My Month Without Alcohol… and Men (Week Two)

by Brenna Holeman


Still debating whether or not I can pull off chokers. Wine as an accessory, however, will always be in fashion (in Barcelona, Spain)

Please note: This post will make a lot more sense if you read Week One first. Click here to read

January 8, 2017

Once again, I wake up far too late. I have no idea what’s happening or why it takes me so long to fall asleep each evening, but it’s starting to really annoy me. As soon as I’m awake, however, I pull on some clothes and leave my flat to get a coffee and go for a walk down Regent’s Canal. Weekends are so crowded on the canal that sometimes I skip this route all together if I can. With bicycles, prams, and dogs thrown into the mix, the walkway is teeming with people who all seem to have the same brilliant idea: congregate directly in the middle of the path to check their phones, oblivious to the individuals that want to pass. One guy even refuses to move out of my way after I say “Excuse me,” and for a split second I picture him pushing me into the canal (this must have happened to someone, and let me tell you… Regent’s Canal is RANK. It looks pretty, but that water is a festering cesspit of duck poop, broken bottles, old bicycles, used condoms, and, I’m not kidding, body parts. OK, once they found body parts in the canal, but still. RANK. I walk along it every day and every day I think, “Well, today’s the day I fall in, catch dysentery or some old-timey disease that’s been eradicated in the developed world, and meet a grisly end.” That being said, when it’s not as crowded, it’s one of my favourite routes to walk in London).

When I get home I do some work, make some food, and check Tinder to see how the conversation between Cute Boy and I is going.

And here’s the thing: Cute Boy from Tinder is chatty and nice, but I can tell we don’t have that spark. I used to try that whole, “Just meet up! Maybe a spark will develop when you meet each other!” thing that only married people seem to advise, but everybody on Tinder will tell you that if you’re not feeling it in the text messages, you sure as hell ain’t gonna be feeling it on the date.

This is what happens when you talk to someone you don’t have much chemistry with. Are you ready?

Act 1, Scene 1. The female protagonist is lying on her couch in her bathrobe, and currently does not even remotely resemble the photo she has chosen to represent herself online. In the male protagonist’s mind, she is smiling coyly, has subtle but enhancing eye makeup, and her head is tilted slightly to the left. In reality, her hair is greasy, there is an unidentifiable stain on her sleeve, and she is practicing how many chins she can give herself in order to send the ugliest photo possible to her sister. A Tinder message pops up on her phone from someone she matched with two days ago.

Him: Hey Brenna, how’s it going?

Me: Great thanks, how are you?

Him: Can’t complain, thanks. 🙂 What did you get up to this weekend?

Me: Nothing much, it was pretty relaxed. I’m really looking forward to next weekend, though, because I’ll be in Italy! 🙂 What about you?

Him: Cool! So are you going to Italy for work or for fun? I had a pretty lazy weekend, too, went for a run and met up with some friends in the pub.

Me: Oh, that sounds like a nice weekend. I’m going to Italy for fun, it’s one of my favourite countries. Have you ever been before?

Him: Yes, I went to Rome last year and am hoping to go to Florence this summer. When you’re back we should go for drinks! 😉

The female protagonist shuts off her phone and looks at the stain on her sleeve again. What IS that?!

/End Scene

I know what you’re thinking. That conversation sounds perfectly pleasant, normal, and inviting. He sounds polite and interested. I sound polite and interested. But that is the exact same conversation I have with coworkers I don’t know very well in the staff kitchen, minus the drinks thing. Maybe my standards are way too high (trust me, there was a solid period from around 2011-2013 when my standards were so low I actually once told my friend about my then-crush, “Well, he has a criminal record, but it’s not like, a serious one or anything,” so I feel like I’m making good progress). But I need a bit more oomph to a conversation. We either need to be laughing about something or bonding over something, and I give enough in my profile so that there are plenty of conversation starters or clues as to who I am.

