This Saturday will be my – big breath, take a gulp – twenty-ninth birthday. Considering how many of my friends are happy and healthy in their thirties and how the women in my family continue kicking ass well into their seventies, aging should not be something I’m afraid of. But because I live in a world that gets tired of women easily, I admit that this birthday – and the one that will come after it – are causing me to freak out a bit. Thirty is the kind of milestone age we set guidelines for: “I want to have kids by 30,” “I want to publish a book by the time I’m 30,” and so on. But as I start zeroing in on the last year of my 20s, there are a few changes in my life that happened without any choice.
Like many people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, I’ve never been what you might call “good” at drinking. Even in my wildest college days, eating an entire loaf of bread before going out still couldn’t keep me from being what is politely known as “a cheap date.” If I had decided to pursue alcoholism as a serious profession, I don’t think I would have made much headway. But there was something about drinking that made me feel like an adult – the sexy long-stemmed glasses, the sound of the ice clinking. Once I moved to a new city after college and tried to make friends, “going out for a drink” became the standard means of getting to know each other, but I could only knock one or two drinks back before getting a case of the spins or feeling like I was going to throw up. (Or, sometimes, actually throwing up.) Like with tennis or long division, I kept telling myself that all I needed was hard work to get better. But my body was telling me otherwise – and it took me a pretty long time to hear it.
I’m never going to be a gallon-of-gin-a-day drinker, never going to be a glamorous yet tortured writer with a martini always at the ready. But when I don’t drink, I sleep better. I don’t grind my teeth. I don’t play Russian Roulette with the contents of my stomach. I’m not going to give up drinking completely, but I won’t feel ashamed to have only one glass of wine when the rest of my friends are splitting entire bottles. I’d rather spend the whole night nursing two fingers of really, really, really good bourbon than knocking back beers just because it’s happy hour and they’re cheap. My stomach feels better, my head feels better, and my sense of self feels better. I may not find what I’m looking for in the bottom of a glass, but the older I get the less I care about whether I can keep up in a drinking contest. One of the nicest things about getting older has been that I care less and less about other people thinking I’m cool. And for a long time, wanting to hold my liquor was a way to fit in, a way to stay up as late as everyone else and get included in the right conversations. But gnarly hangovers and queasy stomachs aren’t the kind of cool I want to chase anymore. And the people who I think are cool are so cool that they don’t care what’s in my glass.