When I quit drinking nearly two years ago I was a married woman so dating was not something I gave an ounce of thought to. However, 15 months into my sobriety journey my ex and I separated, and I was ready to hit the dating scene a couple of months later.
When getting ready for my very first first-date, I realised I hadn't given the fact that I was sober much of a thought at all. It wasn't until I was driving to the date that my heart began to race and I totally freaked out! It hit me that I had never in my entire life ever had a first date without a few drinks under my belt. I suddenly felt so vulnerable and anxious.
When we remove our trusty Dutch courage (AKA three white wines and a shot of tequila), from the dating experience, it feels a little like walking on to a stage to sing a solo without knowing the words to the song. It can feel really exposing to sit in front of a potential partner, open up to them and allow yourself to be vulnerable, without the false and short-lived sense of security and comfort that alcohol gives us.
In saying this, it is also a much more efficient way of working out whether we actually like a person or not. If we are seriously dating to meet a future partner, shouldn't we want 100% clarity when getting to know someone? Shouldn't we avoid altering our state of mind before sitting down with a stranger for the first time to see if we are attracted to them? And shouldn't we want to present ourselves in the best light possible? I know a few of my dates from back in my 20’s would have left our first date shell-shocked after witnessing my drunken antics. And I wondered why they didn't call me the next day!
Alcohol is incorrectly branded as a confidence boosting elixir, making us feel that when we drink we can be more comfortable just being ourselves. However, in actual fact, all it is really doing is suppressing the part of our brain that allows us to detect what people are thinking about us, while intensifying our risk-taking behaviours. Possibly the worst combination for trying to impress someone on a first date. It really makes no sense at all to consume alcohol before a date, so to all the single ladies in our wonderful sober community, by simply not drinking before a date, you have given yourself a massive head start on your journey to finding your soulmate.
Pulling up to the restaurant on that very first first date, I felt completely exposed and wished I had prepared myself better (or at all!). After this first shocking experience, I learnt a hell of a lot that I put into action for the dates that were to follow.
Here are some helpful tips for you to prepare for your alcohol-free dates, so you don’t wind up freaking out like me, covered in a nervous rash and unable to communicate properly (I couldn't even remember my birthday when my date asked me!):
1. Prep your date beforehand about the fact that you are sober
Being sober is something that you should be so proud of and not at all ashamed of or embarrassed about. My rule of thumb is to always be upfront from the get go about the fact that I am a sober woman. This is an amazing filter to weed out the potential dates to make sure you’re not wasting your time on a person who is unsupportive of your sobriety. You can gauge from their response to you sharing this big part of your life with them, whether or not they are worth investing time in. One guy I was considering going on a date with, responded to me telling him I was sober by laughing and saying ‘How on earth do you have any fun?’. Red flag alert! Thank you, next! Another guy responded by opening up and telling me he had his own issues with alcohol. I didn't date him as it was important for me to meet someone who wasn't a big drinker, however I helped him on his own journey to sobriety. The amazing guy I now call my boyfriend responded to me sharing this news by telling me he is also sober. Thank you universe for rewarding me so beautifully, just for being clear about my expectations with the guys I dated and their own relationships with alcohol.
2. Choose a venue that has good non-alcoholic options and then plan out what your first drink will be
If you decide on a restaurant or a bar for a first date, it is imperative that you know ahead of time what non-alcoholic beverages are on the mocktail list, and if there are none, feel free to choose a different venue! Always be prepared mentally for what your first drink order will be. It can be an awkward moment, especially in early sobriety, when the bartender asks what you want, and you have to opt for a kiddy drink like lemonade or orange juice, because you weren't prepared ahead of time with something you would actually really enjoy to drink.
3. Choose an activity that doesn't involve alcohol at all
This can be an amazing way to see if there really is a connection, especially if you choose an activity that pushes you out of your comfort zone, like a hike or even bungee jumping (extreme I know but these types of activities promote the release of feel good chemicals such as dopamine, which give you the same happy high as booze, but without lowering our decision making abilities.)
4. Practice your date conversation skills with friends
This might make you feel cringy, but when you think of the amount of practice you put into a job interview, doesn't it make sense to also put in some preparation for meeting your potential life partner? Think of the top five questions you want to ask them so you have some conversation starters in your back pocket and then try them out on a BFF for some honest feedback. Remember when asking questions on a date it is important to avoid being too intrusive but still allow your date to feel comfortable opening up and getting a little vulnerable.
5. Arrive with enough time & meditate beforehand
Planning to arrive at the date just a little bit ahead of time (just like you would for a job interview), means you avoid rushing and feeling flustered just before meeting your date. I found that by arriving five minutes early, I could spend a few minutes meditating in the car (breathwork also works really well to reduce your blood pressure and provide a sense of calm), reapply my lipstick and be feeling super zen by the time I walked through the restaurant door.
In summary, always keep top of mind the fact that your sobriety is something you should wear as a badge of honour. You have worked so hard to get to where you are now and if whoever the lucky guy or girl is that you choose to date doesn’t 100% respect and honour your brave and smart decision to ditch the booze, they should be the next thing you ditch!
Enjoy this new-found level of self-respect and self-love that sobriety has gifted you and take your time to enjoy the sober dating experience. Reap the benefits of actually getting to know your potential future partners without the fogginess alcohol envelopes us in, and remember that you are the one who is dating them; they should be so lucky to get the chance at a second date.