Not to paint myself as a big drinker, but I love a good glass of wine. A nice Chard or a Chianti with a friend makes me genuinely smile. Even before the effects of the alcohol kick in.
I spent some time in the Arabian Gulf last month, a part of the world that is "dry" (i.e. there's no alcohol).
Combined with some other factors of being in the region – namely the oppressive 40-plus degree heat and the restrictive dress code that had me suffering in the environment – immersing myself in a dry culture was miserable. Not because I wanted to get drunk every day, but rather, I found socialising without wine and beer to be dull.
This isn't just because being unable to drink felt punitive, but also, I missed out on the connections I normally have when socialising with my usual pot-valiance.
I'm the kind of guy who will walk right up to new people and introduce myself, simply because they look like they'll have good chat.
I've done it everywhere from the beaches of Chile to the streets of Rome, and I always have the most success when there are two glasses of something cold and boozy in my belly.
Teetotallers judge people like me who require alcohol as a social lubricant. They believe we shouldn't need it; that we should be naturally self-assured and charismatic and able to enjoy ourselves without what is – quite literally – a drug that chemically alters our minds.
Yet I am not intrinsically self-assured. Nor do I think my personality stands up by itself without help. I rely on alcohol to loosen up, to do away with fear of embarrassment and rejection. I also need it to give me a sort of magnetic confidence that others want to engage with.
Travelling around the Gulf where public drinking is forbidden made me realise that alcohol makes me extroverted (when naturally, I'm quite the introvert).
I don't like my natural state when socialising completely sober. It causes me to be quiet and standoffish, and it's not fun for me. It's lonely, even, and in this instance made connecting with people feel like a chore.
When I was in restaurants in the United Arab Emirates I didn't feel like I could smile and make eye contact with people. In Qatar, I didn't feel comfortable chatting to people when in line for takeaway food. In night markets in Oman, I didn't feel like I could strike up conversation with a fellow traveller and invite them to hang out for a few hours.
And when I did try, I noticed (and judged) all of the awkward silences, the bad jokes, the civic and cultural disconnects. I didn't have the lingering grape-fuelled lunches (fruit juice and Diet Pepsi don't result in long discussions under a sun umbrella). Nor did the shisha or coffee alternatives do anything to make evenings in a cafe more fun. In turn, I left each place feeling socially unfulfilled; as if I didn't connect with people the way I reliably enjoy.
None of this happens when I have a drink in hand. This is why I prefer alcohol. It lightens my mood and inhibits my discomfort. It makes my conversation flow easily. It makes me funny – charming, even. It allows me to be my best self.
In that part of the world, smoking is ubiquitously used in place of drinking as a social connector, but it wasn't something I was willing to try. Tobacco doesn't have the same metaphysical and psychosocial benefits as liquor.
It was a struggle to be dry. Abstaining from alcohol is part of the faith for those in the region I went to. I accepted that in going there. Yet when I had no choice but to teetotal too, I couldn't help but leave thinking there were social experiences I could have otherwise had.