It was a rainy Monday afternoon in Soho, and I hadn’t even taken my second sip of coffee when my date exclaimed he was still recovering from the weekend.
A topic that he continued to talk about for the next five minutes, as if drinking was of the utmost importance (which, I’ve no doubt, probably was to him).
Alarm bells started ringing. It was all too familiar to me.
Not so long ago my social life revolved predominantly around drinking and getting as drunk as possible because that’s all I’d ever known. That fun, socialising, and even dating must involve booze.
Now, after sober dating for about a year I’ve learned that’s not the case. That sober dating helps me realise red flags, which I would have otherwise ignored.
I started drinking alcohol from around the age of 14, 15. In the ‘90s, alcopops were all the rage.
They soon led to bourbon, vodka, beer, wine and so on.
In my teens and early twenties I drank alcohol as a means of innocently heightening fun with friends, but it soon became a necessity. An expectation of me.
Drinks would be ordered for me without even needing to ask, or given the chance to decline. I felt completely unrestrained and like I was part of something special when I drank, but ultimately I was only artificially happy.
Consequently it wasn’t long before drinking became a necessity when I was socialising – and, soon, dating.
Alcohol turbo-boosted my confidence and, from my mid-twenties, was the vehicle for picking up guys who I’d have sex with almost immediately.
On dates, I’d neck vodka like it was essential for survival and my natural filter would be discarded and replaced with overzealousness.
After getting drunk, I’d divulge far too much personal information, and after having sex, there’d be little mystery left. I know some guys were of the impression that I’d be a handful – which, at the time, I suppose I was.
But that’s something I wasn’t willing to compromise on because I was having an abundance of sex and fun.
Because alcohol was the key to my social life; dating, sex and relationships became organically interconnected. My two longest relationships were very loving – I love the men to this day – but alcohol also contributed to the separations.
A year ago, in my early forties, I realised that I wanted to change gears and try a different approach to dating, so I decided to date sober.
At first it was difficult to readjust, but I soon started enjoying the lucidity that came with switching spirits for soda water. I’m a naturally sociable person, so even without alcohol I’m able to hold a conversation, plus I love finding out things about new people.
My impulsiveness has also reduced which means I’m not doing things I might regret – I’m much more present
I guess the hardest part was when I felt routine taking over in the sense of repetitive coffee dates (I despise routine), so I’ve learnt to shake things up a bit now by meeting in different settings.
Of course there’s been times when I’ve wanted to give up. But, because I rarely drink alcohol now my mental health has improved and I’m able to bounce back from those low ebbs much quicker. Friends love this new chapter for me – particularly all the gossip!
Since then, sober dating has been much more civilised and serene; usually, but not limited to, coffee and cake and face-to-face conversation in (brace yourselves) broad daylight. A world away from talking directly into someone’s ear in a dark basement with banging music at 10pm.
So far I’ve had some really good dates filled with insightful conversation. And what’s noticeably different is that I’m making more enriching connections.
Of the sober dates I’ve been on, I’ll definitely remain friends with the majority of them, whereas I didn’t with most of my drunken dates in the past.
I’ve also noticed that I’m picking up on red flags much quicker and easier because of the clarity that comes with being sober.
For example, I’ve been able to tell if a guy is really paying attention, if there’s solid eye-contact and good body language, and, importantly, what my date’s interests and views on social issues are.
With beer goggles on, I became far too besotted and the red flags were practically invisible.
My impulsiveness has also reduced, which means I’m not doing things I might regret, like having sex on the first date – now, I’m much more present.
Like my Soho date, I’d subconsciously talk about my alcohol-fuelled adventures.
Frankly, I was relieved that my date was so forthright in bringing up his consumption of alcohol because it made me realise straight away that we were in very different places, and as such, completely incompatible.
Anecdotes about getting completely wasted on this particular drug are not just socially accepted but encouraged, laughed and joked about – utilised in everyday life and online discourse. Shockingly, it’s the norm.
Still, I make a point of not judging people who drink because I understand the complexities surrounding alcohol and why people use it. Plus, if I ever feel like I want to drink and am comfortable that I won’t spiral I most certainly will – so who am I to judge?
In keeping with that thinking, I’ve remained open to dating people who drink. My perspective on those whose social life revolves solely around alcohol has changed slightly, though.
That’s because I want to remain sober, or at least keep my drinking to a minimum for the time being, so I’m consciously choosing not to pursue those people.
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It took me a while to accept that I wasn’t being selfish because it was very important to me.
Recently someone said that I’m a fun and engaging sober person, which was the ultimate compliment, and something that will stay with me. It makes me want to keep going.
For years, alcohol was a crutch that I relied upon in social situations, dating and sex. I know I was masking and overcompensating and I’m not ashamed to say that I lost myself for a time.
For anyone who’s stuck in a cycle of drinking like I was, I can assure you that you don’t need to drink alcohol in order to have fun.
If I can do sober dating, anyone can.
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