Dating is hard enough. It can get even more difficult when you or your date is sober and the standard first date — “let’s grab drinks” — is off the table. In addition to those who abstain all the time, some people give up alcohol just for January as a healthful way to kick off the new year.
Whatever the reason for your sobriety, taking alcohol out of the equation can also help you better judge your connection. Dating experts recommend being confident in that choice and communicating it clearly to the person you’re out with. If you or your Tinder match are embarking on a dry January, here are some tips from daters who have been there.
When should you consider taking some time off from drinking? Obviously this is a personal choice. If you feel like you’re better at being yourself on a date when you’ve had a drink or two to relax, go for it. The problem is when people use alcohol to cover who they are, or rely on it for fun, said Laurel House, a celebrity dating coach known for E!’s “Famously Single.” If you feel like you need to drink more to go through the rest of the date, that’s a sign, adds Helaina Hovitz, author of “After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey through Darkness to a New Beginning,” who has been sober for over six years. “There’s a difference between being completely conscious around someone and having beer goggles on,” Hovitz says. When you don’t lean on alcohol to have a good time, you’re more likely to accurately judge the connection between you and your date. “I would go out on dates with people I had very little interest in and be like: ‘You know what? By the time I have a few drinks, it doesn’t matter,’ ” Hovitz recalls. Taking a break from alcohol means you might waste less time on dates that aren’t going anywhere and have fewer “what did I do?” moments, she adds.
If you decide to go sober, be prepared to answer questions about it. Jocelyn Huang, a 30-year-old social media manager from Silver Spring, said that when she was sober last February, explaining why she wasn’t drinking was more awkward than not drinking itself. “It was a point of contention with a lot of guys that couldn’t really wrap their minds around the concept,” she said. “I remember one guy was absolutely adamant that I had to be pregnant or something, which didn’t really end well.”
Dating coach House suggests that, if you’re not drinking but you’re going to be in a situation where alcohol is present, decide ahead of time whether you’re comfortable with your date drinking and communicate that. If your date is the sober one, House suggests asking whether they’re okay with you consuming alcohol, or if there are any lines you should be sure not to cross.
Neil Gunn, a 27-year-old consultant from Arlington, is participating in dry January this year and says he doesn’t mind his dates consuming alcohol while he’s sober, as long as it’s in moderation. “I think the biggest concern is going to dinner and being able to explain that it’s totally fine if my date has wine even though I’m drinking water,” he said. “But if they got wasted in a messy way, I’d be uncomfortable.”
Try using dry January to plan more creative dates. Wyatt Bensken, a 22-year-old research assistant in Washington, says that he tries to plan dates around doing something, like going to a farmers market, rather than going to a bar. While planning a first date can be more daunting when the go-to option isn’t there, it pushes you to learn what that person likes to do and helps you find a common interest, Hovitz notes.
If your attitudes toward alcohol don’t mix, you might not be a match. It need not be a dealbreaker, but don’t let someone bully you into drinking — or into giving it up. “If they don’t want you to drink and you enjoy it — and they don’t like that about you — then maybe you’re not a good fit,” House says. “If you’re with someone who drinks more than you, then they can end up bringing that side out of you, and that can be a very bad thing, too.”