are mandatory happy hours just part of working in an office?

A reader writes:

I’m still pretty young (25) and, personally, don’t enjoy really corporate/professional office settings and the formalities that come with them. My career has thankfully taken me to a firm that seems to be a happy medium: still corporate and professional, but with young company culture, business casual dress for my team, and a good deal of autonomy/low amounts of micromanaging. My entire team is in their 20s and my boss is only 30, so we’re all pretty close and relate to one another on some level, even if we have different interests. It’s a great job, one I’m good at and pays well, so I try not to complain.

However, I’m a bit of an “old soul” for my age and I really, truly do not enjoy drinking for several reasons–simple ones like not enjoying the way alcohol makes me feel, and more complex ones like coming from a family with alcoholism. I also have depression and some social anxiety, so all these things combined make happy hours a type of anxiety-ridden nightmare for me. I literally dread them every waking minute, from the moment they’re planned until I can finally go home. My coworkers, on the other hand, love them and drink like fish.

In an effort to keep the team tight-knit, my boss takes us out for team happy hours a couple times per year, where she usually buys us at least one round of drinks. It’s a nice gesture and I appreciate it, but I dread these happy hours like the plague, and it’s not as simple as saying “I don’t drink” and getting water instead. I just simply do not want to be there, and it feels like I’m supposed to be.

These happy hours have never been labeled “mandatory” but are always organized to take place on days when everyone is free, and on the days I have opted out–either from just not wanting to go or being sick or what have you–I’ve gotten the distinct feeling that it’s looked down upon and my boss resents it. I’m also always the first to leave, which makes me anxious about looking bad, but my boss/coworkers tend to sit at these bars for hours (usually until 10 p.m. when we get out at 5), drinking, barely eating (or only eating heavy, fried bar food), etc. These are also always on weeknights rather than a Friday night, which is a problem for me because I have a routine outside of work that’s important for my mental health. I exercise, I cook healthy food, I go to therapy, I spend time with friends and family, and I try to get to sleep at a decent enough time to get up and work out in the mornings. I don’t enjoy these outings at all and am often counting down the hours until I can go home, but usually the first person to leave is met with an “awwww, what? Why!?” which feels like unfair pressure.

I guess my long-winded question is, is this just a part of working in an office? Should I suck it up and deal with these happy hours, or should I have a talk with my boss about how drinking is a negative factor in my life and I prefer not to be around it as much as possible? As much as I’m more than happy to work with my colleagues collaboratively between 9-5, I feel like not wanting to go to these happy hours will still make me look like I’m unappreciative/not a team player.

I think there are two separate issues here: anxiety over this kind of work/social event in general, and the added anxiety of them being consistently in bars.

Let’s tackle the happy hour/bars/alcohol part first. No, this doesn’t have to be just part of working in an office. It’s true that it’s part of working in some offices, but in cases where it’s truly expected and optional-but-not-really (where you’re pressured to go and it’s frowned on to skip it or duck out early), there’s usually some kind of unhealthy dynamic going on around drinking and/or a youth culture thing that tends to be pretty unwelcoming to older employees or people with families or other outside-of-work commitments. When everyone’s in their 20s, it can be easy to think that isn’t a big deal, but it basically ensures that the team doesn’t grow much, because it self-selects for people who inherently have less experience (and usually, but not always, less professional maturity/professional wisdom).

But as for team bonding stuff more generally: Yeah, that’s pretty often part of working in an office. When it’s done well, it’s low-key and doesn’t violate people’s privacy or dignity (nothing like horrifying team-building events here), is held during work hours or is truly optional, and happens fairly occasional rather than constantly. A happy hour a few times a year falls squarely on the “reasonable” side of the line for me … but your boss should absolutely be open to hearing “hey, bars make me uncomfortable” and using other locations instead.

So. If the bars are a big part of the issue for you here (as opposed to just not wanting to go, regardless of the location),  I think you should tell your boss that. If that’s the case, I’d say something like this when the next happy hour comes up: “I realize I should have said this earlier, but for a bunch of reasons, including family history, I’m not comfortable in bars or being around people who are drinking. So I’m going to sit this one out — but I do appreciate the value of being able to bond as a team, and I wonder if we could try some other ways of doing it that aren’t just happy hours? I’d be glad to help plan a lunch or something like that, if you’re open to that.”

You can skip the mention of family history if you’d rather (although I think it can help to include something like that, which doesn’t give too much away but provides some vague context). You could also, in theory, skip offering to plan something else — but often when you’re objecting to something like this, it’s helpful to propose an alternative. And in this case, it makes it harder for her to see you as the team grinch.

Proposing your own alternative also allows you to propose something that’s during work hours, so that you don’t get stuck fending off another after-work event.

However, if the issue is less the drinking and the bars and more about general social anxiety, then yeah, I think you’re best off going, having a soda, and leaving early and just tolerating the ribbing you get for ducking out. You could also try saying something like, “It’s tough for me to do things that go past 7 p.m.; I have a bunch of post-work commitments that I can’t get out of.” And frankly, if you really wanted to, you could use that an excuse not to attend at all — but as long as it’s just a couple of times a year and not more frequently, I think your best bet is to just look at it as an annoying but rare work obligation.

{ 334 comments… read them below }

  1. The IT Manager*

    Yes. I feel you. I don’t drink because I don’t like the taste/calories and I have some social anxiety, but a few times a year seems not nearly as frequent than I expected you to say after all that build up – once a month or once a week. This is something I think I would just put up with, go to, and leave after a few hours. And if you have an after hours therapy appointment, then that’s the perfect excuse to duck out early – “I have an appointment I can’t change.”

    1. JMegan*

      Yes, and don’t forget that an evening on the couch watching Netflix can count as an “appointment.” You don’t have to give details, but if that kind of appointment is important for your mental health, then you should definitely keep it!

    2. Original Poster*

      Thanks for your input. :) I guess all the buildup was because I was writing the email out AS I was experiencing quite a bit of anxiety/dreading going to one that night. It’s definitely not too frequent, but I dread it enough that it seems worse than it is when it does occur.

      It doesn’t help that I skipped a therapy session that day to make it, because I felt I had to be there and there was already enough difficulty nailing down a night that everyone was available on.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I would just be straight up with your boss and say you get the feeling you’re obligated to not only be there but drink to get drunk and be out late, and that that’s possibly not the culture they want to cultivate going forward because there may be other employees now or in the future that are also uncomfortable with this and/or truly have an alcohol problem, or something to that effect. Having happy hours occasionally is not a problem in and of itself, but making employees feel obligated or like party poopers is the problem. Also maybe if you order a Perrier from now on people will draw their own conclusions.

        1. Addiez*

          Honestly, I wouldn’t be this blunt with your boss – thought I guess it depends on your relationship. My boss likes to take us out for drinks because he thinks it’s a nice thing… if I just said y’know I prefer a lunch (as Alison suggests) I think it would be more effective.

      2. INTP*

        For what it’s worth, when I worked in an office that was really intense about these things (though it was at least once a week rather than a few times a year, often organized day-of) I found that having a social excuse like friends in town or a party to go to was more acceptable than having a non-social excuse. For some reason my coworkers felt a lot better about me skipping out on drinking with them to drink with other people than to take a yoga class and eat dinner.

      3. catsAreCool*

        Sitting at a bar, on a weekend night, watching people get drunk, and getting met with pressure when you don’t want to be there till 10 pm – sounds pretty boring to me. Then again, I don’t like the taste of alcohol, so I don’t drink it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Or a weekday. I can’t drink anything because I always have to drive, and I don’t like sitting out late either on weeknights, because I have to wind down to sleep when I get home. Even if I had a ride or public transport, getting drunk when I have to get up early the next day is out of the question. Sleep deprivation and hangovers affect my productivity hugely; combining both would be a disaster.

          One drink and then going home might work, but gawd, I do not want to hang out with my coworkers that much. It’s not that I don’t like them–but I already see them all day.

          1. Michaela T*

            That’s my opinion, I see these people all day! I am not generally interested in extending that time, especially because these outings always seem to be mostly drinking and complaining about our jobs. I want to FORGET my job when I leave it.

      4. Nobody Here By That Name*

        Much sympathy, OP. I have a situation not dissimilar from yours, so you’re not alone with the anxiety and the difficulty with outings of this type.

    3. Ad Astra*

      You know, social anxiety is actually the reason I do drink in social situations. That’s not to say it’s the best solution (therapy is probably a better idea), but it’s interesting to me that so many people cite social anxiety as a reason not to drink.

      1. Sadsack*

        I think it may be a reason they don’t want to be out in social situations outside and of work, plus they don’t like how they feel and probably how they act when drinking.

        1. Original Poster*

          It’s exactly this. Also, to be clear, I’m not COMPLETELY alcohol-free (I realize my original post may have made it seem that way, which was unintentional). I don’t really enjoy most alcohol, or alcohol in large quantities. But if I’m with people/friends I’m very comfortable with, I’m not against having a beer. I probably have the equivalent of 1-2 alcoholic drinks per month or something, so it’s not just the alcohol itself that’s a problem. But it’s more about the company, the location, and whether or not drinking is expected of me.

          1. Rana*

            That’s how I feel about alcohol, too. I don’t like the taste of most of it, and I strongly dislike the feeling of being drunk (I tend to bypass the “fun” stage and go straight to dizziness, nausea, and headaches, woo). And it’s sort of weirdly uncomfortable being the sober person in a group of obviously drunk ones; I don’t think badly of them, it’s more that I feel awkward and out of step.

            So, all in all, I tend to avoid scenes where the main goal is to drink and get drunk, as opposed to ones where you hang out with friends and talk and maybe drink something alcoholic while there.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        I have social anxiety, and I don’t like to drink around people because I’m worried I will say or do the wrong thing (my biggest fear). Luckily, my stomach problems now prevent me from having even a sip so I’ve got a built-in excuse I can give without looking weird (another fear).

        1. The IT Manager*

          Yes. I know a lot of people drink “to loosen up,” but since one of my biggest fears is being the center of attention/embarrassing myself I certainly don’t want to get drunk and out of control or emotional.

          I’ve never really been so drunk that I got out of control,passed out or threw up. I did get close once. But the closest thing I get now is I get tipsy on occasion where I very briefly feel clumsy and very sleepy. I’ve pretty much never consume more than two alcoholic drinks at things now-a-days.

          1. Glamazon*

            Yeah, I also stop at two at work events or when there are people around I don’t know. I’ve been hungover-drunk only twice in my life and I DO NOT enjoy it. A buzz is fine here and there, but it typically only happens if the bar has really great beers and I just want to try them all! I drink for taste!

      3. Michelle*

        People with Social Anxiety Disorder have a higher rate of alcoholism. So that could be another reason not to drink, out of an abundance of caution. Coincidentally, I overcame a problem that made it impossible for me to drink alcohol right around the time that I was first diagnosed with Social Anxiety. As soon as I saw how much difference a little whiskey could make, I became very concerned about the possibility of getting carried away. Now I think of it as my “medicine,” and only take the proper dose.

      4. CrisA*

        Part of my anxiety is related to hating the loss of control, so while other people drink to “loosen up”, it sort of has the opposite effect on me and makes me paranoid and even more anxious that now I’m going to do something stupid and embarrassing.

        1. CantThinkOfAUserName*

          Also, alcohol is a depressant (as in, the opposite of an anti-depressant pill) and anxiety and depression go hand in hand often. So it doesn’t make sense IMHO to think of it as a good solution to anxiety.

  2. IT_guy*

    You should see if you can find something that’s not a bar and still fun like Dave and Busters Then that would be a fun but not a ‘bar’.

    1. Donna*

      That’s a great idea. Like OP, I hate typical happy hours too, where everyone sits around drinking for hours. It’s always better when there’s something fun to do.

      I also cope better in classy restaurant bars where I can order lettuce wraps or sushi instead of greasy fried food. I’m allergic to most alcohol, so I order Shirley Temples or cappuccinos.

      1. Becky B*

        Perhaps this is a case where this particular company won’t mind the cost of D&B, since it can be such a happenin’ hot spot! :) Or the boss picks up the first round of games (I’m not actually sure how that would work) and then everyone is off on their own. No time to monitor who’s drinking what when there’s a fervent Connect Four game going on.

    2. StarHopper*

      Good idea. Other suggestions of not-quite-bars are local sports teams (beer and baseball!) or bowling. Anything that gives you something to focus on other than just drinking.

      I actually enjoy drinking, but five hours in a bar would bore me to tears, and adding coworkers to the mix would stress me out too, trying to straddle the line between ‘friendly’ and ‘oversharing’. No, thanks!

    3. Bwmn*

      I will say that I think that whether it’s the issue of drinking vs the team bonding is important to tease out. If the bigger issue is hanging out, then speaking up and proposing an alternative activity – if everyone else still ends up wanting to hang out until 10 and you still want to leave early – it’s going to draw more attention. However, if the bigger issue is the bonding, then having a soda and sticking it out for a few hours means that you won’t have to deal with questions of “we changed venues just for you and then you still left early”.

  3. Anonymous Educator*

    but usually the first person to leave is met with an “awwww, what? Why!?” which feels like unfair pressure.

    This kind of reaction your co-workers are giving you is extremely immature. I used to work in a corporate office environment in which happy hours and bars were a regular thing, especially among the younger set (20s / early 30s). Although there was unspoken pressure to attend, if you had to bow out early, people would just be like “Cool. See you tomorrow!”

    The half-joking guilt-trip “Why are you being a party-pooper?” line, no matter how well-intentioned, is not part of a professional workplace. Professionals know that people have lives and/or families outside of work and sometimes have to leave early (or forego altogether) optional work events.

    1. Original Poster*

      Exactly! And while I consider my boss to be a GREAT boss in every other aspect, I’ve actually gotten this response from her, not just the team… so that’s why I’ve always felt not only pressured to attend, but to stay a while/drink (I’ve had them inquire as to why I’m sipping on a soda and give me a “huh?” look when I said I wasn’t drinking that night, which I did not appreciate).

      1. Anonymous Ninja*

        “I’ve had them inquire as to why I’m sipping on a soda and give me a “huh?” look when I said I wasn’t drinking that night”

        Honestly, I’ve had to learn not to make “excuses.” Just tell them you’re drinking a pop because it’s what you like.

        1. Heather*

          Yes. Don’t make excuses. If you don’t want to drink don’t drink. Go to the happy hours for an hour or whatever time you can spare and then leave. If you get the “awww why are you leaving so soon?” just say “sorry but I have to go. I had fun tho. See you tomorrow!”. They can’t guilt you if you don’t let them. You don’t need to feel guilty about not drinking nor leaving. You have a life outside of the office and if that includes going home and eating a dinner that you want to eat and going to bed at a time that you want to and going to work not hungover than that is your right. Honestly I wouldn’t even give it a second thought.

          And I seriously hope that all these people aren’t drinking and driving.

      2. Artemesia*

        Well that is gross. No one should ever inquire of anyone why they are not drinking. No one should have to discuss that they are pregnant, or alcoholic or taking meds that don’t go with alcohol or just that they ‘don’t drink.’ – It is a highly judgmental environment, violates privacy and is mildly bullying. Years ago when I had to do this and didn’t want to make an issue, I arranged with the bartender to give me a soda with a twist in a high ball glass — and at events with a bar, I just made my own drinks with mixer and a twist. But no one should have to go to these lengths. If you have to go then exude a bit more confidence and go to the bar and get a drink like this — and if anyone asks what you are drinking, answer with a non sequitur and turn the conversation with a question.
        But it is gross to be put in this position.

