I’m resenting always being the designated driver.

As a person who abstains from drinking (for reasons of self-discipline), I am often expected (usually by assumption or without asking) to be the driver for most events and parties with my family and friends.

Does my personal decision not to drink bring with it the responsibility of serving others around me in this manner? Logically, why should others not enjoy themselves at a party (remain sober to drive) if I have already decided not to drink? I sometimes feel “used,” though, because of my personal decision.

Dear Involuntary Designated Driver,

We love how the questions that come into our Ask the Rabbi mailbox make us think. Your question certainly did that.

We would like to expand your question. In many ways it is the same one as the at-home mother whose work-in-an-office neighbor asks her to sign for her packages or let the plumber into her house. We could brainstorm and think of a dozen similar situations. Basically, people are assuming that they are asking another person for something that is no big deal.

That isn’t true, of course. Driving people home means that you get home later and puts extra wear and tear on your car. Committing to answering the doorbell for the delivery man means interrupting whatever you’re doing at an unexpected time and not being able to spontaneously go for a walk. The person asking may say to himself, “He’s driving anyway,” or “She’s at home anyway,” but he is making a mistake. When asking a favor of someone we should never minimize what we are asking. At the very least, we should never assume that help is available and we should show gratitude.  If it is more than a one-time occurrence, we should take care to show our thanks with a card, gift or other gesture of appreciation.

So important is gratitude that God made Aaron bring the curse of blood upon the River Nile rather than Moses because Moses had been a beneficiary of the river, as it were, when he floated upon it as an infant.

On the flip side, you (and our hypothetical neighbor) have an opportunity to show kindness to other people. It seems from what you wrote that the difficulty is in your attitude to driving people home rather than the technical details. You feel taken for granted, which leaves a bad taste in your mouth. If you saw it differently, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem.

Can you examine your own life to see if you are ever on the other side of the equation. Is there one co-worker who frequently heads out for coffee and either offers to pick a cup up for you or you call out, “While you’re there could you get me…?” Do you assume that your spouse will do certain things and neglect to thank her each and every time? Do you ever say to yourself, “It’s no big deal” when you ask a friend for what seems to you a small favor?

Your question is an opportunity for all of us to remind ourselves that anything someone does for us is a big deal. We should be on the lookout for those “small” kindnesses that make our lives easier and happier. We should make a point of expressing (and feeling) grateful for things others do for us even – or perhaps especially – if they are done routinely. And above all we should never have an expectation that others will do us favors. A sense of entitlement is repugnant while gratitude is Godly.

In your case, because you feel people are taking your help for granted we would suggest a two-fold track. First, do some honest introspection to see where you can improve yourself in this area.  Look for occasions to express appreciation to family members and co-workers. You will be doing the right thing and maybe your actions will even influence them to do the same.

Then, the next time there’s an event where you assume you will be expected to drive, think carefully. If you truly can’t do it without feeling resentful, then let it be known in advance that you have plans after the event (and subsequently do something, even if it is going out for a cup of coffee) and, unfortunately, won’t be able to drive. Don’t sound apologetic or feel the need to say what your plans are. Ultimately, you need to decide if this is too big a thing for you to do or just one of the ways you can help out.

Safe driving,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

18 thoughts on “I’m resenting always being the designated driver.”

  1. I had similar experiences and feelings before I got married. I was in the Navy, and being Mormon (we’re not supposed to use that term anymore, but they haven’t yet told us what TO say), I don’t drink. It became bothersome, until I did some self-evaluation.

    That’s when I remembered that I actually LIKE helping people, and I actually LIKE driving (even in 5 MPH traffic). With that, I flipped my attitude. But I took it a step farther. When the sub I was on visited Guam for a month, 90% of the crew went out drinking every night (normal Navy behavior in the ’80s). The other 10% sat around complaining that there was nothing to do (also true).

    I turned it around. I like watching people, and care deeply about my shipmates (submariners are very close, like family), soI rented a cheap rusty car, Everybody had their own ways of getting to the bars, but never thought through to how they would get home, or get from one bar to another. The Navy had a van to go fetch them at bar closing time, with the caveat being that if you got too drunk, it would be noticed.

    A few hours after everybody left, I would get in my car and start touring the bars. I watched for guys getting totally wasted, and got them home (the boat). It took about a week for them to notice what I was doing, because I didn’t advertise it (If I did THAT, it would seem like I felt I was superior, and submariners HATE that!). Once they noticed, they relaxed more, because the Navy threat was gone, more accepted my ride (I never judged them, I just took care of them), and in return, they took care of me. If I needed anything, just ask. I never did, but it was nice to have the option.

    The one thing they REAALY did for me, a month later, was when I got married illegally (without Navy permission) in the Philippines. They all new I did, because their Filipino girlfriends were all talking about it. It was done in secret, with only one witness from the boat. Nobody else came, and, importantly, nobody blabbed. I brought her to the States six months later (visa took that long). 36 years later, we’re still married, even though it was a whirlwind romance (Met on Christmas Eve, proposal on New Years Day, married a week later, gone back to sea a week after that (EXACTLY what the Navy was trying to prevent! HAHA). Submariners are very independent and don’t like to follow the rules.

    40 years later, I still do the same thing. I love helping people, and do it whenever I can. My biggest focus, lately, has been on neighborhood emergency communications. I’m a ham radio operator, and use that.

    Tim Mauch

    1. Tim, that is a delightful story which is still going on. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. I was in this exact position during the decade of my 20’s. I went out to dance and my friends went out to drink. I don’t ever remember feeling upset about being the designated driver. I was happy to help keep everybody safe. Perhaps it was because my friends did appreciate it immensely and told me so all night. (I never had to pay a cover charge, buy food or gas or my soft drinks all night long.) Thinking back, though, I don’t think that was why I never felt used. I think it had more to do with the closeness I felt to my friends and family. Perhaps “designated driver” doesn’t think of himself as a part of a unit with the people he’s safely driving home? It’s just a thought as I don’t know the people involved. I think your advice was spot on.