A couple of years ago, I would have said yes to that guy. Why not, right? What’s the harm in going out for a couple of drinks with a good-looking, well-spoken man? But every single time I have gone out with someone I don’t have a spark with, I end up having a very pleasant time… but wanting to go home after the second drink. I’ve never had a terribly awkward date in my life, because all these years of staying in hostels has made me able to talk to just about anybody, but I don’t really need or want to go sit for a couple of hours with a guy I have very little in common with just to make small talk.

Don’t get me wrong – I fully believe that a spark can indeed grow between two people (duh, I watch romantic comedies and read Jane Austen and stuff so everyone knows that you have to first hate the person you’ll end up marrying). That happens between friends and colleagues all the time, and I can totally see why. But if we’re only meeting for a few hours, and I’m not that into it, why on Earth would I go out with him again? And again? And again, desperately hoping that a spark will grow?!

These are things I’ve done at the end of one of those pleasant but there’s so little chemistry I had to resort to asking about his favourite movie/favourite band/favourite book/names of his siblings/his middle name/and his birthday kind of dates:

-purposefully taken the wrong bus so that we didn’t have to wait together at the bus stop

-twisted my ankle and broken one of my favourite shoes while running for a bus to take me home

-jumped into a taxi – which I never do in London, because it’s too expensive

-acted overly worried that he was going to miss his train, and that we should get to the train station early just in case instead of going for one last drink

-lied about which way I lived so that we didn’t have to walk together, then hid behind a corner for ten minutes

-claimed that I was a 1950s kind of girl and that I don’t kiss on the first date (this was the biggest lie of all, and the worst part of this lie was that after I said goodnight to him, I met up with my friends at this dive bar in Shoreditch, did a bunch of shots of tequila, and snogged some 22-year-old who looked like he had just dropped out of One Direction. I wish I had enough shame to regret that last decision, but I don’t. Not one iota of shame, in fact.)

And I know, I know, I should just be upfront in these situations, and I’m all for honesty, but I’d rather be courteous, leave things on a nice note, and then politely decline via text if the guy asks me out again. I can’t imagine having the guts to say, “This has been nice, but I felt absolutely no chemistry and never want to see you again,” to someone’s face. If you have the confidence to do that, dang girl, I’m impressed.

All of this to say, I can tell that Cute Boy on Tinder and I are not a match. I do a Facebook Live Q&A that goes fairly well – I only say one or two things that I cringe about later – and stay up until the wee hours of the morning watching independent movies on Netflix in my bathrobe (in case you’re wondering, the unidentifiable stain has inexplicably grown larger).

January 9, 2017

Today I sleep until 2pm. 2 o’clock in the fucking afternoon, like some sort of moody teenager. To be fair, I went to sleep at 9am. Honestly, I am in the goddamn Upside Down right now and I half expect Eleven to come skulking in and offer me an Eggo, all bloody-nosed and bald-headed. Oh, side note, am I the only person in the world who didn’t care about Barb that much? I really didn’t get the hype. And I know everyone has a crush on either Jonathan or Steve but what about Chief Hopper?! I realise I’m getting older because I no longer have TV crushes on the young ones in the show anymore; now I’m always like, “Hey, that dad is kind of hot.” Yikes. Anyway, I force myself to go out for a walk even though it’s raining. Later, when I look at the news, I realise that literally millions of people were stressed and upset and late and overwhelmed due to a tube strike in London; meanwhile, I was cosy in bed for most of the day. Maybe sleeping late was the right thing to do after all.

I’m supposed to have dinner with my cousin Tanis, who also lives in London, but because of the tube strike we decide to postpone until next week. I come to the conclusion that I’m actively not making plans with my friends because I know that I will want to drink if I’m out for dinner or at a bar/pub, but I keep texting people and saying I’m free next week. This means my hibernation will soon come to an end, which I’m of two minds about; I miss my friends and, you know, talking to other humans face to face, but I’ve been so productive and so healthy in the past ten days that I’m convinced that if I had a couple of months of this I could write another book or something (not that I’m doing anything with the first book I wrote, though the pile of rough drafts in the corner of my flat serves nicely as both a pedestal for real, published books as well as a subtle reminder that even though it’s a flaming pile of naval-gazing horse manure, I’m still capable of writing 90,000 relatively cohesive words).

