Sober in the City: Adventures in Sober Dating

feature image via Stocksy

Google “Alcoholics Anonymous” + “dating.” The search results can be as anxiety producing as when you Google your cold symptoms. Nestled between dating sites, you’ll find articles describing the difficulties of sober dating (Colin Farrell called sober sex “terrifying”), stories of new romance triggering relapses, and conflicting advice regarding who and when you should date. I wish that I could say that these articles are just clickbait scare tactics. But dating was truly one of the most challenging aspects of my sobriety.

For starters, I had been in an addict relationship for 12 years prior to getting sober. As soon as I got sober, my partner, who was still using, dumped me. In addition to not being able to fully accept the idea of never EVER drinking again, I could not wrap my head around having to jump back into the dating scene – sober no less. Where would I find suitable dating candidates? How do I “come out” as sober? It’s bad enough that the queer dating pool is incredibly small. Now, I had to contend with the fact that some people would be averse to dating a sober recovering addict. Even worse is that substance abuse rates are higher in the LGBTQ community than in the mainstream population, making my dating pool ever smaller. Even worse, WORSE is the centrality of bars to LGBTQ culture, making where I could meet people even smaller still!!!

At first, I thought I would meet sober queer women to date in one of my recovery programs, perhaps someone in AA who could relate to my struggles and not lead me astray. I knew of a few sober folks who met their long-term significant others in the program and their relationships stood as powerful examples of supportive, functional sober love. That idea was quickly smashed when my sponsor told me, “Don’t shit where you eat.” I fully understood what they meant by that when I began to regularly witness the aftermath of AA breakups. People in the group took sides and former lovers would no longer feel safe sharing their experiences in a room with their exes.

Then there were stories of “relapse relationships.” Here’s the gist: Two recovering addicts together can be like gasoline just waiting for a match. One relapses, and the other soon follows. BOOM! Thus, I was told I should avoid dating other addicts at all costs and instead go for a “normie,” someone who has a healthy relationship with alcohol and who would not be down for any hardcore shenanigans. While some people in the program were advising me to stay away from anyone who was a recovering addict, others were advising me to stay away from anyone who drinks even a drop! Basically, this left no one. Yeah, that wasn’t going to work.

So, I decided to start my quest for single gals at the lesbian bar. I rolled into the local lezzie watering hole a few times with my sober crew as backup. I figured if anything went awry, I could easily bounce and never return because I no longer relied on bars as my primary source for entertainment and socializing. I eventually met someone (I’ll call her “Jane”), we exchanged numbers, and made plans for our first date. Jane suggested that we meet at a bar and I was simply too afraid to tell her that I would prefer to meet elsewhere. When I arrived for the date, Jane was waiting and already drinking… and drinking HARD. As the night progressed, Jane kept knockin’ em back and, of course, asking me to keep up. I would offer to order our drinks at the bar to avoid having to come out as sober: “One vodka cran, and one cran and seltzer. No, just cran and seltzer on the second one. No, just cran and seltzer, no vodka. Thanks!”

By the end of our date, I had a gut feeling that this wasn’t going to be a love connection. However, I wanted to give Jane the benefit of the doubt. Many people drink as a means of easing social anxiety, and first dates are terribly anxiety producing. But, one night, soon after our date, Jane sent me a slew of drunk text messages that got increasingly confrontational. Jane was upset that I wasn’t responding to her messages in a timely enough fashion (even though I was at an AA meeting and celebrating the sober anniversary of one of my pals). I sat there reading the messages, not knowing how to respond. I was dead ass sober to the core, and she was trying to define the nature of our relationship via drunk texts. The following day, Jane sent me another round of back-to-back text messages, this time apologizing for her intoxicated badgering. I had to move on…

Several failed dates later, a sober friend decided to play matchmaker and suggested that I date one of her “normie” friends, who I will call “Linda.” Even though Linda and I had absolutely nothing in common, I was still hopeful. After all, I didn’t meet Linda in a bar, she wasn’t in the rooms, and many people meet their significant others through mutual friends. Linda suggested that we connect for a lunch date. She lived in the suburbs, so I borrowed a car to pick her up. As we drove through her town, she asked me to turn into a parking lot, which led to a Wendy’s drive-through. Linda instructed me to pull up to the drive-through window and said, “Order anything you want.” I proceeded to eat my mandarin orange chicken salad overlooking a gas station and cramped in the front seat of the borrowed car. That is the absolute perfect date in some situations. But for a “getting to know you” date, this wasn’t my jam.

