Being sober and dating as a 20-something is real weird. Maybe it’d be less weird if I never drank, but I happen to be a recovering alcoholic who spent many years using booze as a crutch and a vehicle to getting what I wanted. Here’s what I’ve learned being sober AF while dating:
1. Many young people go out for drinks as a first date.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked out to a drink. It seems to be the go-to date idea. Maybe this would be cool if I was drinking, but I was also a raging alcoholic. Can’t we get more creative than cocktails and dive bars?
2. Creative dates are a surprise to people.
When I started using dating apps in sobriety, I said that I was great at coming up with fun date ideas because I refuse to get to know someone at a bar. I would offer cool ideas like a board game cafe, unique museums, or free stand-up comedy events. I found that people were regularly shocked at my ingenuity, as if it’s really that big of a deal to put some effort into crafting a creative date.
3. Not everyone is an alcoholic, but many people use drinking to escape reality.
When I started dating again, I met people from all walks of life. These people usually weren’t sober. I’ve learned that many people use drinking as a serious coping mechanism. I mean, how often do we hear someone casually say they’re going to down a bottle of wine at the end of the work day? I try not to judge, but I have to deal with reality as it is, so it gets frustrating when the other person can drink their problems away. I really am not interested in having someone who does that in my life.
4. I can’t expect everyone to live the same values that I do.
Being sober meant that I had to shake up my entire life. I had to change everything. I got rid of old friends and outdated ways of living and being. I had to shed the old life that was conducive to drinking. I now live a life full of spiritual values and I spend a ton of time considering how my actions affect others. Honesty, willingness, and open-mindedness are essential components to my sober life. I learned the hard way, though, that I can’t expect everyone else to live these same values. My life may depend on spiritual values, but the cute girl I met on Tinder doesn’t need to give a shit. It’s been a learning process to see what I’d like to welcome into my life.
5. Not everyone has amazing support networks like I do.
In a weird way, it’s awesome to have my life depend on certain values. I need to stay honest and connected with other people who are living similar lives in order for me to stay alive. This means that I have a huge support network. I have tons of people who would show up for me at the drop of a hat. When I started dating, I found it weird that others could live with only one or two people close to them. I had to realize that not everyone has to live like me.
6. Taking space and time to heal is ridiculously valuable.
Being a raging alcoholic played a part in having codependent relationships for a decade, but there are a lot of people in our culture who resist being single at all costs — alcoholic or not. I feel grateful that my sobriety and life literally depended on taking some time to be by myself. I learned how much of a gift it is to offer myself space and time to heal from the wounds of my past. I think many people could benefit from spending some serious time alone.
7. Now that I’m sober, I can never use the “Sorry, I was drunk” excuse.
I can’t tell you how many times the words “sorry, I was drunk” came out of my mouth. I apologized for my drunken behavior endless times. It got real old after a while. Being sober now means that I don’t have to say that bullsh*t excuse anymore, but it also means that I have to be accountable. Without alcohol to blame, I have to take full responsibility for any mistakes I make. This is both really freeing and pretty annoying.
8. If someone doesn’t like me because I don’t drink, it definitely wasn’t meant to be.
The first couple times I was rejected because I didn’t drink, I was really upset. I thought it was unfair. After some practice in the dating game and having years of sobriety under my belt, I see this as a blessing. Compatibility is all about how you fit into each others lives. The reality is that some people love to drink and do drugs. Just like my sober life isn’t wrong, their lives aren’t wrong. Now, when someone isn’t interested because of my sobriety, I’m glad to know sooner rather than later.
9. Slowing things down is radical in this hookup culture, but so worth it.
Want a ticket to getting into bed with a stranger? Alcohol is perfect. There’s nothing inherently wrong with hookup culture, I just found that I kept making choices that made me hate myself. I cheated on partners, had unprotected sex, and slept with people that didn’t respect me. Thank God now that I’m sober I can pump the brakes. I don’t have booze lowering my inhibitions. Instead, I can make decisions that align with how I want to be living my life. I can slow down and actually get to know someone before I jump their bones.
10. Relationships in sobriety are hard, but at least they’re real.
I can’t tell you how many relationships I had where I was literally drunk for most of it. Whenever there was a problem we’d yell, drink, and make up. I couldn’t figure out why things kept blowing up in my face. It was a sad way to live and be, really. In sobriety, relationships now are hard as hell. I can’t stay in them when I know they aren’t good, I have to always be honest, and I’m required to treat both of us with love and care. For a hopeless alcoholic like me, these are are all revolutionary acts. Still, I hold onto the fact that the relationships I now have are real.
Ginelle Testa is a wordsmith by trade and hobby. She’s a queer gal whose passions include recovery/sobriety, social justice, body positivity, and intersectional feminism. In the rare moments she isn’t writing, you can find her holding her own in a recreational street hockey league, thrifting eclectic attire, and imperfectly practicing Buddhism. Check out her blog!