In my three years of sobriety, I’ve done quite a bit of dating — much (…much) more than my sober peers recommended. I went on many dates that turned out to be flops, and it was hard not to take them personally. A ‘bad’ date would cause me to draw some pretty big (and unrealistic) conclusions: I’ll always have horrible luck, I’ll never find love, and so on. I felt residual shame from my former drinking habits, uncomfortable in my body, and unsure of who I was without alcohol.
Now, I know that my sobriety should be honored and celebrated. Looking back, if a date wasn’t down with it (‘it’ being, my sobriety), I shouldn’t have been down with them. I can now recognize that not everyone is “my person,” and that isn’t a reflection of my character or my decision to live alcohol-free. I’ve learned to look for red flags: like if I tell this person I’m sober, and they say “oh sh*t”, then I probably should unmatch with them. I’ve had to get comfortable in my ability to walk away from any situation. Dating is complicated, and doing it sober can often feel even more complicated. I’ve been in a relationship for over two years now, and with more experience in both dating and recovery, I’ve come to understand that the authentic me is the best me. And someone will recognize that — the right person. Now, I see that sobriety is not an inconvenience but a superpower, and that I’m totally, 100%, dateable.
How can you get there yourself? Well, there’s no easy answer. But to get started, I’d like to share a few suggestions of how I do it (and what I wished I’d known).
My Best Practices For Dating in Sobriety:
- Call your hype man beforehand. It’s common in the early days of sobriety to feel lost about who you are as a romantic partner, or as a sensual or sexual being. Prescribe yourself daily doses of hype — before a date is the perfect opportunity to begin. Your close friends are the ones who know you best, and can remind you of all the amazing qualities you bring to the table. Spend a moment relishing in the wonderful person you are, especially without alcohol.
- Trust your (sober) instincts. A gift of sobriety is that people, places, and things are no longer seen through an alcohol-induced haze. So, trust your instincts. If you arrive at the date and feel uncomfortable at the venue, share openly that you’d like to go elsewhere or text a friend to crash the date or meet you nearby. If you become uneasy with the way your date is drinking (I’ve unfortunately experienced this), you have every right to leave. A gift of sobriety is the ability to honor your truest instincts. This is your power, especially when it comes to something as vulnerable as dating.
- Remember that you do not owe anyone an explanation. It’s no secret that drinking is commonplace, and oftentimes unhealthy, in the dating world. If your relationship with alcohol is brought up on the date, honor your own needs first. Remember that you are entitled to decide for yourself how much you’d like to share or not share. Whatever your reason for not drinking, whether because you’re sober, cutting back, or simply don’t want to drink that evening, that’s your business — and yours alone — to talk about.
I went through a lot of trial and error while dating and newly sober, and fortunately had guidance from a therapist. Recently, I asked Sabrina Spotorno, licensed therapist at Monument, for her clinical perspective. She had invaluable insights to share.
Tips from Sabrina Spotorno, LSW, CASAC:
- Envision what you want the date to look like: What environment, time of day, or other factors will allow you to feel most free to connect with your date? Try dating in nontraditional, alcohol-free environments. The more creative you can be, the more you can engage in genuinely fun and dynamic activities. Environments that include alcohol aren’t completely off limits, but it might save you some added stress. Plus, you’ll likely impress your date for going above and beyond the obvious!
- Order an alcohol-free beverage: Set the precedent early with what you prefer to drink. If you’re not comfortable talking about your sobriety, that’s completely okay. Beverage names and appearances are so vague that the other person will most likely not be able to tell if it’s non-alcoholic. Having your favorite alcohol-free drink in mind can ease any discomfort when it comes time to ordering. Once it becomes something that doesn’t feel like a priority, you can get back to the good stuff… getting to know each other!
- Choose joy: Sometimes sobriety can be wrongly associated with limitations. Moreover, the fear of judgment can prevent a candid conversation about alcohol-free lifestyles. What would it look like to genuinely celebrate your sobriety? If we want to live in a more inclusive world, we get to practice seeing the joy in our positive choices. You are choosing to be authentic and not hide what you need to feel good. What could be sexier than that?
Navigating relationship challenges while managing your drinking
With these tips in mind, I hope you will feel more prepared and excited to date either now or in the future. Remember that there are so many parts of you, and your relationship with alcohol is only one piece of the puzzle. That said, your sobriety is something to take great pride in. Know that you are bringing your truest self to the occasion. The right person will celebrate that.