From time to time, 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.
Gabrielle Glaser is the author of the newly released book, Her Best-Kept Secret, in which she investigates the reasons behind the epidemic of female drinking in this country, our strange national history with alcohol, and the many ways in which women can get better. She has taught journalism and has written for many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and ScientificAmerican.com. She is also the author of Strangers to the Tribe: Portraits of Interfaith Marriage, and The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty, and Survival.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Gabrielle Glaser: I had my first drink at 14, on New Year’s Eve at my grandparents’ house. It was a couple of sips of champagne. My French-Canadian grandfather gave it to me. At my age, he had become the man of the house — his dad and older brother had died. Also, he had a different cultural model. I felt it right away and was really afraid my mom would be mad at me so I sat in a chair and was quiet for the whole night. I didn’t like how it made me feel, either, and just wanted it to go away.
How did/does your family treat drinking?
My family of origin drank very sparingly, on special occasions. Wine wasn’t big in Oregon in the 1970s and my parents’ drinking was reserved for weddings, vacations, and fancy restaurants. My dad ordered Black Russians and my mom occasionally ordered a cocktail. Once she ordered a Blue Hawaii and I thought it was just the most beautiful thing ever — a popsicle in a glass.
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
Like most other women I know, wine is a regular part of my life. I really enjoy it. I have a small glass (4 oz., which I offer only because people ask) as I’m making dinner at 7:30 and then another one with dinner if I’m drinking that night. I don’t drink every day, but that’s my typical pattern. My husband and I enjoy it. I lived with a family in France when I was in college and that’s how they drank, which was a model of moderation.
If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?
I have drunk like this in front of my kids since they were very little. Drinking at home is not forbidden once they get to be older teens. They have a sip or a glass. My oldest daughter is 20 and is a foodie so she is always interested in pairings.
My time in France made a big impact on me. I was 20 when I was there, and my host parents also poured a glass for their then-14-year-old son. It was a revelation, and very different from how my culture looked at kids and drinking. I know there are many studies that show French youths are now drinking more like young Brits and Americans, but that’s because that form of drinking has been glamorized on reality TV, and every generation needs a rebellion. I was in Paris a few years ago and saw giant photos of Snooki pasted in the Metro. I felt a little embarrassed.
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
Yes. I was moving from Portland, Oregon back to the New York area in 2008, leaving my parents, my in-laws, my sister, and a state where I had roots stretching 150 years. My teenaged daughters were miserable, my then six-year-old daughter was mystified, and my sister and I weren’t speaking very much (we normally talk about six times a day). My parents were sad. My in-laws, who had moved to be near us, were sad. I was trying to sell a house in Portland and buy one in New Jersey. I had strangers traipsing through and making comments about “all the Jewish stuff” in my house. I had quit my job. My heart felt like a car alarm. So to answer your question, for a few weeks I started drinking at 5 and by 7:30 had downed 2/3 of a bottle. It was a salve for the anxiety for part of the evening, but it basically made me completely lazy and unable to finish the stuff I needed to get done. I quit for a few weeks and went back to normal, but it demonstrated how easily and imperceptibly you could develop an unhealthy habit.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
This is really sort of embarrassing because it’s the drink of choice of about 70% of the women I know: Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I like it because it’s not too sweet, and it tastes like grapefruit. I get headaches from red wine so I have to be careful. I wish I could drink it because it smells so delicious, but I usually regret it.
Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?
I was in Brazil as a graduate student and one night went out to a club with a bunch of Brazilian friends. The club was outdoors, just off the beach, and I could see Sugarloaf Mountain from where I sat. The breeze was coming off the sea and everyone was talking and so happy and we were all dancing. I had a caipiroshka, which is basically a gimlet. It somehow made me more fluent in Portuguese, which I had studied intensively but it made me less worried about whether I was saying the right thing. I had to pinch myself because it was such a beautiful night. Late that night, we also drank tiny glasses of muddled passion fruit with a little bit of vodka. That was delicious, too. What’s interesting in cultures where dance is key is that you don’t see a lot of people overdrinking. Dancing is a more important release than drinking.
What about the worst time?
The worst time was the first and really only time I ever got drunk. I was a freshman in college and kids in my dorm came up with the brilliant idea to have a “Get Drunk and Fall Down Party.” I ordered, and drank, a bottle of Cracklin’ Rose. Regrettably, I think there was also some Kahlua involved. I got really sick and hated the bed spins and have never gotten anywhere near that point again, thank G-d.
Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?
I do drink. I love how the first glass of wine feels a little bit like Certs-with-Retsyn on the inside of my veins. I don’t like to go beyond that feeling, but I really enjoy that moment. I drink at home with my family or out for dinner or at a party and I love the levity it gives me, and others. I’m really lucky to have a shut-off valve.
You can read an excerpt from “Her Best-Kept Secret” in the Wall Street Journal online and an interview with Gabrielle at Time.com.