Stag dos, love and sadness: the challenges men face going alcohol-free

Marcus Barnes | May 2019 | 8 minutes

Marcus shares some of the challenges of going alcohol-free as a man: "The only times in my entire life when male friends have uttered those three magic words, 'I love you,' have been under the influence"

Giving up booze is very difficult, there is no doubt about that. For men, it can often be even harder to live a sober life than for anyone else.

While the world is gradually moving towards a more open, gender-equal way of being, we are still a long way off. Granted, there are lots of sensitive guys who are in touch with their emotions and find it easy to express them.

By and large though, many of us are still suppressing our feelings, raised to be 'strong' and punished for any of the so-called negative emotions that one can experience.

For many British blokes, a beer down the pub with a few mates or a lads’ night out may well be the only place he can permit himself to truly let off some steam. The pub is our sanctuary, where good company and a good drink go hand in hand. In a lot of cases it’s integral to masculine socialising.

Besides business meet ups, it’s extremely rare for my male friends to suggest we go for a coffee and catch up. It’s always, always, “Let’s go for a pint”. A casual meet up to discuss feelings and emotions is just not the done thing. Anytime you’re going through some drama, one of the easiest things to do is go and get smashed with a mate / some mates.

A casual meet up to discuss feelings and emotions is just not the done thing. Anytime you’re going through some drama, one of the easiest things to do is go and get smashed with a mate.

Of course, women do this too. But they usually have the option of a sober heart-to-heart, without feeling weird about it. Whether that’s a long phone call, a catch up at a cafe or round someone’s house, for women there is way more scope for self-expression.

This is not always the case for guys. All the scoldings we got as youngsters for being weak, or a ‘sissy’ or a cry baby, have led to our emotions being buried, usually with a mountain of shame piled on top of them. So boozing becomes the standard gateway for letting it all out. To compound this, other men can also be afraid of encountering those emotions. “I’m not feeling good,” will be met with, “Come on mate, a drink will sort you out!” We aren’t always able to help the person who’s trying to tell us they’re hurting.

We often make up for that lack of close connection by forming packs. Becoming part of the pack means adopting its mentality. Stag dos are a perfect case in point. Woe betide the man who turns up to a stag do and proudly proclaims his sobriety... Not acceptable. It’s seen as a disruption to the dynamic of the event, the main purpose of which is usually to get as smashed as possible.

How do you fit into this riotous ethos when you don’t drink anymore? Peer pressure rears its ugly head, and everything from the fact that it’s someone’s special occasion to the notion that you’ll be a ‘fun sponge’ gets trotted out to guilt trip you into joining the pack. “Lads! Lads! Lads!”

Everything from the fact that it’s someone’s special occasion to the notion that you’ll be a ‘fun sponge’ gets trotted out to guilt trip you into joining the pack. “Lads! Lads! Lads!”

Take the stag do model and replicate that for every birthday, wedding, christening, lads holiday, weekend away, Friday or Saturday night out, Sunday lunch, football game, quiet night at the pub - anywhere you’ll be spending time with a group of men who like/want/need/rely on a drink - and you’re almost certainly going to encounter the full spectrum of peer pressure. From gentle ribbing and horse play to being cast away as an outright pariah.

I can’t write about men and booze without mentioning the ‘L word’. This is perhaps the epitome of intoxicated masculinity and its ability to lift the veil on the deepest parts of a man and present it to his friends. The only times in my entire life when male friends have uttered those three magic words, “I love you,” have been under the influence. I don’t know how often sober women say it to each other, but I can tell you that it is extremely rare for men. Unless, of course, they’re inebriated.

The only times in my entire life when male friends have uttered those three magic words, “I love you,” have been under the influence.

Love is pushed way down deep, suppressed under layer upon layer of shame, fear, machismo posturing, jokes and mickey-taking. Some men even express their love for each other by fighting. Violence becomes the only way they know how to channel those intense feelings. Crazy. No wonder male suicide rates are so high and instances of male violence are still shockingly high, too.

This is the world we live in – but change is coming. My personal experiences with other guys around being alcohol-free are largely positive nowadays. Being open about where you’re at with sobriety, your reasons and your genuine commitment can be very useful in convincing male friends that you’re serious and getting them onside.

The real change lies with your own internal progress. If you feel comfortable with yourself, you can bring a grounding, trusting energy to any occasion or environment, and can lift everyone up with you and make them feel at ease without alcohol.

For change on a bigger scale, we need to change how we bring up boys. We need to help them to acknowledge their feelings, and give them space to express them freely. That way we’ll raise a generation of happier, better men, who’ll be even freer to choose whether to drink and who won’t need to rely on alcohol to hear and say, “I love you.”

  • Follow Marcus on Instagram: @mgoldenbarnes
  • The next Sober Spring x Bumble sober social will be in Manchester on 6 June. Save the date and look out for the ticket link in upcoming emails, or on @unexpectedjoyof on Instagram.