For many people, dating and alcohol go hand in hand. Whether it’s to calm first date nerves and provide ‘liquid courage’, or as a convenient option of grabbing a quick drink after work, alcohol is woven into our social culture to alleviate the pressure of dating. However, as well as being expensive, alcohol can cause you to lose inhibitions that are all too important for setting boundaries. Hangovers can cause post-date embarrassment and anxiety, as you mentally replay what you said or how you acted over and over again. Sober dating can be daunting, but the upside is so much more clarity, and feeling like yourself. We spoke to Jen Baker of OYNB, who outlines the 7 things she learned by dating tee-total, and how you can challenge yourself to do the same.

You reveal a lot just by deciding where to meet

We’ve become almost conditioned to say, “Let’s go for a drink!” as a first date default. Dating alcohol-free allows you to do something different and maybe more exciting—think ten-pin bowling, hiking or even micro-gliding. Activities away from alcohol are much more bonding, and it can immediately put you both on equal footing. If your potential date isn’t up for alcohol-free activities, it might suggest they’re not as adventurous as you are, that they don’t want to bond with you in the same way, or that they feel they need the alcohol to bolster their confidence. But remember, a negative reaction is their issue, not yours, and it’ll only help you weed out those who aren’t a great match. On the other hand, if their response is positive or simply curious, you’ve got yourself someone you can talk with and relate to. 

You make a better connection

When you invite alcohol along on the date, your tolerance level increases and prevents you from seeing things clearly. And if you don’t see a person for who they really are, you’re not going to truly connect. When I went alcohol-free, I felt that my new-found spare time was precious. I discovered I had previously been guilty of giving more time to someone I had little in common with apart from alcohol, instead of focusing on someone I genuinely liked and could really connect with.

You’re able to set boundaries

I found it was vital for me to set some boundaries, first to ensure my old habits didn’t start creeping in, and second to be certain I was comfortable with the direction and pace of a date or potential relationship. Boundaries are tricky beasts to set, but they are of course all about saying “no”. Once alcohol-free, I learned that communication is key. If my date tried to pressurise me to drink or didn’t understand why I wanted an alcohol-free lifestyle, I can now confidently decline a second date and I figure they’re simply not the one for me. Doing this actually gives me the confidence to feel secure enough in my dating needs and wants, which makes me feel more confident all-round. Being a good communicator and asserting your boundaries is essential when dating. You have a better chance of building a relationship on strong foundations with someone who will truly respect your decisions and lifestyle choices.

You can experience a sober first kiss

We all know that alcohol takes away a lot of fear and doubt, but facing that fear and doubt helps you build who you are. When I went alcohol-free, it had been a long time since I had a completely sober first kiss with someone. Alcohol had often relieved my nerves, but it also meant I didn’t truly remember the kisses I did have! A sober kiss is much more special. You just have to just go with it – and above all enjoy it! Don’t forget that in all likelihood they’re just as nervous, yet the connection you’ll be left with is so much better.

You save so much money

If you choose a bar and the date is going well, it’s all too easy to get carried away with ordering drinks because you don’t want the date to end prematurely! The problem is that you gradually lose your inhibitions and sense of self as the date drunkenly progresses, and you may not even remember the later conversations. Plus you’re left with a hefty bill for a date, where your money was spent on drinks and you don’t even remember how they tasted. Since I started dating alcohol-free, I’ve been able to either save money on dates by not having to rely on a drink to keep up my end of the conversation, or to spend extra money on more meaningful adventures. When the money goes towards a bucket list adventure, you create a memory with that person which you can treasure – whether the relationship works out or not!

You don’t have to explain yourself

When I first started dating alcohol-free, I felt as though I had to justify to anyone that asked why I didn’t drink alcohol. I felt trapped, having to answer this very personal question with explanations about my past experiences, blackouts, and the effects alcohol had on my mental and physical health. I was giving my date my life story while I didn’t know anything personal about them. Over time, I realised that I didn’t have to share any of this until I felt comfortable doing so. Instead, I equipped myself with a simple one liner (like ‘It’s more fun!’ or ‘It’s not for me’), and I left it at that. When you get right down to it, if going on an alcohol-free date makes the other person feel uncomfortable, they’re not for you.

It gets easier over time

The more you do it, the more you realise you can do it. Dating is scary, but you have the power within you to do it alcohol-free. Enjoy falling head-over-heels without falling head over heels! It can help to create a space of support and encouragement too. Talking about how your date went with your friends, family or other like-minded alcohol-free people is a great way to share your excitement about alcohol-free dating. It reminds you that you’re not missing out on dating by not drinking and are still able to have a great time – maybe even a better time.

words by Jen Baker – oneyearnobeer.com