A Case Against Happy Hour
“We’ll Take Another Round—Or Two”
At my first office job out of college, we had a bar cart in the team common room. On Fridays, around 4 p.m., my boss would pop open a bottle of wine, or bring out the whiskey. My coworkers and I, we’d drink while wrapping up our last tasks and responding to emails, and then some of us would go out for a “team happy hour” at a nearby restaurant.
We’d order fun cocktails and share plates of cheap appetizers, our conversation becoming louder and more animated as the drinks continued to flow. By the time I Ubered home to my husband for dinner, I was usually too tipsy and tired to do anything other than order takeout and collapse on the couch.
Those early work years in my 20s were my first introduction to the concept of happy hour, but also to how booze can transform conversations. Unlike college parties with cheap liquor and beer, my coworkers and I weren’t drinking to get drunk, at least not obviously so, but rather to loosen up and enjoy ourselves.
For an introvert like myself, I was also drawn to the way a drink helped me get out of my head; a glass of wine or two, and suddenly chatting with others felt much less intimidating. I could finally put myself out there and be the outgoing version of myself I felt was necessary to succeed.
My love for happy hour soon began to overflow into my personal life. I found myself craving the courage alcohol offered more often with friends and even family members. Soon, I was no longer comfortable in conversation without a drink in my hand, so if someone wanted to get together, I’d suggest we go for a happy hour.
We’d visit a brewery—the college town I was living in had one on nearly every block—or ride bikes to the nearest taproom. One fall, I visited a friend in Charleston, and she showed me her “happy hour book” organized by day, time, and restaurant; I resolved to make one for my city too.
Everyone’s relationship with alcohol is different. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my own drinking throughout the pandemic, as reports have shown that many of us increased our alcohol intake during the last two years. Do I drink to feel good? To relax? To forget? To help bring me out of my shell so I can better connect with others? Maybe it’s all of the above, but that last one definitely sticks out for me—even the science points to drinking helping some of us to become more social.
But while I find the discourse surrounding alcohol consumption and how we swing on a pendulum of abstinence and overindulgence fascinating, I don’t necessarily think that’s what this is about. I’m not here to make a case about whether or not Americans have a drinking problem or how much alcohol we should or shouldn’t be consuming.
My argument is not about drinking at all, really, but rather about our relationships and how we choose to interact with others. It’s about how we, often subconsciously, head to the bar or the pub to be social when we want to build a deeper connection with someone. It’s unironic how happy hours begin when the traditional workday ends, targeting tired employees who are easy to convince with discounted pints and two-for-one wells.
A drink with friends is relaxing, until it isn’t. Because while I’ve experienced the liquid courage of happy hour, I’ve also fumbled my words more than once—or worse—made a comment I regretted the next morning.
I’ve also mistakenly believed alcohol is necessary to have deep and vulnerable conversations, though this is far from true. Alcohol not only impairs judgment, but it can lead to a false sense of genuineness, vulnerability, or connection. Many times, with relationships I’ve first built on the precept of getting drinks together, sober interactions feel more awkward and forced.
I’ve been thinking recently about how I want more from my relationships. Do I enjoy having the occasional drink with others? Of course. These moments can be fun and memorable, and I’ve had many interesting discussions at tables where wine is readily pouring. But I don’t want this to become my only interaction with others—keyword being only. I don’t want to miss out on who people truly are when they’re sober because our entire relationship revolves around grabbing drinks; I don’t want them to miss out on sober me, introverted as I sometimes am.
That old saying about true feelings coming out when someone drinks liquor? Perhaps there is some truth to it. But there is also truth to this: When we are clear-minded and genuine in our interactions with others, we can create more meaningful and lasting relationships. I’d argue that’s more than any happy hour can offer.
It starts by being true to ourselves and inviting friends to participate in the activities we love most. What better way to get to know someone than to see them in an environment where they feel most like themselves? For me, that’s in nature, so hiking with friends or going camping is a must. I also love music and dancing; concerts offer a sober high that far exceeds a night of drinks.
Other ideas include taking an art class together or going to a weekend farmers market. I recently had a wonderful time chatting with a friend as we wandered the stalls of a local craft fair. Identify the sober activities you love, then share them with others, and vice versa.
It’s not about giving up happy hour or drinking alcohol; instead, it’s about enriching our lives and our relationships with additional experiences that don’t always involve liquor. Sometimes they can, but do they always have to? Should the bar be our first and only invitation? Maybe we can find ways to connect with another person without the need for “liquid courage.”
Kayti Christian (she/her) is a Senior Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people.