There’s this scene in “Parks & Recreation” in which April Ludgate, the champion of deadpan humor and scowls, is on a date with her then-boyfriend, broke-ass Andy Dwyer. Andy, embarrassed, confesses to April that he wants to buy her a drink, but he’s broke. April tells him not to worry – it’s a sleazy bar and she’ll get them both drinks. We then watch April turn to the man sitting next to them at the bar, tell him she hates drinking alone, to which he asks if he can buy her a drink, she accepts, gets her drink, then immediately tells him, “Yeah, I want to drink alone,” and turns back to her date with Andy.
If I had to pick one TV scene to describe my college drinking experience, this would be it.
I see drinks as a “Buyer Beware” situation, same as April. Yes, I recognize that most people see drinks as a reason to talk to a girl. I, on the other hand, only see them as a gift. Like any present, there are social niceties most people imply upon the gift (for instance, send a thank you note; if they give you money to spend on shoes, don’t use it to buy weed), but in reality, once a gift is given, I can take it and do whatever the hell I want with it. If I don’t send a thank you or play by your social niceties, just don’t get me a present next Christmas.
And as for drinks, if I take it and walk off, hand it to my gay best friend and then grab another beer from that bro in the corner, you’re out $5, that’s it. Sure, I didn’t play by your rules. I never agreed to them in the first place.
It’s not that I troll the bar looking for desperate guys to pay for my drinking habit. It’s simply that if someone wants to buy me a drink, I’ll let them. For me, this isn’t some “I have tits; give me free stuff!” meme or a way of getting financial retribution from my male oppressors; it’s just a free beverage. It’s not a big deal. It’s not that I don’t have the money, or that I’m shutting down the feminist in me to submit to a system in which my looks benefit me by providing me with free things; I’m just accepting a gift from a stranger. Even the feminist in me likes gifts (and admit it, the feminist in most of us does as well).
Maybe that’s where my theory becomes controversial – I see a drink bought from one stranger, given to another in a bar, club or concert hall as a gift and nothing more. A lot of people have tried to convince me otherwise – that it’s a contract, or an understanding between two sexual beings. Most people have standard rules for this contract: (1) by accepting this drink, you are proclaiming at least some aspect of sexual interest in the buyer, to be explored henceforth further, (2) you must stay and chat with the buyer for the duration of time it takes you to drink this drink, no matter how much of a douche the buyer may reveal himself to be during that time, and (3) not often, but sometimes in the scariest situations, accepting this drink means you owe the buyer your number or a kiss or the opportunity to go home with you.
I call bullshit on all three. I’d never accept a drink from anyone if it came with the line, “Can I buy you a drink and then stalk you the rest of the night?” or “Can I buy you a drink and then stare at your tits?” I wouldn’t even take a drink if it came with “I want to talk. Let’s get drinks at the bar,” from someone I knew I didn’t want to chat with.
I’m not stupid. I’m not mean. I just like it when people buy me things. And so, throughout college and the months I was single between graduation and meeting my long-term boyfriend, if a man (or woman… but that only happened twice, so shortening to man) asked to buy me a drink, I accepted, regardless of whether or not I wanted to talk to them or foung them attractive in any sense of the word. Sometimes they’d be cute and I’d chat; sometimes they’d try to grab my ass before the drinks even arrived, so I’d politely take my drink and walk off.
I need to pause here to acknowledge that accepting drinks from strangers is NOT always safe. I’ve known too many girls, myself included, who’ve had things dissolved in their drinks to trust every person that wants to buy me something. I do not accept drinks from hover-y guys. I don’t accept drinks from people way too adamant to buy me said drink. I don’t accept drinks that I don’t see poured by the bartender before they come directly into my hand, and neither should you.
The game, it seemed to me, changed a bit when I first started dating my boyfriend. Suddenly, I had this sense that I should tell people about him before I accept a drink, like a super-dweeb, “Uh, yes, you can buy me a drink, but uh, I have a boyfriend, so, umm, just so you know before you buy me anything?”
But, if I truly believed this was a “Buyer Beware” scenario, it wasn’t up to me, the receiver, to care one lick. Buyers should beware anyway – buying a girl a drink doesn’t get you access to her pants; maybe because she doesn’t feel like it, maybe because she has a boyfriend. The reason doesn’t matter. My relationship status shouldn’t matter when it comes to me accepting free drinks, no matter the giver's intention.
I know that some people consider this to be really… what’s the word? A bitch move? Whorish? I don’t understand the stigma. It would be different if guys asked, “Are you single / can I buy you a drink?” and I lied, took the drink, and went back to my boyfriend. But that’s not what I’m doing. I’m not begging men to buy me things. I’m not putting myself on display anymore than it is to put yourself on display by putting on a cute outfit and entering a public space as a female.
And really, how much about my attitude towards these drink-givers has changed since I started dating my guy? I never once went home with a man because he bought me a drink. If I made out with a guy I met in a bar, it was because I was attracted to him, not because of how much he gave me and how much I “owed” him in return. Did I really flirt back with these guys before? Not really, usually.
I know you think this probably blows up in my face every time, leading to guys hating me like the plague, me getting kicked out of bars, etc. That’s really not the case. Often, a guy will buy me a drink, I’ll chat with him a bit, even drop a mention that I have a boyfriend, and we can still talk nicely like human beings without him grabbing the drink from my hand and/or demanding his $5 back.
Take for instance, this awesome long haired surfer boy I met at a music festival. After the crowd pushed us together, he called out this guy trying to grind on me, apologized for him, and offered to buy me a beer. We talked, both of us revealing then gushing about our significant others that didn’t make it to the fest, and our love of Ty Segall. He’s one of my favorite people I’ll probably never see again, and a totally great example of a guy that can buy a girl a drink / not expect it to lead to her place.
Really, that’s another thing about refusing drinks just because I have a boyfriend: Am I to assume that every man who offers to buy my beer is only doing so to get in my pants? Can’t there be more like the surfer boy who are just genuinely nice, and who will buy a girl a beer just because it’s a friendly thing to do?
I’m just a non-single girl taking the gifts I get, and not always sending a thank you note at the end of the night.