          1. Original Poster*

            I commute on public transportation, but commuting in my city in the dark, alone, as a young woman, can be dangerous enough WITHOUT being impaired. I cannot tell you how often I’ve been harassed on my commute, and I’d like to have my wits about me when that happens.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              UGH! I think that is a pretty good reason right there not to go to these things. Does your boss realize you are going through this crap???

              1. Jessica*

                Well, but the OP said the harassment occurred on their commute. I’m assuming this means it can happen on the way to/from work, not just on the way to/from happy hour. At least, that would be consistent with my experience: weird stuff can happen on buses at any time of day. Much as it sucks to be at risk of harassment on public transit, I don’t think it is related to the happy hours and it’s not really the boss’s responsibility. But yes, I agree it’s safest for everyone to be sober on their way home, whether driving or busing or any other mode of transportation.

                1. Original Poster*

                  Yeah, I wouldn’t use this as an excuse not to go because everyone else commutes the same way (even the ladies) and it’s practically a fact of life living in the city. It also doesn’t always have to be nighttime for it to happen. So, it’s just a matter of being sober so you know how to handle yourself/get help if needed/etc.

          2. Dynamic Beige*

            Or the person may need to drive home…

            At OldJob, I had a long commute. Everyone else did not. They either took public transportation, a cab or a few of them I think were close enough to walk. Anyway, they just. did. not. get. that I couldn’t have a drink then drive home. Or that I had to get home. Some of them didn’t even understand why I lived where I lived. There is nothing more discouraging than hearing your manager tell you that you should just sell your house and move to BigCity because “that’s where everyone is.” It wasn’t a requirement of doing the job, Manager thought she was being “funny” or whatever but everyone else who was young and didn’t have family obligations was so much more “fun” somehow. [rolls eyes]

            The other thing that happened was that a lot of professional ties got made at the bar. It wasn’t uncommon for people to ask about this project or that, discuss it, brainstorm and become friends… in the smoky nasty grotty bar that was across the street. That I couldn’t stand going to because I left smelling smoky, feeling greasy and just yech. Not to mention that I wasn’t exactly swimming in money and throwing it away on overpriced Cokes wasn’t something I also found enjoyable.

            So OP, I’m going to come at this from the perspective of “not going could hurt your career” — it did mine. Take a look around your office. Is going out to the bar for happy hour your office’s equivalent of going to the golf course/private club? Do the people who regularly attend seem to have the inside track on new projects that you would have liked to have had? Are they their own little clique that rules the office? If you do not have the sort of job where you need to be visible in order to be considered, then it’s not going to matter. But if you do have that sort of career, where it’s important to rub elbows and be seen after work, then take some advice: suck it up and go. Figure out ways to cope with it — learn to play darts or pool or trivia. Organise board games/card games/tournaments. Find a bar you do like and suggest it for the next happy hour. Get drinks that look like they might have alcohol in them, like a coke. Or tonic water, or cranberry juice with lots of ice, “virgin” mixed drinks. No one need ever know that you’re not drinking and if they’re jerks about it, be blunt about your family’s history with alcohol or that you need your wits to beat Wakeen at darts — then excuse yourself and lose that person who is trying to make you feel bad for not drinking. Don’t think of it as a social obligation, but one of those “duties as assigned” tasks that are an unpaid part of your work and future success. You won’t have to go every night, hopefully, but you should make a point of going. And start looking for a new job if this is truly unbearable. If this is the way they do business, then this is their way. It will change when everyone gets older and more settled with spouses and kids, but how long is that going to be and can you wait for it to happen? This job may just not be a good fit for you from a culture perspective.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Well said.

          I’ve had discussions about this with a friend who does not drink and has been given grief even by her own family saying that she should drink, that she doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, etc. She doesn’t have a problem being around alcohol and goes to bars with friends, but chooses to drink soda. I’m firmly of the opinion that any reason you choose not to drink is a good reason. If I have guests, and I offer them something to drink, I’ll say: We have water, soda, juice, vodka, wine coolers, etc. All drink choices (and the choice that they don’t need a drink at all) are equal.

        2. Katniss*

          In my experience the people who are really confused or even annoyed by others not drinking are the ones who feel insecure about their own relationship with alcohol, or are really committed to the social fallacy that everyone must be doing the same thing in a group to be enjoying themselves as a group.

          Since I quit drinking I often order Shirley Temples, and if people bug me just use Captain Awkard’s strategy of asking why they’re so invested in me drinking booze.

          1. Oh no not again*

            Yeah, that was me. I was obnoxious. It took quitting for me to realize how rude and annoying I was. I wanted a drinking buddy who could match me. Never found one and don’t need one now.

            Best of luck to the OP. I doubt I could handle it. I wouldn’t drink, but I wouldn’t be comfortable unless there was something I could do, like bowling.

          2. Rana*

            Yes! To quote from Captain Awkward, I wasn’t not drinking AT them, but some people acted as if I was.

            No, dudes, my drinking or not drinking is not a referendum on your drinking or not drinking. It just isn’t.

        3. Anna*

          I was once CALLED by my boss, at 11 p.m., after the night of a department get-together at a bar. She wanted to know why I wasn’t there. In truth, I was terribly, nearly catatonically depressed at the time and simply couldn’t do it. I told her I felt sick, and she replied that I could have at LEAST come for an hour.

          So glad I quit that place.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Note to bosses: Nagging does not feel like you are being inclusive, it feels like you are nagging.

      3. Stephanie*

        Ugh, that’s shitty. You shouldn’t have to do this (but sometimes there’s a difference between how things should be and things are), but just get the bartender to stick a lime in some seltzer. Looks no different from a vodka club.

        1. Meg Murry*

          +1 to turning that seltzer into a seltzer with lime, or seltzer with a splash of cranberry juice. Looks more like a “regular” drink, and still feels like “fun”.

          Or you mentioned upthread that you will drink beer on occasion with friends. If this is the kind of place that serves beer in bottles, get a beer in a dark bottle and just take a few sips, you don’t need to actually finish it.

      4. Violet Rose*

        Your mileage will heavily vary on this, but I have a friend who categorically does not drink (alcohol) – not for any religious or family reasons (that I know of), but because he never cared to before and would rather not start now. If asks, he’ll simply say, “I don’t drink,” as matter-of-factly as one might say, “My mum is a dentist,” which is enough for reasonable people.

        From what you’ve said of your coworkers, I imagine you might get some pushback if you tried the same strategy, but if you can manage to cheerfully say, “No thanks, I don’t drink!” enough times in a row, the message might sink in and save you from the funny looks each time.

        1. Original Poster*

          Yeah–I just mentioned this in another comment, but it’s hard to just say “I don’t drink” because I used to drink at these events and after a few bad experiences, decided I no longer would.

          I think my original post made it sound like I’m very firmly alcohol-free, and that’s not the case. But I drink very infrequently, and even then only with people I’m very comfortable with and only in very small quantities. I don’t like the way most alcohol tastes/makes me feel, but if I’m at a wedding with my boyfriend like this weekend, for example, I’m not opposed to having a glass of champagne. It’s just a matter of not wanting to drink around coworkers/be in a loud bar with them/feel like I have to stay there way later than I’m comfortable.

          1. LabTech*

            Would “I’ve stopped drinking.”/”I don’t drink anymore.” be more comfortable to say? Even though it’s not completely true, it’s as close to “I don’t drink anymore [at these events]” as one could tactfully admit to. Then it would be a matter of not casually mentioning the other few times you’ve imbibed around coworkers.

            1. LabTech*

              Also wanted to add: I don’t drink either, so I can sympathize with the pressure that goes along with drinking culture, and the incredulous looks from declining to drink. Best of luck, OP!

            2. Original Poster*

              Yeah, when I was asked about my drink choice last time I simply said “I don’t drink much” and that seemed to get them off my back!

              1. Afiendishthingy*

                Yeah, I think that’s a nice truthful answer that hopefully won’t lead to more badgering, if they have the slightest sense of decorum. I’d stick with something along those lines.

              2. catsAreCool*

                I think sticking to the truth is a good long-term strategy. Just saying you don’t feel like it or that you want all your wits about you for your commute home should be enough.

          2. Becky B*

            In the past, I’ve said things such as, “I have such a thing for grenadine in kiddie cocktails!” (which is true) and if the person inquiring is a decent sort, the conversation won’t stay on the minutae of why I’m not drinking any actual alcohol…

            …but if you keep getting push-back like it’s such an astonishing thing that you aren’t drinking, perhaps just a simple “Not tonight!” or “Not feeling it tonight” + deflection into another topic of conversation, if “I don’t drink” isn’t resonating comfortably with you?

          3. Stranger than fiction*

            Also Op, trust me they will get burned out on this whole binge drinking thing eventually. It may take one of your coworkers getting super sick or a DUI but I’ve noticed these things tend to die down after a while.

          4. Winter is Coming*

            I stopped drinking a few years ago, because I eliminated sugar completely from my diet. I just say, “no thanks, none for me tonight!” as many times as necessary. I don’t even explain myself anymore. It’s no one’s business.

            1. Fish Microwaver*

              I enjoy occasional social alcohol but I often drive to social events. I feel totally comfortable having a soda and lime. I anyone asks, which is rare, I just say I’m driving.

          5. ginger ale for all*

            Maybe you can say that you are on a new eating regime that doesn’t allow certain things after a certain time. Just say you are trying to sleep better at night. There are so many people with sleep problems that are told to cut out certain things after x o’clock that you could blend in. And of course this means you just can’t stay that long either. Darn that random insomnia.

            1. Afiendishthingy*

              Personally I wouldn’t lie when there’s no need to. A cheerful “I’m not much of a drinker” should suffice.

              I also might prep them from the start that I wasn’t going to stay long. Like if someone asked me during the day if I was coming, say something like “yes I’ll stop by for a bit but I have to leave early to get some stuff done” and then reiterate that when I arrived at the bar. Might make them ease up a bit when OP does leave.

              Also, any chance you have a coworker who also prefers not to drink with the boss for 5 hours after work? Could you arrange to leave early as a unit?

              Last thought- I’m not sure how good the public transit is in your city, but when I commuted by bus they got much scarcer after a certain time and needing to leave to catch the express or whatever would have been totally understandable.

              1. Carnival*

                Yes, I always say “I’m not much of a drinker,” and that almost always does the trick. And it’s the truth, I simply don’t enjoy alcohol. I don’t like the taste. Give me a Coke any day.

          6. Hiding on the Internet Today*

            “I’m not drinking tonight” is my tried and true. My office has after work drinks every other week, I try to go to every second or third one. I drink in public extremely rarely, bordering on never. It has been an issue with precisely on coworker, who is a Known Jerk.

            I order the really amazing small batch root beer or ginger beer or a Shirley Temple or a virgin cocktail, if anything on the menu looks good. No excuses, no lies, just not drinking tonight. (Asking why is super rude and invasive and I react as such to the sole jerk who has pushed it, but I especially like the “why are you so invested in my drinking habits?” As an answer to point out the other party is being weird.)

            Also feel free to breeze by stupid questions like “why are you leaving so soon?” “Had a great time, see you tomorrow! Kthxbi!”

          7. Elizabeth West*

            If pressed for a reason, you could always say you’re cutting calories as part of a healthier eating plan. Alcohol has a lot of empty calories. Of course, this won’t work if you’re drinking a soda. But Perrier with lime is perfect and looks “drinky.”

      5. BananaPants*

        Have the bartender make you a tonic water or cola with a lime – with the lime, most people will assume it’s a mixed drink rather than just the mixer (I did this in early pregnancy and it worked like a charm). If you’re OK with having a little alcohol, order a beer in a dark bottle or ask the bartender to use a light hand when making a mixed drink and nurse that drink for a good long while.

      6. INTP*

        You not drinking is one of those things that coworkers might be weird about at first but will gradually get used to as they notice that you never drink, though the comments and looks from a couple of people might never end (I assume those people have personal weirdness about their own alcohol consumption). I find that an excuse that implies that I wish I were drinking with them is well taken – “Oh, tonight I’m just so tired that if I had a drink I don’t think I’d be awake to drive home!” or “My stomach isn’t feeling too great” or (the truth in my case) “I’m such a lightweight that I just never drink if I have to drive home within a couple of hours.”

        Unfortunately I do find that peer pressure amongst adults about alcohol is much, much greater than when you’re a teenager or college student but with time, I bet people will stop being curious about you not drinking and just get used to it.

      7. LQ*

        That moment when they go AWWW Why do you have to leave is the worst for me. I’m at my limit and want to say something that would not make me friends. I generally try to have a pre-prepared thing, have to go walk the dog (don’t have a dog? dog sit!).
        Alternately? Learn the art of slipping away unnoticed. Go to the bathroom and then leave. Go up to the bar pay your tab and then slip off. You don’t have to say good by to everyone, you’ll see them all the next day/monday at work. Managing to do this is like a superpower, and as long as your team is more than 5 people entirely doable, sort of under 4 people it is much harder, but still possible. I recommend sort of trailing off engagement in the conversation for the last 5 minutes, maybe check your phone a few times, don’t look bored, just lightly withdraw. Then grab your purse or coat or whatever (the less you can bring in the easier this is) and go to the bathroom, ideally there is a back door and you can just leave that way.

    2. LBK*

      Is it possible they’re having that reaction because they genuinely don’t want the OP to leave? I mean, I say “Aww, do you have to?” sometimes when the people I like say they have to leave an event because…well, I like them, and I like spending time with them. It’s not meant to be a judgmental trap, it’s an expression of enjoying a person’s company.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Me too. I get why the OP doesn’t like it, and the guilt-tripping may be more overt and less well-meaning than this, but it’s possible her coworkers may just be having fun and not want it to end. I’m guilty of this myself—I’ve encouraged people to stay, order dinner, take the later train, etc.

      1. KR*

        This, I didn’t know how to say it in my own comment.
        Also, if there’s one person who always kind of makes these statements when you try to leave, you could try taking them aside and telling them that you have after-work commitments and it makes you feel awkward when they single you out when you’re leaving.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        It’s kind of all in how you say it. Given the OP’s reaction to it—feeling that it’s undue pressure to stay until 10pm—I’m inclined to interpret it as being overly pushy and not just a little “I’ll miss you when you’re gone.”

        1. LBK*

          True, but I do also think if alcohol’s involved, something meant to be friendly can drift over into pushy. I think I’d still try to assume it’s coming from a good place and not a judgmental one.

        2. Creag an Tuire*

          On the other hand, not to be That Guy, but OP has social anxiety by her own admission. I’ve experienced social anxiety myself and in my experience Over-Analyzing Offhand Remarks is part of the package. :/

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Oh I totally do that! I’ll replay a conversation over and over again in my head. It’s horrible.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        OP, maybe you can come up with some ideas for, “Awww, do you have to?”

        Yeah, I hate leaving you guys, but I must go.

        Aww, I will miss you guys, too. Have fun. Everyone get home safely, okay? [Notice the subtle redirect here.]

        [Use of humor.] Yeah, if I don’t leave soon my formal gown/tux will turn into office wear. (looks down) OMG, I am too late! I must leave. Now.

        1. moss*

          I would lean toward taking it as a cheerful meaningless compliment.

          “Awww, what, whyyyy?”

          “You’re a sweetheart, thanks! See you all Monday!”

