If scent is the most powerful provoker of memory, would a breath of you remind me what it’s like to be in love?
Considering that my primary undergraduate degree had a specific focus on addictions and substance use disorders and that my first job out of university was to research the genetics of alcoholism, the discussion I am about to bring forward may seem a bit… I don’t know… delayed? However, it is difficult to truly examine an issue with an unbiased, critical eye when you are a part if it. That is, how can I criticize the culture and the industry of alcohol consumption when, I, myself, partake in it readily?
Maybe my increasing disdain for the alcohol culture & industry in American society is a sign that I’m getting older or wiser [read: lamer]. Regardless, lately it has started to seem kind of crazy to me that the majority of social events in this country revolve around alcohol.
- Watching live music. When I go to a show/concert/festival, the majority of people have drinks in hand. I will admit that it feels strange to me to stand and watch a show without a beverage to sip on.
- Watching sports. Watching a sporting event, whether it be live or televised, nearly always involves drinking alcohol. Yet drinking while watching sports in a bar is the only setting that this actually makes sense. Drinking while watching sports live seems especially insane given the absurd prices that people are willing to pay for cheap, watery beer in stadiums.
- Watching movies. (At least in Portland). Several theatres around this city offer pints and pitchers for their 21+ patrons. [I admit: it’s genius.]
So being a spectator and imbibing alcohol appear to go together. But why is it that when our minds are engaged and our hands our free we feel the need to stick a pint glass in them? Are we attempting to enhance what we are viewing/experiencing with the pleasurable effects of ethanol? Or are we simply succumbing to the ever-present, unspoken peer pressure to drink because everyone around us is doing it? Is it incredibly ingrained social habits? i.e., we always drink in those situations so we don’t know how to act otherwise?
It’s not just being a spectator that elicits alcohol-seeking behaviors in Americans. Name any activity that young adults might do, for instance, and alcohol is most often involved:
- Adult sports leagues, e.g., kickball, frisbee, softball… (+ beers)
- Catching up with a friend (meet for drinks)
- First dates (meet for drinks)
- Barbecues/potlucks/dinners (+ beers/cocktails)
- Bowling (+ pitchers of beer)
- Going to the river/beach/park/camping (+ beers/flasks)
- Birthday celebrations (frequently @ bars/clubs)
- Weddings, and all the events leading up to them (heavily saturated with alcohol of all kinds)
Before I continue, I should take a time out to recognize a few things:
- Several effects of alcohol - when consumed in controlled amounts - can feel quite pleasurable.
- Many types of beer - especially microbrews in the PNW - are delicious.
- It can definitely be argued that adding the element of imbibing alcohol to many activities - such as the ones listed above - enhances social interaction and the enjoyment of said activities.
- There is an extremely long-standing human tradition of drinking and being merry, which should not be discounted.
Ok, back to my critique…
One thing I find curious about being a patron, so to speak, of both the drinking culture and industry in America, is that I have such disdain for other industries that have essentially created social constructs in order to profit billions of dollars, year after year.
- Wedding industry. (Starting with the obligatory diamond engagement ring all the way through to the must-have, blow-out wedding of the century.)
- Dairy industry. (Daily glasses of milk are necessary for strong bones! Funny how hip fracture rates are higher in developed countries - where dairy intake is higher - than in developing countries, where dairy consumption is lower. Source.)
- Tobacco industry. (Despite increasing regulations over the years, the industry still has its ways of perpetuating the idea that it is ‘oh so cool’ to smoke cigs. What’s not so cool: Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the U.S. Source.)
If you ask me what I think about the social “rules”, “obligations”, and “traditions” that the aforementioned industries have woven into the fabric of American culture, you better grab a seat (and a drink) because you are going to get an earful. However, I’ve never turned my disdainful eye or skeptical scorn on the alcohol industry, which makes tens of billions a year convincing us that life is better with a drink in our hand.
Because analyzing the American alcohol industry & culture would require me to admit my inability to separate myself from its massively pervasive pressure on my own social life.
It would require me to admit that while I gobble up nearly all the advice of my favorite neuroscientist about how to live a mindful, healthy life, I conveniently skim over his truthful statements regarding the neurotoxicity of alcohol.
It would also require me to think about a few alarming statistics, a little bit deeper.
