I’ve been on an ungodly number of first dates in my adult life. I’m pretty stellar at casual dating, but not so stellar at actual relationships. With the exception of one, the relationships that did go down didn’t last very long. I’ve Doctor Phil’d the hell out of myself around this and come to the conclusion that it’s mainly because I chose the wrong guys, for years. I was either subconsciously messing with emotionally unavailable dudes (what’s up, male stand-up comics?) to avoid intimacy or operating from a place of this-is-as-good-as-I’m-gonna-get low self-esteem.
I had an epiphany recently: I haven’t even really liked most of the guys I’ve dated. I know, I know—how sad! And I had a good father! What gives, Life? I loathe this term but, it is what it is. At least I know these truths now, when I didn’t for a long-ass time. And when people ask me why I’m still single (which is super fun, always—please, by all means, keep asking un-coupled people that question), I can actually tell them the reason. I picked the wrong men folk for a decade and some change!
The good news? Now I know with full conviction that I wasn’t even ready to be in a relationship until I quit drinking and did the work that comes with sobriety. I am a much better potential partner now, so it’s a weird blessing in disguise that my picker was so broken back then. Part of its malfunction was most likely untreated alcoholism anyway. If the right guy had shown up, I most certainly would have blown it (the opportunity, not the guy).
I had always rejected the ol’, “You have to love yourself before you can love somebody else” rigmarole, but now that I’m actually experiencing it (loving myself), I know it’s legit. Alright, so self-love? Check! Finally comfortable and relatively confident in my own skin? Check! Making a steady living doing something I really enjoy and not losing sleep over how I’m going to pay my basic bills? Check! Bring on the romantic partner of my dreams!
Except, can you let him know I’m completely sober (and a stand-up comedian—honestly, which is worse)?
I am no longer a sloppy drunk every time I drink because I took the option to drink firmly off the table. Obviously, no one wants to date a drunk; but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone wants to date a sober person. I will hand it to most guys: they are usually really cool and supportive when I tell them I don’t drink. I get the usual gamut of questions—Did you go to rehab? So, you’re never going to drink again, like, ever?
Annnnnd that’s the gamut.
From there, it’s usually a couple more questions until we hit whether or not I have any siblings. When I started dating sober, I was shocked to discover most guys don’t give a fuck that I don’t drink. They usually say something like, “Well, that’s really admirable that you saw you had a problem and dealt with it” or “Yeah, I do sober January” (bitch, please, that ain’t the same). This shouldn’t be shocking to me because people who don’t have a problem with drinking don’t put that much thought into alcohol, their relationship with it or somebody else’s relationship with it. And while that may be true, it still feels problematic sometimes.
Our culture revolves around drinking. Long before I ever thought of myself as an alcoholic or even contemplated the thought of quitting drinking, I would have laughed in your damn face if you told me to try dating a sober person. So while they may claim they are totally, one hundred percent fine with never being able to have a drink with me, I sometimes think they don’t really know what they’re in for. For example, now that I’m sober, I can’t linger that long at social events. When I’m ready to leave, I am ready to GTFO (that’s Get The Fuck Out for you unlucky peeps who haven’t learned that acronym yet; you’re welcome) immediately. I make sure I know the exits at every venue upon arrival, like I’m boarding a damn airplane. Wedding receptions, holiday parties, New Year’s Eve—most people think “open bar!” I think, “The food better be good and God so help me if the desserts are store-bought, I’m clocking the host.” I also think, “Brace yourself, girl, you gotta make small talk with strangers while fully present and aware, sans any type of liquid social lubricant.” Vodka is like lube for social intercourse. Get it? Okay, I’m done.
Let’s also not forget, everyone can keep an open mind about someone’s “alternative lifestyle” on the first few dates. When you really get into a regular stride with somebody, that’s when the true colors (and recreational preferences) start to appear. Last year I dated a guy for about five months, and while he never said he had an issue with me being sober, I think deep down he was kind of bored by our booze-free dinners and Netflix and chill without wine. If he would randomly blow me off on a weekend when we were both in town and available, I would always come to find out that his excuse was being hungover. So when I ended it and he didn’t put up a fight, my gut sort of told me that maybe he was ready to let me go too, and a big part of that was wanting to be able to resume his usual drinking habits. Have I deduced this partly because I’ve stalked his social media since we broke up and seen nothing but picture after picture of him boozing? Maybe. But if my suspicion has been confirmed, do we really need to get bogged down with my sources? By the way, he definitely doesn’t strike me as someone who might be an alcoholic. I firmly believe that there are unicorns out there who can imbibe every day and still not be an alcoholic or even a problem drinker. I am extremely jealous of them.
The bottom line is, when I date someone now, we are never going to have one of those wild and crazy, new romance kind of nights where we drunkenly stumble into a karaoke bar and sing until the wee hours of the morning or gallivant around Napa wine tasting. We’re not splitting a bottle of Merlot at swanky restaurants or meeting for happy hour flaming margaritas. Don’t accuse me of trying to live in a rom-com; these occasions happen! I know because I used to do them!
Like it or not, my sobriety is more important than being able to have a date at a brewery with some chump from Tinder. (Side note: Why is craft beer so goddamn trendy now and why does everyone profess a love for it on their online dating profile? It always just made me bloated and burpy.) In an effort to start changing my internal belief system (someone’s had therapy), I’ve come up with some reasons why a normal drinker should want to date a sober person: They can always be your designated driver. They always make the bill cheaper. They won’t vomit in your car. They won’t pass out on top of you during sex (unless they’re really, really tired). Oh, and you won’t have to get them drunk in order to have sex. If you procreate, they can deal with the offspring when you’re hung over. But perhaps most importantly, a sober partner can handle almost anything. They’ve been surviving this world without being able to numb their feelings or alter their mental state with alcohol or drugs. Trust me, these are the people you want around when the shit hits the fan.