    3. Chinook*

      “The half-joking guilt-trip “Why are you being a party-pooper?” line, no matter how well-intentioned”

      I have had this line used on me and am lucky enough to have a truthful response – I am always the official party pooper and I have the certificate to prove it (courtesy of being the grade 9 teacher on a school trip that had to tell both parents and students and 2 a.m. to be quiet and go to sleep because we had to be up at 7 a.m. to make breakfast). I have earned that title and demand the right to use it!

  4. Ann Furthermore*

    I agree with Alison and with The IT Manager — if it’s just a couple times a year, go, have a soda or 2, and then duck out early. There are a million excuses to use, and the key is to come up with one that people won’t argue with, like needing to get home to let the dog out.

    I get it though — I like happy hours, but only with friends. Forced socialization with people you wouldn’t hang out with outside of work makes me cringe. But there is benefit in going, putting in an appearance, and then slipping away quietly.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Right, this caught me up short a little too – it’s only a couple of times per year? If it were every Friday or several times a week or whatever I could absolutely see it being ridiculous, but yes, if you just so happen to have vague ‘obligations’ on the two times a year the team goes out, that is sending a strong message that you don’t want to socialize with them.

      Also, ordering ‘just water’ instead of some other alcohol-free drink (like pop or a non-alcoholic cocktail, which a lot of bars serve) seems almost… I hate to say passive-aggressive, but it really seems like a way of communicating a message that you don’t want to be there and damn well aren’t going to do more than the bare minimum of participating.

      Which is NOT to say that you have an obligation to go to bars or be comfortable in bars, OP, and you might very well want to have a talk with your boss. But if you’re going to suck it up a couple of times a year, then suck it up, don’t go and radiate don’t-wanna-ness. Order something that isn’t water but isn’t booze, leave after the first couple of people take off, and check it off your list.

      1. Original Poster*

        I don’t know if it should matter what I’m drinking– if I show up, I’m there and participating.

        Honestly, I try not to drink my calories/sugar, so on a rare occasion I’ll get a soda but I really try not to. So ordering a seltzer with water really isn’t me trying to say “F you guys” or be passive-aggressive, it’s just my non-alcoholic drink of choice. I don’t even really drink juices.

        1. Cat*

          I think seltzer is different than water. That said – if it’s 2-3 times a year, not focusing on calories those 2-3 times a year is not going to make a difference to your health and might make a difference to your stress level at these things.

        2. Bwmn*

          I think the comment about water was more from a US perspective if you were only ordering tap water. If it’s seltzer water or club soda, the perception of that as a drink is different than tap water.

          My perception of the comment was that ordering a drink with some monetary value (vs tap water) implies a different kind of participation than ordering something entirely free.

        3. BananaPants*

          I wonder if your body language at these events could be giving away your feelings. It’s clear that you don’t want to attend these events with coworkers and don’t enjoy them – you drink water, don’t eat any of the “greasy” bar food, and are the first one to leave. They probably see that.

        4. neverjaunty*

          “if I show up, I’m there and participating” – except that you’re kind of not? Again, I’m not suggesting that you’re meaning to be antisocial or send a message (and certainly not that you’re obligated to drink alcohol!) but as BananaPants says, if you’re just showing up and then leaving at the first possible opportunity, it does very much signal to the rest of the group that you don’t want to be there, and you’re only there because you feel obligated to be.

        5. Daisy Steiner*

          But this isn’t about what “should” happen, OP. We’re talking about what we think WILL happen.

        1. Bwmn*

          I see the passive aggressive point in regards to just having tap water (which is free). Part of this is the boss treating the staff (based on my reading) whereas other happy hours are about staff going out and sharing rounds/buying *things* together. By going only free, it does read as almost entirely not participating.

          At my first month or two at work, my birthday happened and my bosses got me a huge cake and did the whole surprise birthday whatnot in the conference room. At the time I was trying to avoid eating just about everything in the cake but wasn’t truly allergic. I could have said “oh, I’m trying to avoid cake for medical purposes, but thank you so much for the gesture” – but it was just so obvious how that would read in the scenario. I didn’t need to eat a huge piece (or even the whole piece), and there’s no way skipping out on birthday cake wouldn’t have just drawn more attention to myself. So I don’t think going non-alcoholic reads as passive aggressive – but going free tap water does.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Hopefully, our society will change in the years to come and people will not have these types of problems. I had a cake problem. The person KNEW I was avoiding sugars and flours. And this person wanted to get a cake. I had to find 4 million ways to say NO. Finally, this person heard me.

        2. Ad Astra*

          It’s the plain water that may come off as passive-aggressive. It’s like doing the bare minimum. Pretty much any other nonalcoholic drink — event seltzer — would make the OP look like a more willing participant. The idea is that you’re there for fun, not hydration.

          1. Honeybee*

            I think this is going into silly territory, though. If you can have fun without alcohol with a Coke in your hand, you can have fun with a water. I don’t see why a $2 seltzer makes the difference that a glass of water doesn’t.

              1. Ad Astra*

                If it’s a sticking point for OP and she truly doesn’t want anything besides water, I’m sure it won’t be that big of an issue. Drinking a glass of water isn’t deeply offensive or anything, but there’s nothing celebratory about tap water. I think people are just saying a switch from water to seltzer or Coke, maybe with a lime, is an easy way to look a little more invested in the festivities.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I’m sorry, but that’s just—no. I just don’t see ordering water as passive-aggressive. You don’t have to fake who you are or what you want to order to impress other people.

            I think giving someone the side-eye if they order water is passive-aggressive.

      2. KR*

        I see where this is coming from, but I feel like it’s such a small thing that the OP shouldn’t worry about WHAT they’re ordering at the bar offending someone.

      3. Becky*

        Suggesting the OP order soda instead of water is pretty nit-picky and judgmental. Are you really suggesting that the OP’s co-workers care which specific non-alcoholic beverage she is partaking of? Are you implying that YOU monitor your friends’ and co-workers beverage intake so closely?

        1. Bwmn*

          All of this is about bonding and fitting in. And as the OP has already comment – leaving time is already commented on. Ordering a seltzer vs tap water is perceived differently. It just is. One is “I don’t drink” the other reads as “I’m doing the bare minimum and really don’t want to be here”.

        2. VG*

          Actually they probably do care. I used to drink water at work happy hours, but found it attracted a LOT more comments and not-so-subtle harassment than drinking Diet Coke. I have no idea what psychology is at play there, but it’s definitely a real thing.

          1. neverjaunty*

            It’s the thing where (plain) water is what you drink because you’re thirsty; it’s not perceived as a social or celebratory drink the way even seltzer water is.

            1. Daisy Steiner*

              I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, neverjaunty. I found myself nodding along with your comment that plain tap water just feels a bit non-participatory, but I couldn’t figure out why until you added this. Personally, I don’t care whether people drink alcohol or soft drinks when I go out to a bar or pub, but if they’re sitting there with a free tap water, it just feels a bit like they don’t want to be there.

              Again, these are my own perceptions – but perception is what the OP asked us about.

              1. Daisy Steiner*

                Plus the actual act of buying a drink for someone is often an important part of the ritual. ‘I buy you a drink, you buy me one’ is a little social dance that builds trust (even though you end up sixpence none the richer). If someone just asks for tap water, we don’t really get the benefit of this social give-and-take.

              2. Bwmn*

                I think this is a huge part of it.

                Our biggest office happy hour planner is a non-drinker. She is however a big fan of fried calamari – so all of our office happy hours happen around places near the office with versions she likes. And the ritual of I treat you/you treat me, etc. – it all largely balances out cost wise. Especially as a lot of places near where we work have happy hours where the price of a drink and the calamari can often be almost the same.

                I know the OP has mentioned bars being synonymous with fried fatty foods (and not that fried calamari negates that) – but maybe it behooves the OP to read a number of bar menus where maybe there’s an appetizer that is appealing and then suggest that place.

      4. Cristina in England*

        I strongly disagree with commenters who do not believe this comment to ring true, especially to the degree of calling it nit-picky. I have been the non-drinker many many times before, and ordering “just water” (i.e. tap water) is definitely perceived as different than getting seltzer with a slice of lime in it. It isn’t really anybody’s business what the OP drinks, but we are talking about how OP is perceived and reacted to by these coworkers and the manager, and what to do in order to make these events more bearable.

        “But if you’re going to suck it up a couple of times a year, then suck it up, don’t go and radiate don’t-wanna-ness” is great advice that I really wish I had heard so many years ago in dealing with my super-drinker ex-inlaws!

        1. Honeybee*

          I have been the non-drinker in a group of drinkers before too. People don’t usually watch what I order, first of all. And if they do, the people who whine about a water will also whine about a seltzer or a Coke because it’s non-alcoholic. The people who don’t care that I’m drinking a non-alcoholic drink don’t tend to care whether it’s a water or a Coke or whatever.

        2. BananaPants*

          Agreed 100%. Ordering a seltzer with a lime, ordering the least-greasy food item on the happy hour menu, and sucking it up and socializing with a smile on her face is going to improve the coworkers’ perception versus her sitting there with a tap water, turning up her nose at the food, looking bored or annoyed, and bailing as soon as she can. (I’m not saying this is happening, just that it’s a possibility.)

          I’m a major introvert myself, but when I occasionally have to do these social events with colleagues I suck it up with a smile on my face because it’s better than being perceived by my management as being anti-social.

        3. Hotstreak*

          This is my experience too. I think people notice water drinkers so much because it’s often served in different (larger, plastic) glasses as opposed to cocktails which are usually served in actual glass, (which is typically shorter or narrower). I think part of it, too, is that drinking water is close to a pure sustenance activity. I personally don’t know and have never heard of anyone drinking water for fun, so if that’s all you’re drinking you may seem like a bit of a party-pooper, since part of the purpose of work happy hour is to enjoy time with colleagues! Not saying you can’t have fun and drink water at the same time, just pointing out what other people’s perception may be.

        4. Stranger than fiction*

          I get what you mean. It’s similar to going to a dinner party and not eating or only having a plain piece of bread. Some hostesses would be hurt by that (if they didn’t know you well or why you weren’t eating)

      5. Elizabeth West*

        Also, ordering ‘just water’ instead of some other alcohol-free drink (like pop or a non-alcoholic cocktail, which a lot of bars serve) seems almost… I hate to say passive-aggressive, but it really seems like a way of communicating a message that you don’t want to be there and damn well aren’t going to do more than the bare minimum of participating.

        Not if you’re thirsty.

  5. Lizabeth*

    Bowling is a good team bonding activity; miniature golf, you get the idea…

    Bowling is my favorite because I can image whomever’s face on the pins when I throw…like the angry, hostile loon mentioned earlier?

    1. Sunflower*

      I like this suggestion because you can still drink and eat but it’s not the focus and there’s other stuff to do. Plus bowling is one of those things I don’t particularly like doing in my free time but would be fun to do if it was an event I had to go to anyway

      1. Ad Astra*

        I hate bowling, but I’d still be willing to tag along every now and then in the name of bonding. It’s a good option for groups that don’t have a ton in common.

  6. Original Poster*

    Thank you for your response, Alison! Your suggestion about mentioning my aversion to drinking is exactly what my therapist suggested, which seems kind of scary but is a conversation worth having, I think. I guess I just don’t want to be seen as the “difficult” one who needs special accommodations, or the only one who isn’t okay with the happy hours, when all my other teammates seem excited to be there.

    It’s definitely a young work environment and while I do like the company for the most part, one of its main criticisms from past employees is that it’s somewhat of a frat. Most of our company is comprised of 20somethings, though the higher-ups are mostly older, and it seems like most people get ahead by schmoozing (except for me, thankfully. My department is smaller than the others and I seem to have gotten by on just doing good work and being cordial). A lot of the non-mandatory happy hours that are organized by employees and don’t include the higher ups turn into huge parties and while I’m not a total stick in the mud and do enjoy a good time with FRIENDS, they seem to go way beyond what’s appropriate for colleagues. Those I have no problem turning down, though.

    I guess I’m worried that the social aspect is going to be a big part of moving forward here. As everyone I’ve spoken to has mentioned, though, it’s only a couple times per year. It just seems much worse than it is the day of, when I’m busy freaking out over it (which is kind of the nature of a panic attack–small trigger, huge escalation).

    Anyway, thanks again! And thanks to everyone who comments/commiserates. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t enjoy drinking/work functions, as obvious as that may seem, haha. :)

    1. Observer*

      The fact that people say that the company is a bit of a frat says that not everyone is as excited as they seem about this. And it’s also an additional reason that the issue of having the vents at bars all the time would be useful to bring up.

      But, Alison’s tactic of proposing something else, and even offering to help plan, created a situation where you are not the “difficult” one but someone with some maturity who can see more than one way to enjoy.

    2. Catherine from Canada*

      My sister – who is a quiet, private person – works in advertising. Which involves A LOT of socializing. Over the years, she has perfected the art of quietly slipping away unnoticed, leaving her gregarious, extrovert husband to carry on partying.
      Could i) leave your coat at a coat check, and ii) when you’re ready to leave, “slip off to the ladies room” and just not come back? People might not even notice.

      1. Original Poster*

        There are very few people on my team (think less than 10) so slipping out unnoticed wouldn’t work and would be very frowned upon. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that anyway, unless at a huge event like the company Christmas party (when everyone is too drunk to notice you’ve left, anyway).

      2. Green*

        Ha! I’m awkward enough to do this, but you really should tell at least one person you’re leaving. (“I don’t want to interrupt Kim’s story, but I’m heading out — have a good night!”) Running away is kind of rude, even if tempting.

      3. Natalie*

        I always heard that called the Irish Goodbye, and it’s a necessary antedote to my local Minnesota Goodbye, which takes an hour. At least 20 minutes of that is spent in your coat but still inside someone’s house, which is about as uncomfortable as you might think.

    3. Anon for this comment*

      I currently work for a company that pushes networking and has happy hours at least 3 times a month. The happy hours aren’t mandatory but because NETWORKING, there is a lot of pressure to go.

      After talking to coworkers, I found that a lot of us weren’t ok with happy hours as the sole networking event so we have been able to successfully push back and have some company events that have an activity in addition to happy hour. As for getting through happy hours, I basically came up with a script. I decide how many people I am going to talk to, if there is anyone in particular I want to talk to, stay an appropriate amount of time, make my excuses and leave. Having a plan has helped a lot with the awkwardness and anxiety and it helps me manage expectations.

      1. Hotstreak*

        That’s a great idea. I like how you take what may be a façade of a networking event and turn it in to an actual networking event for yourself.

    4. Chicken*

      Given that it’s a very social environment, you might find that making an effort to be social in non-happy-hour ways goes a long way toward cushioning the blow of skipping happy hours. You could invite coworkers you get along with to go on coffee breaks / go out to lunch / take a quick walk around the block in the afternoon. Doing something like that demonstrates that you are social & you enjoy your coworker’s company, which means that if you decline a happy hour (or even duck out early) they’re more likely to understand that it’s not that you don’t want to spend time with them, it’s that you are not really into happy hours.

      1. Becky*

        Oooh, this is good advice. I don’t know how many people at your company have kids, OP, but once I had kids my default workplace socializing switched from happy hours to coffee breaks. Even if none of your co-workers have kids, I’m sure there’s someone who would prefer grabbing coffee with you at 9 a.m. to drinking with you at 6 p.m.

      2. Temperance*

        I really disagree with this advice. It’s not really team building in this instance, which is the purpose of the happy hours. Taking walks/lunch with work friends is vastly different, and is honestly opposite the goal of the happy hours (to get the team out together).

