“Good evening, gentlemen. I'm plastered.”
A quote from your resident drunk frat boy? Not quite. It's Alcibiades: orator, statesman, ladies' man, and pretty boy extraordinaire from Plato's Symposium. Close enough, I guess. In addition to making what is arguably the greatest entrance in literary history, Alcibiades highlights a very interesting and timeless phenomenon: Drunk people say stupid shit.
He might be a high and mighty politician, but when being half-dragged into the room by a flute girl, Alcibiades is definitely not at his best. He comes in shouting his admiration (read: sexual desire) for Agathon and mentions something about crowning him with a flower wreath—kind of like how your best friend once took her floral scarf and draped it over the cute boy at a frat party to pull him in vintage striptease style. But this kind of behavior isn't exactly surprising coming from Alcibiades, and everyone at the party knows that he and Agathon are going to get together anyway. You could cut that sexual tension with a chainsaw.
No, the real surprise comes when Alcibiades sees Socrates.
Humans aren't the most eloquent creatures when caught off guard, and Alcibiades is no exception. He leaps up, probably knocks over a precious vase, and proceeds to become everybody's favorite belligerent drunk, yelling profanities at Socrates for always having the most handsome young man with him (and if that isn't reminiscent of the Millennial Party Experience, I'm not sure what is). Their philosophizing continues until Alcibiades makes his speech about Socrates after a few more cups of wine.
The thing is, the more Alcibiades speaks about Socrates, the more he reveals about himself. Every half-assed insult and backhanded compliment really just amounts to one big confession of all-consuming, unrequited love. Practically speaking, his proclamation is analogous to the drunk texts you still send your ex.
“But Hannah,” you might say, “those drunk texts were sent in a moment of weakness. They were the result of too many glasses of wine and living vicariously through Carrie Bradshaw's love life. I didn't mean any of it.”
Well, not exactly. Studies have shown that our thinking and rationalizing don't actually change when we drink. It's just that the drunker we are, the less we care, or the more we think others won't care. Any kind of drunk thought or action is really more like the concept of pregaming than the moment of weakness we normally consider it to be. Pregaming isn't for our enjoyment, or even for the long-term benefits; it's a fast track to the end result. Similarly, drunk thoughts put us on the fast track to acting on the desires we usually ignore because we care about the consequences too much.
I'm not saying every thought you have while drunk is an honest one. We have millions of thoughts a day while sober, and most of them don't carry any weight. But consider those thoughts about the hot swimmer on your floor, or the comment that you wish you'd made but never did just to spare someone's feelings. The things that you might just blurt out in an alternate universe, but push down because you fear the consequences. Those are the thoughts that slip out after a few too many beers.
Think about it: How many belligerent fighting words or drunk “I love you”s have been said under the daze of alcohol? We use alcohol as a mask for our actions, dismissing them in the morning as “reckless behavior,” categorizing them neatly into moments of inebriation and slow thinking, as if we weren't thinking at all.
While drunk, you can flirt with reckless abandon, knowing that if the other person doesn't reciprocate, they'll blame the fermented sugars in your bloodstream. It's easy to make a high-stakes situation more manageable if we think we have an out.
As the ancient saying goes, “In vino, veritas”—in wine, there is truth. But what is the point of truth if we refuse to acknowledge it?
The problem comes in the morning, when the sunlight hits us full in the face, bringing reality and all its baggage with it. Alcibiades just passes out, so we don't really get to see his slow, painful (and not to mention hungover) realization of a wildly embarrassing confession of inadequacy and low-key obsession.
So, next time you're sitting in a circle with all of your closest philosophizing friends, don't dismiss what you say while drunk. If you want to use alcohol as an excuse, fine. But it isn't. It's not about whether what you did was good or bad, excusable or unforgivable.
It's that you shouldn't disregard the things you say while drunk. After all, you probably had the thought while sober.
Hannah Barbosa Cesnik is a first-year who has been on the receiving end of many a drunk comment. She can be found on twitter at @HCesnik. Everything I need to know I learned in LitHum runs alternate Tuesdays.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.