First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.
Does good company care to have a man reeling drunk among them?... No; those who practice, and much more those who brag of [drinking], make no part of good company ; and are most unwillingly, if ever, admitted into it. A real man of fashion and pleasure observes decency; at least, neither borrows nor affects vices; and, if he unfortunately has any, he gratifies them with choice delicacy, and secrecy.
There have been a couple of topics I have been avoiding writing about. Not only because I feel they require a great deal of thought, but also because they are enormous in their nature. Those topics are sex and alcohol.
It should come as a surprise to no one that these are huge issues to a gentleman. Not only are they independently a quagmire, but they also often find themselves intertwined in a symbiotic system.
In the interest of narrowing my focus somewhat, today I am going to be discussing the basics of social drinking and how a gentleman can maintain his integrity, his place in society, and indeed his reputation by moderating his drink. It is far too common an occurence for someone to permanently ruin their own good name by a misplaced night of reverie. All it takes is impressing upon a group of people that you are a "bad drunk" and that will be how you are remembered. In life, second chances are far too rare to willingly ruin a first impression.
It brings to mind an experience I had. It was at a party and one of the guests had brought her new boyfriend. This was our first time meeting him and instead of keeping his wits about him, he proceeded to get intoxicated to the point of offensiveness. As a result the phrase "what does she see in him?" was uttered from a myriad of sources and with great frequency. The truth is, that for our parts as friends, we may never know. He had the rare opportunity to show us what an excellent person he could be: he could have been cordial and thoughtful, he could have been courteous and polite, but instead he drank over a full bottle of distilled spirits, antagonized people, became a braggart, and ultimately found himself isolated. This is how he is now known to us and as a result of his actions, I can venture to guess that none of us are in any hurry to spend time with him again.
So how can we avoid becoming a social pariah as a result of our drinking? How can we maintain a positive image in all societies?
The way I see it, to accomplish anything correctly, it is necessary to have a game plan. A general does not step onto the field of battle without calculation and neither should we.
Right off the bat, allow me to say that the most socially responsible method is abstinence. One can never know when it will be necessary to have their wits about them and as such, the safest assurance that you will always be ready is to always be sober. I have never regretted being the most sober person in the room. The worst thing that may happen to you while sober is that you find yourself talking to a drunk. And while unpleasant, conversing with a drunk can nicely serve to remind us of what we want to avoid.
Before we begin a discussion of sociable drinking, it is important that we understand ourselves. This might be the hardest part. Not because we can never really know ourselves, but because we know ourselves all to well. The difficulty arises not in attaining the knowledge of self, but in the admission to the self of who we are. In this situation you need ask the following:
"Do I have a drinking problem?"
That's a loaded question isn't it? Let me help you out a bit before you become terrified. For our purposes here, we are going to redefine the standard understanding of a drinking "problem." For us, as gentleman, we can say that anyone who drinks beyond the point of social acceptability has a drinking problem. Anyone who gets drunk at the wrong time, in the wrong place, with the wrong people, or who behaves in a manner unbecoming of a gentleman, has a problem.
These are very broad terms and depend largely on your social circle and your understanding of how these parameters apply to you. If you seek out the company of other drunks, as drunks often do, then you will never feel that your being socially unacceptable. If you wake up alone in the gutter, there is shame and embarrassment. If you wake up with ten people in the gutter, then there is a shared experience and a story. But the important thing to remember is that no matter how good the story may be, you still woke up in a gutter. It is very easy to associate with people who make us feel better about our shortcomings by sharing them, but a gentleman knows the gutter is no place to sleep.
So if you have a drinking problem as understood through the terms of a gentleman, my simple advice is this: don't drink. If you run the risk of embarrassing yourself or others, if you believe there is the possibility that you will lose control, then the best and easiest and shortest solution is to abstain.
However, if you can handle the occasional drink and they are not a problem for you, how then would you decide on an appropriate amount to ingest?
When in polite society, prescribe a two drink maximum.
A two drink maximum maintains your sobriety while at the same time allowing you to drink socially.
By having only one drink, we are displaying to the host or hostess that we have sampled of their provided bar. They have taken the time and money to provide you with libation and it would be untoward to not take one. If you do not enjoy it, then you need not drink anymore. One drink is sufficient to show appreciation for the effort.
Do understand that drinking is by no means required. If you were at a party and the selection at the dessert table was limited to store bought cookies, you would not feel compelled to eat them. However, if care and thought were put into the dessert display, then taking a portion is polite--if only to take one bite. The same holds true for the bar. If the hosts are providing rare spirits, fine wines, or as we see in the modern era, expertly created cocktails, then one should partake, if only for a sample. A curated bar is a thing of pride for connoisseur and should be acknowledged. Conversely, if the bar consists of plastic bottles of booze and light beer, there is no need to experience that. The cheap spirits, wines, and beers are useful only to get drunk. And as we know, this is not becoming.
Having a second drink takes the appreciation one step further. It not only shows thanks, but by taking the second cocktail, we are showing enjoyment. A second drink tells the host or hostess that you are grateful for their hospitality and that you also find it to be particularly palatable.
With the consumption of a third drink you have gone beyond the realm of propriety. Again, think of cocktails as you would the dessert table. To take one piece of cake for yourself is expected. They didn't buy the desserts for display purposes. To take two pieces shows that you really enjoyed it and are flattering the host by showing them just how much. But to take a third piece of cake is gluttonous and beyond good taste.
Liquor, beer, wine, and cocktails are meant to be sensory experiences. One sees the color of the drink, holds it up to the light and watches the interplay of liquid and glass. The beverage is then smelled to develop a nose for it. Then the drink is tasted. A small amount of fluid is rolled around in the mouth gently so as not to bruise it. And it is allowed to coat all areas of the tongue. Three of the five senses are used in a single sip of a drink and it takes about half a minute if done properly. Drinks are not guzzled, chugged, or gulped. Drinking too much or drinking too fast numbs the senses, and impares your ability to enjoy.
If looking at art made you progressively lose your sense of sight. Would you look at anything and everything you could, or would you only seek out the best examples of art upon which to use your gaze? Such is the nature of alcohol. It should be used as an experience of the senses, not for the numbing of them. This is why we see spittoons at wine tastings.
These are pretty strict guidelines to follow. I am fully aware that there are times and places where you will get drunk. It happens to us all. Maybe when hanging out with friends, or on a vacation, but remember, that when you are trying to be the best man you can, the most important thing to be is yourself. And you can't be yourself if you are drunk.
So in short:
- Abstain if polite consumption of alcohol proves challenging. You do not need to drink and it is often times unnecessary.
- If the bar is curated, prescribe a two drink maximum.
- Enjoy the drink, not the side effect.
- And as always, when in doubt, behave in the manner becoming of a gentleman.
Until next time, be a gentleman.