January 10, 2017

At the office today, I finally see my work crush up close. I’m in the marketplace/lunchroom eating a spicy quinoa soup from Pret when I see him by the coffee machine. Naturally, I immediately get a hankering for a glass of sparkling water, so I go up to get one. Half of me is screaming, “YOUR TEETH ARE FULL OF QUINOA!” while the other half is screaming, “THERE’S NO TIME TO DILLY-DALLY, HE’S GOING TO WALK AWAY FROM THE KITCHEN ANY SECOND!” and so, with my heart racing and my breath smelling oh so faintly of chilli, I approach.

He looks up.

I smile.



January 11, 2017

The blog post I published last night, the one about social media, is finally online after about two months of work. It was one of those posts that I kept coming back to but never completing, but last night, I dedicated a solid four hours to finishing it and getting it on the blog. Normally I’d celebrate that with a glass of wine, but I drank some beet juice instead. BEET JUICE. What’s next? A subscription to Self magazine?!

I realise I’ve forgotten to delete/check my Tinder in the past couple of days, but as that’s kind of the whole point of this month, I don’t bother opening it. I have a couple of real-life meetings in Clerkenwell in the afternoon, and then I walk home, which takes about 45 minutes. I listen to a bunch of Roberta Flack songs and walk through Old Street and Shoreditch and Hackney and sometimes all it takes is one walk like this to make me fall in love with London all over again. I’ve never been in love with a person the way I’ve been in love with London: confidently, resolutely, and unconditionally. Every other city I’ve lived in always seemed temporary, always seemed like I’d never quite be a part of it – perhaps my past relationships were like that, too. I feel really happy here. I feel like London loves me back.

In the evening my friend Jack, who lives in the neighbourhood, calls up from the street like a modern-day Romeo (you know, except without the poison and the feuding families and the teenage lust. I guarantee you if Juliet had just waited a day or two she would have been like, “Ugh, he’s always talking to Mercutio instead of me. And I can’t stand the way he wears his hair.” I mean, when I was thirteen, no crush of mine lasted longer than a couple of days, with the exception of my crush on Benecio del Toro, which went on for way too long into my teenage years. He remains the only person I have ever written a fan letter to, though I did also keep a scrapbook of Tiger Beat photos of Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Leonardio DiCaprio – obviously before I knew his only type was 21-year old Victoria’s Secret models – and, of course, JTT. Just to clarify, JTT. Not JT. Ew). Jack is trying to convince me to come out for a drink with him, which is a bad idea on many levels, because a) I’m not drinking and b) Jack and I have a tendency to make out with each other when we drink, or at least we used to. I, clearly the innocent, virginal, sober Juliet, call down to him from the window, telling him I have to get up early to go to Italy in the morning.

Fifteen minutes later he texts me.

“Loser,” is all that the text says.


On holiday in Mallorca last year, I decided that if the temperature rises above 27 degrees Celsius, cava should no longer be seen as alcohol and instead be seen as an essential, life-giving supplement 

January 12, 2017

Because I am still caught in a perpetual loop of Night of the Living Dead, I stay up until 3am tossing and turning and terrified that I will somehow sleep through my alarm and miss my flight to Italy. I don’t. Instead, I get to the airport with so much extra time you’d think I have never flown before.

