The conversation when I tell people I don’t drink is always a weird one. There’s never really a good moment to bring it up, so it usually happens immediately after I’ve just been asked what drink I want from the bar, or if I’ve been offered wine at a formal. Sometimes a drink will have literally been shoved in front of my face and I have to rush to turn it down. I’ll almost inevitably get a surprised look, if not some kind of follow-up question like, “you mean, not at all?”, or the most obvious one: “why?”
I don’t blame people for being surprised. In a university where almost everyone drinks at least a little, being a lifelong teetotaller puts you squarely in the minority. In my time at Cambridge, I’ve met a scant two other teetotallers – we’re a rare bunch. And unlike many non-drinkers, I don’t abstain because of religion, or addiction, or even health reasons, honestly – I just really don’t like the taste of alcohol. I’ve tried everything from rum to champagne and nothing’s done the trick. To me, the only good part of a G&T is the T.
This policy doesn’t change on nights out. I bring a bottle of tap water to pre-drinks, and the most daring thing I’ll ever get from the bar is a Coke. To most people, the term ‘sober clubbing’ signals a bewildering, uncomfortable experience that they’d really rather avoid, but to me it’s the default.
I have to admit that sober clubbing can be pretty unusual at times. There’s a strange sense of isolation that comes with being the only sober person in a crowd full of tipsy students. Everyone around you is loud, hyperactive, even a little intimidating. Their inhibitions are disappearing, their guards are going down; yours is, if anything, going up. Awkward encounters, overcrowded squeezes, sticky floors – in the absence of alcohol, you feel all of that a lot more keenly.
It’s weird enough being in a crowd of drunk strangers, but maybe the most isolating thing about sober clubbing is being around drunk friends. My friends have been incredibly kind and accepting of my teetotalism, but it’s hard to shake this pernicious feeling in the back of your head that says you’re somehow letting your side down if you’re not drinking alongside them, that you’re the prude who’s spoiling everyone’s fun.
When you’re in that kind of environment, there’s definitely pressure on non-drinkers to just brave their distaste and down a couple VKs anyway. A friend of mine from school was visiting me the other day, and he was surprised that I still hadn’t taken up drinking: “I thought the peer pressure would’ve gotten to you by now”, he said.
That pressure is there, but despite all the complaints and anxieties I might have about being the only sober person in Lola’s at 1am, the truth is that sober clubbing is a lot of fun. It’s true, you feel the bad moments more sharply when you’re sober, but that means you feel the good moments a little more sharply too. Every time your favourite song comes on, or you break into a spontaneous synchronised routine with a best friend, or you’re yelling along to a song you all know is a bit cheesy but you love all the same – you feel a lot more present, a lot more in the moment, and it’s every bit as joyous and liberating, if not more, than if you were blackout drunk.
I sometimes feel like, even if I were to take up drinking, I wouldn’t want to drink much on nights out anyway, if at all. I think sometimes people drink, not to make a good night even better, but to make a pretty lousy night just tolerable. If that’s the case, I feel like I’d have a lot more fun just staying at prinks and spending time with friends rather than dragging myself out to Cindies and halfheartedly dancing to songs I don’t like just because it’s the done thing.
If you’ve never tried sober clubbing before, I’d suggest at least giving it a shot. You might be sceptical, but treat it like an experiment. Watch the crowd go wild when ‘Mr. Brightside’ comes on, and observe your friends’ drunken habits, all while your senses aren’t fogged by alcohol. Enjoy the ability to walk home without stumbling, and to wake up without realising you’ve sent a bunch of embarrassing texts to your family group chat. Be thankful for the tenner you’ll save on not buying a round of shots. If you like it, try it again! You might find that sober clubbing can make your experience of Cambridge nightlife that little bit better. If not, fair enough – at least you’ll be able to enjoy getting up the next morning without a hangover.