Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.
Valerie Frankel is a bestselling novelist and an award-winning journalist. Her new memoir, “It’s Hard Not to Hate You,” was recently described as “Cathartic, entertaining, funny, warm” by Publishers Weekly. She’s written twenty-four other books (including the new novel “Four of a Kind”) and contributed to dozens of publications including The New York Times, Self, Allure, Glamour, Parenting and Good Housekeeping. Her memoir, “Thin Is the New Happy” was called “Rueful, zestful and surprisingly funny,” by The New York Times. Frankel co-authored “Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery” with Joan Rivers. Frankel collaborated with Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi on her novels “A Shore Thing” and “Gorilla Beach.” She’s currently working with fashion expert Stacy London on a book about the power of personal style. www.valeriefrankel.com
How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
My first drink(s) was at my father’s 40th birthday party at our house in Short Hills, NJ. I was 13. My sister and I were “hired” to clear glasses and plates, and generally help keep things organized in the kitchen. We’d get paid $5 for the work—at lot of money for a kid back in 1978. If any of the guests left their glass on a table for a minute, I’d whisk it away with supreme servile efficiency. It occurred to my sister and I to take sips of the half-finished drinks, just to taste them, and maybe get buzzed. I wound up sampling wine, beer, a dozen cocktails, liqueurs, all night long, or until I passed out on my bed. In the morning, I had my first savage hangover, first morning dash to the bathroom (and almost, but not quite, making it to the toilet in time to puke up my 13-year-old guts), and first experience with drunken shame. The only thing that made me feel slightly better was that my father was in even worse shape than I was that morning. Turning 40 wasn’t a smooth transition for him.
My mom and dad both came from families with alcoholics—my mom’s mom and dad’s dad. As a result, my mom is a teetotaler. She might have a sip of Bailey’s after a really hard day, but otherwise, she doesn’t drink at all. My dad drinks, though. Beer on a hot summer day. Wine with dinner. The rare martini. He came home hammered on some memorable occasions during my childhood, which set off some screaming fights between Mom and Dad. By and large, compared to a lot of their friends, my parents were conservative drinkers. The message I got as a kid from them, largely based on how disgusted they were by their own parents, was that drinking is shameful and embarrassing. It turned otherwise intelligent people into cruel, raving monsters. Their respective parents—nasty drunks—were excellent examples of how a few Scotch and sodas could cause a gross distortion in affect, or, more accurately, let the true personality creep out of the cage.
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
I drink rarely, about once or twice a month. If we go out to dinner and I don’t have work to do later that night, I’ll get a vodka tonic or vodka seltzer. I drink champagne to celebrate finishing a book or at a party or event. I cook with red wine. Even when I drank a lot in college, I was never into it the way my classmates were. They LOVED getting wasted, and I respected the urge. I was always more of a pothead than a beer guzzler. Some things don’t change as we get older.
If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?
I have two teenage daughters. My message to them as been pretty consistent: When you drink, you can become seriously impaired and might wind up making a dangerous mistake. When you smoke pot—which is illegal, even if it shouldn’t be—the worst that’ll happen is that you’ll eat too much ice cream. I have told them, given the choice, I’d prefer they get high than get drunk. In my opinion, based on extensive research, pot is a hundred times safer. Safety has to come first.
We rarely have booze in the house, so the3 girls don’t have much opportunity to sneak shots and then add water to the bottle (like I did growing up). I’ve certainly let my girls sip from the wine glass, on the theory that forbidden fruit is the most alluring.
I drank the most between the ages of 16 and 26. That’s probably typical for the majority of Americans. Drinking in high school was the way to be cool and rebellious. Alcohol is institutionalized in college. At Dartmouth, where I went, it was practically part of the curriculum. I partied during my single years postgrad in New York, mainly because my friends and I went to bars and clubs to meet guys. I got engaged to a non-drinker at 27, and had my first daughter at 30. By then, I’d pretty much stopped going to bars and clubs, and that was that.
Has drinking ever affected-either negatively or positively-a relationship of yours?
My second and current husband came from a drinking family, and he has a need to go to the neighborhood bar a couple nights a week to drink beer. I appreciate that this is his thing, even if I don’t understand the urge and am often annoyed by it. Ironically, when we first started dating, we drank a lot together in the middle of the day, tumbled into bed, and had a blast. But that was then. Ten years later, I’ve become the teetotaler nag my mother was to my dad. So. Yeah. Self-awareness is a bitch.
What do you like most about drinking?
Drinking is a social lubricant. At parties and dinners, I use a cocktail to relax and open up. Two is my limit. If I have a third drink, I get loud and stupid, and that’s not going to win me prizes in a social setting. But I do love the instant easing of tension after the first drink. I’m such a lightweight, I feel the calm often after the first sip.
Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?
I don’t see it as something I have to deliberate about. It’s not a choice not to drink. I just don’t have the inclination. Although I enjoy how the first and second drink make me feel for a couple of hours, the hangover sets in at hour three, and I start to regret having drank at all. Also, if I have a glass of wine at dinner, my night is shot as far as work goes. No way will I crank out one more page if I’ve had even a sip of my husband’s beer. The day after is shot, too. I suppose I never romanticized alcohol, since my earliest memories of my maternal grandmother quaffing Scotch and chain smoking Vantage cigarettes at breakfast made feel nauseated. The memory still does.