via via Teen

via Teen

Fast forward to my current fiancé. Many more dates after the Wendy’s incident, I met my lovely gal (who I will call “Bestest”) through one of my co-workers. By that time, I had lost hope, but thought Bestest was hot. I figured that I’d least shoot for the hookup and asked her out for dinner. Hours into the date, I realized I was in big trouble: I was already digging this woman A LOT! We went on several subsequent dates and I noticed that she rarely drank and was totally up for alcohol-free adventures. We held hands on the ferris wheel at Coney Island. We danced at an underground nightclub where one of my favorite DJs was spinning old-school soul on vinyl. We attended Yankees games, operas, and drag performances – all sans liquor. And the best part was she never questioned why I didn’t drink! Still, I didn’t have the guts to tell her that I was a recovering addict. I figured she’d run the other way. One day, we were sitting in a coffee shop, mad vibing, and I realized that I had to come out. It went something like this:

Me: I really like you a lot, but I have to come clean about something.

Her: [Look of horror] Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

Me: I’m a sober, recovering alcoholic. I do not drink and am working to never drink again in my lifetime.

Her: Oh, whew. I thought it was something else. THANK GOD! I’m totally cool with that. I hate drinking and would only drink on rare occasions because I felt like I had to fit in. Now, I can have a sober partner in crime. Tell me more…

FIVE AND A HALF YEARS LATER: me and my bae:

The point of all this: I really don’t have much advice to give about the “right” way to sober date. I cannot tell you who will be the right match for you (a “normie,” another recovering addict, etc.), when you should start dating after getting sober (a few months, a year, two, three), how you should come out as sober, or how your dates will react to you being a recovering addict. What I can tell you is:

  1. Expect sober dating to be challenging
  2. Accept the adventure
  3. Surround yourself with sober support
  4. Put your sobriety first
  5. Be kind to yourself

All the rest will fall into place. And, if you’re doing the work to be the best you can be, you will attract the best of what’s out there!

Ginger has written 13 articles for us.

37 Comments

  1. i grew up being terrified of alcohol. i had aunties and uncles on both my mother’s and father’s side who are alcoholics. for my sister and i, alcoholism was drilled into our heads that it was one sip away. now my sister and i are those buzz kill people who only drink black hot tea with cream and sugar when we are out with people, lol. i feel you on planning date that don’t include alcohol

  2. So happy about this article! I’m not a sober alcoholic, but I’m sober since forever, and it really adds an extra layer of annoyingness to meeting and dating in the lesbian scene. I would become an alcoholic immediately if there was a drink that could make me polite, tactful and well-coordinated, though…

  3. Holy fucking relevant, Batman! Thanks for reading my mind and cheering me up, both at the same time!!!

    So, I’m “out” as an alcoholic in the sense that I drop the A word here and there on this website, and only on this website. Otherwise, I haven’t said it in so much as an e-mail. It’s interesting that as a queer woman, who has a hard time finding a population to date that won’t make me hate myself/them, that I am cautiously optimistic about the population that reads this page. Cue time of day when I wish all my A-Straddle besties lived in my city/were single/didn’t drink. ;D

    So, I actually don’t feel too worried about finding someone appropriate to date. I worry about *being* appropriate to date. If anything, I think women view the recovering alcoholic as a martyr to our own despair, someone doing something both chivalrous and caring, while being the long suffering hero. That’s been my experience. Somehow, my alcoholism has become one of the most attractive things about me to women, because they’re reading it as an indicator of someone who is committed and self-disciplined. This is not the case. I mean, it is, but only because I follow the “actions taken become the life lived,” approach. So they think they’re getting something special, when really I’m just following the steps and any queer in recovery would espouse the same mentality… theoretically. Anyway, my point is that I’m trying to focus on staying that way, and what I don’t think “normies” understand is the fact/fear that once there is a distraction from that focus, those habits that maintain stability are at risk. I’m worried about finding a balance, a partner who understands that spending time in rooms is a way of keeping the relationship going, not taking time away from it. But then, I haven’t dated yet. I’m just shy of 6 months sober. My girlfriend dumped me after 2 months in the program because drug use was a deal breaker for her, and I wasn’t down with it (we’re talking herb here…. sometimes I wonder if I was too harsh?). So now I’m trying not to replace alcohol with hookups (something I’ve done in the past), and trying not to be angry at women who think they know what I’m going through, put me on a pedestal for trying to recover my sanity, nor angry at myself for just not being normal. But it’s hard. So, thank you for sharing that it is possible to come out the other side. I almost can’t believe my good luck that this is an article on dating sober as a queer. All I can say is I am grateful, and you’re living the responsibility pledge by publishing this. Thank you!