When I booked my flight with Ryanair I thought I was sooooooo clever because seat allocations were on sale, and I was able to book a window seat near the front for only £4 extra. When I get onboard I realise I was duped, because not only is the plane almost empty, the seat I booked IS THE ONLY WINDOW SEAT WITHOUT A WINDOW. Is that even allowed?! In a mild panic – I’m slightly claustrophobic – I ask the flight attendant if I can move seats and he puts me in the emergency exit row, which I’m obviously very happy about (all that leg room!). He winks at me and says, “Don’t worry, I trust you,” and then turns away before I can say anything witty in response, which is probably a good thing, because I most likely would have joked about an airplane crash or something equally as horrendous, and then Air Marshals would get involved, I’d miss my flight, yada yada yada, that old chestnut.

And then I land in Genova, Italy. Beautiful, gorgeous Italy. Home to incredible architecture, fascinating culture… and some of the best wine in Europe. Oh yeah, and some of the hottest guys in the world. I’m fucked.

January 13, 2017

Last night I made friends in the hostel, which is precisely why I still stay in hostels even though I worked out the other day that, if I had had a teen pregnancy, it’s plausible I could have a child in high school right now. I went out for some of the best pizza I’ve ever had – one half is pesto and cheese, the other is cheese with a runny egg on top, and I nearly die and go to heaven – but I resist the wine and order San Pellegrino instead. Clearly I am deserving of some sort of medal, or absolved of at least half of my life’s sins (for the record, I am guilty of sloth, lust, gluttony, envy, pride, and greed. I tend to seethe quietly and internally so I’m going to say that just because I will shoot daggers out of my eyes at anyone who dares walk slowly in front of me on a sidewalk, I am not guilty of wrath).

I had every intention of spending the day visiting Camogli and Portofino, which are both smaller villages on the coast, but by the time I have two coffees and chat to the guys who run the hostel, which takes up most of the morning, I figure I had better just stay in Genova and save the adventures for tomorrow. I spend the day walking around as much of Genova as I can, and it turns out I’m one of approximately four tourists in the city at the moment… but that means it’s lovely and quiet, and I have these beautiful streets full of cobblestones and colourful buildings to myself. I walk a total of twelve kilometres before I get too chilly and too tired – there are only so many espressos you can have in a day – so I return to the hostel and hang out with the guys again.

“I’m thinking about going to that local restaurant you recommended,” I say to them around 7pm.

“Oh, I’ve wanted to go there for a while,” says Alex, a French Canadian guy who is volunteering at the hostel.

“Me too,” says Andrea, an Italian guy who is volunteering at the hostel.

“I’d like to try,” says Hazel, a Brit who’s staying at the hostel.

“I’ll come along,” says Dante, an Argentinian who’s staying at the hostel.

And that, dear readers, is all it took for me to be convinced that I should go out and drink copious amounts of wine with my new friends. C’MON. DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT. When in Rome, I think the saying goes…?

Brenna in Italy with wine


January 14, 2017

I have a confession to make. I knew all along that I was going to break this resolution. I knew I was going to Italy about two months ago, so when I was planning for a dry January I told myself (and everyone around me) that I was allowed to make an exception in Italy, because… it’s Italy, where the wine flows like water. Even a €2 glass of house wine tastes better than most expensive glasses I have in London.

Last night was ridiculously fun in that magical way when a bunch of people from around the world who hardly know each other go to a little local trattoria, order one of every pesto dish, and drink a few bottles of Barbera. Evenings like that are exactly why I travel, and exactly why I stay in hostels. When I was in Paris last month, for example, I had a wonderful, fulfilling, cultural couple of days… but I ate my meals alone. I am 100% fine to sightsee by myself (in fact, I prefer it) and while I happily eat on my own, too, there’s something about sharing a great meal with others. The food seems to taste better, perhaps. And, oh yeah, you don’t feel as guilty when you order another bottle of wine.