- Slightly more than half of Americans aged 12 or older reported being current drinkers of alcohol in 2010. This translates to an estimated 131.3 million people.
- In 2010, nearly 25% of persons aged 12+ participated in binge drinking. This translates to about 58.6 million people.
- In comparison, 8.9% of the population aged 12 or older reported using illicit drugs in 2010.
- Number of alcoholic liver disease deaths (2010): 15,990
- Number of alcohol-induced deaths, excluding accidents & homicides: 25,692
- Number of deaths from all illicit drugs combined (2007): ~10,000-20,000
Therefore, in this country we see an average of 40,000 deaths per year from alcohol alone (not including accidents/homicides that may have been fueled by EtOH intoxication), and 10,000-20,000 deaths from all illegal drugs combined.
Yet where is the focus of the “war on drugs” in America?
I’m not going to scurry down that rabbit hole— this is not a piece on the failed “war on drugs” in the U.S. Rather, I dug up the above statistics to provoke thought into why the media and the majority of government officials focus on illicit drug use and overdoses when alcohol is taking Americans’ lives at double the rate.
Let’s get back to the main point of this post, then, and summarize the culture of alcohol in America.
From the age of comprehension, Americans are bombarded with TV ads and giant billboards with the hottest beach babes and the bulkiest of bros sippin’ on Bud Light and clearly having the time of their lives. Hollywood pumps out a million and one American Pie-style movies which both glorify drinking and are marketed toward high school and college-aged kids. Meanwhile, a government-employed D.A.R.E. officer comes to our classrooms and tells us to “just say no” to marijuana and cocaine—which pose zero threat and a significantly marginal threat to our lives, respectively—but let us know that we can legally intoxicate ourselves with ethanol at age 21. Nonetheless, with the persuasive & pervasive alcohol culture surrounding us, we begin drinking at 16, 17, 18, and continue drinking 2-4 days a week, on average, until, well, we die.
I’ve got one idea, which just might answer all my questions: Alcohol is big business. And taxed heavily.
I’m personally appalled at the thought of how much I’ve monetarily contributed to this unhealthful and -for some- arguably immoral business over the years. Yet when I look back on many of the good times I’ve had during the last decade, would they have been the same without America’s favorite social lubricant? I can’t help but feel that my inability to produce an unbiased cost-benefit analysis of this entire situation is because the Mother Culture of Alcohol has been whispering in my ear since before I could discern it.
Now that I can, though, what am I to do about it?
I have been diagnosed with Excessive Saliva Excretion Disorder. [This diagnosis is unofficial and self-made, but disturbing nonetheless]. Like all disorders, this one causes a marked disturbance in normal functioning. Allow me to elaborate.I drool on myself. Often. If not on my cheek or chin, then on my shirt or pants. I’ve also been known drool on whatever surface is nearest my mouth (desk, bathroom counter, coffee table, you). This can be the source of some embarrassment, depending on where it happens and what company I am in.Every time I am performing any task that requires moderate to heavy concentration there is a 45-76.8% chance that I will drool, which positively correlates with the level of concentration demanded. Such tasks include (but are in no means limited to): typing on my computer, watching movies, playing the piano, doing my make up, plucking my eyebrows, writing, reading, and dressing myself.Yes, for me, getting dressed requires concentration. Apparently at a high enough level to deactivate control of my salivary glands. A few weekends ago, I was in my friend’s living room along with another good friend. I bought two dresses and needed to decide which to wear to a wedding. As I changed into each one in order to get their opinions, I felt a bit of drool slide down my cheek. I decided to forgo mentioning this, with plans to do the “Stealth Shoulder Swipe” on my dress sleeve— a move I have gotten down pat. Before I could execute this endeavor, however, my friend announced, “Are you drooling right now?”"Why, YES, I am. I was planning to wipe it away before anyone noticed.""I could totally see it glistening on your cheek," she further (and unnecessarily) explained.My friends are completely aware of my disorder and are generally unperturbed when I drool, but it never ceases to be amusing. It’s drool: it’s always funny.My family of course knows about my problem. They’ll catch me drooling and yell, “Ugh. Who ARE you?”People I work closely with also come to know about my syndrome. In fact, one of my past coworkers affectionately dubbed me ‘Puddles’.Fortunately, Excessive Saliva Excretion Disorder is not too bothersome among my close friends, family, and colleagues