  4. I want to thank you for a well written article I also want to say your truth is always welcoming I’m so proud of you and most of all I’m proud of your sobriety and all the accomplishments that you have madepeople really need to know dead or community we can do this keep up the good work you know I love you and life is what we make it and living sober is always a blast I could say that with 14 years CLEAN it’s not always easy but it’s possible and dating sober is a new adventure always thank you

  5. Great article, thank you. I have only been cutting down on my already very moderate drinking, and holy shit am I considered a killjoy. All the best for the people really struggling with these themes.

  6. This was a very interesting read, thank you so much for writing this and educating me on this topic.

    I don’t drink, I just don’t. It’s a long story that involves c and I’ve honestly never even tasted alcohol.

  7. I wish we could all go to the same anonymous 12 step group that shall not be named because it would be much better with Ginger Hale and you commenters! I haven’t really considered sober dating yet but now I am and it’s going to be…special, I’m sure.

  8. I’m on long term antibiotics and I can totally relate!

    I recognize the embarrassment, and then thinking: “What is there to be embarrassed about?”

    Emboldened by that thought you’ll concede to meeting up in her favourite bar after all.

    And when (getting the first round in) she asks: “You don’t drink? WHY?”
    (Dutch people are known to be very blunt)

    You’ll tell her: “Because of health reasons.”

    And she’ll say: “What health reasons?” (again, Dutch people are blunt)

    “I’m on antibiotics.”

    “Antibiotics, eh? So I guess, you’ll be able to drink again…soon?”

    “Yeah, that’s right.”

    – SIGH –

  9. Wow, that’s awesome. It really reminds me of the time Bill finally fessed up to me that he’s vegan!He said, “I was so scared! And then I thought, if this doesn’t break us up, nothing ever will!” Honestly, I wasn’t sure if we’d ever have fun again attending all of the BBQs on the campaign trail, but luckily he opened my eyes to a whole new world of veggie burgers and vegetables! Our marriage has been rejuvenated. Oh gosh, I made this all about me again…in any case, congrats on your sobriety and no more drive through dates (unless they’re at In-N-Out Burger!).

  10. Well written, and you touched upon a very tricky subject for anyone in recovery!

    Having experienced many of the same things that you just described, I went out to find a solution, somewhere we’re sober people could meet outside of just meetings.

    This is how Sober was born! Sober is a Tinder-like social network for sober people, exactly what you’re looking for!

    You can read more about the app on our website, or you can download it from the Appstore here:

    http://sober.ly/app/

    Hope this helps anyone looking to date in sobriety!

  11. Very interesting article. I’ll admit that I’ve had a hard time dating sober people. I’m kind of a control freak, so addiction isn’t on my radar at all. I grew up with an alcoholic stepfather, so I know the signs. I don’t get drunk, but I do like going to queer bars and drinking socially.

    The idea of never drinking again for the sake of a partner, or never going to a bar again would be stifling to me. Is it a dealbreaker? I don’t know. It’s certainly a compatibility issue, and I’d NEVER want to be responsible for someone relapsing. I like to drink and smoke weed. So, for obvious reasons, this would be a problem with a recovering addict as a partner. Thanks for the view from the other side.

  12. Wow, great article. I am a “normie” who just recently met someone pretty awesome who “came out” as a non drinker. (Not an alcoholic, just doesn’t enjoy alcohol).

    She said she was nervous about telling me, and she kind of announced it in a self-deprecating bad-news way, like “Yeah, I know I’m boring, sorry.”

    So that was unfortunate, but I quickly told her, that’s cool, I respect that.

