Are you sure you don’t want one?” asks my date, gesturing to his G&T. “I feel bad drinking when you’re not.” I look longingly at his drink and then back to my Diet Coke. I want to join him and make him feel better about it, but I remember my promise to myself.
“I’m fine, thanks,” I reply, then realise I have nothing to say to this 35-year-old accountant I met on Hinge. “So, um... was it difficult for you to get here?”
I’m not normally this boring on a first date. When the alcohol is flowing, the conversation tends to do the same. But without it, I’m very aware my date is a total stranger who I have nothing in common with.
Before this summer, it would never have occurred to me to go on a sober date. While I wouldn’t have called myself a big drinker, every first date I’d been on had involved drinking – and the more rounds I’d have, the more successful it would be.
My last serious relationship started with a shared seafood platter and a bottle of white. By the end of the night, we were on our second bottle, and we stayed together for four years. Alcohol has long been part of the fabric of dating – so much so that the standard line to ask someone out is: “Do you fancy going for a drink?”
I decided to stop drinking last year, before the pandemic hit, when I realised that hangovers were affecting my anxiety. I wasn’t worried about spending time with friends and going to parties alcohol-free, but I was terrified of dating.
The hardest part was always telling my date I wasn’t drinking. I feared they’d judge me – a theory that proved to be true when one date told me he couldn’t be with someone sober and left after downing his pint.
I later found myself going to extreme lengths to avoid telling dates I was sober. I would even ask staff to make my tonic water look like a G&T. But after one incident in which I accidentally gave my date the non-alcoholic G&T, I realised I had to own my sobriety. It took me several attempts – including that dull date with the accountant – but I finally learned I could be myself without alcohol. And sometimes, the conversation is even better. I’ve had amazing sober moments when we’ve opened up about anxiety and mental health on a first date.
I do seem to have more “meh” dates than I used to, but when I have a good one, it’s really good. Like recently, when I met a guy at 4pm and didn’t leave until midnight. We were laughing too much to care that he was drinking and I wasn’t. The only time I really notice my sobriety is when it comes to saying goodbye. It turns out it’s much easier to lean in for a first kiss when you’ve had a few.
But I’m happy to wait until our second date for that kiss, and am enjoying the fact that sober dating makes things go a little slower. I don’t know if I’ll stay sober forever. But I’ll definitely drink less on dates. If someone feels awkward about it, that’s their problem. I wouldn’t want to date someone who thinks the only way to have fun is through alcohol anyway.
This feature originally appeared in a print issue of Cosmopolitan UK. You can SUBSCRIBE HERE.
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