        1. LBK*

          Eh, yes and no. Even during team outings it’s rare that the entire team is expected to sit in a big circle and have everyone participate at once – IME people still tend to break into their own little groups and pairs, even in a smaller team like the OP’s (and the one I work in now). I think it’s 50/50 trying to get the team all in one place and trying to give people a chance to socialize outside the office, and I think Chicken’s suggestion is a great one for fulfilling goal #2 if the OP isn’t comfortable participating in goal #1.

          I think Chicken’s suggestion also correctly hits on the idea that a huge factor in whether someone is a “team player” does tend to be your basic feelings towards that person; even if we can give some concrete items that might contribute like being willing to take on boring tasks, jumping in to help out when things are busy, etc. ultimately those are all things that make you like the person more on an emotional level, too. I think showing that she does like her teammates will go a long way towards the OP being viewed as part of the team, even if she does it one-on-one.

        2. neverjaunty*

          But the point isn’t “team building”, it’s the OP demonstrating that she still likes socializing with her co-workers from time to time. There’s a big difference between “Wakeen just isn’t big on happy hours at bars, but I hang out with him other times” and “Wakeen made it really clear that he doesn’t want to socialize with co-workers at all”.

      3. Honeybee*

        I’m one of those people who actually likes networking happy hours, but coffee breaks are way better networking. Calmer, quieter, more personal talking time to really get to know others. Happy hours tend to be loud and get uncomfortable to stand around at after a few hours.

    5. fposte*

      I think there’s possibility on both sides here. Yes, this may be a cornerstone of advancement at this company, in which case it’s not a good fit for you and you need to consider alternatives. It just is in some places, and sometimes the expectation is a lot more frequent (doesn’t mean you have to be okay with this, just pointing out that there’s a real spectrum here).

      But I don’t think you have to assume that and not try to negotiate the expectations as Alison suggests, especially if you otherwise like your job. I mean, if it is a cornerstone and it’s not a fit, then you’re probably leaving anyway; might as well explore the possibility that there’s more wiggle room before deciding that’s the case.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Agreeing here. This company may not be a good fit for you. You describe yourself as wracked with worry, if you cannot get some kind of handle* on it then maybe it is time to look for a different environment.
        *Getting a handle. I never could get a handle on it. I stopped most drinking and I do not enjoy gatherings where the main idea is to drink/get drunk. When I was in my 20s I worked for places with mixed age groups because I had the idea that if people were all different ages it was more likely that some would be non-drinkers like me. The kind of company you are describing is exactly what I avoided. (I started drinking young and when I got to be 21 or so, I stopped. For many of the reasons you are showing here, OP. I had family issues that required me to have a clear head. I liked me sober a lot better. I wanted to spend my money on other things. And I was bored by it, talking to drunk people was kind of lonely to me. I got tired of it quick.

        What I am saying here, OP, this could be your push to look for something else in your life. Maybe you need to do something that has more meaning to you. Maybe you need to surround yourself with different people. Nothing wrong with any of this. Matter of fact, it could be kind of cool stuff, actually. It could be part of you defining who you are and how you want your life to play out.

    6. Donna*

      When I used to have social anxiety and couldn’t get out of a social event, I found it strangely helpful to be the one of the event organizers. Not because I like party-planning, but because it gave me some control over the event. Also, it involved calling or emailing people individually on the phone, which sucks–but it made it easier for me at the event because I had already made contact with the people there, they knew my name, and I knew theirs. During the event, I could get up and pretend that I needed to take care of something if I needed a break without attracting too much attention.
      Finally, it gave me a “cover” of being social because people connected me with the event, when I actually spent little time socializing.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        I know people who have learned how to mix drinks for the same reason. If you’re the bartender, you’re in the middle of the action at your party, but you don’t have to talk very much to people. Having a job at the party is a great cover for anxiety.

        1. Kai*

          Oh yes. I love making myself busy in the kitchen, helping out the host with whatever, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time making small talk if I don’t feel like it.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It’s the difference between having no defined role and having defined role. Event participants do not have an easily recognized, defined role. Event planners are the opposite, they are in an easily recognized role.

    7. AnonInSC*

      Others have left great comments and suggestions. I just want to point out that if not drinking alcohol is considered giving you “special accommodation,” there is a bigger issue. Hopefully some conversations can help move team building away from being only happy hours. I promise you, you aren’t the only one uncomfortable with it. Based on the comments you shared from previous employees, they felt the same way.

  7. NK*

    I agree with Alison, but if possible I’d avoid saying you’re uncomfortable around people who are drinking. I think the “uncomfortable in bars” part gets the point across, especially if you mention the family history. I think people can be quick to feel judged by those who don’t drink, and saying you’re uncomfortable around people who are drinking may make your boss/coworkers feel that way. To be clear, that is their problem and not yours, but avoiding that language will help them be more receptive to your request.

    1. Original Poster*

      This is a good suggestion. My coworkers seem uncomfortable around people who say they don’t drink and even get weird around me for eating healthy/being active… it’s very herd mentality here, and the herd likes unhealthy food and alcohol. ;) So I think wording it that way could definitely do more harm than good. Thanks!

      1. fposte*

        How is being healthy and active coming up in conversation? Is this a TMI kind of work culture, maybe, where they’re asking pushy stuff? I can’t imagine knowing that that’s a goal of any of my colleagues, and maybe that’s something you can start deflecting on as well.

        1. Original Poster*

          It’s very social in the office and people talk about a lot of stuff throughout the workday. I’ve had people comment on the healthiness of my lunches just by seeing me prepare them in the kitchen before, and I’ve turned down going out for burgers and fries to opt instead for my homemade meals, so it’s pretty obvious. Fitness is a passion of mine so it’s also something I talk about regularly in passing, which none of us have ever considered TMI.

          1. fposte*

            Okay. But I think there could be a connection between this degree of sharing and the vulnerability you feel about people’s opinions on your behavior. I don’t know how much this is coming up and how deeply it’s going, but I really wouldn’t expect to hear about fitness or diet much from a co-worker, whether it’s theirs or mine. If you’re thinking people are feeling weird about what you’re saying about fitness, that may be less about fitness than its coming up at the office.

            1. Afiendishthingy*

              Really? I know which of my coworkers are vegetarian and which don’t eat red meat and who is allergic to seafood, and who loves Zumba. None of that seems like over sharing to me.

              1. Original Poster*

                Agreed. Also, since it’s a young work environment, a lot of us are friends on Facebook (which doesn’t bother me because I don’t share anything on the internet that I wouldn’t want coworkers to see/know, anyway). I post a lot of fitness stuff, so it’s obvious what I’m into.

            2. olympiasepiriot*

              Oy. My firm usually has at least 3 people in the Marathon and one guy (who has had a knee replacement) got to the Ironman in Hawaii this year. Everyone knew. It was his vacation. When I started at the company, we still had a (corp league) volley ball team and a softball team. We all know a lot about our respective sports. When I’m feeling particularly interested obnoxious, I start ‘pressuring’ people to start a company ice hockey team. (It gets some people unnerved which can be useful. Very male-socialized environment.)

              I think if we didn’t discuss sports, especially those we play, there’d be nothing in common except work or Walking Dead (which leaves me out).

              1. Afiendishthingy*

                Yeah, fitness is a hobby, which seems like a pretty tame source of office small talk. And most people eat at their desks in my office, and ten of us sit pretty close in the same room, so it’s pretty easy to see what everyone eats.

          2. BananaPants*

            Have you considered that maybe you’re a little *too* passionate in the workplace about fitness and healthy eating? The only time I’ve been aware of a colleague’s fitness routine is when someone has run a half marathon or otherwise done something exceptional. I know my boss is a vegetarian but otherwise I can’t say I’ve ever noticed or cared what coworkers are eating or drinking in the workplace or outside of it. If you think they’re uncomfortable, it’s possible that you’re unintentionally giving off a judgmental attitude.

            Try to look at it from their side – most “clean” eaters will partake in unhealthy/fatty/salty/sugary foods on a special occasion. Having extremely stringent adherence to a clean diet is unusual for people in their mid-20s. If you’re always talking about exercise and healthy foods in the office, then sitting at happy hours drinking tap water and not eating any food, they may think you’re judging them or are just being a stick-in-the-mud.

            1. Original Poster*

              Oh this isn’t the case at all. When I do talk about it, it’s not long-winded… it may be something in passing like “ah man I’m tired today, my workout this morning was tough” or something. And I don’t adhere to a crazy clean diet, I just try to be good during the week so I can be a bit less stringent on the weekends.

              1. fposte*

                It’s not about whether your diet is crazy, though, it’s about whether your co-workers are disproportionately encountering it.

                And I’m not saying for sure that they are; I think another possibility is that this is part of the social anxiety and that you’re keenly feeling like a very different person than they are so that you’re seeing the comments on your habits as being an assessment rather than blather they blather at everybody. So it’s also worth considering that they’re not weird about your diet; it’s that they make goofy comments about what everybody does, not just you.

                1. Lily Rowan*

                  Relatedly, if you aren’t joining people for a burger is it, “No, thanks — I brought my lunch!” or “No, thanks — I’m going to have a salad.”

              2. Stephanie*

                That’s good. I try to eat healthily and exercise regularly (and mostly stick to it). I work in trucking…so you can imagine how a bunch of truckers/former truckers (which a lot of the office staff are) eat. I usually will partake if someone does buy pizza for the office and have a slice, just so it doesn’t look like I’m casting judgement by saying “No thanks, I brought in some lentils.”*(And the calorie math works out in favor of one slice of pizza periodically anyway). I think it you are doing it too much or declining treats too often or drinking water at the happy hour, it can inadvertently look like you’re passing judgement.

                *Health issues aside, obviously. I know sharing in cake someone brought in wouldn’t work for a diabetic.

          3. INTP*

            It might help if you try to find things that you have in common with your coworkers to discuss with them. Not that you SHOULD have to pretend to be less into fitness and healthy living, but if they already have no idea how to relate to you (people in these herd environments often have an emotional need to have things in common with everyone) and the only things you often share about are things that are conventionally highly regarded by society like exercise and healthy food, then that can create an image that you think you’re above them. Try to find things you have in common with your coworkers – maybe you like a TV/Netflix show, pets, shopping for makeup or interior design items or something, a spectator sport, etc, and focus your small talk on those things. If you literally cannot find anything, at least memorize one thing about each person and ask them about it when you are in a small talk situation (this is much easier when your coworkers have kids but you can ask about someone’s new condo, roommate search, wedding planning, recent vacation, etc too).

            Just giving them a way to relate to you and coming across as though you like them and are interested in their lives makes a huge difference. It changes your image from “Jane who thinks she’s better than us because of her lentils and marathons” to “Jane, our coworker who has this quirk about lentils and marathons but we like her anyways.”

            1. Ad Astra*

              A lot of these replies are really about managing other people’s insecurities. On the one hand, OP really shouldn’t have to do that; there’s nothing inherently judgmental about saying “No thanks, I’ll have a salad.” On the other hand, making people feel accepted is a hugely valuable social skill, so it might be worth learning how to say “No thanks, I’m saving up my junk food allowance for the weekend.”

              1. Original Poster*

                Yeah, I don’t have total tunnel vision, guys. We do talk about other things and I don’t stand there with my hands on my hips saying “No, you eat your greasy burgers and I’m going to eat my soup and salad while I judge you!”

                Some of the girls and I talk about books, on occasion one of the guys and I will talk about comedy, etc. I don’t have *quite* as much in common with them as they do with each other, but I’m not totally ignoring anyone or refusing to talk about anything other than health and fitness.

                That said, am I going to downplay my interests/partake in unhealthy food I don’t want/etc. just to cater to their own insecurities, as Ad Astra said? No–why should that be my job?

          4. Jane*

            If fitness is your passion and you’re reasonably good at reading social cues, I think it’s fine to talk about in a share-y/social workplace. If someone looks bored or annoyed, you can change the subject just like they would if your eyes glazed over when they told you about their air sickness bag collection. If someone is offended by the mere mention of fitness (in an open, everyone talks about their hobbies workplace), I’d argue the issue is theirs.

    2. LBK*

      Agreed. Not saying that I enjoy being around drunk people when I’m sober, because that definitely sucks, but I can see it coming off a little disdainful to say it about a group of your coworkers.

      1. INTP*

        Yeah, thirding this. I think most people would understand if you didn’t want to be around when everyone was just hammered, but most people at a work happy hour are just getting a little buzzed. You risk either personally offending them because they assume you just don’t want to be around them, or making them think that you are super emotionally fragile because you can’t even handle seeing someone consume alcohol when they aren’t getting drunk or anything. Ideally OP can find a way to go to the events a couple of times a year, but otherwise “uncomfortable in bars due to family history” is the furthest I’d go.

        1. Daisy Steiner*

          Oh, I’ve had that reaction. Possibly not completely justified, but I still have it.
          Me: “Want to come for a drink?” (this on a Tuesday night, when we’ll probably have ONE round)
          Them: “No thanks, I don’t like being around drunk people.”
          Me: *headdesk*

  8. KR*

    When you’re not getting paid, your time is your own. Some people, myself included, can only take so much socializing before they need to be alone and doing their own thing and that’s okay. You deserve to be happy and comfortable, especially when it’s your time. I think it would be perfectly acceptable to go home early in this case, more so because you don’t drink. Please don’t feel awkward about it. You need to take care of you first when it comes to your mental health and general well-being.

    I second the idea of thinking up an outing that doesn’t include just sitting at a bar. Even if the team doesn’t go for it, it shows that you are trying to be a team player and be involved (stealing from a post I was just reading the other day).

    1. Windchime*

      I agree. It just blows my mind how many people are suggesting the OP order something that looks like a drink, or buy a beer that she doesn’t want and carry it around so that she looks like she’s drinking. Are these professional adults attending a happy hour or is it a frat party? What happens when the keg stands start; should she pretend to do that, too? Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I have never seen anyone be pressured to drink alcohol at a happy hour. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard anyone comment on someone’s drink choice when they order a Coke or an iced tea.

      One of the teams I’m on is having a happy hour in the next week or so. I’m not planning to attend, and my guess is I won’t hear anything other than, “We missed you last night!”. Because my coworkers are grownups.

      1. Rana*

        I think you’ve been lucky, unfortunately. That said, when I do something like that, it’s less about hiding my non-drinking – if anyone asks, I’ll honestly say what it is I’m drinking – and more about not being obvious or party-pooper-ish about my non-drinking.

        For me, it’s sort of the equivalent of taking off your suit jacket if you’re at a gathering with a bunch of people in business casual – it sends the message that you care about fitting in, even if you don’t participate in exactly the same way as the others.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I think that the idea is to choose something inclusive to everyone. We would have a mutiny if someone tried to get my dept. to take a spin class together!

      1. Cat*

        Yeah, good lord. Talk about something that’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable and excluded.

    2. Original Poster*

      Haha the funny thing is, though everyone commenting is all “NOPE,” this is exactly the kind of thing I’d be into. I wouldn’t suggest it though, as my coworkers would definitely not be interested.

      1. Cat*

        Well, sure – people have different interests. I would be happy going to a Ren Faire even though many of my co-workers would rather slit their wrists. An activity isn’t bad just because it’s not work appropriate – but it not being bad doesn’t convert it into work appropriate.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I don’t think this is a great alternative to happy hours from the group perspective, but it may behoove OP to invite some coworkers to join her at spin class or whatever fitness things she’s into. There are probably one or two coworkers who would be genuinely interested, and it sounds like cultivating relationships is an important thing at this office.

