I am sure you have met someone like me. Maybe it was that girl who seemed weird from a distance because she was the only one standing in a group of 5 without a drink in her hand. Maybe it was that guy who has only one drink in his hand throughout a party and he never seems to finish that drink. You have met someone like me, someone who doesn’t drink or smoke up.
A usual assumption exists around my choice of not drinking and smoking. People tend to assume that I am trying too hard to be different, to stand out. I have been told that the only reason I am not drinking is because I want people to come and convince me to have a drink. These people reduce my conscious choice to a mere quest for attention. Sadly, I have spent parties after parties trying to explain it to people – friends, friends of friends, cousins and family – that I am perfectly okay with them drinking and smoking since it is their choice but I do not want to drink at all and that choice is equally valid.
One particular party stands out.
It was my 21st birthday and as expected, everyone wanted to go out for drinks. After debating upon what seemed like 10,000 options, we decided to host the party on my terrace. My brother was back from the States for 2 months and he was providing the alcohol. My parents decided to go out as they did not want to be involved in the whole thing. My friends, some cousins and I decided to dress up and have fun.
The cake was cut and everyone was taking pictures when people started taking their first round of drinks. My cousin walked up to me and said, “Tara, today is your big 21. Take a sip, come on.”
Everyone turned to look at me. I shrugged and took a sip from his drink and everyone erupted in such cheers as if I had scored the winning 6 runs for Team India at the World Cup. I waited for everyone to calm down and said,
“Guys, I’ve tasted alcohol before. I am still not drinking.”
They booed and went back to their drinking. After a while, a friend of mine, Karan, walked up to me. Karan was smart and I liked him since day 1 of college. However, it had not materialized into anything.
“You look stunning tonight, Tara.”
I blushed. It was that one thing that always gave me away. Damn it.
“Thank you. Debbie says it’s the birthday glow.” Debbie was my best friend. She loved birthdays and had planned this whole thing for me.
We stood in silence for some time. He moved closer to me, as if he wanted to whisper something in my ear. I didn’t stop him.
“I think I really like you.”
I started into his eyes for a few seconds and caught my breath. It was happening, just the way I had imagined.
“I think I really like you too.”
I swear the smile he gave me was the best smile I’ve ever seen on a human being’s face. He looked away, hesitantly.
“I wanted to come tell you this since the last 3-4 months.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
He did not speak for a long time. I waited.
“Well…. Danny told me you don’t drink and I thought it would be really uncomfortable between us because I love drinking. You know I smoke. I don’t want to give that all up.”
I was a little furious but at the same time, I was also glad that we were having this conversation.
“Last night, after we finished surprising you, I realized I was stupid to not express myself to you. I know I am taking a chance here but I think I am making my case clear. I like you and I also like drinking, going to parties and smoking; I don’t want to give up either.”
I did not know where to begin as he was clearly under some seriously wrong ideas about me.
“Karan, even before we met, I knew you drink and smoke. I have never held it against you, nor have I ever held it against anyone. I know we’ve not ever talked about this but how could you assume that I am someone who would take away your choice of doing something that you are consciously and actively choosing to do?”
He did not have an answer to that.
“I am actually tired of people assuming that just because I don’t drink or smoke, I have issues with other people doing the same. I don’t. I am also not less fun or boring or an amma because I don’t drink or smoke. In fact, I seriously believe that I am able to enjoy more when I am sober because I see people who can’t hold their alcohol in and they are miserable, puking all around the place. Personally, I do not fancy it that much. They are aware of these consequences and decide to do it so it is their choice. I, however, do not want that.”
“But Tara, have you ever tried a drink?”
“Yes Karan, I have. I don’t particularly like the idea of losing control over myself, you know. I just don’t want to drink or smoke. Am I not allowed to choose for myself?”
He smiled a bit.
“I am sorry I made all those assumptions about you. I have to admit, alcohol did make it easier for me to approach you.”
I burst out laughing.
“And you know what? I had a perfect evening planned next month for us, I was going to ask you out and I would have done it without having any drinks.”
He chuckled and hugged me.
That’s when my brother came upstairs with some vodka and said, “Tara, I allow you to have a drink tonight.”
I smirked at him. Poor guy thought he was the reason I was not drinking.
“Let it be, bro. She is not drinking because she doesn’t want to.”
That was Karan.
The fact remains the same, though. People make assumptions about you when you decide for yourself and when that decision is opposite to what people usually expect of you. I have been excluded and included at various places because of my choice but I always argue out the fact that someone’s choice to drink or not, smoke or not, should never be a reason for including or excluding them from anything. It is their choice.
Personally, I have issues with losing control, with dealing with the possibility that maybe someone will have to take care of me if I did end up getting drunk. I have always enjoyed myself at parties and otherwise without drinking and that is how I like it.
It was my choice, after all. It doesn’t have to be yours.