    BUT THEN, I was like ok, this makes things harder because although I don’t drink much, I do like to have 1-2 drinks in me for that social anxiety factor. So this is a challenge for me, as I’ve never really had to think about all this. But that’s on me, that’s not her problem.

    Soooo I guess my point is I’m sure it’s super hard to sober date as a recovering addict, but maybe TRY not to worry about how hard/weird/awkward it is for the other person, because that’s the other person’s problem! If they’re supercool (like me, duh) they will be happy to make the effort and enjoy the adventure with you!

  13. This was an incredibly interesting and thought provoking read (and I’m glad it ended happily!) This makes me think as someone who doesn’t drink very often that it would be so rad if there was some sort of “down for sober adventures” group. I’d love to be able to help out my sober friends. If it isn’t a thing, I definitely think it should be.

  14. I’m a “normie” in a relationship with a sober person in recovery. We were friends before we started dating and I was aware he was in AA without him having to directly tell me, so we got to skip the coming out part. I don’t think I’d be willing to give up drinking for someone — that would be a huge boundary issue for me. My partner is comfortable with me drinking around him (I rarely get drunk and I never drink to the point I’m incapacitated). The first time we were on a date and I ordered a beer, I was a little nervous, but later he told me he liked me acting “normal” and not making a big deal about things just because he’s there.

    The biggest thing I’ve learned dating an alcoholic is that I’m definitely not an alcoholic! I drink multiple times a week but small amounts, and he laughs when I decline a drink or act tipsy quickly. I guess once you’ve had that level of alcohol tolerance, normies’ drinking is just cute to you.

  15. Thanks for a really great article. I think there’s a definite need for articles targeting lady-gay addicts in recovery. I do have to say, I met my wife in AA and our shared sobriety has been a huge motivation/way to stay super accountable. Before my wife, I tried dating normies and it never worked for me. I find it way too easy for me to convince them to buy into my bullshit, which my wife NEVER does. She also works in the substance abuse/recovery field which helps us both.

  16. An article about sober dating is long overdue,and boy am i glad i found it here.Thank you, thank you, thank you for not forgetting a whole class of people,one that includes me.

    I have over 10 years sober from alcohol, and over 14 years clean from hard chemicals (speed and coke mostly).I do not go to meetings anymore;i only did my first year clean and then my first 2 years i stopped drinking,because the light switch went off in my head,i know that hard drugs and alcohol are no good for me, and i have no intention of touching them ever again. (I still enjoy marijuana,but I still consider myself sober).

    Everybody is correct that,most socialization and meeting for singles, happens in the bars and clubs.I still love going to bars, i love to dance.I still frequent nightclubs,I am single, and i do not feel any pressure to drink no matter WHERE i go.Nobody really cares what’s in somebody else’s glass.And if somebody makes an issue of it,and i find myself explaining that “I used to drink, but i gave it up”,I can only hope that they respect the fact I am trying to better myself.And if they take away anything from my story, it is that a future without alcohol need NOT be dreary whatsoever. I do the same things sober, that I enjoyed while drinking. The only REAL change is, I am making safer choices,because I’m not putting poisons in my brain that make me stupid! (It’s real groovy to not be blacking out,and i don’t miss those hangovers…)

    I admit I get amused at first but then turned off by drunken behaviour in people.People do not *need* to be totally clean & sober,but,I would like that they respect my choices,and I would like that they NOT try to corrupt me 😉 (But i also acknowledge that I am responsible for my own actions, and if I screw up I have nobody to blame but myself).

    I am pretty outspoken about my not drinking any more,and the only time iIt any negative feedback from that was when I told people who were intoxicated or who had a serious issue with alcohol and they didn’t want to control their use,and I was making them uncomfortable.

    It shouldn’t even be an issue in the bars and clubs.People buying rounds of drinks never made an issue of sending a straight cranberry juice my way.Nobody batted an eye…..

  17. Haha I’ve never liked the taste of alcohol so as someone who has never been drunk ever, this is definitely great. I totally also struggle with the scene being so bad-centric! I go out a lot to clubs but if it’s just a bar and I can’t dance there…

    Totally wish there were better options to meet queers with less drinking involved.

  18. I delight in, result in I found exactly what I used to be looking for.
    You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Havee a great day.
    Bye

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