science of us

How Do I Make Plans Without ‘Getting a Drink’?

Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

I haven’t really enjoyed drinking since I was 23, and even then it was purely utilitarian — drinking to get drunk, or at least tipsy. I have had maybe 12 perfect drinks in my life (a cidre at a pub in southern France; a spicy tequila cocktail at a pizza place in Brooklyn that never seemed as good again; an ice-cold sour beer on an early date with my wife), but for the most part, I don’t care for the taste of alcohol. It’s fine, but I’m almost never like, “Delicious!” For me, alcohol is a means to an end. I’m no longer interested in being drunk, but I am interested in having friends, and I don’t know how to ask someone to be friends without first asking them to “grab a drink,” a phrase I hate but can’t stop saying.

I used to know how to do this, but that was when I was in school. If I can sit next to someone for weeks or months on end, slowly winning them over with small, topical jokes and gossip, I’m set. Unfortunately, adult life rarely affords such opportunities. Work is the closest most of us have, and there are limitations there, too — in my office, for instance, we have cubicles, which my shyness can rarely overcome. So whenever I do meet someone I think I might like to befriend, I’m at a loss. I say “Let’s grab a drink!” not because I want to grab a drink, but because adults drink, and a bar is a neutral place to assess friendship potential, and I don’t know what else to suggest. Inviting a new friend directly to my home is too intense. A movie is too anti-social. Dinner can work, but it feels more like friendship second base — something you do when you know you can sustain two hours’ worth of conversation. So ‘grabbing a drink’ it is.

But the older I get, the less interested I am in doing something I don’t enjoy just because it’s what most people do. There are lots of good reasons not to drink, and most of us (sober or not) would probably like to diversify our social lives. So I asked the internet for alternative friend-making plans, and collected their best ideas below.

Involve Dog(s)

“One time a newish friend had two tickets to a dog show and asked me to go and it is one of my most cherished memories.” —Anna

“I have had new friends with dogs ask me if I want to come walk their dog in the park with them, which I found adorable.” —Regan

“Go to Taco Bell and then go to the animal shelter. Dogs love the smell of chalupa, and I love chalupa. Friend feels loved by the dogs and is happy and I am happy!” —Kathleen

Game Night

“I moved to a new city about a year ago, and I’ve been inviting multiple new friends over for a game night so it’s everyone meeting at once. Easier to connect with than at a bar, and you can drink or not drink. Also if there’s nothing to talk about, you can at least talk about the game.” —Emma

“Not only is Dungeons & Dragons a great way to get to know people by sharing adventures, it’s an excuse to make and consume yummy snacks. A good way to judge the character of a potential friend is if they redistribute the wealth they took from a dragon to the local, long suffering villagers or keep it all for themselves.” —Jonathan

Walk

“My go-to is simply: a walk. Who doesn’t love a good stroll? And in THIS brisk air? Hit the pavement and walk and talk, plus lots of additional stimuli (shops, people watching, potential benches to perch upon), just in case this is a budding friendship and you’re nervous about not having enough to talk about. A walk offers plenty of potential convo starters, and acts as the social-lubricant in place of the alcohol!” —Avery

Free Museum Nights

“My go-to invite is Free Friday at museums (Guggenheim, Frick, MOMA, Neue Galerie etc) or Chelsea gallery openings. I am on everyone’s mailing list.” —Yvonna

Teach Someone a Skill

“I recently have been connecting with a lot of people over shared interest in sustainable fashion. After they learn that I know how to sew and can definitely teach them, I have been having them come to my creative office space to sew and upcycle garments. It’s pretty niche but it’s been so much fun, and I don’t drink, so it’s such a nice way to connect with new friends.” —Morgan

Optional Plus-One

“With new friends, I like to wait until I have something to invite someone to: Say there’s a reading I want to go to, or a party at a friend’s house, an event a friend is hosting — something like that.” —Harron

Baking

“When my partner and I first met, I was welcomed into his friend group and I started bringing desserts to their weekly social gathering. I got really good at baking and it helped me find my place. Now, having had a baby a year ago, I find myself with new friends — other parents. When the kids aren’t involved, it’s like we don’t want to waste time that could be productive doing other things. So, a few weeks ago, I invited a new friend over to bake. We made babka, a sweet cake-like bread, filled with chocolate. We had a great conversation over measuring cups and rolling pins, and parted ways with breakfast for the start of the week.” —Kaitlin

“My No. 1 fave friend hang-out (especially this time of year) is to have them over to watch TV and bake one easy thing.” —Christine

Drawing Party

“I love to draw, so I asked a local cafe if I could use their little group room and invited five other people I wanted to know better to come draw and have coffee, tea, and snacks. I felt a little self-conscious because I’m a grown adult and was inviting other adults to do this immature thing, but people loved it! People want to be creative but feel dumb starting, so I guess it helps when people feel dragged into it. I painted ugly dogs and was talking so much I painted a fifth paw on one dog. A new friend and I bonded so much over the fifth paw incident that she invited me to her WEDDING IN ITALY. The wedding was great, we are bonded for life now. I learned a lot about just putting myself out there.” —Elaine

Volunteer

“I’ve volunteered a few times with new friends at different types of events, like building a playground, female-empowerment events, cleaning up a park, and community art fairs. Volunteering is my favorite way to make new friends. It feels a lot more natural than networking, and you already know you have something in common, because you both signed up for the same thing!” —Morgan

Run Errands Together

“This is maybe more for older friends, but hanging out while running errands can be fun, low-key, and productive. I have to go to the bank, the pharmacy, and that garden store out on the highway; you need to go to the post office, Home Depot, and also a different bank. It’ll take longer than going by yourself, but it’s much more entertaining!” —Olivia

“I love going grocery shopping with friends. Everyone needs groceries, and even if only one friend needs a week’s worth, most people can still pick up a few random items.” —Ryan

Create a Hangout Spreadsheet (a.k.a. my ideal scenario)

“There are a bunch of single women in their 30s and 40s in my workplace, and several of us are new to the city, live alone, and don’t do anything outside of work and church because we feel like we have no one to do anything with, we’re not sure who wants to be work friends versus real-life friends, we don’t want to impose, etc. … So, we made a spreadsheet on Google Docs. If there’s a restaurant someone wants to go to, or a concert, or a hike, shopping (new store, warehouse sale, Christmas market), book signing, hockey game, etc. — we put that on the spreadsheet along with any pertinent info (date/time, cost). If you want to go, you add your name to the RSVP box. If you don’t want to go or if you’re not available, no worries. There’s no pressure and no hard feelings. This started with a small group of us and has spread to several women in other departments. People are always free to add new people to the spreadsheet or bring along friends from other places.” —Bekah