By Lily Zheng
The countdown was twenty minutes ago, and by now I’ve gotten used to the taste of breath mints on alcohol in people’s mouths. It’s Full Moon On The Quad my frosh year, and I’ve finally figured out how things work. It was an easy game in retrospect: Lock eyes, easy smile, one or two steps to bridge the distance, sloppy kiss, turn away to leave. By the end of the night, I had kissed around sixty people. I asked for explicit consent maybe five times, and only if they looked hesitant. The alcohol made it easy. Nobody said no.
It’s a Friday night, and you’re exhausted from that p-set or paper you’ve stayed up all night for. Your friends are heading out, but you don’t know if you have the motivation. What’s one shot, though – socializing is good. Drink. You’re a little more dressed up now, still tired. You’ve been convinced to go, but it’s a long walk to that party, and it’s cold – are you sure you want to go? Drink. You don’t know why you felt so tired before! Everything is great. You’re about to head out. Drink.
You make your way to the party, warm and flushed. You recall last week, when you got too drunk to even make it out in the first place, but you’re here this time. There are so many bodies, and it’s too hot. The jacket comes off. In the back there are solo cups full of beer, and you grab one with enough confidence to pretend like you’re 21. It’s ok, no one noticed. Drink.
Oh my god, that person. The dancing. Their face. So hot. Kiss them? What if they say no? The embarrassment would kill you. No way in hell. Drink. Drink. They’ve noticed you; it’s so warm. You dance up to them, lock eyes. Awkward? What the hell is awkward? Lean in, kiss, beer on lips on tongue in mouth, their hands on your shoulders, your waist.
What time is it? There are your friends. Jacket? That’s your solo cup, at least. Drink. Ah, jacket. Time to go. Wave goodbye to hot person, add number to your phone. Score. Stumble your way back home; take care of your friend who drank too much. Flush the toilet, get them some water. Good thing nothing’s scheduled for Saturday morning. This hangover is going to suck.
There are plenty of other variations to the stories I just told. Some involving no kissing, some involving sex, some traumatic, some fun. There is no singular party experience, but there are themes – the biggest one being alcohol as a social bandaid. Alcohol solves nervousness, exhaustion, shyness, lack of experience and no sex education – for a little bit, at least. We fill the gaps in our social selves with bluster, vodka shots, hard cider and yes, natty light, in the hopes of that elusive Perfect Night Out.
Is it our fault we do this? Partially. Is it particularly surprising? Not at all.
How else are we supposed to navigate the expectations that we be flirting experts, kissing experts, blowjob experts, sex experts when trial-and-error is the only way we are given to learn? When we rely on alcohol to make our parties fun, what else are people who come supposed to do but drink? When our campus culture is exemplified by the “work (too) hard, play (too) hard” machine, when we spend our weekdays trying too hard at school and our weekends trying to forget that we have to do it all over again, how else do we thrive?
Drinking is not the problem; it is one of many solutions students have turned to to make do on this campus. It is the result of 21-unit quarters back-to-back, of nonstop activism and advocacy to create resources Stanford should have already had, of pressure to grin and bear it even when things are terrible, everyone is struggling and no one is happy. It is the solution to the expectation that everyone be having sex when in reality no one has any idea how the hell to do it.
Stanford students, we are pretty damn good at survival. Party culture (and its cousin, hookup culture) keeps many of us going in a defiant, desperate sort of way, and plenty of us grow to like it, the weekly grind of booze, music, maybe sex. But we have a responsibility to do more – to look inward at what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. To understand the deficiencies in ourselves and our situations that we are trying to make up for with IPA and Fireball and those cheap bottles of Angry Orchard from Trader Joe’s. We can make this campus and its culture into something better – towards a party scene where we don’t drink because we need to, but because we want to.
Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.