    4. Katniss*

      Nope, that will just put plenty of people in a similar situation to the OP, where they’re uncomfortable for a perfectly valid reason with something that isn’t easy to express, like medical issues or just not having a desire to wear workout clothes around their coworkers.

  9. CrazyCatLady*

    Ugh, no advice, but you have my sympathy. Even though it’s only a few times a year, I would dread that. Also have anxiety and not a fan of being in bars or being around people when they’re drunk… or being around anyone other htan my husband for 5 hours! ESPECIALLY after work!

  10. cs grad student*

    Depending on where you live and work, I might suggest telling them you have an appointment after work, and you’ll meet up with them after.

    So go have a healthy meal, stop by the gym for some exercise, and after you shower and get back to the bar, it’ll be 8:30. You’ll have had 3.5 hours to decompress and you’ll probably be able to tolerate your colleagues easier. Then you can leave with everyone else.

    1. nofelix*

      Yeah this is a good suggestion. It show that you are trying to be accommodating, and they will likely see the later hours as the most important ones.

  11. AnonAcademic*

    ” I also have depression and some social anxiety, so all these things combined make happy hours a type of anxiety-ridden nightmare for me. I literally dread them every waking minute, from the moment they’re planned until I can finally go home. ”

    “Most of our company is comprised of 20somethings, though the higher-ups are mostly older, and it seems like most people get ahead by schmoozing (except for me, thankfully. My department is smaller than the others and I seem to have gotten by on just doing good work and being cordial).
    I guess I’m worried that the social aspect is going to be a big part of moving forward here. ”

    I think the “social aspect” is a big part of career success IN GENERAL and while it is also one of the things I loathed the most about work from ages 22-26ish, I eventually found ways to cope and it’s helped my career for sure. I also experience social anxiety also, but I can get through events like networking dinners, happy hours, office holiday parties, etc. without “dreading every waking minute” (even if I find them unpleasant often).

    I think it’s important to separate being personally uncomfortable with drinking, and being uncomfortable with work socialization in general (but especially when it involves heavy drinking). I think the OP conflated the two in the letter.

  12. Anonymous Ninja*

    first person to leave is met with an “awwww, what? Why!?”

    “You know me, I’m always the early bird!”
    “Now the party can begin”
    “Don’t worry, I’ll see you in the morning”

    If you’re the first to leave then own it. Don’t feel guilty. Live true to who you are and don’t let other people’s comments bring you down.


      Yep, I’ve done this. “Well, guys, you know I’m a 50-year-old in a 20-something body, so I’m out.”

      There is nothing wrong with just owning who you are. If you don’t act like it’s a big awful deal, it’s not. The whole “awww, why” is kind of flattering; they don’t want to see you go, or they are being polite and don’t really care. Either way, don’t worry about it and do your thing.

      I know that social anxiety is a problem, but treatment for anxiety often involves exposure to the thing you fear. The more often you do this, the less anxious you will be. And that will be good for your future career.

      1. SherryD*

        I agree, the “aw, why are you leaving?” is a compliment, not a criticism. It is annoying, but probably not intended to be.

      2. Brenda*

        Yes! Seems like you should just go and own the fact that you don’t drink and want to leave early. I work with some people who do just that.

        The anxiety seems like a separate issue that you may want to address for a variety of other reasons. I can see why you don’t want to suggest alternate activities if you don’t think people will go for them. But it seems like a problem to me if you can’t go out for a couple of hours twice a year, drink water or seltzer with like a lime in it, chat for a bit, and then announce with a smile on your face that you’re peacing out. :):)

    2. Meg Murry*

      Exactly. Don’t interpret it as them saying “Oh, OP is such a party pooper, she’s no fun!” I’m pretty sure their
      meaning is more along the lines of “Oh, you have to leave already? That’s too bad! We’ll miss you!”

    3. Katniss*

      Yup! I’ve been doing this same thing with food and coworkers or housemates making comments.

      Them: “You sure eat a lot of pasta! So many carbs!”
      Me: “Yup, pasta is delicious”.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, if you just say “Yep!” and keep going in almost any situation, no one actually cares.

        I’m sure you know this in your head, OP, but people really aren’t paying that much attention to you, even when it feels like they are. Nearly everyone is focused on themselves.

        1. Katniss*

          I don’t know if this will help the OP, but I also found this method actually helped my anxiety a ton. Once I started brushing off those things with a “yup”, I started obsessing a lot less about whether people were judging what I was doing or even giving whatever I was doing a second thought.

  13. C*

    I like to have a drink, but I’ll never understand people who pry into why someone isn’t drinking. It’s so insanely rude & has so much potential for awkwardness. If I’m with coworkers & someone gets a soda or mentions they don’t drink, I don’t comment–what business is it of mine?

    Even though I do drink, I relate to the social anxiety part of happy hours. When I was in my 20s & started at a small company with lots of young people, it took me a long time to feel I fit in & those events seemed like forced drunken “fun” that wasn’t actually fun.

    The good news, OP, is that you will grow more comfortable as you get older with bowing out or setting your own terms (staying for one drink, having just a soda, deflecting questions confidently & pleasantly etc). As an exhausted married mom in my late 30s, I feel no embarrassment about declining happy hour or just popping in for a quick one. Of course, the other good thing about getting older is that your colleagues do too (hopefully). As you move up, you’ll also encounter a wider range of ages/backgrounds/preferences about socializing & there won’t be as much of a sense that “all the cool kids” are at the bar. Good luck!

    1. Allison*

      Right? There are a lot of embarrassing reasons why someone might not want to drink. Religious or personal morals aside, someone might be pregnant, or on antibiotics for an STD, or have some other medical condition that might mean no booze.

    2. Helka*

      I’ve got a religious reason for nondrinking, but when people ask why, I’m more likely to default to “Are you kidding? I get a DD stamp, drink free sodas all night, and no hangover tomorrow? It’s awesome!” Because apparently saying “it’s against my religion, sorry” gets read as “I am mentally ticking you all off as sinners in my head, and now you’re imagining me as a nun with an iron ruler.”

      1. Ad Astra*

        There’s a special place in Heaven for those who can have fun drinking Sprite at the bar and then drive their friends home safely.

    3. Ad Astra*

      Slightly off topic: Lately I’ve noticed several of my coworkers will preemptively declare that they don’t drink. It’s never in a situation where alcohol is present, but if anyone even briefly mentions beer or wine in passing, they say “Yeah, I don’t drink. Do you drink? No? Yeah, neither do I.” Umm… good to know? My cubemate and I have agreed that it’s totally weird. Maybe we’re just paranoid party animals.

  14. Luna*

    Just don’t go. You don’t need to make an excuse, if they invite you just say ‘no thank you’ and leave it at that. I never go to work social events because my reasoning is that I spend eight hours a day with you morons so why the heck would I want to socialise with you too? It’s not that I don’t like my colleagues but I honestly can’t be bothered with wastes of time (drinking is a waste of time) and I’ve got better things to do after work. But a simple ‘no, thank you’ will suffice. And if they keep pushing and nagging you to go just keep repeating your ‘no thank you’. If they won’t back down then they’re not worth your time anyway as they have no respect for your decisions.

    I get this every year about our Christmas party. And the repeated ‘why aren’t you coming?’ questions. I just parrot ‘because I don’t want to’ until they get fed up and go away. I am the queen of turning down social invites!

      1. Luna*

        What? I hate the drinking culture we have here in the UK and I refuse to socialise with people who need to get blind drunk to develop a personality. It seems like way too many people just give in to these ‘social’ events when a firm ‘no thank you’ and repeated ‘because I don’t want to’ when pressed as to why you’re not going should suffice.

        This shouldn’t make people view you as less of a ‘team player’. Being a ‘team player’ doesn’t require you to get clattered on cheap wine with your colleagues.

        1. fposte*

          I think people are reacting to the blanket condemnation of a popularly enjoyed activity as a “waste of time.”

          I’m no fan of drinking culture, and I do think it’s tougher to negotiate in the UK than in the US (though there are a lot worse countries than those two), but that’s not the same thing as its being a waste of time.

          1. Fish Microwaver*

            Nah, I’m reacting to the whole lack of any graciousness. If it is said the way it is written it is rude, judgemental and self centred. I wouldn’t socialise with a coworker like this.

        2. LBK*

          Being a team player doesn’t mean getting drunk, but I’d argue it does mean not making sweeping, condescending statements about your coworkers based on what they like to do with their free time.

        3. Katniss*

          Hell, I’m a recovering alcoholic and I still think it’s unfair to say people who drink (or who even get drunk sometimes) need to get drunk to develop a personality.

        4. Honeybee*

          Well, because social relationships sometimes involve compromise to maintain, which occasionally involves doing things you don’t particularly want to do with your coworkers. Just because you go to happy hour doesn’t mean you have to get drunk – in fact, few people do get drunk on weekday night happy hours, at least in my experience. I personally have a two-drink maximum for any work events that involve alcohol.

          But even if you didn’t want to go, repeating “I don’t want to” is not sending the kind of message OP wants to send. It comes off as unnecessarily aggressive.

          1. FiveByFive*

            “Well, because social relationships sometimes involve compromise to maintain, which occasionally involves doing things you don’t particularly want to do with your coworkers. ”

            But shouldn’t that have go both ways to be valid?

            The next time a coworker compromises and does something they don’t want to do, in order to maintain a relationship with me, will be the first time.

            1. fposte*

              But that’s dependent on their *announcing* a compromise–otherwise you don’t know that it’s a compromise. I’ve compromised a ton without other people knowing that’s what it was, and I don’t see why that couldn’t be true of your co-workers, too.

              1. FiveByFive*

                Well, not really. I don’t want to get into the whole extrovert vs. introvert thing, but speaking generally, it’s the extroverts who are usually setting the agenda, and it’s the introverts that are compelled to join in and not be party-poopers. That’s all I meant. Team introvert is always required to compromise, but team extrovert is never going to announce a celebratory evening where everyone sits quietly and reads a book.

    1. Allison*

      I’ve gotten better at just saying “sorry, can’t make it” and leaving it at that. I don’t make an excuse, I don’t even claim to be “too busy,” I just say I can’t make it. People rarely push for details.

    2. Sunflower*

      Well it sounds like going to a few of these get togethers a year is part of the culture at the company. OP seems pretty lucky- she’s 25 and has found a job she likes at a company she likes. I think Allison’s advice of 1. Going and rolling out early and 2. Suggesting other things besides just hanging at a bar would be more beneficial to OP then just saying no. This is obviously a culture where being friendly with coworkers is important. There’s nothing wrong with that- it’s not for everyone. The same way that I wouldn’t like working at a company where there were no outside work events. I think we all have to do stuff for work that we don’t want to every once in a while and this seems like a pretty reasonable compromise for OP given she seems pretty happy there the other 360 days of the year.

      1. Luna*

        You can be friendly with co-workers without having to go to social events that make you uncomfortable. I still think a ‘no’ would work just fine. Why should the OP have to compromise and even go near something that obviously makes them uncomfortable? There’s no reason for why they have to elaborate on WHY they don’t want to go. Not socialising isn’t a sackable offence, at least where I work. I get along fine with my colleagues in a work setting but having seen their antics on the work Facebook page… count me out.

        1. Stephanie*

          I think being able to say “no” without issue depends on the company. Sounds like your company and most of the ones I’ve worked at, you can do that. However, from what OP tells us about her company, it sounds like this might not be the case. Long term, it might not be a fit for her. I think the advice most of us were giving about getting through it, so OP could deal with the event and not miss out on the benefits. Sometimes in these mandatory fun cultures, the social events are where all the networking happens.

        2. Sunflower*

          ‘Not socialising isn’t a sackable offence, at least where I work.’

          I won’t say it sounds fireable but it seems like a core value where OP works. Life is about compromise. Most healthy relationships(whether they be professional, romantic or simply friendly) require it. At work, like in many other parts of life, sometimes we have to do things we don’t enjoy doing because it will pay off in the long run. Most of AAM seems to agree that taking a couple hours out of your day, a couple times a year, is worth the payoff. I view most after work events not as ‘things I am choosing to do in my free time’ but more like ‘working overtime’. You never know when the value of these events will pay off. If hanging out with my coworkers for a few hours is going to be the difference between them helping me when I’m swamped with work or me fending for myself, it that’s definitely a sacrifice I’m going to make.

          I always try to look for a good compromise and that’s why I suggested OP talk to her boss about other options- especially since it seems like the issue isn’t really spending time together outside of work, it’s mostly the drinking that she isn’t comfortable with.

        3. Honeybee*

          No, it’s not a fireable offense. But when that promotion comes along that requires a “team player,” will OP get passed over because she’s perceived as an outsider? Or a special assignment or work opportunity comes up that involves traveling with the boss, will the boss pick someone she enjoys hanging out with at the bar (and exclude OP because she perceives OP as not fun)? The way your coworkers perceive your personality does have an effect on the opportunities you get offered down the road.

    3. LBK*

      I suspect being viewed as extremely judgmental (like you’re being here) is exactly why the OP is concerned about declining. I certainly wouldn’t be too thrilled about working with someone who thought the things I did were a waste of time or even that I was a waste of time. Don’t drink if you don’t want to drink, but you don’t have to be rude about it by saying things like people who drink don’t have personalities.

      1. Luna*

        I’m voicing an opinion – I believe I am allowed to do that? It’s what I believe and I am basing my ‘judgement’ on my experience. If you don’t like it, then okay, you have a problem with my views and that’s fine. Socialising and drinking is the one topic guaranteed to get my back up. I’m hugely against companies who actively encourage it as I believe it’s irresponsible and I spend my days surrounded by people who talk about nothing but what they’re going to drink on a Friday night and how drunk they’re going to get. It actually sickens me.

        1. fposte*

          I think you’re not hearing some important information, Luna. It’s not that voicing your opinion is forbidden–it’s that your opinion is couched as dismissive in a way that makes relationships harder, not easier.

        2. LBK*

          Voicing an opinion isn’t a sacrosanct action – it doesn’t exempt you from in turn being judged for that opinion or how you choose to voice it. I don’t have a problem with you not liking anything about drinking or people who do it – I have plenty of friends who don’t drink and I have plenty of friends who occasionally serve as evidence of why you shouldn’t (and I’m certainly among that set at times, too).

          But your response is unbelievably vitriolic, to the point that I struggle to believe it doesn’t come through in the way you interact with your coworkers. Based on your comments above I’m inferring that you’ve been criticized about this before in the vein of “not being a team player,” and I’m trying to explain that it’s not that you’re being criticized for your opinion, you’re being criticized for stating it in a way that’s really rude and would make me question your ability to work with people who, in your own words, you find “sickening”.

        3. Jodi*

          Different people unwind in different ways. For some, it’s a good run and for others it’s a good rum.

        4. Ad Astra*

          You don’t seem to care if your coworkers detect that you see them as morons who lack personality. That’s… one way to operate. But it sounds like the OP is, in part, worried about these events because she doesn’t want her coworkers to think she looks down on them. That’s a reasonable concern; relationships are important in many offices. When you care about how you’re perceived, and about how you’re making other people feel, it’s very helpful to ask for advice on how to handle situations gracefully.

        5. KH*

          You are absolutely allowed to voice an opinion.

          And we are also allowed to voice our opinions that your opinion and the way you present it makes you appear to be rude and judgmental and unpleasant.

      2. FiveByFive*

        But it’s not me or Luna passing judgement that some people have to drink to have a personality. These people are acknowledging as much on their own, by their expectation that everybody must drink in order to really have fun.

