instance, I won't throw up in your mouth when you kiss me."

Old time black and white image of a man beseeching a woman who is standing on a table.

Why do grown men who are obviously NOT still funneling beer or drinking from the keg tap seem shocked that I can live my life happily without booze? Last night, for instance, dinner with a car battery manufacturing plant manager. Granted, he was British, so perhaps what got lost in translation from American English to British English was that no drinking also meant no drinking beer. In our online chatting, I’d mentioned that I didn’t drink and he didn’t ask why, but did say he enjoyed “a beer” with dinner as a way to unwind from the tribulations of plant managing, so what did I do to unwind? 

“I sell myself for crack,” I joked, because obviously crack is passé.

He wrote back: ;) ;0

As a recovering (six years) binge drinker (see: concentrated alcoholic), I don’t usually mind a date having a drink or two if the evening stretches into a few hours of convivial conversation with dopey, teasing gazes across the table and foot bumping under. However, based on my own history of chugging beer and wine in my very younger years and then hooking up with man-boys similarly drunk who didn’t know my name the next day but did know that my vagina was a dark, untended garden (see: the dark ages before Brazilians, bedazzling, and labiaplasty), I don’t trust that a man desires me if he downs more than one or two drinks. Or rather, that tipsy and horny, that he does desire me, in that beer-goggle way, and mostly just my secret lady garden.

“What do you want to drink?” the waitress asked.

“Water,” I said, “with lime.” (The lime transforms it into a flirty, sober cocktail.)

British man, and he was a man at 46, said, “Yuengling. A pitcher.”

A pitcher. Now, I get that he was British, and a pint equals a pitcher at the pub, but this was a first date on a Tuesday night at a sad Mexican restaurant. Nobody else was getting their fiesta on in the booths around us, though one man at the bar watched Nascar while eating the free chips and salsa.

"You really don’t drink?" he said. "Not even a glass of wine with pasta?" He poured out the first of four consecutive beers.

"I'm a much happier, much nicer, less embarrassing date without it," I said. "For instance, I won't throw up in your mouth when you kiss me."

He looked at me with equal parts horror and skepticism, but then he said, “So I get to kiss you.”

Therein lies the reason why so many men (though my recent return to dating has only been with eight men, so not definitive) seem to want me to drink with them. At the end of our awkward first dates, when they walk me to my car, there is that moment when they step close, closer, closest, and I think: Please don’t try to kiss me, inebriated, gropey gorilla. But he thinks: My chance! And since we’re both lit maybe she’ll kiss back, maybe she’ll invite me to her secret sex palace, maybe I’ll see her still-mostly-untended lady garden. (This is why I rarely let men pay for dinner on the first date. It sets up the uncomfortable expectation of in kind exchange: You pay for my tacos and I give you a snog.)

I get greasing the wheels. It’s how I got through all of those awkward first hook-ups as a teenager and college student, and how I mostly shed my sexual inhibitions during my marriage. Tipsy? I made racy comments in my date or husband’s ear, feigned a confident striptease, and whispered, “Yes, now and there and harder.” False boozey bravado. Drunk? No need for pleasantries and not even, always, my consent.

So I ate my tacos and watched as he gulped down one beer after another. And then the moment when his buzz kicked in. Sobriety makes me acutely aware of the shift. He got a little louder, his laugh a little harder, and his comments a lot bolder. No longer chatting about the technicalities of battery manufacturing, he wondered if I still had my Catholic school uniform and maybe I would put it on for him later. 

“That was 26 years ago,” I said, emphasizing the juvenile and adult phases of our lives.

And when I came back from the bathroom? (Yes, I took my cell phone to text a snarky message to a sober friend: Battery Acid Table 6.) He was holding on to his yet-again empty glass and said, “You’ve got some really long legs.”

I didn’t bother to pretend to laugh. “I was this tall in the sixth grade,” I said. “Boys were afraid of me.”

He walked me to my car, lingering close. When I turned to give him a rudimentary, platonic hug, he first tried to suppress his belch (but how could he?), and then second, with determination, kissed my lips. 

Many of my sober, single female friends report similarly fending off drunk advances by dates, or incredulity on the part of dates over their seltzers with a meal, or—and this, too, has happened to me—the date decides you (anti-party girl) and your sobriety are their buzz kills even when all you are doing is eating chips and salsa on a Tuesday night at the empty Los Amigos.

But here’s the thing, guys: sobriety has taught me to be secure in myself and decide with clarity and gusto what I want to do with you and when I want to run away from you. I won’t pretend that you are the world’s greatest drunk lover or fake my own drunk orgasms. And if we kiss in the parking lot of Los Amigos, you will know that I kiss you back because it is you who has gotten my chemistry roiling and not the 4.2% alcohol content of a pitcher of beer.

Kerry Neville is the author of the award-winning short story collection, NECESSARY LIES, and the forthcoming collection, REMEMBER TO FORGET ME (Braddock Avenue Books, 2017), which includes her Pushcart Prize-nominated title story. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, where she writes a recovery-focused blog, and her essays and fiction have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Epoch, Arts and Letters and Story Quarterly, among other places. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia College and State University.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix