My Seltzer, My Self

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Do you remember the first time you stumbled upon a satisfaction you tried to make entirely your own? The rush of realizing you’ve found a thing you love that could, maybe and finally, distinguish you from everyone else? As good as it feels to find people who share your interests, there’s something delicious about homing in on something that feels more distinct and specific to yourself, and then doubling the hell on down.

Or at least that’s what I thought, before the dentist told me my signature seltzer habit was rotting my already squishy teeth.

It wasn’t the first time a dentist had tried to warn me that drinking quarts of seltzer instead of any still water whatsoever was a corrosive mistake. But that day, the combination of my exhaustion and her alarm as she traced the white outline of my x-rayed jaw cut through my usual defenses. “Ah, well,” I thought, burrowing deeper under my weighted smock. “Another defining personality trait bites the dust.”


Unlike most of the kids on my close-knit street growing up, my household didn’t partake in “drinking milk with meals” culture. My Ohioan dad might’ve, but my Iranian-Armenian mother, grossed out by the very concept, preferred something with a bit more bite. In our New Jersey suburb, replete with Jewish delis and New York City transplants, the clear tonic of seltzer was extremely accessible. We bought bottles in bulk so she could drink sparkling water every night after (never during) dinner, a habit that seemed to me like the height of sophistication.

At some point during the first grade, I went to a friend’s house and was presented with a bowl of spaghetti and a truly enormous glass of quivering milk. I recoiled, then saw an opportunity to put my own stamp on the meal. I refused the proposed pairing, eyeing the splattered sauce and opaque glass with contempt until my friend’s exasperated mom gave up and swapped the skim out for seltzer.

High off the success of bullying an exasperated parent into submission (apologies, Andi), I started experimenting with the form until I concocted a signature drink not even my mother could claim: the incredibly complex and sophisticated cocktail of “orange juice and seltzer.” Water (i.e. “plain water”) didn’t have shit on orange juice and seltzer, a treat that, at its best, was so tart and bubbly it made my eyes screw up in delighted pain. If you’ve ever enjoyed the exquisite touch of chasing a meal with a nightcap or a coffee, you might understand the smug joy I was bringing to my tiny suburban days with orange juice and seltzer.

Better still, when I wasn’t being a brat to parents just trying to give hyperactive kids a snack, they were visibly tickled by this 7 year-old ordering a spritz with her cereal. I loved it. I ate that attention right up. Orange juice and seltzer became my biggest triumph — until the day I went to a grocery store and saw shelves lined with dappled bottles of Orangina, the sparkling orange drink that fancies itself a luxe alternative to Fanta. I was so convinced they plagiarized me that I cried.


Once I got over my outrage, I ditched my principles and got on board with Orangina, whose elite glass bottles quite literally felt fancier than any soft drink I’d ever handled. But my overarching devotion to seltzer and refusal to drink plain water like I was “supposed” to (always air quotes on that irrefutable medical fact) only intensified over time.

Seltzer followed me from elementary school to high school, where I bonded with my best friend over belonging to Sparkling Water Families. (That and Dashboard Confessional, but seltzer proved the more permanent similarity.) Seltzer followed me to college, where it became my favorite hangover cure. (Hard seltzers like White Claw and Truly hadn’t broken through yet, but when they did, I miraculously knew better than to let myself get lost in their deceptively smooth bubbles.)

Seltzer followed me across the country to Los Angeles, where new brands and spins on my beloved beverage kept the obsession fresh. (There’s just no competing with a Topo Chico from a taco truck.) Seltzer followed me to my last, shabbiest west coast apartment that saw me at my lowest, overwhelmed and inevitably surrounded by empty seltzer bottles. (It only took a week of living together for my roommate to make a game of finding half-drunk seltzers in increasingly strange places, from the freezer to the bathroom cabinet to inside a toppled cowboy boot.) Finally, seltzer followed me back to the east coast, where I settled in New York City and had more seltzer to choose from than I’d ever dreamed possible. (I christened my new rooftop with a bottle of champagne that promptly exploded its cork straight into my jaw, thus requiring a frozen seltzer ice pack.)

a text of a photo of Caroline holding a bottle of seltzer to her jaw and the words "Hello from my roof where I held a bottle of champagne whose cork promptly Eexploded into my jaw, at which point I iced it with seltzer and continued pouring champagne"

No matter where I went, the fastest way for new friends to demonstrate that they knew me was to tease me about my love for seltzer, or even become infatuated with it themselves. Again, I embraced it. Everyone needs a Thing, I figured. Loving, spilling, and evangelizing seltzer had been mine long before it became a cultural touchstone, and for as long as I could remember. I’d made sure of it.

At this point, I should acknowledge an unavoidable truth: Seltzer, by its very definition, is not very interesting on its own. It’s just water with bubbles! Put another way, though, it’s water that sparkles, which is just so clearly better than water that doesn’t. To anyone who dared ask why I had spent so much time, energy, and money integrating carbonation into my daily life, I’d heave a weary, self-righteous sigh. “Water’s just so boring,” I’d say to them. Nothing, I’d say to myself, could be more damning than to be boring.


I’ve always been jealous of people who’ve always known what they like. Whether in food and drink, decor and entertainment, or sex and relationships, having a defined sense of taste always seemed the easiest way to figure out who you are. But it feels like I’ve spent most of my life fluctuating between trends in hopes of landing on my own. If I didn’t know what I wanted from myself, I could at least suss out what other people did. I even followed that path to the extreme of becoming a professional tastemaker, turning my love for TV into a career of breaking shows down for others so they could discern if they liked them or not. Maybe that, for a while, would be enough.

As much as I’d love to blame all this indecision on being a bisexual Libra, that’s just growing up, isn’t it? Finding out what you’re actually into and want, even (especially) if you think you already know?

Sitting in that dentist’s chair some 25 years after I first latched on to orange juice and seltzer as my brightest personality trait, I looked back at my lifelong devotion to seltzer and saw so many other things I’d tried to make My Thing just for the sake of it, or else the approval of other people. Sometimes it was as innocuous cutting matching bangs with my friends. Sometimes it meant underlining exactly how closeted I was by amassing an impressively banal collection of sweater vests, “just because.” Other times, it meant commiserating with coworkers while chain-smoking American Spirits (bleak) or ordering whiskey on the rocks at corporate happy hours in the hopes of impressing married men (bleaker). All the times, it was exhausting. Far flung from my childhood home and certainties, nothing came as easily as orange juice and seltzer.

It became an instinct to throw together a pile of interests, desperately hoping they’d assemble a human being other human beings would want to know and love. All the while, [Carrie Bradshaw voice], I couldn’t help but wonder: What if all these obsessions and attempts to differentiate myself didn’t assemble anyone worth knowing at all? Who was I underneath the detritus of abandoned hobbies and TV shows and labored drink orders? Who could I be without the habit of picking a path for its shape rather than knowing if I actually wanted to go down it at all? As I left the dentist, I didn’t know. Sore and half-numb, I just grabbed a bottle of plain, flavorless water and headed home.


And lo, we’ve reached that part of the personal essay where I tell you what I’ve learned, what I intend to do going forward, etc etc. Now that I’m firmly in my mid-thirties, and a year removed from that harrowing X-ray and ensuing existential crisis spiral….well, it’s still hard to say for sure. True personal growth is never linear as “person minus coping mechanism equals cured.” But it’s probably not a coincidence that in the months since, I’ve found myself in a completely different place: jobless (by luxurious choice), calmer, brighter. I’ve had the time and space (and therapy) to ask myself all those questions and sift through the answers — as messy as they may be — for any scraps of gold lurking therein.

So here’s what I’ve found, as best as I can say it:

I’ve done my best to embrace what I love without glancing sideways to make sure everyone else agrees.

I’ve given myself more time outside my career and daily responsibilities to understand what lights me up rather than worry so much about what lights others up that I snuff myself out.

I’ve cut myself more more slack when it comes to knowing exactly what I want (or don’t), and more permission to like what I like so long as it doesn’t hurt me.

And as for the biggest question of all: Yes, I have stopped using seltzer as my primary hydration vehicle. I even got one of those reusable (plain) water bottles. I’ll drink seltzer when it’s on offer, usually with lemon or bitters or as a swift kick to my senses on a foggy morning when coffee isn’t enough. But I’m also much more aware of what I can leave behind without losing myself with it. For now, that means releasing the pressure to always be sparkling, granting myself grace when I feel too plain, and believing myself capable of landing somewhere in the middle.

Bubble Trouble is a series helmed by Autostraddle Managing Editor Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about the nostalgia, effervescence, and never-ending appeal of carbonated beverages.

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Caroline Darya Framke

Caroline Darya Framke is a writer and critic living with her anxious fox-dog in Brooklyn, NYC. She was previously Chief TV Critic at Variety, where she wrote features, cover stories, and approx. 80 million reviews. Her pop culture writing has also appeared on Vox, The Atlantic, NPR, and more. You can follow her (for now) on Twitter dot com.

Caroline Darya has written 2 articles for us.


    • Okay to be FAIR, you’d have to drink an awful lot of seltzer(/black coffee) to get the same warning I did, I’m sure you’re fine!! and thank you v much

  1. first of all i relate to all of this about trying to find your thing and seeing what other people are doing quite intensely as also a bisexual libra who did the american spirits and the whiskey on the rocks but also


    everyone makes fun of me but this is what my mom made for us to drink with popcorn as like a special treat and now if i am having popcorn after 6pm (before 6pm it is best with coca-cola, but no caffeine after 6pm!) i MUST have some seltzer + orange juice with it, it is IMPERATIVE

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