because I’m not embarrassed of my ESED in front of these people. In fact, providing continuous laughter (even if I am the butt of the jokes) for these people almost makes my ESED a good thing.Almost.Having to buy a new pillow 6 times more frequently than the average person is quite inconvenient. For my main pillow, I purchased a separate zip cover that goes over the pillow before the pillowcase. Yup, sufferers of ESED have to have dually covered pillows to attempt to preserve their lives for just a bit longer. Yet I refuse to purchase rubber covers or sheets. I will not allow my quality of life to be degraded that severely by ESED.The dentist? That’s always a great time. Who doesn’t enjoy going to the dentist? Exactly. Well, it is even worse when you have Excessive Saliva Excretion Disorder. The dental assistant knows me very well: The Drooler. Most people only need the suctioning tool for certain procedures like cleanings, fillings, oral surgery. Me? I need it for everything. “Open your mouth, let’s do a quick gum check. Oh.. um, suction!” My dentist grew tired of saying, “Suction! Suction! Suction!” so now the assistant knows to just suction continuously. As aforementioned, I may drool when writing. Those damn forms you have to fill out every time you go to the dentist’s office [“Could’ve sworn I filled this shit out the last time I was here…”]? Those require concentration. The receptionist hands me the paperwork and notifies the dental assistant I have arrived, who promptly wheels out the suction tool to suction me while I fill out my paperwork.Girls may worry about many things after sleeping over with a guy— is my makeup smeared? Does he think I’m a total whore now? Is my hair all JBF-ed looking? I can’t believe I did that! Does my breath totally reek right now? In addition to all these normal worries, I have to wake up and frantically search for The Puddle. Not if there is a puddle. But where there is a puddle. It is usually okay if my secretions accumulated on the pillow or the sheets; I can attempt to hide it till it dries. If I get caught, I’ll point to it and try & laugh it off: “Whoa, a 5-inch diameter?! That’s gotta be a new record!”Unfortunately, I don’t always drool on the pillowcase or sheets. I am a huge cuddler, which means many times I will fall asleep while laying on an arm, chest, shoulder, etc. When I sleep, the chance that I will drool increases to 99.99%. [For the sake of accuracy, I’ll assume there was at least 1 time out of 1000 that I did not drool in my sleep.] You do the math. The result? Countless times where the cuddlin’ turned to puddlin’. You’ve been forewarned: if I fall asleep with you, there will most definitely be a saturated body part when you awake.I’m sure there are a few upsides to my ESED that I am overlooking. Nothing besides the humor of it comes to mind, though. Increased enzymatic activity which leads to faster digestion, perhaps? I suppose it is particularly helpful when— never mind. [We’ll keep this entry PG-13 rated.]I wonder if I am alone in this? I have yet to meet another that suffers from Excessive Saliva Excretion Disorder, discounting certain breeds of dogs and those with disorders much worse than mine. Maybe I should start an ESED foundation? I can raise money toward finding a cure and provide a safe space for sufferers all over the world. I’ll host support groups and events where we can come together and share our stories. We’ll laugh a little. Cry a little. And, of course, we’ll drool….. a lot.
I’ve been watching the storm unfold since I got home. As I pulled up to the house and turned off the engine, I heard what I thought was the distant clap of thunder. I paused before exiting the car, intently listening, trying to confirm or deny an incoming storm. Silence. A lightning-less sky. Going on that evidence (or lack thereof), I convinced myself that I had misheard; it must have been the clamoring rear door of one of the massive semi-trucks a few yards away.
See— if the noise had come from one of those obnoxious dairy trucks I wouldn’t have to have “the conversation” with myself. The one that happens every time I am in a thunderstorm, which—luckily—isn’t very often.
Internal Voice #1: “It’s just a little thunder and lightning. It’s not going to hurt you.”
Internal Voice #2: "You don’t know that. These kinds of storms hurt and even kill people. Like the guy in one of those near-death experience books you read as a child. Don’t you remember?”
Internal Voice #1: "Yes, I remember. But he didn’t get killed. He wrote a ‘near-death’ book for FSM’s sake."
Internal Voice #2: “Dude. He got electrocuted when lightning hit the telephone wires, which are all around me! He was on the phone—“safely” inside his home—when he got hit with like 10,000 billion volts of pure electricity from a lightning bolt that came at him through his receiver. He shot across the room. His fingernails and toenails shot off his appendages and stuck into the walls! His heart stopped and he died for like 30 minutes!”
