When I was in college, I decided after my first weekend back at school, second semester junior year, to stop drinking. Like in the prime of my drinking life, to just shut it down cold turkey. And I didn’t drink at all for the next 5 years.
The realization came after a night of heavy drinking.
A guy, who I had briefly dated was carrying me from one party to another, over his shoulder (as one travels on a Saturday night) and my friends were acting as my own personal secret service, not letting me out of their sight. They knew, what I couldn’t in my drunken stuper, that sober, I would barely have anything to say to him as he had been a total douche to me a few months prior when we ended things. And my chumminess with him was no doubt fueled by the 10 vodka sodas I had pounded throughout the evening.
Needless to say everyone needs friends like them, and I got myself home from the party on my own, and woke up the next morning in my own bed, with a pounding headache and some much needed clarity.
I thought back on the events of the night before, and all my escapades fitting my known role as the crazy, fun, drunk girl on nights out, and just realized how empty all of it made me feel.
I thought about why I drank, and I just realized that it wasn’t because I was in love with the taste of alcohol, or how it made me feel, or anything really. I realized that really the only reason that I was drinking and partying was because everyone else was (I mean it was college after all, the time that we were all told, was supposed to be the time of our life and the time that we were supposed to consume an ocean of alcohol to really do it right).
I realized that doing something because everyone else was doing it, was a pretty lame reason to do anything, and I decided to just stop. Like absolutely cold turkey stop, and so I did.
But that wasn’t the most interesting part to me, it was what happened next.
I’d go out, and I wouldn’t drink. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, if anything I really didn’t want people to notice and ask me why. But the second I would say I wasn’t drinking, it was like I had cruised into a scene in the Spanish Inquisition.
The questions! Why aren’t you drinking? Are you sure you don’t want to drink? Here let me buy you a drink. Come on Ciara, you can’t not drink, just have one….. It went on and on and on and the pressure was ridiculous.
I thought to myself, now this is really interesting. Why is everyone seeming so desperate for me to drink? I mean, I know my antics spiced up many a party when hammered, but this didn’t seem to be what it was about. No, it more like in some weird way my decision not to drink reflected that it was a choice, and in some way it seemed like my choice made them really uncomfortable about their choice enough that they were willing to do anything to have me join them even if that meant emptying their wallets as broke college students.
I didn’t care if everyone around me was wasted, I too was out to have a good time, I was just giving it a whirl sober. But the desperation that pretty much everyone showed to have me join them and how not following the script made people so uncomfortable was really eye opening for me.
I thought to myself, if they were so confident in their choice, wouldn’t they just not care whether or not I was drinking? It was a lesson that’s stayed with me since.
I moved to Denmark when I finished university for my first season of pro soccer. And in many ways, the differences blew my mind. Things that to me were “normal” now were exposed as just one way to do things, because there, they did many things very differently.
One being breakfast.
I grew up, a child of the 80’s, and breakfast meant an assortment of everything from Coco Krisps, to Lucky Charms, to Fruit Loops. In fact, the cereal aisle itself at the grocery store was a wild ride and one that was a solid 100 meters of sugar fueled choice. But that was breakfast, and it wasn’t a good one in North America, unless your milk had changed to some other color by the time you were finished with your meal.
I got to Denmark, and one thing I noticed immediately on my first trip to the grocery store was that the cereal aisle, was not an aisle, and in fact, it was a tiny corner, about 4 choices. None of which looked to have an ounce of color or fun, like what I had chowed down on for the 20 years prior to arriving in this curious Scandinavian land.
These (slim) people ate things like rye bread and cucumber and fish for breakfast.
What planet had I landed on, and what the hell would it take to land me a good bowl of Lucky Charms in this god forsaken land. Didn’t they know breakfast was a synonym for cereal?!
As I ranted, my Danish friend said to me, in her quiet Danish voice, “Ciara, cereal is really unhealthy for you. What we eat is way better.” I looked at her in astonishment. I had never really considered there were other options and that the one that I had been programmed on wasn’t in fact even good for me.
I mean everyone did it, so it had to be the best option, right?
It was a few months later, that I found myself reading a book on the history of things. I can’t remember the title or what it was about, but it was during my time doing my masters in Denmark. Our university had an amazing bookstore, and my classmates would laugh at me when I would tell them about this amazing book, or that amazing book that I had read. “But Ciara,” they would say, “how do you have time to read outside of our syllabus.” I’d answer them, “Oh, I’m not reading the syllabus, this stuff I’m finding in this bookstore is way more interesting.” And they would laugh.
But back to this book. It was so interesting because it talked about so many of the institutions that we subscribed to. That were our normal, and how basically they had zero relevance to the way that we do things now, and in some cases could be considered harmful. This book brought up the point that as humans we can almost be robotic and not question anything, and just do things, and get affirmation to continue to do it because that’s what everyone else around us was doing, so it obviously had to be right and the best option.
And then it brought up cereal. This very real conversation I had just been having with my Danish friend.
