When I was in my mid-20’s, I’d just finished my degree and teaching credential, but was having a tough time finding a position (an English major – not one of my brighter decisions) as a permanent teacher. Through a mutual acquaintance, I made a couple of new friends who were higher-ups in the media business. I was offered a job by these women, as an account executive for a very successful Classic Rock radio station. How hard could it be? The potential for good money, a pretty glitzy lifestyle (with the right accounts); and even meeting a few celebrities– icing on the cupcake. As things turned out, within three months’ time I was the company’s top seller, rewarded with a posh week in Lake Tahoe – all expenses paid. (How and why I ever chose to go back to teaching after that could be considered a mystery – unless you factor in the deep love I had for working with kids: love always wins, with me).
It was in that job that I met my friend Christine. She was smart, funny, and nobody’s fool. We hung out a lot; and I soon learned that Chris – unlike me — could knock back drinks (mixing up hard liquor with wine, beer, whatever she chose) like I’d never seen anyone do — without falling to the floor or still being hammered the next day. There was no way I could keep pace with her, so I didn’t try. As time went on, many of our nights-out found me hanging-back, just watching the electricity of Christine In the Spotlight, “higher than a kite”, captivating all the men (and women) around her.
She had a wildness that seemed unstoppable, unquenchable, and consistently over-the-top. In fairness, many times out and about, we planned to meet — or bumped into– clients of the station. It was common to sit on a bar stool, talking to a friend, then turn around to see that the client (s) had lined up more cocktails for us. This was a subtle form of communication – a question, or an invitation, really. It took me a minute to understand what the question was, but I did learn the power of Man versus Woman versus Cocktails equation. The game in which the odds were definitely not in my favor.
One day, Christine wanted to meet for coffee before work — she had “news”. She told me that she and a guy (from the station) she’d been dating were going to get married. She was so excited (as she generally was, about just about everything) that I had to ‘check’ my immediate reaction. How could this Ultimate Party Animal be getting married to a man that – from what I knew – was her total opposite? Fast forward – really, really fast: a huge wedding was planned. I was to be Christine’s Maid of Honor. All kinds of pre-wedding activities tumbled forward in a kind of frenzy. But the night before the wedding, a very random and disturbing thing happened that changed Christine’s life, and our friendship.
There’s a new book out (“Drunk in Love”) and a lot of social media chatter about the trending Sober Curious lifestyle — specifically when it comes to Looking for Love. Men and women are realizing that what we used to call liquid-courage isn’t courage at all. It ‘greases the skids’ of conversation by reducing anxiety, but it also comes with its own pricetag. In a cocktail haze, we see and hear what’s usually nowhere close to reality. Lapses in judgment can trigger an avalanche of shame in the light of day; but they can also present legitimate dangers to our wellbeing.
The risks are more than just a cliché, or song lyric. An increasing number of brave men and women (mostly women, it seems) are now choosing a little bit of awkwardness – outing themselves as Sober Curious – in lieu of going-along with the usual expectations of “let’s grab a drink”. According to the new book, Sober-Curious is still pretty ‘fringe’. There’s the thing about needing to explain the mocktail, or club soda and lime, prompting all kinds of speculation about possible addictions or fad-conscious eccentricities. But sticking to our beliefs, and our desires to make important choices clear-eyed and fully conscious, the outcome must surely be preferable. Right?
So, the night before Christine’s wedding, there was a big bash at a local pub. Christine and I got there early – her fiancé Jack was running late. She began drinking one of those concoctions that taste like an exotic fruit punch, with a sly kick that you don’t really notice until you’ve put away a few. We were sitting at the bar together, and of course – once the barkeep realized it was Christine’s Last Night as a Single Woman – those drinks appeared magically. Christine excused herself (to the Ladies’ I assumed). But after about fifteen minutes I grew concerned and went to look for her. In a dark corner of the pub, there was Christine – in the lap of a guy I’d never seen before, locked in a passionate kiss. I walked up to them both and put on my best “I am the Maid of Honor and this is SO not happening!!” face, saying, “What the…(fill in the blank) ??”
The end of this story, I’m sorry to report, was not happy. Christine and I ‘had words’, once I’d pried her out of the stranger’s arms; Jack finally arrived but knew nothing about what had happened; the wedding went on as planned the next day; but I never got over the fact of my best friend’s actions — someone I thought I knew pretty well. Not that her choice that night had exclusive impact on the ultimate outcome (Christine and Jack got a divorce, a beautiful baby daughter now a part of the mix). But denying who she was, and who Jack was, in favor of wishful thinking was – as far as I could tell – well lubricated by six or seven Alabama Slammers.
So, I applaud the Sober Curious Movement – if that’s indeed what it is. Women (and men, but I still think women’s numbers are bravely leading this trend) deserve to be able to honor and live out their clear-eyed preferences without any kind of push-back or stigma. There’s strong evidence all around that an honest presentation of Who We Really Are is most likely to lead to the kind of Love we’re all looking for: the honest Love; the good fit Love; the “I love you, warts and all!” Love. It’s out there. When you see it and feel it in full clarity, you’ll know for sure that you can trust it, with all of your heart.