Dating trends are seemingly endless, but one that appears to be surging in popularity this year is dry dating. According to Bumble, 34 per cent of surveyed users say they’re more likely to go on an alcohol-free date than they would have before the pandemic, meaning that looking for love while sober is on the rise.
But how do you know if you should start dating someone without some liquid courage? Or what if you’re newly sober and are nervous about asking someone to do something other than grab drinks for a date? We chatted with sexual health and consent educator Samantha Bitty, who is sober, to get advice and insight into what you should keep in mind while embracing sober dating.
Know your motivation for sober dating
If you’re someone who struggles with substances, you might have a different approach to dry dating than someone who is sober curious. Bitty points out that it’s important to know a person’s motivations for sober dating, as well as your own, as that will determine the best way to date for you.
For someone who is sober curious, Bitty recommends putting that you’re sober in your dating profile — so that you’re setting your intentions from the start. Plus, it helps people to know what you may not be comfortable doing. “So for some people, they’re like, ‘you know, I want to do things like go to go on walks or go for coffees or go to the movies as opposed to meeting in a bar or restaurant,'” she explains. She also adds that others might be completely fine being in a bar, depending on their motivations.
How to set boundaries with your date around drinking
Daters who might not have issues with substances might not mind if their date wants to sip on an alcoholic drink while they’re together, but Bitty points out that other people who might be in recovery may need to set boundaries with potential partners. Bitty suggests saying something such as, “I’m not comfortable with you using substances while we’re getting to know each other” to make your stance known.
“Another important point is, you don’t owe anybody anything,” Bitty explains. “You don’t have to explain why you’re sober, [but] you can if you want to. I’m in a place of my sobriety personally, where I don’t have any shame or internalized stigma about being a recovering alcoholic. So I am very transparent about why I don’t use substances and why I don’t want partners to use them while they’re with me.”
Bitty also explains that daters might not be aware that their sober daters or potential partners might have times where they are unaffected by seeing someone drink, and there are other times where they might smell alcohol or taste it on someone else and feel triggered. As a suggestion, Bitty points out that knowing yourself and meeting yourself where you are at in terms of your comfort level is important.
Know that you aren’t a burden for your choices
One of the things Bitty says she hears the most — especially from sober women — is that they feel guilty for setting boundaries. “They’re like, ‘oh, well, I don’t want to control someone else’s actions,'” she says. “And I just want people who are sober in recovery to not ask for permission to be where they’re at in their relationship to substances. So not feeling like they are a burden or a killjoy because you can’t be around substances at that time.”
“When you’re somebody who is sober or someone who won’t be drinking or using drugs on dates, it is a really common thing for people to not want to date you,” she says. “That is something that comes up because there are people who like to party; it’s part of their lifestyle. They like to party with partners and they want that to be part of their dynamic with a partner. And it can sometimes feel like, ‘oh, nobody wants to date me because I’m sober.’ And that can be an added layer of shame or stigma, or might influence you to shift your boundaries around substances.”
We all know that once you’ve had a few drinks, it’s like, ‘oh yeah, I’m really attracted to this person.’ And then the next day you’re like, ‘oh, no.’
Bitty encourages people to not only pay attention to how they feel, but to honour themselves. “There are so many people out there who are totally able to respect that boundary and want to,” she says.
Don’t forget about consent
Taking a shot or doing a quick hit before a date might simply feel like you’re simply using social lubricant, however, it can be easy to forget that substances can cloud your judgement. A dinner date with too much wine might have you and the person you met on Tinder vibing with one another, but then the next day you might question if you actually had chemistry or if you were just buzzed.
“That doesn’t mean that our experiences intoxicated are all unwanted,” Bitty says. “I think it’s important to pay attention to the intentionality.” She explains that when you’re sober there is a level of intention that gets to occur that is genuine and authentic to your personality and your date’s personality. “We all know that once you’ve had a few drinks, it’s like, ‘oh yeah, I’m really attracted to this person.’ And then the next day you’re like, ‘oh, no.'”
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Advice for anxious people who are new to dating sober
With anything new, there’s a learning curve — and that’s also true of dry dating. “When I got sober, I had no idea that I had social anxiety. I had no idea that I had difficulty maintaining eye contact with people,” Bitty says. But she says to give yourself grace and know that it’s okay to be awkward. As Taylor Swift said in her NYU commencement speech: embrace the cringe.
“I honestly encourage people to be vulnerable and to be transparent [and say] ‘I am really nervous’ or ‘I’m feeling awkward,'” Bitty shares. “And if you’re on a date with someone that is going to be a good match for you or a sustainable match for you, they’re going to be like ‘me too’ or ‘thanks for telling me,'” she explains.
Related: The worst cities in Canada for dating.