It said the history of cereal essentially that was in the late 1800’s, that the grain makers used to have leftovers, the bad stuff essentially, but they wanted to figure out a way to make it profitable. So they added a ton of sugar, packaged it up in a super appealing way, and then they went on a massive advertising campaign to essentially convince North Americans that this was what breakfast should be.
And we fell for it.
And for centuries and decades continued to fall for the narrative that sugary cereal was breakfast, including myself, until I landed on that Danish grocery cereal aisle and saw something different, something that could even be better.
A little while ago, I got into a heated argument with one of my guy friends. As I asserted myself over something, he fired at me, “Ciara this is why you are almost 40 and single.” Obviously with the assertion nicely tied to the bullet that this obviously meant that there was something direly wrong with me.
The irony did not pass me by, that I knew that the person that said this had been cheating on his unsuspecting girlfriend. The irony being of course, that in some way, from society’s point of view, this girl was deemed to be in a better situation, because she had been “chosen” by someone and was nicely partnered up, a sentiment that gets both overtly and subtly referenced often.
I thought again, how interesting it was, that in a world that I now know of with relationships that are out of the fun phase and into the serious, many of which have become a land of divorces, and almost divorces, of cheating and disrespect, of child custody battles, that somehow those of us that are single and haven’t recklessly jumped on the relationship bandwagon, are somehow still deemed society’s pariah.
I did give this friend props for at least having the balls to be straight up on the underlying judgement, of being defective in some way that I feel on the reg, and the fear and shame that so many single people are made to feel by taking their time in choosing a partner, or having the balls to buck the narrative and go at life alone.
So what does cereal, not drinking, and being “almost 40 and single” have in common?
It is the curious phenomenon in our society with people that as humans, we are so uncomfortable when people make choices that are different to ours, choices that show that there are more than one way to do things.
I will use myself as an example.
For better or for worse, illustrated by my lack of drinking in college, and my diversion from cereal in my 20’s, I don’t give a shit what everyone else is doing, I go with what feels authentic and right and I have an open mind to change my opinion and join another norm, if something that makes better sense crosses my path.
It is interesting to me, how we start as a society with partnering up being the best option, and there is something the matter with us if we are not with someone (cue the other 100 messages young girls get embedded in their brains from fairy tales at an age where they have no filter, and that’s a whole other blog).
For sure, would I love to find someone amazing that blows my mind and I’d be happy to make sacrifices for and have an epic partnership with? 100 percent. Do I feel before now, I was a version of myself that would have attracted someone that I could have had that life with? No.
Do I feel that that person has crossed my path at the right time for me and I’ve missed out? No. Do I see people around me in tough situations because they felt pressure to get married and wonder how much better their choices could have been if there wasn’t this extreme pressure and shaming going on to be with someone? 100 percent. Do we deal with the most fucked up narratives about what our partner is supposed to give us and would there be healthier relationships out there if we didn’t have insane expectations of our partners and if we weren’t told as a whole that our self worth is in some way tied in with being “settled down” or with someone? Yes
Me personally, I’ve stopped looking. I did have a psychic tell me that I’ll be married to a wealthy man and have a boy by 2021 this week, but that’s another story (she was weirdly specific and spot on with many things in my life that she had no way of knowing, so I’ll check back in in 2021 and let you know what my yacht and child look like).
But I’ve stopped looking in the sense that I’ve retired from dating apps, and just am wholly focused on making myself the best possible version of Ciara and enjoying every day I have been given on this earth. I have zero fear in finding someone or not finding someone- I know my life is gonna be awesome and filled with so much love and joy either way and unfold exactly the way it is supposed to. And for those of you wondering, in my search, that’s what I’ve found is the key to the peace I think we are all searching for one way or another on this earth: knowing that no matter what gets thrown at us, there is a higher power putting us through every lesson for a reason, and in the end no matter what, we will be ok.
My life has purpose, a ton of it, and I’m not feeling like I need a partner or children to give me that (another outright and subliminal message I feel gets thrown around so much).
It’s not an us versus them situation either. Aunty Ciara, is a great woman, along with third wheel Ciara and at this point in my life, I’m stoked to be both and know, like everything else in life, there are positives and negatives to every situation.
Partnered/Married and children-ed up people may look at the freedom and independence I have with a hint of envy, and I may look at the stability and structure of theirs with the same. But one is not better than the other. Like everything else, there are positives and negatives to both and a season for everything.
If you judge or feel bad for, or look down on anyone that’s doing things a little differently, see it for the red flag it is and ask why does a different choice make you uncomfortable? Why do you even care?
Because just like the lack of cereal boxes in Denmark taught me, there is more than one way to do anything, questioning and not just following leads to growth, mindful choices are the way to go, and the way that something has been done forever doesn’t necessarily mean its the best way or the way that everyone else should subscribe or aspire to be.
And for the record in case you were wondering, I now drink again (avoiding getting blitzed and traveling via people’s shoulders for the most part), I still enjoy the occasional bowl of Lucky Charms, am cool with the fun and independence that comes with being single, and look forward to seeing the adventure of my life continue to unfold.