Growing up, I was never the kid who snuck liquor from my parents’ secret stash or who eagerly counted down the days until my 21st birthday. I never felt the excitement at knowing that one day I could be the woman at the bar sipping a glass of red wine without wincing at its bitter aftertaste. Really, I’ve just never felt like I wanted to drink alcohol of any kind, and that’s made me somewhat of an anomaly amongst my peers.

In just a few months, I’m going to graduate and enter the real world, and if TV shows like Sex and the City have taught me anything, it’s that my adult life will be filled with invitations to meet up for a drink and have a good time. At this point in my life, I’m fine showing up and filling a martini glass with water, but I can’t lie and say I’ve always felt 100% okay telling people I don’t drink.

Let’s rewind for a moment so I can shed some light on my upbringing. Because of my complete disinterest in all things alcohol-related, you might be thinking I had super strict parents or had some scarring blackout experience in high school. While both of those would make for a mildly entertaining story, the truth is that I’ve just never felt the urge to drink. The most I ever drank before college was a sip of whiskey I took to stop my coughing when I lost my voice in eighth grade. Hardcore, I know.

sober in college

Photo by Natsuko Mazany

Since coming to college, I’ve had exactly one drink, or rather, one-half of a drink. My brother insisted on taking me out for my 21st birthday, and I managed to drink half a beer before the bubbles filled me up and made me burp like crazy.

Staying sober in college can be an alienating experience at times. You don’t get invited to house parties as much, you don’t have wild stories from the night before to share with friends, and, quite frankly, some people just think you’re boring, which can be hurtful.

For a long time, I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone I didn’t want to drink. When I did feel like I could tell someone that, I got mixed reactions. A lot of my friends were totally fine with it, whereas others seemed uncomfortable with the idea, which in turn made me feel weird about saying anything at all.

Honestly though, the worst part about being alcohol-free is the judgment I used to pass on myself. I knew I didn’t want to drink, that I didn’t like the taste of alcohol, and that I felt better and more like myself sober.

sober in college

Photo by Claire Waggoner

And yet, that little voice in my head kept questioning whether I was living up my college years to the fullest, whether my friends from back home would think I was lame, whether I’d ever get a boyfriend if I didn’t go to bars and mingle. I realize now how stupid that sounds, but little freshman me had no clue what to do when faced with invitations to house parties or how to fit in with upperclassmen who seemed to have the whole adult thing figured out.

I think the main stigma surrounding people who stay sober in college is that we’re judging you for having a few drinks or that we have some vendetta against alcohol. That is definitely not the case. Unless you get so smashed you puke all over my shoes (please don’t do that), I have absolutely nothing against drinking responsibly in college.

While college is important for furthering your education and all that jazz, I think it should also be a time when you can let loose and have a good time. The only thing that separates me from the so-called “normal” college student is that I genuinely enjoy having fun sober.

sober in college

Photo by Caroline Liu

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: being sober in college is hard. Not because I’ve felt tempted to drink or because my friends were pressuring me, but because it’s something that no one really talks about. College doesn’t have to be an endless party. You can have a night in with friends and still have a good time without alcohol. The crazy college parties that happen in movies actually do go on in real life, but if you’re not into that type of thing, then you don’t have to go, and that’s the option no one tells you.

College should be whatever you want to make of it, period, end of story. Figuring out how to accept that I’m not the “party person” I thought all college students were supposed to be was tough, but now I realize that I am so much more than what I do or don’t drink, and that it’s okay to speak up and say I don’t want to drink alcohol.

Whether or not you drink alcohol, don’t let outside influences make you feel like you have to fill a certain “college student” mold. Spoiler alert: there is no mold, no perfect formula to follow to fit in or feel good about yourself. Only you can do that. And whether or not you drink alcohol in college is 100% your choice, no pressure. You do you, and don’t feel bad about it.