Physics is a male-dominated, competitive environments that is populated by many shy, socially clumsy people. Therefore, it is not surprising that alcohol plays a huge role in this field, like apparently in most of the hard sciences.
When people from my institute go out together, it is unthinkable that they do not drink a significant amount of alcohol.
Clearly, people drink partially as a way to reduce the social anxiety and stress that arises in this social gatherings. People meet, and, being afraid of each other, they all medicate themselves to be less afraid. This medication often goes overboard, leading to extremely negative side effects. But more strangely, these side effect for some reason make for heroic stories that are told hundreds of time after the party (or conference) with people throwing up into the sink or not finding their way to the train station or ending up in the wrong hotel room.
Why are such stories so attractive and defining for people? On a deeper level, do they want to say “Hey, I was so afraid of other people that I drank so much that I needed to throw up. Doesn’t this make me more human? More likable?” But why do people then laugh so much if they hear those stories? Aren’t they a little sad?
Maybe I just don’t get it is because drinking anyway has always had a slightly unusual effect on me. It makes me stop caring what others think, and this just means that I become even more quiet than I usually are. Normally I try to force myself to talk. If I drink, I am relaxed enough to shut up, which makes parties and social gatherings even more pointless. I go there to talk to people, after all.
On the other hand, the actual conversations one has when being drunk are always totally meaningless anyway. I really wonder how it is possible that being drunk together seems to form to basis of many male friendshps.
Most conversations I remember from such parties are that men make sexual jokes, mostly about each other. This is even the case for respected professor who go to parties; apparently that is the cool way to behave at a party for some absolutely mysterious reason. Maybe this is how many men become friends? To me, it is like watching male rhinoceroses in some strange bonding ritual with no significance to myself. I see the female rhinoceros watching this ritual and laughing, but I just cannot find it funny in the least. I just find it odd and tiring. And it definitively does not get funnier if I drink more, I just get more bored.
Sometimes it also happens that there is an attempt at a serious conversation, about science in the worst case, and in the best case about life and people in general, but when people drink, those conversations also have tendency to gravitate towards sex, or towards the guy staring at me without blinking for ten minutes, which I find both embarrassing. Then it seems to me that going to parties and drinking alcohol are perhaps on a deeper level just motivated by the wish to find someone to go home with. Yes, I know, it is said one needs to go to parties to make friends, improve social relationships at work, make connections, have fun and get to know people. But somehow all of this never happens to me at parties.
Perhaps it is just a result of there being few women in my field, perhaps I could enjoy drunk conversations with other women. Unfortunately the parties I go to are always dominated by men, and the few women are always clinging to men and preferring to talk to men, since, I guess, they enjoy the attention they get when men are drunk. Which I for some reason just gives nothing to me.
If I skip parties of people at my institut or at conferences, I feel terribly guilty. Oh my God, I will be an outsider. I will even perhaps have disadvantages job-wise, since people always prefer their drinking buddies about everyone else. Also I am not fun and boring.
But if I go, each time I feel I am totally wasting my time. Rhinoceroses and their slightly homoerotic bonding rituals will be boring for me no matter how much I drink. I will always feel like an alligator when looking at them, not understanding their language, feeling the urge to gnaw their legs. I will wake up the next morning at a conference and be totally tired and in a bad mood, and not able to concentrate on the talks.
Maybe I just have to wait for the invention of a drug that works better for me.