I’m not sure what I expected when I eventually started dating after getting sober, but I had no idea what I was in for. I felt like I was in high school again—awkward, confused and a little unsure of what I was doing. That pretty much sums up my experiences these past couple of years as I have trudged the road of sober dating. My liquid courage is gone. Flirting doesn’t come quite as easy. Kissing a guy for the first time makes me want to break out into a mad sweat. And actually having those fluttering butterflies in my stomach makes me want to vomit.
I was a little over a year sober when I really started the dating thing. I was confident with my sobriety, the person I was becoming, and thought for the first time in years that I may actually have something positive to offer to a relationship. But why was dating so uncomfortable? Well, because I was so used to having alcohol in my system that could make me into whatever said guy wanted me to be. Alcohol gave me a false confidence that I was prettier, funnier, smarter and definitely way sexier. I’ve learned since that this was, in fact, not true; there are pictures, videos and testimonials to support the fact that it is patently false.
Towards the end of my drinking, I wasn’t in any kind of healthy relationship with a guy. I wasn’t “dating” the kind of guys I would take home to Mom and Dad. Make out with them outside the bathroom at the bar, sure. Invite them to Sunday dinner at my parents’ house, not so much.
I don’t think anyone would constitute what I was doing as “dating.” I would hang out with guys who drank like me. End of story. We drank together and we would make bad decisions together. I had little self-respect so it’s no wonder that guys treated me in the same manner.
I remember sitting in rehab when one of the counselors told us that we should take dating off the table for the first year of recovery. I thought this was the most absurd thing I had ever heard. Well, it turned out to be easier than I thought because not one person asked me out during my first year. And thank God. I was in no shape to date anyone. I had nothing to offer. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. Looking back, I grew so much within the first year, I am thankful I didn’t drag anyone along with me through my ups and downs of self-exploration and discovery.
When I got back from my 28-day stint in rehab, I thought life was supposed to go back to normal, whatever that was. Yet I had no clue about what life would be like without some mind-altering substance in my system. Everything was different. Everything changed. And dating was no exception. I don’t think I had ever dated the “right” way, at least not since high school. As in when I took my values and morals into consideration, when I had some standards, when dating consisted of actual dates like movies, dinner and picnics and not getting wasted and hooking up with strangers. In the days of my active addiction, I was more about meeting a guy I thought was hot, hooking up with him, taking him hostage anywhere for the next month or six years and figuring it out from there.
They say a head full of AA will ruin your drinking. Well, luckily, I haven’t tested out that theory, but it’s been my experience that it can hinder dating as well.
Checking your motives and “inviting God on a date” (two things my sponsor would remind me to do when I first started dating) can be quite the buzz kill for someone who, for years, had dated with loose morals and selfish intent.
Dating sober is different, for sure, but I have come to appreciate and love all its awkwardness. It takes me back to high school. Remember having a crush on someone? Yeah, that happens in sobriety—at least for me, anyways. With “let’s meet for a drink” off the table, we often have to get creative with dates. It’s endearing. Drinking hot chocolate by a campfire in the fall, or riding your bike on a greenway in the spring is a tender way to spend a second date. Second dates for me used to involve a U-Haul or a one-way ticket across the country. I think it’s fair to say I am definitely moving in the right direction towards a healthy relationship. I haven’t moved states, or even cities, for a guy once—something I have done several times in the past.
I go out on a lot of dates now, but they usually end with the first one. I know quickly if there is a connection. Booze isn’t involved so my feelings are legit. My judgment is clear so I make far fewer mistakes. I have been present for every single one of the dates I have been on in sobriety, and that has often been challenging. But with each bad date, I get to know myself a little better—who I am, who I’m not, what I want or maybe just what I don’t want. I have discovered that my feelings aren’t facts and good or bad, they are temporary. But perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned? While a first date can be awkward and uncomfortable, it doesn’t last forever.