On Alcohol & Relationships: The Red & Blue Ivy League Edition

Posted On: 01.28.14

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The following is a guest post from Erica Ligenza. Erica is a current sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania and blogs at Coming Up Roses. I am thrilled to have met Erica in the ether. She is a wonderful thinker and writer and here, she tackles a tough topic that you all know is interesting to me. Erica would be thrilled to hear from you in the Comment Box below. Oh, and hey to all the cool college kids reading my blog today!

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On alcohol and relationships: the Red and Blue Ivy League edition

by erica ligenza


You’re probably thinking, who is this random brunette chick and why is she here? I’m not Aidan in disguise, I swear. HUGE thank you to Aidan for allowing my totally amateur, college student self to give my two cents here today. In case it matters – I’m a UPenn soph, I’m full of my own Ivy League insecurities, and I write over at Coming Up Roses every hump day. Because whose hump day couldn’t use a little pick-me-up? But I digress.

Aidan suggested that I share my opinion on something not unfamiliar to Ivy League Insecurities – alcohol. Alcohol, Ivies, and relationships, to be exact. An unlikely threesome. One that’s nearly impossible to maintain (in my humble opinion).

Cutting to the chase, I’ve never been a “drinker,” but I’m definitely not against alcohol or drinking. Before college, I was vowing to never be caught dead stumbling around at a frat party or to associate “need” with alcohol. I still don’t consider myself a “drinker” – someone whose life is otherwise affected by drinking in a not-so-healthy way. Those who exclaim “Oh, FOR THE LOVE OF, I just need to get drunk tonight.” Those who plan on blacking out and “going hard” to forget the ho-hum crazies of college life. They do it to forget, and what they end up remembering is that they can’t remember their “craaaaaazy!!” night out.

And I don’t get it.

But then again, I do. Because we’re all in this together in the jungle that is college. I’m a wine girl myself, although I do love a Rum and Coke or anything fruity (I’m a girl, it’s in our genes to like anything with fruit). Alcohol has this effect, and it’s on turbospeed at college. We take a sip, metaphorically embracing the societal quo that all worries will wash away, and then there’s that warm tingle in your chest. People start “warming up” and walls come down, and ALL OF A SUDDEN conversation has never been better and people have never been nicer and friends have never cared so much about what we think is the meaning of life. Everyone loves everyone.

And it feels nice. Because we see ourselves relating to everyone on this “deeper” level, sharing this little not-so-secret bond over alcohol-induced, de-edged conversation.

But is it real?

Is it possible to maintain good relationships (especially with a significant other), a rigorous school curriculum, and heavy drinking, all in cahoots? I have my doubts – something’s got to give.

But I do find it incredibly fascinating what that says about our society. What that says about our generation’s “needs” and how we view moments in life. Are we more interested in creating memories or in creating talking points for the next day?

Our generation is in a tough spot thanks to good ol’ society. We’re in this constant struggle to match societal quo and go along with a ___ proof flow every Saturday night, but we don’t all identify with it. Alcohol brings us temporary, superficial bliss. By the next morning, all we’re left with is a helter skelter memory, clothes that need to see the washing machine, and a wicked headache. And then we’re out of bed (or off of some frat house’s couch) and on damage control duty for the photos now circulating social media and the texts not meant to be sent. Relationships aren’t even attempted oftentimes, because there’s too much risk involved. Risk that we might not like it, or someone might have the wrong intention, or we’d have to give up the current night-lifestyle.

Why is it necessary to go so hard? Blacking out shouldn’t be considered fun – it’s downright dangerous. In college, we all want total control of our lives – we want power over our academic standing and social status. Our string of daily events is laced with control. We yearn for control over our grades and of our careers, on a path of know-how with few bumps along the way. Losing control once in a while seems “exciting” to us, with the thrill of not knowing how a night will turn out. Could it be that deciding to lose control make us still somehow feel in control?

After three semesters of college, I’m thinking society is wrong. I know the problem isn’t Ivy-League-exclusive. But maybe a heightened level of academia and intensified career pressures make alcohol seem like a necessity. We grow up fast here, so it makes us feel more like adults. Feeling like we lack the time or confidence to foster sincere friendships and relationships might make alcohol seem needed – we can just cut the “awkwardness” and get right to friending on all social media. We try to cover the stressful moments and the awkward moments and the disappointing moments with what sometimes seems like a blanket of alcohol, but sometimes we can’t see how it looks from the outside. Meanwhile, really good moments come and go. The kinds of moments that leave you genuinely happy, feeling confident and content and on top of the world. Moments where you feel really loved and cherished or full of laughter and lighthearted bliss. And they’re missed. Or they’re taken for granted. Life is a series of little moments. Whether the moments are good or bad, I at least want to remember them the next morning.

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How would you describe your college drinking? If you drank in college or are still in college and do drink, what motivates you? Can you relate to what Erica writes here? Anyone else out there wish you had the poise and perspective she has at such a young age?


