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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.
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:
- Expect sober dating to be challenging
- Accept the adventure
- Surround yourself with sober support
- Put your sobriety first
- 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!