        1. fposte*

          But nobody here *has* said that. While people here *have* said that drinking is a waste of time. So right now it’s the non-drinkers who are the ones offering the draconian viewpoint. (And I’m one of them, so this disappoints me.)

          1. FiveByFive*

            The post I was responding to did refer to Luna as being judgmental. And just speaking for myself, a night out drinking is a waste of time for me, but I understand it’s not for others.

            1. LBK*

              Luna’s posts didn’t come with the same caveat that she finds it a waste of time for herself, though, just that she found it a waste of time, period.

              These people are acknowledging as much on their own, by their expectation that everybody must drink in order to really have fun.

              I also have no idea where this sentiment is coming from – who’s saying that you have to drink to have fun? If I think playing video games is fun, that doesn’t mean I think everyone else has to play video games to have fun. Likewise, if I think drinking is fun, that doesn’t mean I think everyone else has to drink in order to have fun. And asserting that anyone who drinks needs to do so in order to have a personality is just flat-out rude no matter how you want to try to couch it.

    4. UK JAM*

      Yikes, never apply to my team please! We don’t need you to drink, but we do need you to not consider us to be morons.

  15. Seashell*

    If it is just a few times a year, maybe talk to your therapist about ways to cope. The dread build up/worrying about the reasons you don’t want to go might be making it worse.

    1. Sunflower*

      I agree! Social anxiety is different for everyone- for me, having an escape plan is what makes me feel better. Maybe writing out a list of things to talk about while you’re there? Coming up with answers to questions you’re dreading?

      Also this isn’t exactly the same thing but I’m stuck late working at work events a lot and they’re tough to get through. I try to plan something special for myself once I get home. Like a special meal and watching the new episode of my favorite TV Show. It might be different for you but having a ‘reward’ to go home to afterwards helps me get through these things.

      1. Original Poster*

        I like your idea of coming up with ideas for questions/answers ahead of time. Thanks! That must seem so contrived to extroverts, but I often feel like conversation is so forced with my coworkers because I don’t really have a lot of the same interests as they do, whether that be music, movies, pop culture (which they’re into but I’m not), etc. Maybe having a game plan ahead of time would help alleviate some of the stress that comes with “Great, I have to sit there for X amount of time to show camaraderie and I’d rather be anywhere else.”

        1. Stephanie*

          Have you heard of the FORD technique for small talk? You can think of a couple of questions in each category to guide you when chatting with colleagues.

          It’s an acronym that stands for:
          F – family
          O – occupation (easy one since these are colleagues–maybe ask what they’re working on at the moment)
          R – recreation (I don’t think you necessarily have to have the same interests–you can just listen to them talk about their woodworking habit or whatever and ask questions as they go along)
          D – dreams (I think this is more meant as goals or something the person is working to achieve at the moment, like say an in-progress degree).

          I’ve found, too, if you can think of one or two good prompting questions, you’ll get the other person chatting and just need to be an active listener.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Seriously — asking most people questions will make them think you are a great conversationalist.

          2. Turanga Leela*

            I was going to say to ask questions! If you ask open-ended questions and laugh at people’s jokes, that’s like 75% of social interaction.

            1. Turanga Leela*

              Also, not knowing about pop culture gives you more opportunities to talk, not fewer. “Wait, what did Kim Kardashian do? Someone tell me, this is the first I’ve heard of it.” And then everyone will fill you in, and you’ll be in the middle of the conversation interacting with your team. (Depending on who you work with, this might come with some ribbing about how you could possibly not know X story.)

              1. Original Poster*

                Your last comment is almost always the case. “What? How can you NOT know this?” Even if it’s all in good fun, it gets tiring after the billionth time. There have been some tense moments in the office a few times as a result of this.

                1. Rana*

                  You might try embracing that role. All of my friends know that I am utterly clueless when it comes to identifying popular music, for example. It’s sort of a running joke now. So if you can laugh off those comments with something like, “Oh, c’mon, this is me we’re talking about. You know, the person who never knows any of this stuff?” they’ll eventually get used to the idea and stop expressing surprise at the thought.

                2. Sarah*

                  2nding Rana! I’m 50/50 when it comes to whether I get a pop culture reference, and even if I do, I’m usually hopelessly out of date. Partly it’s because I manage my TV time so I’m only watching a few shows I really, really like and partly it’s because I loathe most magazines and gave up gossip sites when I realised how miserable they were making me, so the result is that I live in a bit of a bubble. So I only get information about celebrities and stuff from other people and generally I treat it like they’re talking about friends I haven’t met combined with a soap opera I don’t care about. “Wait, isn’t that the one who cheated on his girlfriend in her mother’s pool? With her mother? HE PROPOSED TO THE MOTHER?!?! Gosh, people are weird.” They just want a chance to share/connect, so if you let them be the Giver Of Juicy Gossip and react accordingly before changing the topic, they tend to just accept it.

        2. Meg Murry*

          In addition to questions and answers, can you plan out as much as possible? Pick out what you are going to drink, so when your boss says “First round’s on me!” you can say “Thanks, I’ll have a seltzer with lime” confidently, not “um, uh, um” with a deer in the headlights look.

          Make an actual appointment for something you have to do, and then stick to that. Examples:
          -“Oh, I’m taking my friend Jane for a movie for her birthday, so I have to leave by 6:30”
          -“Oh, I promised my sister I would walk her dog and he’ll pee on the carpet if I’m not there by 7:00”
          -“Oh, I workout with my personal trainer/running group/whatever on Thursday nights, and if I skip too many sessions I’ll get dropped form the group/have to pay a fee” whatever.

          That way, you know “Ok, I have to stay here for 1/1.5/2 hours. I can handle this for 2 hours, and then I get to go home! I can do this!”

          You already mentioned bringing a dinner to work at eating that in the late afternoon. Could you look at the menu in advance and see if there is anything, a single thing on the menu you would be willing to eat? For instance, our favorite bar has an option for hummus and pita, and you also have an option to get veggies with it/instead (lots of places that serve wings have celery at a minimum). Offering to share an appetizer (even if you only eat a few bites and leave the rest for the group) would also go a long way toward making an

          Are there any coworkers you like more than others? Come up with some questions to ask them about topics that will interest them, so all you have to say is “wow, that’s interesting!” or “I never knew that!” People like talking about themselves.

          Do you always go to the same bar, or is the location set more than a week in advance? Could you go scope out the place with some of your actual friends a week or two before, so the location is less of an unknown.

          Honestly, learning how to cope with these situations (knowing that you hate them, but you just have to put up with it for an hour or two and you’ll survive) is excellent practice for your career in general if you even have to start meeting with clients, going to conferences, going to job interviews or dates, etc.

        3. Ad Astra*

          I’m a shy extrovert (it’s a thing!) and I love the idea of coming up with questions and topics before hand. Also, OP, if you know your coworkers are interested in something you have maybe a passing interest in, brush up a bit on the topic before happy hour.

          For instance, I have a passing interest in hip-hop music, but I don’t always keep up with what’s new. If I know I’m going to be hanging out with a hip-hop head, I like to give the latest mix tapes a few listens so I we have something to talk about. Stand-up comedy is another one I brush up on for certain events. Surely there’s something you’re kind of into that your coworkers might be really into.

        4. Hiding on the Internet Today*

          I’m an extrovert with social anxiety and I totally plan out my approach to events. Some of it is honest to goodness research, trying to figure out what people do that makes them light up with joy, and then ask them about it. I’m lucky in that I sincerely enjoy learning about new things and people, so I will get into hearing about someone’s deep interest into potato chip collecting (I did not know there were limited edition, artisanal corn chips made in upstate Maine! That sounds like a road trip!) which can burn half an hour and make them truly believe I am the best conversationalist ever. Because I really get them, you know?

          Figure out what can motivate you to do/learn while you’re there and the time will be a lot easier to handle, and you might have a little fun. (Then ditch, work drinks should really end by 7. My office will start them early so we can shut it down by 6 and all get on with our lives.)

  16. F.*

    OP, I would bet that you are an introvert, and social interaction in a loud environment (like a bar) just drains you. I give you major props for taking care of yourself in a way that respects your depression/anxiety issues (I have them, too). It looks like you do need to go to the events, but plan for them. Be sure to take good care of yourself physically and emotionally in the couple of days leading up the the event so your internal “battery” is well charged. Have a set time in your mind to leave the event, even if that is earlier than everyone else. Then be sure to take good care of yourself for the couple of days after the event, too. Plan a reward for yourself for getting through the uncomfortable event, even if that just means a Saturday watching movies by yourself or whatever else you enjoy doing.

    1. Original Poster*

      Thank you for saying this! :)

      I do try to prepare as best I can. I even bring “dinner” to the office with me and eat lunch early so I can eat my healthy dinner around 5 before we head out for the bar, that way I don’t feel like I have to eat greasy bar food if that’s not what I want. I’ve been learning a lot about caring for myself mentally and physically but for some reason, this stuff just jars my nerves–and they never did, mind you. I used to drink quite a bit and party too, but honestly, that never got me anywhere good. And especially not with coworkers–I had a drunken coworker kiss me at our last holiday party and then follow me around the whole night until another coworker had to get between us and tell him off.

      1. Original Poster*

        Also, yes, totally an introvert. I could spend most of my life reading, playing video games, and spending time/traveling with/doing activities with just my boyfriend and pets and 2 close friends, and be insanely happy! Social gatherings drain me and I usually need a day to myself to recover.

      2. fposte*

        Do you always go to the same place? You might scope out alternatives or other locations within that bar to see if any of them are more comfortable for you. For me the ambient noise thing is really draining, but there are bars where that’s not really an issue.

      3. KR*

        I like the idea of having a set time to leave the happy hour. You could even ward off some of the “Oh why are you leaving!” if you state when you’re leaving in advanced. So when you’re all on your way to the bar, or that day you could say “By the way, I need to leave at 7 to walk my cat so don’t think I’m avoiding you guys!” so that they know you have to go and you have a commitment.

        1. Original Poster*

          Haha, “walk my cat” made me laugh until I realized I do have a leash for him and take him outside on occasion, and I’m now THAT lady.

      4. Umvue*

        Am I the only one who thinks OP kinda buried the lede here? If you were sexually assaulted by a drunk coworker at a work social event last year — and that’s what your description sounds like to me — I completely understand why you do not enjoy, and in fact are kind of terrified of, these work social events. Did the assaulter face any consequences beyond the telling-off?

        Regardless, I am so sorry that happened to you.

        1. Original Poster*

          Thank you. Actually, I didn’t mention this in the original post because it happened at a larger company function (150+ people) with a person who is not on my team and never a part of our smaller team happy hours (less than 10 people). Totally different cases, although the inappropriate conduct at past happy hours has definitely led me to decide drinking at work events is a no-no for me (I was flirting with the guy a bit since I get very flirty while drunk, but very quickly started to back off when he began getting aggressive like that. I would have put a stop to his behavior much sooner and been much more clear about my boundaries had I not been drinking).

          1. Umvue*

            I just feel like there is a lot of self-blame going on here that seemed disproportionate to me even before you mentioned this (I like a beer now and then, but agree with Luna that a work culture that puts such a high premium on drinking is bad) and, now that I know the history at this company, seems totally wrong. Of course you don’t like socializing with drunk coworkers! Your experience with them has taught you that sometimes they will sexually assault you! And if I were in your shoes I suspect I would find the “team members won’t take no for an answer about a stupid thing like happy hour” as uncomfortably boundary-violating in itself. Like, what else won’t you back me up on, guys?

            I disagree with the consensus here. I acknowledge that it may cost you some social capital to keep politely sending your regrets. If I were in your shoes I would pay that price for peace of mind. You are not the problem here.

            Assaulters suck.

            1. Original Poster*

              Thanks :) I’ve thankfully NEVER had an uncomfortable experience with any of my close teammates, who are the only ones at the happy hours in question though (in fact, one of them is the one who came to my rescue last year when this instance happened). So while that situation did make me uncomfortable–and my boss knows about it, but no, nothing ever really became of it after that–it’s really just been a factor in my decision that drinking + coworkers is not my cup of tea. I’ve never felt worried about possible sexual assault at these smaller happy hours and still don’t.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        I’m an extrovert, I love social events, they totally charge me up… and when I get home, all I want to do is curl up with my computer and read the news. Building in time for unwinding is healthy.

      2. Rana*

        Me too. I’m a people-loving introvert who needs a lot of alone time between bouts of socializing. Like, a lot.

  17. AdAgencyChick*

    GAWD OP I FEEL YOU. As an introvert working in an industry in which people looooove to drink, this kind of thing makes me want to jab myself in the eye. Nobody bats an eyelash if you miss because you have kids, but heaven forbid you’re childless and don’t go at least once in a while. Ugh.

    Is there a day of the week that these things happen more often than others? If so, can you sign yourself up for a weekly commitment that night? I feel like the only reason I don’t get more stinkeye than I do is that outings often happen on Thursdays, and people know I have a Thursday thing that’s really important to me.

    Not saying you should *have* to go to such machinations to avoid drinking with coworkers, but if you think your boss will immediately label you a grinch if you bring it up, this can help.

    1. Original Poster*

      Yeah… as I mentioned in another comment here, I originally had therapy the night this was scheduled! But my after-work schedule is always so tight that I felt bad not being a bit more open when they were trying so hard to find a day that fit for everyone, so I canceled my appointment. Big mistake.

      From here on out, it’s either a) I can’t go for X or Y reason or b) I’m going, having a non-alcoholic drink, and leaving after an hour.

      And I totally agree on the childless thing. It’s amazing how our priorities are so much less respected when they’re to ourselves, and not to a spouse or child.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I know for me, just having a plan of action like the one you’ve laid out here is enough to mitigate my social anxiety.

  18. Allison*

    OP, how often do you touch base with your boss? Do you have 1-on-1 sessions? Performance reviews? Find an opportunity to check in about how they really feel about you missing these events or leaving early. Once you get the conversation going you can also explain why your free time is important to you. As long as you’re getting along with your coworkers during the day, a reasonable manager would be okay with you opting out of the socials, or at least most of them.

    Happy hours seem to appeal to two groups of people: people in their early to mid 20’s who love going to bars and appreciate free booze, and older people whose evenings are fairly quiet and boring most of the time. You’re in the beginning of that in-between crowd where you don’t have any parental obligations yet, but you’ve figured out how to have a mature, fulfilling life outside of work that seems to have a solid combination of social activities and self care.

    I will caution that in environments like this, people who attend socials are often favored for promotions over people who don’t. So it’s possible you’ll find yourself stagnating career-wise, and it’s possible that when it comes time to make cuts, you may be more likely to be let go if they feel you’re not “fitting in” with the company as well as the others, but if either happens, it might be for the best if you manage to land at a company that doesn’t place so much stock in these socials.

    My employer has happy hours, and I generally don’t go because they often conflict with evening dance classes*, and luckily no one gives me a hard time for not going, and when I do go I’m usually bored. But last week I decided to grab a glass of wine and stay a while, figuring that by the time I was ready to leave the traffic would be mostly clear, and it was actually a lot of fun! They had delicious finger food, I got to chat with a coworker about dancing, and eventually wound up playing Cards Against Humanity with some engineers. So they’re not always terrible as long as I find the right people to chill with.

    *to be clear here, these aren’t drop-in classes, I spend a good chunk of money at the beginning of the month to take a month-long, weekly series of classes, and in most cases I will fall behind on the material if I’m not there, in addition to not getting my money’s worth.