    1. Lisa, I think you’ve hit an important note. How Designated Driver feels might partially be a reflection of other feelings, including that he doesn’t feel particularly close to these people.

  3. Dear Involuntary Designated Driver:

    Maybe, just as a gag, you might want to sign up as an Uber driver (get the windshield sticker, etc) and purchase one of the driving hats (looks kind of like a Greek fisherman’s hat). Then, before leaving for the next party with your “fares”, put the sticker in the window and be ready mount your phone on the dash and don your cap. As soon as your “fares” become comfortably seated in the car, ask them “Where are we going this evening folks?” In a fun way, that might help your friends recognize the value of the services being rendered.

    1. Humor is often a good way to deal with problems, Peter, as long as it doesn’t become a passive-aggressive cover-up. That would depend both on designated driver and his passengers. Definitely creative thinking.

  4. Should the gratitude of our fellow human beings be so important to us? Yes, it’s nice when people do appreciate what we do for them, but it’s not always the case and if we expect it then it always causes resentment and bad feeling when it’s not forthcoming. However, if we are truly wishing to serve God, any service we are able to do for others is a blessing. Our Father Who sees everything wants us to be kind and help one another and this should be enough for us….or have I got that wrong?

    1. You are right, Laura, and we actually speak quite a bit about that in the chapter on the Hebrew word for sacrifice in our book Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language. But we are humans, not angels, and there is such a thing as other’s taking advantage of us. If we aim to behave like angels then we will fail. We can move in that direction and push ourselves, but we also have to acknowledge when we need to take care of ourselves as well. Expecting thanks is looking for resentment as you say, but surrounding ourselves with people who are also working on themselves to grow means that they too will be working on being appreciative. That makes for a lovely family or community. Just like financial charity is an obligation, but it is limited (no giving away 90% of your earnings and becoming poor yourself), emotional charity is also an obligation but it does have limits. Hope this makes some sense.

  5. Just a comment if I may, in your Ancient Jewish Wisdom show, 8/28, you mentioned Uzza touching the Ark. This should show us that when it comes to honoring the Torah we must do things exactly as Hashem commands – no compromise, no modifications. Agree?

    1. Yes, Tom. However, difficulty arises today as God doesn’t speak to us as clearly and openly as he did to our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

  6. What do you think of this idea: If he is feeling resentful, he could think of a small favor the other person could do for him, and the next time the opportunity arises he could say, “Hey, I’ll drive you home this time if you’ll help me move my couch to a different spot in my living room.” Or, “I’ll drive you home tonight if you bring a bag of tomatoes from your garden!” Something small and commensurate, but then he would feel better and the other person would get the idea that they are asking for a favor and that gratitude or reciprocation are in order. Sometimes I feel like asking for these types of small things helps build community in relationships too, at the appropriate times and places and in a reciprocal relationship. (Especially on those occasions when I’m starting to feel used by a particular person.)

    I always enjoy reading Ask the Rabbi, and I love how responsive you are to the comments, and the variety of questions you answer. Thank you!

    1. G.R., I appreciate the thought that went into your suggestion, but I have to say that I don’t like it. I don’t think relationships should be quid pro quo with each side counting to make sure there is even giving and getting and laying it out so starkly. Obviously, there should be giving and getting from both sides and that’s why we asked our resentful driver to make sure that he wasn’t only looking myopically at that one instance where he is the giver. But, if it turns out that he is always on the giving side, taken for granted and never given appreciation I think it would be more honest to say, “I was glad to drive you home in the past, but I can’t continue to do that,” or to do it graciously. It strikes me the wrong way to make it a deal. Maybe some of our readers feel differently.

  7. I was the only one in my group that had a car and drove, for many years. I always had to drive everyone everywhere and my friends would even ask to stop at the ATM or grocery store on the way to an event. I solved the problem by buying a small sports car, limiting rides for 1 guest in my car, and not a big person! Eventually, my friends bought cars and shared the driving. Perhaps a Smart Car is in your future!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Annette-
      I smiled at your creative solution to free-riders, but I must confess there was a part of me that diagnosed you as someone who has real trouble with any form of confrontation. Isn’t buying a new car, perhaps one that may not have been your first choice in vehicles, chiefly in order to avoid having room for your free riders, a little extreme? Would it not have been less expensive and less burdensome to have found a way to politely inform your friends that you were no longer available as a transportation resource? You might have said to them all, or written them all a short note indicating that you loved being in a position to help them but henceforth, you’d be available to help with transport at these times on these days only. But I may be wrong,

      1. I had a car accident and had to buy a new car and had always had my eye on the Honda Del Sol, so when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to buy the sports car. I’m in SF and many people don’t drive. I am very confrontational (not always very tactful), so that wasn’t the problem – my friends just wouldn’t change their pattern. I would even say, “don’t ask me to stop at the ATM or store – make sure you are ready when I pick you up”, but they’d still ask for stop here or there!

  8. Great answer!

    Are you podcasts available as transcriptions? I prefer to read rather than listen.


    Steve Gottry in Arizona. (Please let me know when you come here/speak here. Thanks!)

    1. I feel positive that others include me in their sphere and can call on me for help. I don’t need to ask for help, yet, as I am only 85, but do have a neighbor with many children in the area who has asked me to help out with the mail and repairing her walker. It becomes an “UP” day for me as there are very few things I can not fix.

      1. John, bless your attitude. You are right that being a giver makes us feel better. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t, which is our designated driver’s case. May you continue to be healthy and giving.

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