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15 Comments for: "On Alcohol & Relationships: The Red & Blue Ivy League Edition"
  1. Aidan Donnelley Rowley


    I know you know how much I appreciate your sharing your words and yourself here, but let me say it again: THANK YOU. As you know, the topic of alcohol is one that interests me and fascinates me. Often, I think back to college, to those good old days, and I feel deeply nostalgic, but I have twinges of regret too. Because, yes, as you so aptly describe, there was a lot of alcohol involved. Those days were blissful and wine-soaked and part of me feels this was as it should be, but another part (the more evolved, thinking part) wishes that I had been more moderate and more aware of the moments it was a privilege to have on campus. Would I have connected with more people, truly connected with them? Would I have had more meaningful conversations? Would I remember more details about my time there? It’s hard to say, but I do find myself thinking about this.

    I had this interesting conversation with my husband this morning when I told him about this post. I told him that I had so much respect for you because you are thinking about these important things while very much immersed in all of it. I came to a lot of these questions much much later and I am happy I have of course, but there is something remarkable about your self-awareness. I know that you are taking something of a risk by putting yourself out there – on your own blog, and now here – and I applaud that. I’ve got to say that if I read these words while I was still in college, they would really make me think. In a good way.

    Anyway, I could go on and on and imagine I will pop back in here throughout the day to add more, but the gist is that I am thankful and really impressed with you and your writing and your thinking. Brava.


  2. Anonymous

    Thank you for writing this. I am going to send this to many people who I know will benefit from reading it.

  3. I’m seriously impressed with your writing, your perspective and your maturity. Maturity doesn’t = boring.

    I didn’t start drinking until after college and then I drank way too much. I had no off switch, as the alcoholic I am. Of course, I wish I would have stuck to my college non-drinking ways, but regret won’t help today. Today, sobriety is back and I’m so grateful.

  4. Wendy

    What a great post. And I completely agree with you. Although I am a “drinker,” or have been on and off since I was a teenager, I have never wanted to black out or be out of control. Yet it has happened because mostly I can’t handle alcohol as well as I have thought I can. It still happens that I drink more than intended. Or at least it has happened in the last five years. I hate being unaware of everything around me, but I do see people – and friends and boyfriends over the years – who only wanted the complete loss of control that comes with drinking too much. I don’t know if I get it. I think some people have problems with alcohol and they really cannot help it–and some people don’t have self consciousness about it. Others, I don’t know. For me, it was always humiliating to not remember everything. And scary as hell.

  5. Erica, wonderful honest post. This is a topic close to my heart as it’s one of the themes in the memoir I’m writing. What saddens me most is that appears drinking in college has not changed at all since the 90s when I was in school. I made a lot of poor decisions (mostly concerning relationships) because of alcohol. Like Aidan, I also look at this period of my life with great nostalgia (one of the reasons I’m writing a memoir about it), but through writing about this time, I also realize how alcohol made respect myself less, if that makes sense. You should be very proud that you are already reflecting on your relationship to drinking. I will be sharing this post. Thank you

  6. Whitney

    Nearly seven years ago (OMG! How has it been that long??), I graduated for a not-quite-Ivy League university with a degree in engineering and a minor in parties. I have to agree that the increased academic and career pressure play a role in the perceived need for alcohol. I remember watching my peers, especially those in engineering, party it up on the weekends and then come in and ace a test in fluid dynamics the following Monday, and I often wondered, “How is that POSSIBLE?” And there began my need to be able to do it all. I needed to be able to drink and go crazy on the weekends and still pull a 4.0, because other people could, and that’s what was expected at my school. “Work hard, play hard” was (and is, I’m guessing) the mantra, right? I must say, though, this did prepare me for my career. Knowing how to handle the social situations…being able to handle 3, 4, 5 drinks when out with coworkers (and actually get business done) and knowing when to excuse yourself. Is it good? Eh…probably not. But it is reality, at least for me.

    I do admire you, Erica, for being so self aware at your age. But, I’d remind you, too, to let yourself get lost in the craziness (and sometimes drunkenness) every now and again. Did I do things in college that I look back and think, “What were you THINKING?!” Of course, I do. But do I regret it (any of it)? Not really. At the time, I thought I might and maybe even right after I finished school, I had a few regrets, but the truth is that I had a blast, I still talk to my best friends, my grades were decent, and I landed a great job largely based as much on my social skills (these are sometimes sparse in engineers) as my grades. So what’s to regret?

    Anyhow, you seem to really have your head on straight, so I’m sure you’ll have no trouble navigating the jungle ahead. There is a clearing off in the distance, I promise!

  7. Karin

    If I had a do-over button (and please NO on that option without getting to cherry-pick what I’d go back through) my do-over would involve less alcohol in college and beyond. Alcohol and poor choices attract each other like magnets. Add alcohol to a situation where self-esteem is challenged and I’ll give you a reason to wish for a redo button. This extends well beyond college.

