In my 17 odd months of (mostly) sober living, I have discovered a whole new fascinating world that is alcohol-free (AF) dating!
Before my more AF days, dating was everything and anything but free from booze, nor was it really ‘dating’.
Instead, this usually entailed meeting some guy at a bar, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and shouting conversation over blaring renditions of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Drink after drink would be consumed and the night would become blurrier and blurrier and then sometimes even fade completely as periods of blackouts set in. There would be a sloppy snog, a grope, or perhaps escalate further into more sloppy snogs and gropes. This would then be followed by a regretful morning wake-ups, a brutal hangovers, a massive LC (loser complex) and more than often, no follow-up ‘dates’.
Looking back, I find it so mind blowing how awful the whole situation was, how it left me feeling so empty and filled with shame, yet how I repeated this behavior for the most part of my teenage and adult life. I was drinking myself more ‘confident’, drinking the other person more attractive or interesting, drinking a cold bar environment warm, not to mention drinking away the feelings of discomfort when these men got more touchy with me, when secretly I wanted to run away. I was also drinking to create the illusion of intimacy, when really I hadn’t the slightest clue what intimacy really was.
At some point, I then started to drink to forget. To forget all these times before. I got so good at forgetting that I started to blackout after three glasses of wine.
Never did I realise that not drinking on a date or in social interactions with the opposite sex was an option, or something I was capable of. It sounded like a crazy idea. What would the other person think of me? This level of ‘uncoolness’ was unthinkable.
Little did I know that this was something I was completely capable of all along. That, in fact, I would not only come to really enjoy sober dating, but that I would get good at after a bit of practice.
Stepping into the sober world of dating was something I did not really have much preparation for, or guidance on. It was something I kind of had to figure out on my own. But having done this I feel I have learnt so much about myself as well as the process – which has been challenging at times, but so incredible rewarding for the most part.
Here’s some of the things I have learnt along the way!
Having to explain why I don’t drink (again)
This is usually a question that comes up very quickly in the dating process, but is one that actually becomes easier to answer over time. Sometimes the question has literally come up as ‘um…so are you an alcoholic’, to which I usually laugh. I mean, it is kind of ridiculous how our society views people as only having a problem with alcohol when they have gone so far as to ‘cross that threshold’, and not in the (often very long) lead up period where alcohol has become problematic in our lives.
The best way I have found to respond to the question on why I drink is to keep it light, and straight to the point:
“That’s a great question Gary! You know…I used to drink, but do not anymore. I just feel my life is just so much more fulfilling, meaningful and awesome without it!’ *Waves to crowd as I glide across the stage*
OK but seriously, being straightforward and coming across happy and positive about this is usually well received, and the conversation generally continues on smoothly. However, there have been times when some guys have felt the need to challenge me on my response , and not let the topic go. What I have come to realise over time, however, is that those who challenge me the most, generally seem to be the most unhappy about their own drinking. Although I try to keep a special reserve of empathy for these moments, it can get exhausting and annoying, fast.
Higher standards means less hooking up (boo)
When you don’t have alcohol to make people more exciting, more attractive or improved personalities, you generally need to choose people who are just more awesome in general. This is called having higher standards and it is a wonderful thing that happens when you stop drinking!
However if you, like me, used to base quite a lot of importance on hooking up over the weekend (in the hopes of filling up that black hole of self-worth)…then honey, this is something you are going to find slightly difficult.
Look don’t get me wrong, it’s not like it doesn’t happen at all, it does, but it just doesn’t happen as often as it used to, and I feel the sooner you accept this…the better.
I have just had to get used to it. It was pretty weird (and slightly depressing) for the first few months, and still crops up as a challenge to this day. However it has meant that I have had to work on developing my self-worth internally and from other activities, and not relying on getting it from meaningless and sloppy hookups (like that ever worked anyway).
So although I have dated quite a bit over the last 17 months, not hooking up on the first few dates is usually the norm (it can be weeks or months until even a first kiss sometimes). My general feeling is that if the connection isn’t awesome, then I am not really interested in pursuing things further, especially on a physical level. Whereas beforehand I probably would have drank myself into believing there was a connection and taking those next steps (ahh the lies we tell ourselves).
Dating others who like to drink quite a lot
So whilst I choose not to drink, it’s not something I particularly look for or expect in a partner. However, I definitely cannot date someone who drinks a lot now. It’s not something I can relate to, I do not enjoy being in environments where there is a lot of drinking, and I also really do not enjoy the smell of alcohol on a someone’s breath (beer breath is a real thing yo). This can pose a bit of a challenge at times and unless I start talent-scouting at local AA meetings, it’s not always the easiest trait to find in another dude.
Dates are so much more enjoyable and fun!
Without alcohol in the mix, there is more space to get creative with more adventurous activities such as going for a picnic, a walk in the park, going bowling, to putt putt, coffee shops or visiting a market on a Saturday morning. I have started to love morning and daytime dates, and although I still might do an evening drink from time to time, this is not something I enjoy as much.
It’s a breath of fresh air
Not only have I found shifting away from alcohol-centered activities to those mentioned above a breath of fresh air for myself, I have found that a lot of the guys I have dated have really enjoyed breaking away from this mould too. It’s so much easier to get to know someone in a relaxed and casual environment, and I genuinely believe that a lot of people want to break out of this drinking rut, and simply haven’t been exposed to its awesomeness yet!
Less sex, yet more intimacy
I always used to equate sex with intimacy, but drunken one night stands could not be further away from intimate. But whilst there might be less sex, I have experienced more intimacy than before. Getting to know someone sober, and learning to flirt without any ‘vices’ has been more meaningful than any drunken hook up I have ever had. I now come home from a night out and feel joy at recalling each conversation, every spark, every flirtatious moment, and knowing that this was all me – my humour, wit and authenticity shining out. I have never felt more confident with dating or around men before, something no amount of Chardonnay ever gave me!
For the times when there is sex, it is better than any drunken sex you have ever had. That I can assure you 🙂 [We are talking quality over quantity here folks!]
Getting to know what you want and what you like!
After these last few months I have really started to get to know what I like, and what I dislike. I have also learnt to say no. If I feel my values are being compromised, or if I see red flags, I generally know I need to move on. I have less time for shitty humans, and interactions, and unless I find someone who I feel is really awesome, I would rather be single than be in some average relationship-shaped-thing.
This is a theme I have noticed come up time and time again – how much less desperate I am. Less desperate to be liked by other people, for external approval or validation, to look a certain way, to be seen at certain parties or ‘scenes’ and of course less desperate to grab onto substances for safety. There’s a real peace that has come over me, in the realization that I am really good enough as I am right now. The ironic thing is that not giving a shit…is actually a fairly attractive quality.
After a string of dating and some poor attempts at relationships these last few months I decided to take a break with dating completely. Instead I have been focusing on less need to ‘grab’ for attention and validation, and rather build my self worth from inside even further. Dating, or relationships can also easily become ‘hooks’ or dependencies like substances can. So I believe periods of abstinence are valuable here too from time to time!
So after a few months of abstinence, I am pleased to say I have met someone who I really like, and am happier than ever before!
My SELF Bae! [Cue nausea]
And although I look forward to sharing my life with someone one day, for now I’ll be just be over here enjoying my own company, solo walks in the park, not having to share my food, and sleeping diagonally erryday.