When it comes to dating and falling in love, many of us learn how to do it and what to expect from movies and TV. Oftentimes, alcohol is involved. Turn on any television and you’ll see that alcohol “helps take the edge off” by giving us a dose of “liquid courage”. The Big Bang Theory’s Raj morphs from a button-lipped, awkward man around women into a Don Juan after just one drink. Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw hypes herself up for an uncomfortable sex talk with her boyfriend with “two for the price of one margaritas.” Dating without alcohol doesn’t usually get a mention at all.
Advice columns tout a glass of wine as the go-to elixir to curb those first date jitters and meeting for drinks is often the default first date activity. But what happens if you’ve chosen not to drink alcohol—whether because you’re in recovery from alcohol use disorder (something that impacts 1 in 8 Americans, according to The Washington Post) or because you’ve simply chosen to be sober or a mindful drinker (which 56% of Millennials describe themselves as, according to Business Insider) or any other of the countless reasons people choose to live an alcohol-free life?
“My standards changed when I cut back on drinking”, says Tessa, a 42-year-old New Yorker who’s sober curious, “I used to date anyone who paid attention to me. Now I’m more discerning when it comes to vetting future dates”. Tessa’s not alone in this.
“Our romantic relationships often reflect the relationships that we have with ourselves,” says Keegan Herring, LPC, and mindfulness-based therapist. Sometimes we settle for what we think we deserve. Dating without alcohol can help us figure out what we’re looking for in a romantic relationship.
Dating without alcohol, whether it’s your first time or you’ve been through this a few rounds, can feel like new territory. As with most new things, figuring out where to start can be the hard part. With that in mind, we’ve compiled some tips and ideas to get you started.
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To Put Sober on Your Dating Profile or Not
For better or worse, apps are how we tend to meet people nowadays. There are a few ways to disclose your relationship with alcohol when dating through The Apps. Remember, you never need to share *why* you don’t drink—unless you want to!
Declare it on Your Profile
This type of upfront honesty presents a challenge since it essentially serves as the ultimate filter. Whether you state sober or booze-free or in recovery, some folks will, unfortunately, see it as a deal-breaker and swipe left on your account. That said, I find this to be the most efficient way to find like-minded souls. You don’t waste your time with someone who prioritizes alcohol over a true connection.
Let Your Match Know Through DM
If you’d rather be a bit more chill about your booze-free life on your profile but still want to discuss it before meeting, you can tell your date about it at the DM stage. Once you’ve bonded over some shared interests and some trust is established, you might feel more comfortable sharing that you don’t drink alcohol. This can also be an efficient way to make things known before committing to an in-person date.
Tell Them IRL
Some folks don’t want to talk about the fact that they don’t drink or are drinking less, and that is completely valid. It’s nice to let a date just be a date. You can simply order a non-alcoholic drink and the other person may not notice. Lisa Smith, author of Girl Walks Out of Bar and co-host of Recovery Rocks podcast, waited until their fifth date to tell her now-husband that she didn’t drink. Like many of us, she had anxiety about sharing something so personal with someone she liked. “I’m sure you’ve noticed I don’t drink alcohol,” she told him. His response was the perfect, most comforting, and comical answer: “You don’t? So you’ll be a cheap date!”, he said with a shrug.
You can avoid the “when should I tell them” drama altogether by downloading a sober-friendly dating app. A few of my favorites are Loosid, CASL (Clean and Sober Love), the perfectly named Sober Dating, or Meet Mindful.
If The Apps aren’t your thing, you can also connect with like-minded folks by exploring your own creative passions. A good portion of my early recovery was spent taking classes. I studied writing, yoga, improv, and Spanish. The friends and romantic partners I met in these settings had a rich foundation whether or not they drank alcohol. The pandemic obviously changed this a bit, but you can still connect with folks in online breakout rooms.
What to Do On the Actual Date
The typical “let’s grab coffee” works with the same casualness as “let’s grab drinks!”, but your time is still spent just sitting there…drinking coffee…talking about yourselves while anxiety shows its ugly teeth through foot-tapping or voraciously picking at a nagging hangnail. Because, let’s face it, dating can be awkward AF.
Observing something external like art in a museum or flowers in a botanical garden can create a fun, light way to connect on a date. Dates that involve movement can also be a proactive way to shed those anxious jitters.
Remember to Date Yourself First
Before you rush to create a dating profile or finally ask out that person you’ve had your eye on, it’s important to date yourself. Spending time single and sober was essential to me figuring out who I am and what I’m looking for in a partner.
“One of the things I did in early sobriety was taking myself out on dates. I ordered whatever I wanted from the menu, I knew the conversation would be great, plus I knew my date would put out at the end of the night,” says Nick, a sober entrepreneur in Manhattan.
Even if you’re in a committed relationship, it can still be beneficial to prioritize alone time. “It’s important to spend time alone, especially in recovery to figure out your boundaries,” Herring continues, “When you cut out substances, you’re left with what is. The only way through it is by being present with yourself”.
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Dating without alcohol might feel like a challenge in the beginning, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. As you grow in your knowledge of yourself and what you want out of a relationship, it becomes easier to set boundaries and be up front about your status with alcohol. And the right person will respect your decision not to drink.