How drinking alcohol does not help me to make friends

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.

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7 Responses to How drinking alcohol does not help me to make friends

  1. suziebanshee says:

    “Also I am not fun and boring.”–Too good! I love your blog and your ruminations on finding friendship in the male dominated geeky realm. Keep searching, keep trying! She/he/they/it is out there!

  2. Daniel Zalec says:

    James Arthur Crumley wrote: “Son, never trust a man who doesn’t drink because he’s probably a self-righteous sort, a man who thinks he knows right from wrong all the time. Some of them are good men, but in the name of goodness, they cause most of the suffering in the world. They’re the judges, the meddlers. And, son, never trust a man who drinks but refuses to get drunk. They’re usually afraid of something deep down inside, either that they’re a coward or a fool or mean and violent. You can’t trust a man who’s afraid of himself. But sometimes, son, you can trust a man who occasionally kneels before a toilet. The chances are that he is learning something about humility and his natural human foolishness, about how to survive himself. It’s damned hard for a man to take himself too seriously when he’s heaving his guts into a dirty toilet bowl.” – The Wrong Case (1975).

    Personally, as a man (I can’t speak for women, so I’m not going to try), I always prefer someone who is willing to sit down and have a friendly beer or scotch with me (leaving aside obvious practical reasons not to, like having to drive home soon, which are a separate matter). It indicates to me they have nothing to hide. I’m sure an evolutionary psychologist could come up with many theories about why men like to sit around, but I think it comes down to basics like accepting one’s hospitality, not taking one’s self too seriously, and so on. And it’s not like drinking is a modern phenomenon – the ancient Egyptians with beer, the Greeks with wine, and so on.

    People tend to show their true colours when drunk (racist, sexist, liar, violent type, narcissistic, good fighter, weak fighter, etc), so for evolutionary reasons men may have the subconscious tendency to want to ‘feel another man out’ before allowing him into the tribe (especially, if he is to spend time around wives and children). Having a few drinks, in the company of other men, is a good way to achieve this end in an indirect and non-confrontational way. If a new man, when drunk, starts going on about how many women he’s had affairs with, you’re not exactly going to leave him alone with your wife for a night. If he talks about driving drunk and fast all the time, you’re not exactly going to let him pick your kids up from school. Sober, however, he may be the perfect gentleman and you would never know otherwise.

    I would have to disagree with those who believe the only conversations that take place when people have had a few drinks, are mindless and useless. I’ve actually had some of the best intellectual discussions of my life when are few drinks are involved (but not too many – there’s an art to knowing ‘just the right amount’). I would also state for the record, I’m one of the lucky few who can remain intellectually sharp, with or without alcohol in my system. This can work well in an academic context, as academic conversation can become so bogged down in jargon, people can over complicate what they are trying to say with fancy terms that are supposed to sound clever, but only serve to confuse the whole point being made. If I encounter someone like this, I’ll usually say, “hey, let’s continue this conversation over a couple of drinks.”

    Academics (students or scholars), as you note above, can be shy and introspective, which is a good thing in the lab or in deep study, but a few drinks can ease the overall uncomfortable tension in a room and get some positive discussion happening. It can also ease the tension between an academic and a layman – nothing an average person hates more than an academic trying to sound clever and smarter than them – but introduce a bit of good old-fashioned swearing a ‘guy-talk’ and you’re likely to secure their interest in your field of study; and you, theirs. Science, for instance, will fascinate anyone if discussed correctly. Think about Carl Sagan as an example, who could capture any audience instantly. My advice, if you’re an academic, in a public bar, and a workingman offers you a beer – don’t say no. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. It’s just common sense.

    Back to academics: I believe that inside every stereotypically dull professor and introverted student, there is a passionate and articulate individual with a wealth of unique knowledge and insight about the world (although, I think most of them a fascinating, no drinks required). Think about it – most people get into a field of study for pure fascination (e.g. many astronomers will tell you they spent their childhood gazing up at the stars with wonder), but the rigours of study knock this out of them. If a few drinks can help unlock this passion and spark interest within those in the vicinity, then this is a good thing. If you haven’t been laid in years, it may help with that too! The positive flow-on effects of this outcome can be priceless for a repressed individual.

    • zinemin says:

      Good for you that alcohol has a positive effect on you and your interactions with people. But there are many things in your comment that I take issue with.

      Your statement that you ‘will always prefer someone who you can have a drink with’ is problematic. In that way you bias yourself against some people for absolutely no good reason. You seem to assume that people who do not drink alcohol have ‘something to hide’. This is ridiculous. Do you really spill your secrets when you get a little drunk? I certainly don’t. Alcohol is not a truth-serum, it just lowers inhibition. I think the idea that alcohol shows the how ‘people really are’ is an illusion. If I want to ‘feel someone out’, I try to observe how they behave towards people who are lower in the social hierarchy than them or a little different (like that they do to drink alcohol). If someone is less nice towards such people than to others, I immediately know I have met someone with a bad character that I will not trust.

