When they find out, people tend to ask if I had a problem. They want the answer to be yes, so they can feel safe and happy and at peace with their own habits. I never give them the satisfaction. Instead I’ll say “addiction is a spectrum,” which is entirely true. And then I’ll say “define problem.”
I went on a date last night. As soon as I saw him I knew he wasn’t for me. Something about the pigeon-footed way he walked, the narrowness of his chest, the way his jeans fit. I absorbed it all in a millisecond. My ovaries said no.
One of the first things he said was Tell me. What was the catalyst? What’s the reason? Tell me your most embarrassing story.
I was shocked by this intrusion. I told him there are hundreds of reasons, and then I told him to go and get himself a drink because I’d already got mine. At the bar he must’ve reassessed his opener, because he didn’t mention it again.
I knew he was on edge because I could feel it in my chest. His laugh was hard and forced and he told anecdotes like he was trying to lighten up a corporate presentation. I thought he had a nice face, and I liked his accent, but he was putting on a front and it was draining my energy. His body language was way too forward. He saw the cut on my elbow and felt the need to hold my arm while he looked at it. We were sitting at a corner table, and if I wasn’t at a diagonal slant in the opposite direction we’d be touching.
It doesn’t really matter, I realised. I’ll have a nice time anyway. If I ask him lots of questions, maybe I’ll learn something new.
I’ve been in this position countless times before. The first was in 2014. I was newly single and telling myself I was having fun when really I was just an open wound that could walk. This date was in East London. When I saw him I knew it was a no. He was shorter than he’d seemed and entitled, somehow, and his features were too bold for my taste, and sinister. The mismatch was on a sensory level. I couldn’t stand the way he smelt and I was about to hate the way he tasted. But none of that mattered. Whether or not I was attracted to him was at the very bottom of my list of priorities. I had a break-up to win.
We got along fine, sitting in a corner of a jam-packed pub. I would’ve shed my personality a thousand times over to get the ego boost I needed. I ordered Prosecco after Prosecco after Prosecco so I could get drunk enough to make out with him. It must’ve seemed like I was really into it, because at one point he said “Wow. You just can’t stop kissing me.” I remember being surprised by this, like I’d put on an award-winning performance without even trying. We said goodbye at Old Street station and I never spoke to him again.
I’d broken up with my boyfriend safe in the knowledge that I’d soon get another one. To make sure of it, I got in touch with old flames. I trawled dating apps and hooked up with male friends. I drank alcohol as often as possible to ensure I was physically and emotionally available to sleep with them. If I allowed myself a single second of clarity I would see that my behaviour was destructive and I would stop doing it and then I’d come face to face with my own feelings. So instead of staying in on Friday nights and thinking about the world I’d lost and how to move forward, I got maniacally, volcanically, thunderously fucked up.
I lost the break up early on. He got a new girlfriend within a couple months, but that didn’t stop me. Somehow I still felt I could win. Perhaps if I had more sex than him with a larger pool of people I would be victorious. Maybe if I fucked people he knew his ego would be as damaged as mine. Maybe if I got too drunk to speak five nights a week and mounted infinite numbers of men he would send me a WhatsApp saying
I hear you’ve been banging every man with a pulse
Sounds pretty cool
Sorry I got a new gf so soon even though you’re the one who broke up with me
She’s just a rebound
Let me know if you want to get back together
Maybe if I was handed back control, I could stop. But of course that wouldn’t happen, and was utterly unreasonable and nonsensical anyway, so I kept drinking and blacking out and waking up in different beds.
I’ve only ever hooked up with people when drunk. When I was a teenager alcohol was a way to shed my self-consciousness and get off with spotty boys with sweep fringes. I have always needed alcohol to feel confident in my sexuality. In fact, until recently I wasn’t aware that my sexuality existed without alcohol. I’d have sober sex in a relationship, but I never even considered it an option outside of one. When I am drunk I can flirt better, I can be more forward, I can hide how I really feel and what I really want. In the morning, when I wake up, I can say whoops lol I was so drunk and then spend the rest of the week at home, alone, wishing I had someone to spoon.
I’ve lived in Germany for four years now, but I picked up these habits in England. That’s where groups of men and women stagger up and down high streets in herds with the aim of getting wasted and finding someone to have sex with. Weird, when you think about it, because alcohol is a desensitiser, so the end result isn’t even enjoyable. But they aren’t doing it for the orgasms. They’re doing it for the ego boosts.
