This post was originally published on May 14, 2014.
There are pieces a plenty out there about online dating. But what about one from an alcoholic woman writing about how she threw herself into the world of OKCupid and the like, just as she was bottoming out on the booze? Well, thanks to the delightful Allison Hudson, we now have that. And I have to imagine that most alcoholics will relate to it. Because the fact of the matter is that at the moment in time when we most need to focus on how we can save our own lives, all many of us do is fantasize that sexy strangers can save us.
I look back on the summer before I got sober and wonder who the hell I thought I was, barhopping (and bed hopping) around the San Fernando Valley, acting like I was available for a relationship. Sure, my schedule was free—I had been fired from my job for showing up 30 minutes late every day—but emotionally I was barely available for breakfast (mainly because I was puking). But you can’t really know how ill equipped you are for life unless you have something better to compare it to. I had always been kind of a mess, so it wasn’t like I saw myself as a drunk hitting a bottom; much like Hudson, I saw myself as a girl who needed the right boyfriend to turn things around. It’s just one of those things; it takes years of sobriety to understand that you shouldn’t make any decisions about your life until you have years of sobriety.
But delusional ideas about being dateable aren’t exclusive to alcoholics. In fact, based on my experience with online dating, most people seem to use their profiles as a textual vision board of who they want to be or think they should be. It’s not unlike Facebook in that way but the added pressure of wantig to get laid puts it on steroids. I am not sure how it is in other cities but in Los Angeles, everyone claims to spend their free time hiking Runyon Canyon, biking on the beach, surfing in Malibu, snowboarding in Big Bear and checking out the latest at LACMA—which makes me wonder where all the droves of drunk people pouring out of the bars on Hollywood Blvd are from.
This is precisely why I have never had any success with online dating. Being sober has slowly but surely shuffled me into a world of rigorous honesty about who I am. I realize many people don’t know who they are, but when you quit checking out with drugs and alcohol and are forced to take a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself, it’s hard to then pretend to be into Naturewell kale smoothies or going to see anything at UCB.
Almost without fail though, next to proclaiming a daily yoga practice and quitting smoking, one of the most common bright ideas newly sober people have is that they should rigorously and enthusiastically focus on sex and dating. The desire to be distracted is logical in that the moment you deprive your disease its destruction of choice, it will point you towards other ways in which you can derail your life and make it painful and unmanageable. If it wins, it will get you to start drinking or using drugs again. If it doesn’t win, it will make you very uncomfortable while you battle it out. In my experience, that is where the 12-step community can save your life; recovering alcoholics know what it’s like to feel that way and they will talk to you about it, on the phone, until the sun comes up if that is what it takes.
Others chose to do it their own way, showing up to meetings when it’s convenient and then going on with their days as if they aren’t embarking upon a huge life change—going out with friends, right-swiping on Tinder, showing up to keg parties in the desert with no wallet, thinking they’ll be fine. And maybe they won’t drink that day but they aren’t setting themselves up to be fine. The self-will and sophomoric attitude of someone who can’t stay sober or is new to sobriety never fails to surprise me. It really shouldn’t—I was that person—but it always does. It can be frustrating to spend an hour of your day listening to the struggles of newcomerdom, trying to share your experience with them only to be told that they had a great date last night. Especially when you are 10 years sober and haven’t had a date in seven months. Oh higher power, you’re a funny one.
I think there are two very valuable lessons to be learned from Hudson: that the person you are talking to online could very well be harboring a drinking problem (or a fugitive) and if we know we have some serious issues to deal with, dating is probably something to put on the shelf for the time being. I will also add that my online dating profile says my hobbies include drinking coffee, talking about top 40 hip-hop and watching Law and Order SVU—so while I rarely get messaged, at least I know I am being honestly rejected and there is (strangely) some comfort in that.