The first date doesn’t always have to include alcohol.
Story: Dr. Duy Nguyen
When it comes to dating, “let’s grab a drink” is often the go-to first date invitation. Many opt to cure first date jitters with a libation or two to “chill out” and feel more comfortable. What happens if you are a recovering alcoholic and you can’t opt for “liquid courage” to get you through those awkward dating moments? For approximately 30 million Americans who identify as recovering from alcohol abuse, dating while sober often is a tricky reality.
Here are tips on love without booze:
1. Take the lead and suggest a dry date.
The easiest way to maintain sobriety is to avoid situations where alcohol is present. Having several alcohol-free dating options already in mind can empower you to steer the date in a dry direction more easily. Opt for daytime dates that are more activity focused and get you outside to enjoy quality time together away from the bar. Going to places such as museums, galleries, fairs, and festivals that aren’t conducive to drinking could be fun. People who don’t drink often are the most creative when it comes to choosing fun dates.
2. Create your new story and get honest.
In the spirit of 12-step recovery, which emphasizes the importance of self-honesty, aim for truthfulness in how you present yourself. If an online dating questionnaire asks how much you drink, don’t let fear about what others may think prevent you from checking the “Never” box. Frame out when and how you plan to reveal what inspired your decision not to drink. Simply saying that you no longer drink alcohol is enough in the beginning. When you get to know someone better, share your story from a place of pride in an achievement.
3. Get clear on what you want in a partner.
If someone has an issue with you not drinking, then they clearly aren’t the right person for you and that’s OK. Decide if you would prefer to date someone who understands recovery, may even have been through it themselves, or is a health enthusiast who also doesn’t drink.
While there are a lot of benefits to dating those in recovery, it also can lead to risky situations. There may be times when one partner relapses and the other follows. If you decide that you want to date non-recovering people, it’s best to have some clean time under your belt and be solid in your recovery, as this can lead to tempting situations.
4. Trust your gut—nerves can be a good indicator.
Your nerves could very well be indicating that there is something there. That is, chemistry. Alcohol typically dulls our sensory and emotional experience, so without it we’re open to the raucous disarray of emotions that warp us when we’re under the spell of a potential new love. Of course, that doesn’t make the experience of a new relationship any easier. Try to reframe the experience in a way that embraces these jitters.
5. Don’t make love the new addiction.
On top of the excitement that comes with meeting a potential new partner, scientifically, we produce numerous hormones that can increase that excitement. A new relationship can very much become a replacement drug. Many confuse infatuation with love, so it’s a good idea to take it slowly. Again, make sure that you are at a place emotionally that can handle all of the new feelings that come with dating and be prepared if relationships don’t end the way you expected.
6. Embrace the awkward.
Being sober will probably increase the number of awkward pauses. We’re sharper and more present when we’re not drinking, which can actually be used as an advantage to navigate conversation and ask the other person about themselves, which enables a deeper connection and more trust.
7. Keep first dates short.
The majority of first dates that extend into the wee hours of the morning are alcohol-fueled and can lead to unintended promiscuity. Go into the date with a self-imposed time frame in mind—two to three hours—and then make another date if there’s interest. For a recovering alcoholic, especially someone in early sobriety, being “forced” to bar hop will be like white knuckling it on a scary roller coaster.
About the writer:
Dr. Duy Nguyen is a board-certified psychiatrist at Beachway Therapy Center, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Boynton Beach. He specializes in providing psychiatric care in a variety of settings, including residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation, inpatient and outpatient mental health, and the VA Medical Center.