Today I woke up with only the faintest feeling of a cloudy head, but otherwise I don’t feel too many side effects of the wine. The good thing is that sleeping in a hostel for the past two nights has completely cured my vampirish sleeping habits as of late, which means I’m going to sleep at a decent hour and waking up at 8am. FINALLY. After breakfast I take the train from Genova to Camogli, a small village on the Ligurian Coast that I have been dying to see for over a year. I meant to go there both times I was in Cinque Terre last year, but it somehow never worked out.

And oh my God. Camogli is BEAUTIFUL. Like how-can-this-actually-exist, why-doesn’t-everyone-come-here kind of beautiful. I have a little moment on the beach by myself – a moment of gratitude, a moment of awe, a moment of just loving life so incredibly much – and then I go and get a glass of wine. The way I see it, I have one foot in hell already, so I may as well just go ahead and stoke the fire.


Will I break my other resolution and find myself a handsome Italian? Will I stop drinking again when I get back to London? Will I pause for any self-reflection in order to question my desire to drink even when I’ve promised to finally show a little willpower, or will I wake up one morning with a missing shoe, a giant credit card bill, and a vague recollection of Jagerbombs? All coming up on January 22nd – the third instalment of My Month Without Alcohol… and Men. 

Update: Read Week Three here! 

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LC January 15, 2017 - 12:45 pm

First things first – Lol. Secondly – is it weird that I’m jealous of your relationship with London? We didn’t quite get along like that, sadly.

Brenna Holeman January 15, 2017 - 7:07 pm

I’m glad you liked it!! And yes, I feel very lucky to have that relationship with London. 🙂

Linzi Clark January 15, 2017 - 7:20 pm

Laughed out loud at your Tinder texting exchange – going through something very similar at the moment. I now make it a rule to limit the first date to a thirty minute coffee only – which ensures a swift get-away and the minimum of time wasted on both sides. Hope you have better luck with the Italian stallions!

Brenna Holeman January 15, 2017 - 7:22 pm

Ha ha – that’s a very sensible idea! And I’m glad that I’m not the only one who goes through these kinds of conversations… Thanks for your comment, Linzi! 😀

Paige January 15, 2017 - 8:53 pm

I continue to love these posts, and I continue to read them when I’m on trains, which means I’m smirking/giggling at my phone like a crazy person around others, but it’s worth it. I also get so annoyed with Tinder profiles that are just a list of verbs, usually sporty verbs (“hike. bike. ski.”) and have recently realized that my ideal man would be an even mix of Robert Redford, Anthony Bourdain, and Justin Trudeau. Perhaps not surprisingly, I continue to be disappointed–but I can say that I feel what you feel for London about my beloved Boston! I’ll just date the city of Boston for now. : )

Brenna Holeman January 16, 2017 - 10:04 am

Yikes, I’m not a fan of those lists, either! I am happy to date the city of London right now – so glad that you feel that way about a city, too. Thank you for reading, Paige! 😀

Tash January 16, 2017 - 11:51 am

I definitely get the realising you fancy older men on TV.

Last time I saw Sex and the City I was shocked to discover I fancy Big now.

Tash January 16, 2017 - 2:02 pm

Also congratulations on returning to wine. You will never regret it.

Brenna Holeman January 16, 2017 - 4:39 pm

I hope not! 😀

Brenna Holeman January 16, 2017 - 4:39 pm

Ha ha, glad to know I’m not alone!! 🙂

Megan January 16, 2017 - 6:03 pm

I feel like you should most definitely take one for the team (or the blog) and give up alcohol and men forever, just so that you can keep writing this series, it’s so much fun! And really well written, I’m loving it 🙂

Brenna Holeman January 17, 2017 - 1:05 am

Ha ha – OK, I will take one for the team… but only for two more weeks! 😀 Glad you’re enjoying it Megan, thank you for your comment!

Katie January 16, 2017 - 6:06 pm

Oy. THIS is why I don’t envy people who have to date during the age of Tinder — you’re forced to do everything ass-backwards! Think about it: You meet a guy at a pub for the first time. You’re both casual and relaxed, confident to just be yourselves because you don’t have time to think about who the other person might want you to be — you just are. That’s why it’s easy to tell whether or not there’s a spark.