    If one couldn’t drink alcohol unless centered/grounded/content, how often would we drink? If we were centered/grounded/content, would we want to numb it with alcohol?

  8. I dated a very heavy drinker in college. The memory of our relationship is tinged with the green of Heineken bottles and the sour smell of the day after. I think in many ways, the sting of that relationship and its interconnectedness to alcohol has kept me from careening into the darkness.

    I hope that my three daughters have your level-headedness about drinking and that desire to be in touch with experiences. I hope for them to want life without anesthesia.

  9. Love this post – very thought provoking as I’m also in college (a junior here) and can really relate to everything Erica talks about.

    This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently (probably, in part, due to reading this blog) and where and how I fit into the equation. It really struck a chord when Erica talked about how much control has to do with all of this and I think that’s a huge part of it. It’s such a bizarre, albeit wonderful stage when you don’t really have much control over anything and yet, we are all trying so desperately to cling onto any sense of control we have. We are, as she pointed out, making the conscious decision to relinquish control for a night or two – which is pretty ironic. Now, how much control we let go of is different for everyone (i.e. blacking out vs. getting a buzz etc.) I find this whole topic really fascinating, but also kind of hard to think about clearly because I’m right in the middle of it.

    As someone else pointed out in the comments, it’s also, in a weird sense, the first instance of “doing it all” – you can do it all because you can balance going wild on the weekends and still have a 4.0 GPA. In a kind of weird and twisted way, it’s almost seen like a badge of honour.

    • A Fan

      I would be surprised if the idea of “doing it all” and managing to party hard and still maintain a 4.0 GPA is actually doable for many college students – those are probably the exceptions. It is sad that drunken stupors earn kids a badge of honor but I know you are telling the truth. Although partying hard may seem wild and carefree and a college right of passage, there are undeniable dangers anytime any student drinks heavily – accidents, injuries, assaults, rapes, unintended and unprotected sex with a partner too intoxicated to resist and incapable of valid consent, alcohol poisoning, death.
      It is possible to have a good time, a great time, without heavy drinking.
      To Erica – Bravo for carefully thinking about your life choices and going against the grain, which is not an easy thing to do – but it is to be commended. Continue to speak up on issues that matter and share your message because it is important and inspirational.

      • Oh yes, it definitely is not doable for many (I think I would even argue to say that it’s not doable for most) college students (myself included). I agree with you 100% regarding the dangers, which are very important to be aware of as a young woman.

        It does leave me wondering where the idea developed that having a great time = drinking in excess, because as you said, it is definitely possible to have a great time without heavy drinking.

  10. Nic

    Hi Erica,

    This is an amazing post – as someone with my own Ivy League Insecurities experience and the alcohol-fuelled nights in my past, I absolutely agree with you about the control, growing up and pressue (and I graduated in 2005, when it was allegedly still easy to get jobs). Thank you so much for sharing!

  11. Jamie Gwynn

    Hi Erica,

    I think having a guy’s opinion on this subject will lend credibility to the topic. I’m a 27-year-old graduate from an Ivy League and have been dealing with the issue of drinking on and off for some time. Sometimes it’s easy to chalk up drinking to “letting go” and “relinquishing control.” However, I think this excuse is mainly for those who have insecurities in their lives they’re unable to deal with at the present moment. I’m guilty of that most of the time.

    I think you’re brave for letting your heart touch this topic and spread your opinion to the (blogging) world. I’m unsure if the landscape for this excuse will ever change at the collegiate level since most students at your age are trying to “find” themselves, even though finding one’s self begins with awareness of one’s self. Ironic, huh?

    As far for other comments to justify drinking in social situations to advance one’s career, it’s one of the most difficult balances one will face. How do you maintain a sense of self but relay a sense of classiness to your colleagues? I don’t know. I’m a work-in-progress myself. But what I do know is when I’m blessed to read words as I’ve read here, I know I’m not alone. It’s inspirational. Isn’t this the reason blogging became so revolutionary, anyway?

    Girls, you’re not alone in your thinking. I just thought you should know.

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  13. I love your continued exploration of alcohol on this blog, Aidan!

    I am deeply regretful of my drinking during college. I made poor decisions that left me shameful and formed too many relationships that relied on alcohol as the medium. I stayed at the tippy top of my classes so I thought I was okay, but they weren’t even classes I should have been in. And in retrospect I wonder if I drowned myself in the sauce in order to numb my soul from the path I was walking down, preparing for a career that I’d chosen for purely superficial reasons.

    I wrote my second novel (still a work in progress) largely about alcoholism in college and how it’s encouraged and even expected in some settings (such as certain Greek systems). No one talks about how harmful it can be. Until now!! Way to go, Erica. Your bravery and insight leaves me inspired and hopeful.

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