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In Defense of Men Who Don’t Drink On The First Date

When I was in college, I went on a date with a girl who I had my eyes on weeks before I got up the nerve to actually ask her out. It was one of those situations where I liked her before I even went on the date. She just had to show up and I would already be into her.

Show up she did. We went out on a Saturday afternoon to a huge Romare Bearden exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. At the time, it was the largest collection of Bearden’s work ever produced, and even though I was familiar with Bearden, I really was just trying to impress the girl by choosing a cultural activity for our date.

We spent two hours there, and by the end of it, I felt like I was actually getting somewhere with her. To keep things going, I suggested we go for a late lunch, and she agreed. I decided on a bar not far from campus that specialized in beer and burgers. We went inside, sat down, and looked over the menu. The waiter came over and, as is customary, asked us what we would like to drink.

My date chose their seasonal ale, I said I would take a water. When the waiter walked away, I turned to my date and saw she was looking at me with horror. “You’re really going to make me drink by myself?” she said. I was taken aback by her question. Not only did I not know I was in violation of some unspoken dating rule, imbibing just wasn’t something I enjoyed doing at that time in my life. I especially didn’t like partaking in it during the day, and though it was late afternoon, the sun was still out, which meant the only beer I would be having, if I had one at all, was root beer.

The reason I didn’t like to drink, is because I have an allergic reaction to alcohol. This doesn’t mean I can’t drink, but what it does mean is even if I take a small sip of alcohol, my face turns beet red and my eyes get bloodshot. A half-drank bottle of beer can make me look like I just downed a whole six-pack. This made me insecure about drinking in public. Whenever I went out, I usually wore a hat low to mask my face. It was the only thing I could think of to detract attention away from the reactions I had and the incessant questions from others about my state of fucked-upness.

I explained why I was having a water instead of a brew, and did so with a laugh because I thought her reaction was in jest. As it turns out, it wasn’t. She still didn’t get it. To her, it was no big deal that my face turned red, and it was rude of me to make her drink by herself. In her defense, when the beer arrived at the table, a top-heavy glass of amber-colored liquid with a frothy head, standing right next to my regular-sized glass of water with a lemon wedge, it did look like one of us was having a harder day than the other.

But rude or not, I had to stick to my guns. This wasn’t a pride thing, it was a comfort issue. I was still trying to make a good impression on our date, and I was convinced whatever points I lost for not joining her for some libations, I made up for them by sticking to my guns.

We never went out again.

A couple years after I graduated, I still was not entirely comfortable with drinking, and it was more common for me to order soda water than a vodka soda. A girl I was dating seriously and exclusively one day said, “I never realized a man not drinking could be a turn off.”

On my own, I’ve come around to drinking in general (and when I say come around, I mean, I drink a lot more), and have learned how to keep my face from changing color after my first sip of alcohol (take a Pepcid AC or any antacid at least a half hour before you drink if you suffer this same fate). Hell, I even drink on first dates since I now know how to curb the redness. But I still think about those years of not drinking as an adult when I meet other adults who say they don’t drink.

These people who don’t drink are not rare and in the time I’ve been at the Post, I have met quite a few of them and set them up on dates. Never did I think to tell the person they were meeting up with that their date didn’t drink. What’s interesting is usually when they report back to me, the person who does drink says they were uncomfortable ordering a drink when they realized their date didn’t. Sometimes they went through with it, and other times they chose to also go dry for the night.

Most of the time this is the result of a woman who drinks being set up with a man who does not. Though some men may not dig a woman who doesn’t drink, they rarely, if ever, press the woman to do so or complain afterwards that she didn’t. This is probably because guys realize getting all aggy over a girl who doesn’t drink makes them look like a creep.

Meanwhile, more often than not, when it’s a woman who drinks being paired up with a man who doesn’t, they usually express some sort of displeasure. Not only is that unfair to the man, it’s completely unreasonable to be down on any man who chooses not to drink. Everyone who is of legal age to drink has a legitimate reason they don’t. Sure, some of them aren’t profound (I realize my reason probably fell into this category), but some of them could be deep. I mean, alcoholism is a real sickness. Better is the man who knows this and that they’re not immune.

Above all else, I don’t see why any grown woman would let a man’s decision to not drink effect hers. What neither of those girls who were turned off by my choice not to drink realized is they were less attractive by being so easily bothered. Any woman who is thirsty for an adult beverage should be a grown up and drink to her heart’s delight, regardless of what a man will be having, and if he just so happens to have some water, ask him why. The reasons could be sobering.


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  • Lisa

    I’m glad somebody is bringing this up. I rarely drink (as in, I can count the number of alcoholic beverages I had in 2014 on one hand) and that really seems to bother people for some reason. I’m not the friend who takes pics & video of everything either; I have no moral issues or judgments about people who do like to drink. Simply put, If I’m ready to have a good time, I can get turnt up without drinking and prefer to do so. Luckily my husband is the same way so we never had that problem. But it is super annoying to say “no, I’ll just have a Coke” and suddenly have a chorus of people trying to shove a cocktail down your throat.

  • Sokphal

    I loved reading this. I don’t drink, don’t care of other drinks (just don’t be
    sloppy), but recently went on a date where things were going great until he
    realized I don’t drink. Got real awkward. I actually like being sober and
    remembering the company I’m with! Drink what you want, but also be cool with me drinking some of DC’s finest H20.

  • Jay

    “What neither of those girls who were turned off by my choice not to drink realized is they were less attractive by being so easily bothered.”


    I’m just gonna start sending this to any date that has one of those “you don’t WHAT?!” reactions

  • VP

    Is this really an issue with grown ass adults?

    I go from being a drinker to a nondrinker depending on what stage of my life I am in and have never felt that it was the other person’s business whether or not I drink. Why would that be a turn off? Be turned off when someone is drinking too damn much instead.

  • Calvin Chikelue

    Never realized this was such a sticking point for some people. So what if someone doesn’t drink? Did you want a date or a drinking buddy?

  • VLank

    Issue being (as suggested with some of the comments of non-drinkers below) is that many non-drinkers can come off as judgey, as if alcohol is a social crutch for anyone else who does choose to drink.
    If you’re on a first date (where first impressions count) I’d imagine the drinker may get defensive thinking they’re already off to a bad start if they’re drinking and the non-drinker may judge them for their choice–not the case all the time, but just sayinggggg, they may be (over)reacting to some pre-perceived judgement.