It’s SO much harder to distinguish a spark when your first interactions are though instant messages. Everything is so fake. Is it possible? Sure. Especially for a writer. But if you’re not dead-set on only hitting it off with a writer, then looking for that initial spark via instant message is tough because at that stage the guy is more likely tentative… trying to see whether he’s into *you* before putting it all on the table or maybe trying to gauge whether you can handle his real personality. But you’re just being polite because he’s just being polite. I don’t necessarily believe sparks can grow because by definition, that’s not the nature of a spark. But I do believe that there’s a chance you could spark with someone in person with whom you otherwise wouldn’t have sparked on Tinder because you haven’t already built an impression based on the awkwardness of a conversation built entirely from a profile impression. OY, I say.

Oh and halfway through this I totally knew you were going to break the drinking resolution when you said you were going to Italy. In fact, I would’ve been disappointed in you if you hadn’t. Life’s too short for resolutions. Just have fun and be a good person and do your work day by day. That’s all it should really take, right?

Brenna Holeman January 20, 2017 - 2:35 am

OK – as always, you are amazing. I love how thoughtful and insightful all of your comments are!! Actually, I’m going to quote you in the next instalment and talk about what you’ve brought up, because I totally agree with you re: why Tinder often sets us up to fail. 🙂

And yes, of course I had to break it in Italy, ha ha. Life is indeed too short for resolutions, especially if they prevent you from drinking wine 😉

Vee January 19, 2017 - 2:20 pm

I love your writing and this mini-series keeps me wanting the week to be over so I can read your next instalment. Please keep this awesomeness up. Actually just keep writing. I am attempting a year of no alcohol but luckily don’t have any trips to Italy to tempt me with wine, that would be the end of me!

Brenna Holeman January 20, 2017 - 12:36 am

Aw, thank you so much, Vee! I wasn’t sure if I should keep going with the series but comments like this make me want to keep it up. 🙂

Jennifer January 20, 2017 - 1:07 am

This is one of the best series I’m invested in right now, and that includes “This is Us,” btw! Also, can we just talk about the appeal of young JTT? You never forget your first crush… ah l’amore!

Brenna Holeman January 20, 2017 - 2:33 am

Aw, you are way too kind, Jennifer! Yeah, between Saved by the Bell and Home Improvement, my early 90s crushes were on TV all the time 😀

Linda January 23, 2017 - 3:35 pm

Oh Brenna, you hit so many “funny” marks in this post. I admire you for your attempts to eliminate certain addictions from your life TEMPORARILY – because we know both men and alcohol can be just fine in moderation! I’m so happy you’re in tune enough with yourself to know it was perfectly fine to give up your “fast” (of sorts) while in Italy. No point in taking a resolution too far, after all! I can’t wait for the next instalment – you have a true gift for not only writing, but for many kinds of writing – as in humour!

Brenna Holeman January 23, 2017 - 4:17 pm

Thank you so much!! I’m so glad that you are enjoying this series. Thank you for the encouragement to post them. 🙂

Marie Landry May 26, 2017 - 5:03 am

I’ve always wondered about the Canal; I used to see another Instagrammer post pics/vids of her walks there, and now you, and I’m like ‘How do people not fall in?!’ I actually snort-laughed at your comment about dysentery. Also giggled at Tiger Beat and your celeb crushes, because I loved all those guys too (but went a step further and had their pics on my wall instead of a scrapbook).

Any news/updates about your book? (Sorry if you have to answer that a lot.) In case you haven’t guessed, I’m madly in love with your blog and as a reader/writer/book blogger, I’m dying to know more and someday have a book of yours in my hot little hands!

Good God, This Again?: My Month of Healthy Living - This Battered Suitcase August 8, 2017 - 5:15 pm

[…] My Month Without Alcohol and Men… Part Two […]


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