The Solitary Drink

Man sits alone at bar in daytime

Is it OK to drink alone? One man attempts to break the habitual routine.

 “I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that’s wonderful.”—Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

I’ve meditated for most of my life. After I began my meditation practice in earnest I fell in love with going on solitary retreat. I would lock myself up in a cabin for a week or two, cook three meals a day, meditate, go for the occasional walk, and enjoy my own company. I came to love that time of being with myself.

Left to my own devices, devoid of television and laptop, I would spend many hours in quiet contemplation, sometimes bemoaning past mistakes, sometimes making heart-felt aspirations for the future, or simply being in the present. It was glorious.

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The thing is it was easier to hole up in the cabin when I was still a student. Lots of school breaks meant for plenty of time to balance solitary retreat with vacations, visiting friends, and work. Upon graduation, I didn’t stop meditating but the solitary retreats have become few and far between. Either I’ll go to a meditation center for a few weeks and receive teachings with a group or lock myself up in my apartment to meditate for a week, with two animals and my lovely lady as company.

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It was five years ago that I enjoyed my first solitary drink. I remember it well. Living in Boston, I frequented Matt Murphy’s pub. That particular evening though, my friends were all busy and my favorite bartender had the night off. I sat down at the bar alone. The place was virtually empty. I wondered what I was even doing there. But a few words and the bartender slowly poured my Auchentoshan. I paused. Something felt familiar.

After spending the full day running from one meeting to the next, squeezing in e-mails and phone calls, and speaking with all sorts of people, I had a chance to be alone again. I took a moment to contemplate what that meant for me, and it became clear: this drink was my moment of solitude.

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Even if I can’t always run off to the woods and lock myself up for weeks on end, I can still enjoy a solitary drink. Drinking can mean different things to different people: some people drink to escape, some to celebrate, some to cover over their pain. For me, in that moment, I had a drink as a means to carve out some time to be alone.

I tasted my scotch. It was smoky, and just a little bit chilled. I listened to the sounds of the bar. I relaxed into the present moment. Then, not unlike my time in solitary retreat, my mind would occasionally wander. I reflected on my work, my choice of career, my passions, and all of the things I would do if I convinced myself I had the time to do them. I took this drink as a moment for self-reflection.

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In the years since then, I have had the pleasure of slipping in the occasional solitary drink, allowing myself the pleasure of my own company. While it may not be a substitute for solitary retreat, it’s a lovely way to cut through my habitual routine and take a fresh look at my mind and life. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that’s wonderful.

Photo RobertHuffstutter/Flickr

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About Lodro Rinzler

Lodro Rinzler is a teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and the author of the books "The Buddha Walks into a Bar" and "Walk Like a Buddha". Over the last decade he has taught numerous workshops at meditation centers and college campuses throughout North America. Lodro’s columns appear regularly on the Huffington Post and Marie Claire and he is frequently featured in Reality Sandwich, the Interdependence Project, Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma, and Good Men Project. He is the founder of the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, an authentic leadership training and job placement organization, and lives in Brooklyn with his dog Tillie and his cat Justin Bieber.

Comments

  1. I have always had the fear of drinking alone. Maybe it is because I like drinking and the way it makes me feel and the thought of drinking alone crosses that “line”. I live in Boston and a woman drinking alone even has more connotations especially in a bar. Once in a while I will but something just holds me back. It has to be an especially bad day or else I just drink at home where no one can see me.

  2. Jen – thank you for this perspective! I have to admit, I didn’t think of what it must be like for a woman siting alone at a bar when I first wrote this piece. It sounds like it is indeed a different experience. I am curious to hear from other people (both male and female) who have had a solo drink and if men are equally worried of connotations and what those might be…

  3. wellokaythen says:

    Our society tends to pathologize anything that you do alone. Think about what the word “loner” conjures up in people’s minds. (I remember a graduation speech in which the speaker told us in the audience that if you want to be successful, you have to be outgoing. Excuse me?) Combine that with the puritanical obsession with the evils of alcohol and our mania for seeing addiction everywhere, and we’re now supposed to see drinking alone as a sign that you are a suicidal alcoholic in a shame spiral.

    If you spend a lot of time alone by choice, and you enjoy doing things mindfully in solitude, then I don’t see why drinking should be any different.

    Now, if you’re really gregarious and outgoing about everything else in your life but consume alcohol out of sight of anyone else, then that could be sign that something troubling is going on. But, sitting by yourself in a bar drinking is nothing to be ashamed of by itself.

    (Of course, if this is what you do for breakfast, I can see some cause for concern…..)

  4. Being a born loner a nice bottle of good Scotch and some soft jazz make for great relaxing time alone.

  5. “Our society tends to pathologize anything that you do alone.”

    So true. A woman eating or drinking alone either has something wrong with her or really just wants to be hit on. A man masturbating is socially and sexually inept. A woman walking alone is just trying to put herself in danger. The person dancing alone on the dance floor is crazy.

  6. You know, there are easily recognizable distinctions that could cause one to worry – say drinking a full bottle of wine or whiskey to oneself in an early afternoon would make me wonder. But – when I come home from work and the house is quiet, and I have a 3-ounce serving of cognac while I read something that I have an interest in outside of my work – that is special.

    And while I may have another while waiting for my partner to arrive home – once dinner gets going there is less of an emphasis upon the drink and more on the doing.

    I am okay having a 3-4 ounce sip on my own, and for some reason it does feel special.

  7. i find no one seems to know what to do with a woman having a drink alone. there is something about enjoying a good cocktail with one’s own thoughts. :)

  8. Kei-Won-Tia says:

    I feel like I’m in the company of friends and comrades when I say that I like to experience my life through the calming and analytical perspective of my own mind. Pondering, contemplating, having passing thoughts of memories and realizations.. just breathing in everything around me. And I, as a woman, find few things more peaceful than a quiet drink alone. On any particularly busy day, you might find me sitting alone at the bar of a local restaurant, with a reuben and a disaronno on the rocks.

    I’m not sure what the connotations may be about a woman drinking alone, but I greatly enjoy the experience. Without being bothered, my existence is made known. I am here; I live.. I feel in control, regardless of my day, because sitting there, alone, drinking alone, eating alone, as not a single word passes my lips .. I am where I want to be and I am doing what I want to be doing.

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