      Next time you meet someone who does not want to drink, please consider this might be because (i) they are recovering alcoholics (ii) they have suffered from an alcoholic parent (iii) their brain chemistry reacts to alcohol in a way that they consider unpleasant (iv) they feel that they have a tendency to get substance-dependent more easily than others (which is again brain chemistry) (v) they might be on some drug with interacts badly with alcohol.

      It is also really strange that you claim that introverted people suddenly start to give eloquent speeches about their field when they drink alcohol. I have never seen an effect like this, and I have been to many social gatherings with scientists and alcohol. Rather, in my observation, alcohol makes the loud people even louder, and the quiet people even quieter. If you want to get a shy person to talk eloquently, showing real interest in their work and not only blabbering about your own usually goes a long way.

      • Daniel Zalec says:

        All points taken. Thank you for your reply.

        As for your points i-v, I actually did say in my original response, “leaving aside obvious practical reasons not to”. Meaning, I understand that there are certain reasons, as you explain, that people may not want a drink. I would accept these. And just to ease any concerns you may have, 90% or more of my interactions with people have no alcohol involved, but it’s just nice to let the hair down sometimes and when that time has come – and perhaps I’m lucky – I’ve had really good times with people, including positive intellectual discussions. Others may have bad experiences, and I’m sorry to hear that.

        As for introverted people, I can’t give you a whole list of scholarly studies, but I can say from personal experience that a few introverted people I have had a few friendly drinks with, have opened up in positive ways, which has led to good interactions that otherwise may not have occurred. There is of course a threshold, and I should clarify that amount of drinks I’m talking about here is not a ‘smashed drunk’ amount, just a sensible amount. Enough to relax someone, but not enough to make them incoherent. I don’t agree with getting wildly drunk. I think this defeats any positive effect alcohol may have.

      • Daniel Zalec says:

        Furthermore, my points are only anecdotal/subjective, and intended to be rather lighthearted. I saw this post in passing and thought I’d quickly offer some personal reflections and experience. Thankfully, these have been positive for me (i.e. a few friendly drinks on a number of occasions have led to increased friendship, and positive discussions). I suggest if anyone has a true, deep, objective interest in this issue, that they refer to the relevant peer-reviewed literature (psychology, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, biology, etc). For those who have interesting anecdotes of their own, positive or negative, feel free to share.

        To the owner of this blog, I shall now leave you in peace. Before departing, however, I will answer the following:

        “On the other hand, the actual conversations one has when being drunk are always totally meaningless anyway.” – I’m sorry to hear this. I hope you have some better experiences one day in these contexts. I guess you’ve been unlucky with the types of people involved and the amounts being consumed. It doesn’t have to be a negative experience all the time.

        “I really wonder how it is possible that being drunk together seems to form to basis of many male friendshps.[sic]” – I really don’t have a definitive answer for you, but I can say, from my experience, for whatever reason[s], it works for us. For deeper research, I suggest the field of evolutionary psychology.

        [edit] I just did a quick Google search, and found this [interesting] Why Intelligent People Drink More Alcohol, More intelligent people are more likely to binge drink and get drunk
        Published on October 10, 2010 by Satoshi Kanazawa in The Scientific Fundamentalist.

  3. An Observer says:

    Drinking makes me quieter around those people I don’t know, but opens me up to people I do. But also only to those I have decided I’m not sexually interested in, or those I know I’m incapable of obtaining for such capacity. I’ve had several conversations with males while drinking alcohol that has led me to open up quite considerably; however, I’ve had the exact same effect without alcohol too. For example, when exercising rigorously with someone else, I’ve noticed I’m a lot more open with them communicably during and afterwards, and them to me. I think it’s an interesting psychological connection having to do with mutual physical fatigue that breaks down barriers

    Overall I think it’s just being close enough to someone else long enough on a personal level that ultimately lower each others’ inhibition towards one another, and not necessarily the Alcohol effect. If anything, it just helps accelerate the process, but I think eventually it’ll get there on it’s volition.

    That said, no amount of Alcohol (as long as I’m still conscious and clairvoyant; I can’t attest to what I’ve done when I’ve lost all control..) has helped me initiate conversations with those I’m interested in, and that’s what I’ve felt the most discouraging about it. I had hopes it’d be a wonder drug to allow me to open me up, but alas, it seems to only make me quieter, and ultimately more depressed when I see others succeeding at what I’m incapable of doing myself. I fall into that “creepy” category of staring at people, hoping they’ll stare back and initiate a conversation. If I can just keep both of us engaged long enough to get to that point I can get to with my male friends, I know I’ll surely have a decent chance at something special. That’s where the alcohol will benefit, when my defenses are down. And so I’ll continue to drink at these social gatherings, waiting–always despairingly so–for that eventual, inevitable spark I so desperately seek.

  4. God says:

    It’s called MDMA…

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