Since that break up in 2014 the universe has served me up a big fat dollop of single, so I’ve had to drink a helluva lot to keep my love life alive. In Germany, though, they don’t drink for the same reasons we do. They drink because they like the taste and the warm fuzzy feeling after a few beers. At home we drink so that we do not know who we are anymore. It doesn’t make much sense to me now, looking back. If all I wanted was to be unconscious, why didn’t I just get some sleep?
It took years of getting wasted at work events and paralytic on dates to figure out this isn’t how they do it on mainland Europe. If I did achieve my goal of getting male attention, I’d wake up the next day embarrassed and ashamed because it didn’t really mean anything. I was drunk, so were they. It would’ve been hard to guess that all I wanted was a meaningful connection.
So if I were to answer last nights date’s intrusive question, I’d say that every hangover was a catalyst. Every time I’ve nearly ruined a friendship, every time I’ve woken up in someone else’s bed and not been sure how I got there, every time I’ve been overwhelmed with anxiety and loss and fear and loneliness. But, yes okay, fine. There was one event in particular.
I was covering a festival in Lisbon last summer. He was the drummer. From my spot in the crowd I could barely see him, but the attraction was so powerful it was a full-body experience. His arms were the show-stoppers, thick and strong in his black t-shirt. His stubble beard framed his cheekbones like they were a work of art. Looking at him felt like being in the centre of an electrical storm.
Hours later, wasted, I spotted him watching Róisín Murphy on the side of the stage. I didn’t think twice, I just appeared at his side and introduced myself. The electro-magnetic pull was much stronger up close. He took my hand in his, close to my wrist, and the lightning struck both of us.
We played it cool most of the evening. I chatted to other people, he did too, but I could feel the thick presence of him all night. I could feel the burn of his eyes when my back was turned.
And then we weren’t playing it cool anymore. Our hands were all over each other, we were making out in the elevator, we were stumbling into his room. He looked better shirtless than I could possibly have imagined. If it was a movie, it would’ve been the hottest scene. But it wasn’t a movie. We were trashed. It was sloppy and all over the place and we didn’t use a condom which was a disaster because I wasn’t on contraception. All of that excitement and electricity was lost to the numb, empty abyss of drunk as fuck sex.
We passed out in an awkward pile and when he packed to catch his 7am flight he took my favourite dress with him.
The shame felt like an iron fist in my chest and it lasted a full week. What should’ve been a beautiful experience was sordid and empty and it wasn’t because of the sex. It was because of the alcohol. I hadn’t been in control.
I often wonder what that night would have looked like if I hadn’t been drinking. I would probably have introduced myself, although we might not have hooked up, but the dude lived 30 minutes from my mum’s house in London, so if our connection was as strong as I remember maybe we’d have gone on an actual date. Now we never want to see each other ever again.
Lockdown came seven months later and with it the space to see my drinking habits were getting me nowhere. I was afraid that my sexuality would disappear without it, but it didn’t take long for it to emerge, blinking, into the sober light of day.
It happened post-lockdown. I went on a walk with a grey-haired and very nervous young man. My sobriety felt like a challenge for both of us, and after our walk I realised I felt totally uplifted. Without beer goggles or rosé tinted glasses I could see he made me feel good. In fact, I liked him.
The next evening he came round to my apartment to play backgammon. He had a beer, I had sparkling water. It was more tense and scarier than my usual blurred out hook-ups, but significantly more enjoyable. Afterwards, I didn’t feel a scrap of shame.
The art of going home
So last night when my date asked for the catalyst he’d wanted to bring back the old me, the one on self-destruct that got wasted and fucked drummers. But he had no right to that information. Instead I asked him about the place where he grew up and spent 90 minutes learning all about the class system in Lagos. And when he asked if I’d like a second drink I said I’m tired, actually. I think I’ll just go home.
Written by Alice Austin
Alice Austin is a freelance writer from London, based in Tel Aviv. She writes for Mixmag, Beatportal, Huck, Dummy, Electronic Beats, and more. She likes to explore politics and youth culture through the lens of music, a vocation that has led her round the world. She can be reached and/or followed via Twitter and Instagram and you can read more of her non-fiction writing at www.nofilterzine.com