Internal Voice #1: "Yeah, well, he came back to life and wrote that book and it must’ve been at least mildly successful because you ended up reading it. See? Getting struck by lightning isn’t so bad. Besides, it is so rare. You are more likely to win the lottery than get struck by lightning.”
Internal Voice #2: "Is that even true? I feel like that’s just something people throw out there, when no one has ever really bothered to crunch the numbers. Like when they say you’re more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. Besides, I don’t play the lottery, so I am more likely to get struck by lightning.”
Internal Voice #1: "Listen to you. You’re being ridiculous. We’ve been having this conversation for years. Bottom line: you are too old to be afraid of thunderstorms."
Internal Voice #2: “I’m not afraid of them. I just think they are best experienced safely under the covers of my bed with someone else in there to protect me. Totally different.”
This internal conversation is absurd, and I know it. It’s preposterousness is more evident every time I have it. Voice #1 is clearly the voice of logic and reason; Voice #2 is akin to some inner child who never got used to the sound of thunder clapping overhead or lightning zig-zagging across the sky. Part of this unresolved, childish fear is due to the infrequency that we have such storms on the West Coast. Part of it is definitely some PTSD from that book I read at the ripe age of 7. I learned about some pretty gnarly and gruesome deaths at a young age from all those near-death experience books I was sneaking from my dad’s library— why had the lightning one struck me so powerfully and stuck with me all of these years?
As I sit here at my desk, watching the lightning snake across the sky and hearing the thunder drum a little bit closer each time, it is easy to blame my insomnia and unrest on this external stimuli. After all, it has always made me feel uneasy and unnerved. But at nearly 30 years old, my very intelligent, mature, and (mostly) fearless self knows that I am too old to be this bothered by a little thunder & lightning. The internal debate I am having about the irrationality of fearing thunderstorms is merely a guise. It mentally distracts me—this storm outside my window— from having the real internal conversation I should be having. The one where I admit to myself why I am wide awake at 3:00 in the morning.
But my internal voice of reason and my internal voice of illogicality just aren’t quite ready to debate the bona fide issue. So for the first time in my life I’m thankful, rather than fearful, of the abundance of thunder & lightning above my head this night.
Part IV: My Last First Date. Ever.
[Editor’s note: You should probably start with Parts I, II, and III].
"Well, I’m off to my last first date. Wish me luck."
"What do you mean?" my sister inquired.
"I’m done. I’m never going on a first date again. I’ve been on too many. I’m over it. This is the last one. Ever."
"What if it doesn’t go well?"
"Doesn’t matter. I can’t do it anymore. I already deleted my online profile."
My sister, while still perplexed about my ‘last first date ever’ declaration, was fully supportive of my decision to leave the online dating world. She had seen how it stressed me out. She had noticed how I ended up spending way too much time on my computer browsing for guys, filtering through messages, and stressfully squeezing in first dates to my already stressful schedule, when I could have been spending that time hanging with friends and family. You know, in the real world. Where three-dimensional people meet and exchange words in real time. Where chemistry can be detected rather instantly and superficiality is exponentially more palpable.
I’m not totally hatin’ on online datin’ or dismissing it completely as a useless twenty-first century social media marketing gimmick. It can be, and has been, very successful for many people. People quite close to me, even. It’s just not for everyone, and I had decided that it wasn’t for me. Nor was going on a million first dates. I was burnt out.
It was unfortunate that this would be my last first date ever, because I had a feeling this date was already dead in the water. Not only was I burnt out on first dates, but I also happened to be hungover. Like most people, I’ve found that increasing age and level of functionality during a hangover are inversely proportional. I, being almost 30, was essentially a hot mess. Still, after a few last minute requests to push the time of the date back a bit, I managed to put myself together (kind of) and bike to the popular coffee shop where we’d chosen to meet. Saved only by copious amounts of locally roasted coffee, I managed to make it through my last first date ever.