    1. Original Poster*

      We do have performance reviews once or twice yearly. Maybe I’ll bring this up next time we meeet just to gauge how she really feels about all this, and let her know how I feel. thanks! :)

  19. Ad Astra*

    I am very much a fan of happy hours, but I still feel for you, OP. I tend to resent even well-meaning impositions on my evening/weekend routine.

    It sounds like this is a big part of working at your office, but Alison is right that it’s not a requirement of working at an office. You may find long-term that this company isn’t a great cultural fit for you, and it might make sense to start looking for opportunities at other companies.

    To address your current situation, though, you have some options. You can probably get away with skipping a few happy hours here and there by saying you have some kind of evening commitments; if you want, you can even pretend to be sad about having to make responsible decisions instead of hanging out with your work besties.

    You could also propose a change of venue. Are there some restaurants where you’d feel more comfortable? It’s not clear to me if you’re totally uncomfortable around people drinking alcohol or if you’re just uncomfortable with the “bar scene.” If you feel weird drinking a water, consider ordering plain cranberry juice, so you’ll look the part.

    And yeah, I do like the idea of just bringing this up with whoever’s organizing these outings. They’re likely trying to be inclusive, so they may be quite open to the idea of a different sort of bonding activity. Based on the way you describe your coworkers, it probably wouldn’t hurt to at least ask.

  20. Brett*

    This sort of work-related social environment has been pretty problematic with tech startups in our area too. So much so that mentors have gone out of their way to encourage startups to hire older employees who, thanks to their age and experience, can have the social authority to say, “Hey, stop this, this is not a welcoming work environment.” (Or sometimes it is the mentors themselves doing that.)

    And like Alison said, it is not a welcoming work environment. If your company is full of men in their 20s (not saying the OP’s company is, but tech startups tend to be), drinking oriented events tend to end up being socially awkward for:
    women, older employees, married employees, employees of certain religions, employees with bad experiences with alcohol, employees who simply do not like alcohol, etc.

    I even noticed that there can be cultural isolation just in drinking because different cultures will favor different alcohol or styles of drinking!

    Unfortunately, when your whole team is in their 20s and your boss is probably senior in position, experience, and age and is the one putting the events together, I am not sure who can step in and authoritatively say, “Hold on, rethinking this.”

  21. Gwen*

    I’m not sure if you feel like you “can’t” just have water and then duck out bc of ways your coworkers have actually reacted, but if not…then you totally can! I work in a drinky industry in a drinky city, and my team definitely loves to go out for happy hour. There’s one member of the team who doesn’t drink and when he comes out with us, he does just that. It really shouldn’t be a big deal, even if it feels like one in your head sometimes. Non-drinkers are, in fact ,very popular around my office, because they will give their drink tickets to the rest of us ;) And if your coworkers are weird and pressurey, then they’re the ones who are being unreasonable, so whatever to them.

  22. Noah*

    I will be the first to admit that I actually enjoy going out, even with coworkers. I will often invite others, especially new employees, to go with us because I want them to feel included. If they say no it doesn’t bother me. Sometimes my own plans are Netflix and a couch. I get it, some days I long to just go home to my quiet house and not deal with people.

    I think Alison’s advice here is perfect. Some bonding and socializing with coworkers outside of the office can improve your career. If this was weekly or even monthly I would say you can just not attend every single time. However, a few times a year seems reasonable to me. I’m not saying “suck it up” because I know it is not that easy.

    I’m sure you know this already, but a Sprite or tonic with lime looks just like a vodka tonic. If I’m at an event where everyone is drinking and I’m just not in the mood that is my go to because no one will even notice you’re not drinking.

  23. Stephanie*

    Could you work with your therapist on ways to deal with the events? Unfortunately, it sounds like you’re at a company where it’ll look bad if you skip out on the quarterly happy hour.

    To answer your overarching question, no, mandatory fun events are definitely not a part of all office cultures. Definitely industry and company dependent. I’ve never worked anywhere that had that–most places I’ve worked have had minimal outside socializing–minimal happy hours, low key (or no) holiday parties, etc. I’ve mostly worked in established, more conservative industries (government, law, transportation) where the average employee age skews a bit older. So, in the long run, you could maybe look for positions in more conservative industries or companies? Or just ask more pointed questions about the company culture when you’re interviewing?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I agree. Most places I worked for have had minimal off hours socializing. My husband had one event a year. We went most of the time and we would agree on our exit time before we got there. The problem with his events was that the music was so loud you could not have a conversation anyway. But it was a free meal.

      There’s nothing wrong with feeling like a fish out of water at these things. I think that many people do not enjoy them that much. Sometimes I would look for someone who looked the way I felt on the inside and start talking to that person. I noticed that people are really happy to find someone who will talk to them.

  24. Lady in Pink*

    OP, like you I have anxiety/depression and don’t drink alcohol. If someone asks why you aren’t drinking alcohol, you don’t need to be defensive. I just tell people that I don’t drink for medical reasons and order my Diet Coke. With my anxiety disorder, avoiding alcohol is no different than a lactose intolerant person avoiding dairy. As for leaving early, don’t worry about that either. It’s unreasonable to expect people to stay late at a happy hour on a work night. Mature adults will respect dietary restrictions and wanting to get plenty of sleep for work the next day. If your coworkers don’t respect that, it means they haven’t fully grown up yet. It looks like you are doing everything you need to do to stay healthy. Keep it up!

  25. Cucumberzucchini*

    How about suggesting one of those painting & wine places. That way your coworkers can still enjoy a drink but there’s a distracting activity too. We did one of those for a going away work party and it was a blast.

  26. confused*

    Really? Maybe I am in the minority here, but is this really an issue? Your boss wants to engender a team spirit, so she arranges a happy hour once every 6 months, and comes out of her pocket to buy a round or two of drinks. I get that it’s not your cup of tea, but you say your coworkers really enjoy it. Twice a year you can’t deal with it and show up, drink a couple of club sodas, interact with your coworkers and bail out after a couple hours? I don’t enjoy the company of many of my coworkers either, and I learned a long time ago to never drink alcohol at work functions, or even non-work functions with colleagues, but still, 2 or 3 hours twice per year doesn’t sound like a major imposition.

    1. LBK*

      I think this is one of those things that’s really, really hard to understand if you don’t have social anxiety. It’s a completely unrelatable mindset, especially since most people without it tend to think of it as just an extreme version of how you feel when you have to hang out with your in-laws (or some other non-cliche person you don’t like spending time with) – it’s annoying, but you know you have to do it. This isn’t just “I don’t want to but I can drag myself through it,” it’s “every instinct in my body is telling me not to do this and creating a paralyzing fear”.

    2. Original Poster*

      I shouldn’t have used the word “couple” as I realize taken literally it can mean “two.” It’s more than twice per year, but the main problem here is what LBK mentioned in his/her comment below: anxiety makes everyday occurrences most people can “suck up” into completely awful experiences.

      It’s understandable for those who don’t know what it’s like to not “get” it, but please do understand that people with depression, anxiety, and other “intangible” disorders are really often stigmatized to be over-exaggerators, over-sensitive, crybabies, etc. and this is not at all the case when you actually understand the conditions.

      1. Murphy*

        I absolutely sympathize with your situation, OP, however I do want to say that it sounds like your routine is very, very important to you (again, I get it, it is to me too). I wonder if maybe part of your therapy to deal with the social anxiety you admit to would be to change up or throw out your routine a few times a year (I’d talk to your therapist about this first and about how to cope before and during).

        I wonder if you look at it that way (I’m doing this for me and to help me in the long run – become more flexible/less anxious) rather than as a miserable obligation (damn it, it’s drinking time again. I hate this and I hate that I have to do it and I don’t want to) you wouldn’t dread these events with the same fervour. Maybe not, but maybe something to think about (reframing is a really important tool in the arsenal for those of us who suffer from these issues).

        And wow, that was a lot of parentheses.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I am thinking of it as what is doable for the individual. Suppose my boss said “2-3 days out of the year we are going to spend the afternoon repairing cars.” I am not good at repairing cars. I really don’t know anything about car repair, it’s like everyone is speaking a different language or something. After a few times doing this, it could start to wear a little thin with me. Yeah, I might start getting worried about these events.

      Repairing cars is pretty tame stuff compared to OP’s concerns. But if a person feels like they are in over their head, what OP is describing is what can happen.

  27. Ann O'Nemity*

    I just wrote out a comment that basically – but kindly – suggested that the OP suck it up and go. And then I started thinking about anxieties and realized that I would never give the same advice to an acrophobe being asked to go rock climbing or sky driving for a work retreat.

    So I’m going to change my answer. I think the better approach is what Alison suggested. Talk to the manager and lay out one of the following: “I don’t drink and don’t like being around it, so I need to miss the happy hour event. I’m happy to participate in other team activities like X, Y, Z. Thanks for understanding.” OR “I don’t drink and don’t like being around it, so I plan to stay for only an hour of the happy hour event. Thanks for understanding.”

    1. fposte*

      But if it was somebody with a flying phobia concerned about a couple of business trips, I would actually say “suck it up,” and the OP doesn’t even have a phobia. So I think at least a kindly version of “Make this work for you rather than avoiding it” is valid.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I think I’m looking at team building / bar celebrations as nice-to-have, not as a job requirement. And the job requirements are more likely to be disclosed as part of the hiring process. Someone with a fear of flying can avoid or negotiate around business travel that involves flying before ever accepting an offer.

        1. fposte*

          A lot of business travel is a “nice to have” too, though, and it’s pretty similar in that it’s not necessarily in the job description, it happens out of hours, and it will make a difference in your professional trajectory. That’s how it is for mine, and I had a severe flying phobia. And, as I noted, we’re not even talking a phobia here, so I don’t think it has to rise to the same bar.

          I don’t know how bad the OP’s social anxiety is and how valuable attending these happy hours would be, but I really would discourage just skipping them because of the anxiety, both for professional and for personal reasons.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Eh, I can easily see OP talking to her boss and explaining why happy hours at bars are a problem for her; I can also see OP deciding that two or three times a year is something she can tolerate, and going, having seltzer with a garnish, and hanging around until a reasonable time to go – but that mid-point thing of ‘I’ll go but after an hour I’m leaving’ comes across worse than either.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yeah, my suggested wording could definitely be tweaked. Maybe “so I may duck out a little early.”

  28. the_scientist*

    I understand that this is the social anxiety talking (because I’ve been there myself!) but this is an awful lot of worked up to get over something that happens a few times a year. It’s completely legitimate to be uncomfortable in bars and around alcohol, so I’m not saying categorically that OP needs to suck it up (perhaps propose an alternative activity), but four or five evenings in a year, that are planned in advance are likely not going to have a drastic impact on OP’s fitness routine or caloric intake as she implies they will.

    I don’t know, OP, I don’t think you’re being judgmental of your coworkers necessarily, but in your explanations for why you hate these events, I am reading some potentially judgmental undertones. I think you’re probably giving this additional reasons as justification (again, that’s the anxiety talking), but if you’re attending these events and giving any whiff of judgment towards your colleagues for their food or beverage choices, you need to shut that down. Similarly, it’s really not appropriate for your coworkers to bug you about *not* drinking, or not eating, or whatever. But if you’re sending the message to your colleagues that their food choices or their fitness choices or their lifestyle choices are inferior to yours in any way, that’s not cool, and that’s not going to help your cause. If you’re going to excuse yourself from these events (which I don’t super recommend, because it sounds like this is an office where they are important), it can’t be because you “don’t approve”, but because you’ve “got other commitments”.

  29. INFJ*

    You must be my long lost soul twin. If I don’t take the time to take care of myself (exercise, cook a good meal, get plenty of sleep, don’t drink too much), I feel really off balance in a way that I think most people don’t understand (especially as a 30 year old).

    That being said, I think suggesting similar alternatives, as mentioned above, is the best bet. Especially something like bowling, where they have a bar so your coworkers can drink but you also have something to do. Do any bars in the area have pool tables and/or darts? (Do you like pool and/or darts?)

      1. Original Poster*

        INFJ too! Hey there twins!

        The bar changes every time. We haven’t participated in any activities like darts (or anything other than sitting around a table and drinking) yet, but I’d be all for something like that.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Can you suggest it? Do you always go to bars in the same neighborhood? Is there one there with darts or a pool table or anything like that? Or is there a bowling alley with happy hour, etc?

          Or even better, is there one with trivia? Some of the bars in our area have an electronic trivia game hooked up to the TVs, and it’s fun to play as it gives you something to actually do other than make small talk.

          1. Turanga Leela*

            Pub trivia is a great idea for this problem. Many, many cities have Geeks Who Drink, or you could look for a bar that does independent trivia. Other people can drink, everyone can do trivia, and having something to focus on might help OP’s social anxiety.

          2. irritable vowel*

            I was going to suggest something like bowling, too. Something where those who want to drink can, but drinking (and specifically what people are drinking) is not the focal point.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Definitely suggest it! I bet there are a lot of people who are bored stiff of just sitting around a table drinking, even if they don’t show it.

        3. F.*

          INTJ here! That “J” stands for “judging” which is how we make choices. It is a part of our core personality. I know that I have to be on guard against coming across as aloof and judgmental in social interactions. It requires vigilance. As someone else pointed out, you seem to be more mature in your lifestyle and activities than your coworkers. I’ve been the same way all my life.

  30. AnonymousSuccessStory*

    So one of my kids (early 20s) has pretty visible Aspergers. He doesn’t like being around people, doesn’t like parties, bars, social events, etc. He also does not drink AT ALL, partly because he doesn’t like being drunk, partly because he doesn’t like being around drunk people, and partly because, like in OP’s case, there’s a bit of a history in our family. His brother, his dad, and I are not like that at all – give us a party or a happy hour any day! Anyway, he’s living off his savings and working on his own thing right at the moment, but prior to that, he had a job at a software company. He worked there for a little over a year. Everyone was socializing, going out for drinks together, hiking together, etc. He almost never went. He may have gone out for lunch a few times, but that was it. He would’ve been miserable and bored out of his mind at a bar. No one ever gave him a hard time for not going to bars or not drinking that I know of. He was a good teammate, pulled his weight at work, his colleagues enjoyed working with him, his managers enjoyed having him on their team and that was it. OP, I’m positive that your colleagues and manager will be understanding as well. After all, the fact that they only go out for happy hours twice a year tell me that they don’t consider these events all that mandatory and important – the places that I’ve worked, where all or most of the team were in their 20s, people used to go out once a month or so! I’m pretty sure they’ll be okay with you not attending.

    As for the “whaaat, why?” when you leave? I would not lose sleep over it. The people that are saying it are, at a minimum, buzzed. Maybe they’re trying to be nice and say something about how they’ve enjoyed your company, but after a couple rounds of drinks, what comes out instead is “whaaat?” They are not trying to guilt-trip you into staying!

  31. VolunteerCoordinatorinNOVA*

    I know with my social anxiety, I feel a lot of pressure when I go to these events which I think has more to do with me than other people. Every comment can feel like a minor attack about drinking/not drinking, when I have to leave or anything else. I try and remember that people want me to be there and they’re not trying to make me uncomfortable which often helps reduce my anxiety slightly. I also set up some outs ahead of time (like letting everyone know far ahead of time that you need to leave early) so it doesn’t feel like your leaving early because you don’t like them.

    I also thing suggesting some alternatives where people can drink if they want to but there are other activities (like bowling) is always good. It allows everyone to feel like they are being accommodated.

  32. Jaydee*

    I think anxiety has a way of magnifying everything. First, it makes you obsess over how other people relate to you. Why did she say that? What are they thinking about me? Second, it makes you extra insecure about your own choices. Third, it makes you overcompensate, which can then come off as being judgmental of others. Fourth, it then makes you worry that others think you’re judging them. Basically every thought and interaction is interpreted through a very skewed “what are people thinking about me?” filter. I find it helpful to remember that other people are not thinking about me nearly as much as I am, not as much as I’m thinking about them.

    So Jane sends you an email inviting you to happy hour. She’s thinking “It’s been a few months. I should set up another happy hour for the office. Boozie McGreasington’s Dive Bar is always fun. And next Thursday should be far enough out that people won’t have other plans yet.”

    You get the email and your heart starts racing. You think, “Not another happy hour! Didn’t we just have one like 3 months ago? I don’t want to go… Plus, I think Jane is judging me for not drinking. And, I mean, I used to drink. She knows I used to drink. But after that party where Fergus had to pry Wakeen off me, I just don’t want to drink around my coworkers anymore. But does that seem like a dumb reason? I mean, Wakeen was in the wrong there. And he doesn’t work here any more. But alcohol would really derail my diet and workout plan. And I don’t even like it anyway! But who doesn’t like alcohol? I mean, what kind of weirdo am I? Ohmygawd, Jane probably thinks I’m a total dork. Like that time at lunch last month when I had kale stuck in my teeth and she was all ‘That wouldn’t be a problem if you had ordered a burger!’ But who is she to judge what I eat?!? I’m a grown woman and I can eat whatever the heck I want! Plus it’s way healthier. I mean, if Jane wants to have a heart attack at 40 she can keep eating burgers and drinking her life away. That’s totally mean. What if Jane had a heart attack tomorrow?!? That would be awful. I would never wish that on her. Oh dear, I really should respond to this email. ‘Hi Jane! Thanks for the invite to happy hour next Thursday at Boozie Mc’Greasingtons Dive Bar. It sounds great! I can’t wait!!!!!’ Yeah, I can’t wait for it to be over. Time to crawl under my desk and curl up in a ball and try to remember how to breathe.”

    Jane gets your response and thinks “Oh great, Lucinda will be there! That makes 5 of us so far. I should call ahead and see if they’ll hold the big table in the corner.”

      1. Glamazon*

        I dunno. I’m in my head all day worrying and yet I still have time to be a Judgey Judgerson concerning other people. I don’t think I’m unique in that respect.

        1. Afiendishthingy*

          Yeah, but you’re still not thinking about any one person as much as ze’s thinking about zirself.

    1. F.*

      This used to be so me! I’ve gotten a little better with age, though I am already dreading Christmas Eve with my husband’s very loud, hard drinking, chain smoking relatives.

    2. VolunteerCoordinatorinNOVA*

      Totally agree! My anxiety causes me to overthink and go to the worst case situation on everything. I always had this feeling with anxiety while I was on campus in college. If someone was laughing, they were laughing at my outfit or that my hair looked weird or something else like that. My therapist said to me that everyone is usually so into what their doing/the group of people their with that they don’t spend all this time worry about random people they don’t know. There are always crappy people in the world looking to make others feel bad but I think most people are generally so focused on themselves (not in a bad way) that people don’t have the time to completely focused on others actions.

  33. CADMonkey007*

    At some point, you need to be confident in what is right for you, to hell with what your coworkers might think. Good for you for knowing your limits and giving priority to your health. Just be polite and excuse yourself as need be.

    If it were me, I’d request this happy hour take place over dinner, and if the rest of the group wants to hang out at the bar afterwards that’s their business.

  34. irritable vowel*

    As others have said, if the cohort of workers you have now stays the same, they will eventually age out of this behavior. When people get to a stage in their life where they have a serious partner or get married, they are more than likely going to want to spend time with that person rather than get drunk with their co-workers after work. I’ve been in this kind of work atmosphere where everyone is young, unattached, and overly enthusiastic–it’s like an extension of college. Eventually that gets old (literally). You get less able to tolerate hangovers and less willing to feel gross the next day, or you embarrass yourself in front of your coworkers by getting too drunk, and the group will start to drift away from these outings. And/or someone on your team will get pregnant, you might have a new coworker who doesn’t drink for religious reasons–people who can’t be given shit about not drinking or leaving early. Since it’s a couple of times a year, I think just grit your teeth and bear it (unless the social anxiety makes it truly intolerable, in which case you should give an excuse why you can’t go at all). No one can force you to socialize outside work–it’s not a condition of your employment.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I agree. Life has gotten simpler since I have gotten older. The pressures shifted or went away, and I learned to worry less. A lot of this stuff just disappears. I can remember being the only one not drinking. Now, I have some balance, I remember drinking, seriously drinking, so I feel “BTDT and I want to do something else.” And also, my more of my peers don’t or can’t drink.
      For me I noticed people not drinking so much when they got into their 30s. Matter of fact a friend just quit drinking and he is in his early 30s.

      Things do shift, OP. It won’t always look like this.

      1. Rana*

        This. One of the happiest realizations of my thirties was noticing that I no longer needed to attend loud drinking parties in order to have a social life.

  35. INTP*

    OP, in the long term you might want to look at whether you can tolerate a more corporate, formal environment. Though it can be nerve-wracking at first, they can also be better for social anxiety because once you learn the formalities there’s a structure for every situation – you don’t have to figure out how to come across as effortlessly cool and savvy without a rulebook because they insist that there is no rulebook. And these events are much lower-pressure than they are in more young and homogenous environments. They’ll often happen at a bar or happy hour, but they’re more understanding about people not being able to make it and less bothered by people not drinking at them. When your coworkers range from 25 to 65 and have a range of lifestyles due to kids, grandkids, health conditions, etc, they can’t expect everyone to be and act the same to the same extent (plus a lot of young people haven’t dealt with responsibilities or health issues and can just be really insensitive about them – I say this as a 29 year old).

    I do think that going to a few events per year is just part of working. At the least, there will be a holiday party and a happy hour or picnic or something in the summer. However, the pressure to conform (without calling it “conforming” because they’re far too laid back for that!) and drink and have your reputation and mobility within the organization determined largely by how convincingly you conform and drink is NOT universal.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I mentioned above here also, but it might be worthwhile for OP to look at. I used to look for places that had people of all different ages working there. I just felt more comfy. Just a thought, OP.

  36. J*

    I drink moderately but I don’t really like drinking right after work or drinking more than one or two beers in work settings. I exercise after work, sometimes run errands, and even if I have absolutely nothing going on, I usually don’t want to start downing drinks right at 5pm. I try to skip out on these but it’s hard sometimes.

  37. blackcat*

    This conversation is making me nostalgic for the happy hours my old job used to have. It was at a private school, and at the end of the marking period, the boss would host a happy hour. It would start whenever people could get away (typically like 3:30-3:45). One group would leave ~4:30 when the daycare everyone used for babies/toddlers had pick up. Everyone else would head out around 5:30, when the school’s aftercare was up. It was always a lot of fun, and at completely civilized hours! Most people had 1 drink, quite a few just had apps & soda. OP, I was younger then than you are now, and I was all like “I have found my bar buddies! And they are 40.” (The median age of my coworkers was somewhere ~45. I was one of two under 30).

    I am now in grad school, surrounded by a decidedly younger crew and I do not do drinks at 8pm. My bedtime is 9! But at least my prior experience tells me that this fades with age. So OP, there is hope!

  38. KH*

    So I know this is already a long thread, but I wanted to throw out the following:

    It sounds like you do a lot of declining invitations (like you said, turning down invites to lunch) or leaving early (compared to the rest of the people there) to every single happy hour. Maybe it would make sense to budget yourself (and I mean budget in an emotional/mental preparedness sense) for X number of lunches a month and X number of events a year. Even if that’s only 1 lunch a month and 1 long happy hour per year, it’s better than ALWAYS being the person who says no, leaves early, drinks only water, etc.

    Even in companies I’ve worked where there wasn’t a “frat” culture (as you’ve described it), there were still opportunities to go out to lunch or go for a drink after work. And after a while, if someone always says no and/or always leaves early, it does kind of come across as a little bit of “I don’t deign to socialize with you” – especially if you combine that with the fitness/healthy eating discrepancy that you describe.

    (And as an aside, I was the fitness/health person in my office – I lost 110 lbs via a pretty significant lifestyle change. But I also realized that constantly turning down offers to go to lunch or to go out for a drink after work did very much make me look like I was passing judgement on my co-workers for their lifestyle choices. I made it a point to say “yes” to at least one lunch invitation each month. Even at the junkiest burger joint, you can find something that will work for you – a grilled chicken sandwich or even a bunless burger with extra lettuce.)

  39. Mena*

    You say Boss takes the group out a coupe times a year.
    I suggest you g0, drink what you prefer (soda water?) and decide that you’ll leave at the mid-point.
    My office has alcohol everywhere and frequent social gatherings with alcohol and I can’t tell you who drinks and who does not – no one is watching or paying attention.
    I think the social anxiety you mention is the bigger issue here and not the alcohol.

  40. Not So NewReader*

    I have to ask you, OP, but don’t answer here, do you sometimes feel like a round peg in a square hole?
    I know you love your job. But could you do the same thing for a company that was more like minded with you?
    I am wondering if some of your weightier concerns come from a subconscious nagging that you are not with your peeps. The folks sound pretty different from you. Others have cautioned you about casually saying, “oh no, thanks, I won’t be going to lunch. I brought a salad.” This kind of comment can echo in people’s heads just the way their begging you to stay at the bar echoes in your head. See? It’s the same echo-y effect but for different reasons.

    I will be honest. I could not do what you are doing and I never could. I don’t know if everyone noticed or not, but I saw where you commented about taking public transportation home and not feeling safe. I saw you comment about being chased and forcibly kissed by a cohort. Then when we add in discomfort in social situations, not drinking or eating when others are, etc, there is layer upon layer of things that are WORK to get through. Real work. It’s no wonder to me you have anxiety and depression. I’d be beside myself, too.

    I think you need to do something to help yourself feel safer in this world. It appears to me that you have legit reasons for not feeling safe. I am not sure what you would do to feel safer, only you would be able to know.

    When I got myself to a safer place a lot of the social concerns, etc, went down. When I got to be around people who were more like-minded, my internal stresses when down yet again.

    Just my opinion, OP, but I think the whole thing with the bar events is a symptom, not the actual problem. I think the actual problem is you need to get to a better space. And “a better space” is whatever that means to you.

    Most people here are saying you need to socialize with your cohorts in order to grow, I will add one thing. If you are in your niche, if you are well aligned with your job and company, it will not be as hard as it is now. Notice I am not saying it will be easy, but it will not be as hard, as costly and as exhausting as it is now.

    1. fposte*

      I really, really like this post. I was thinking this myself about the OP seeming to feel like these just weren’t her people and that therefore it sounded like there was a social anxiety loop where everything else seemed just to emphasize that to her.

      I also think it’s really tough in the mid-20s–a lot of people are still kind of in college mode on drinking and, sometimes, on moving in a pack. I don’t think it helps the OP right now, but I think this problem will likely take care of itself in a few years.

      1. neverjaunty*

        If you are in your niche, if you are well aligned with your job and company, it will not be as hard as it is now.

        Yes. This is an excellent point.

    2. Ruffingit*

      And this post is one of the many reasons I adore NSNR! Wonderful post, I hope the OP takes it in and thinks about it.

    3. Original Poster*

      This is probably the best reply by far, thank you.

      I definitely don’t feel like I totally fit in with everyone here, and I HAVE been considering a move for a few months now. There’s a fitness company I have my eye on that my friend works for and loves, but there are no openings as of now and I’ve been watching the job boards like a hawk. THEIR social events do include the occasional happy hour, but more often include going to fitness classes and races, having competitive sports days similar to those you had once per year in gym class, etc. That wouldn’t feel like work to me–it would feel like play!

      Until then, I’m just looking for the best way to make it through the stuff I don’t like about my current job, because there are definitely some good things about the job itself. :)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        If the next event is coming soon, promise yourself it is your last one, because you are going to knock it out of the park on your next interview for job.

        If you go to the event, consider using a buddy system. Is there someone there that seems like they have your back? If yes, try to hitch your wagon to theirs somehow. Bum a ride. Ask them to save you a seat next to them. Not sure of your setting, but I think you see what I mean. Find a way so that you have reasons to be next to this “friendly”.

        If you seriously just. cannot. do. it. one more time, tell your boss that your doctor wants you to go home from work and get plenty of rest. Don’t expand on that explanation, just let it go at that. If she says “oh but…” You just apologize and restate, “Doctor’s marching orders.” The key here is to sound like you agree with her, it is soooo sad that you cannot go.

  41. LadyCop*

    tl;dr You’re not an “old soul” just because you don’t drink *eyeroll* and here’s some news for you OP, if you don’t like modern corporate culture there are a majority of jobs out there that have nothing to do with that environment…so quit whining.

    P.S. I’m so over everyone and their mother with anxiety. I have PTSD. No one ever gave me any sympathy or any breaks. Get over it. /rant

      1. Original Poster*

        Thanks Alison. I originally posted this question on Reddit and was more or less assaulted with these kinds of responses, so it’s nice to know I have a more understanding forum of people to talk to here. :)

    1. Amylee*

      Here’s some sympathy for you, since your life is so sadly lacking in it. I am so, so sorry that you have PTSD and that people have not been kind to you. That is horrible and unfair. You deserved better. And I am sorry that it has made you bitter enough to post a comment like this. That’s a terrible thing to have happen to you.

      I hope and pray that your life will get better, that you will get the help you clearly need, and that one day you will be able to treat others with compassion once more.

    2. ancolie*

      The fact no one gave you any sympathy or breaks is crappy and unfair. As Amylee said, you deserve better and you have my sympathy, too.

      Compassion, sympathy, empathy, understanding … none of them are fixed or finite resources. When a new member joins your circle of family or friends, loving them doesn’t mean you have to take feelings of love away from other members. The world needs more love and compassion towards those outside our personal monkey spheres; it’s slow-going, but as a species we *are* getting there.

  42. Rachael*

    To the original poster, I just wanted to let you know that I could have written this exact same letter when I was your age. It is unfortunate that people can’t just let people live how they want without expecting them to conform to their idea of social standards. Who cares if you don’t feel like drinking? I always wondered why other people cared so much about the fact I don’t like getting totally drunk. It seems very immature and insecure. Also, as an introvert (and I’m guessing you might be too), we sometimes get outnumbered by extroverts who don’t understand or respect that all this team building, bonding, socializing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Our culture favors extrovertism unfortunately.

    I now work in a university where this is not the type of culture at all. If at all possible, you might consider the non-profit or higher ed sector. Sometimes, not always but sometimes, there is less of this. I also work in an office of fellow introverts.

    I feel your pain!

  43. whatshappyabouthappyhouranyway*

    dear original poster, how wonderful to find this post as i am now sitting feeling so frustrated about this subject. in my case, it is not my work culture but my significant other’s. I am like you an old soul – I love being in environments where I am inspired or growing, and the whole bars scene is just not it for me. And i also have a lot of personal history that makes extremely uncomfortable with the idea of excessive drinking and the whole happy hour obsession. He unfortunately loves it, and he is completely okay sipping drink after drink and B.S.-ing [his term] the night away.

    its just breaking my heart as I am now questioning so many things..
    For folks like us, how do even get around this in personal life is a mystery.

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