Eh, “make it through” sounds incredibly harsh. It was not that way. Surprisingly, despite my internal turmoil [read: acetaldehyde toxicity coupled with dehydration and lack of REM sleep], I had a very nice time chatting with the guy who was (unknowingly) slated to be my last first date ever. Still, between my dating fatigue (and my hangover) I was being completely unfair to this completely nice boy who had taken the time to meet up with me. I secretly felt like an ass that I was mildly relieved when the whole experience was over. Sparks didn’t fly— we certainly weren’t going to elope or frolic gayfully towards the setting sun together— but we got along handsomely enough that we decided to be mates. (The British kind, not the Animal Planet kind).
So it went: An anticlimactic last first date, ever. An anticlimactic end to my online dating experiment.
"But… if you aren’t going out on a first date ever again, how are you ever going to date again?" I am consistently asked.
"I guess I’ll just have to rely on love at first sight. I will see the man I know I want to marry, walk up to him, and propose. Simple."
It will be simple: Meet. Marry.
It will feel so incredibly natural and so right… and not in the least forced.
Because, as Mom always said, “If you have to force it, it isn’t right.”
Part III: Arrested Development
[Editor’s note: This will make much more sense if you start with Part I and Part II].
"He has until the end of the day."
"Are you serious? That’s it?"
"Yup. Then he’s cut."
"Really?? Only 24 hours to relax and breathe a bit?"
"That’s right. If he’s into me, he’ll be eager to get back into contact with me. I’ve waited for weeks! He shouldn’t expect me to wait even longer."
My classmates were quite amused at the seriousness of my ultimatum: if Guy #1 didn’t contact me within 24 hours of finishing his exam, I wasn’t going to see him again. And I was being serious. I had patiently given him space for nearly a month, only interrupting his studying with a few messages of encouragement. I was already incredibly skeptical that studying for an exam could cause a guy who was truly into me to cut off all contact for several weeks. I was knowledgeable about these things. See, my grandma took me to see the all-star movie, He’s Just Not that Into You.
Regardless, it doesn’t take a genius like Greg Behrendt to realize that “If he is not initiating contact with you when he says he will, he’s just not that into you.”
I received a message while in class that day. The exam was over. He wanted to see me. I was pleasantly surprised.
One of our first dates - before the hiatus - involved watching Arrested Development and eating cake and ice cream. (We clearly got along supremely well). Our first date after the break was supposed to be climbing, but an injury nixed those plans. So, we quickly improvised Plan B: make pizza together then eat it while we watched some more A.D.
"That is so couple-y!" my sister exclaimed after asking what we were going to be doing.
Yes, I suppose it was.
As I waited for him to come and pick me up, I realized that the long break in our courtship was causing me butterflies akin to that first, first date. Yet this time around the butterflies were fueled more by excitement than nerves. I had a feeling it was going to be a good date.
Good conversation, jokes, laughter, teasing, flirting, baking, eating homemade pizza, watching A.D., and…. more. It was a good date.
However, in the following few days, my phone was quiet.
I tested the waters: if I sent a message, I got one in return. If I didn’t… silence.
That’s right: He would tell me that Guy #1 wasn’t that into me.
Chemistry between two people who are attracted to each other is a very odd thing. It’s evolutionary, biological, and scientifically explainable, of course, but it still is an odd and wondrous thing. I’ve always thought that it was either mutually existent or not at all. Right? It is a chemical reaction that occurs between people. Like molecules, two people collide and react with each other.
Surely he also felt the chemistry that had been happening between us on each of our dates. I wasn’t experiencing shooting sparks in solitary.
I began to wonder how many times in my life someone else felt chemistry toward me, in isolation, while I was completely oblivious. A neutron being hopelessly orbited by a single proton. Yikes.
No, the chemistry was there. I’m no Greg Behrendt, but two people don’t act the way we were acting without the forceful laws of attraction acting in both directions. It was definitely a “double arrow” type of reaction.
So what the hell was wrong? Why had this very promising romantic development so suddenly arrested?
I have no idea. And never will. How’s that for unsatisfying?
I called him out on his disinterest, and just for shits and giggles, I suppose, he agreed to meet me and talk it out in person. We decided to go out again. Then, the night before our next date, he called and cancelled.
It felt like getting kicked in the stomach. The physical pain of emotional rejection is a very real thing. I empathized with the guys I had recently rejected romantically. I even wrote to apologize to one of them.
Surely there must have been some misunderstanding. Maybe I could figure it out and fix it… I found myself thinking. Then I caught myself.
Nope, nope. If you have to force it…
Part IV: My Last First Date. Ever.