Finding Love Without Alcohol

Going out for a drink is a standard first date idea for many singles, but different rules apply if you’re sober.

According to a 2014 survey by the dating app Plenty of Fish, 48.9 percent of singles reported consuming two to three drinks on a first date and 36.4 percent have had a drink before a first date. Unsurprisingly, then, alcohol is a topic that often surfaces quicker than other potential deal-breakers, like political beliefs or relationship history.

Alcohol in Your Life

“Some people identify drinking as, ‘We’re going to have fun’ and some people have the idea, ‘I don’t need alcohol to have fun,’” said Markesha Miller, a therapist based in Columbia, S.C. “That’s an important conversation that needs to happen in the getting-to-know-you stage — making sure your values align and the way couples spend time together aligns.”

Everyone has different perspectives about imbibing, which can stem from a variety of experiences and religious beliefs, Dr. Miller said. These views and lifestyles can influence if and how a pair moves forward in a relationship, or even onto a second date.

Sometimes sobriety can be a deterrent or catalyst for interacting in the first place.

Lifestyle Cues From Dating Profiles

Dating apps can be a helpful tool for putting personal boundaries into the digital universe while simultaneously attracting like-minded singles. Many people opt to openly display their temperance when prompted by these platforms. Simultaneously, online daters can also narrow their searches to include or exclude people based on their sentiments regarding alcohol.

Danny Diaz, 33, a radiology technician student in Inwood, N.Y., has been clean and sober for nearly two years. On the dating app Bumble, his profile states he does not drink or do drugs.

His profile does not mention his past with drugs and alcohol, which he approaches privately and delicately in the app’s text chat. Within messages, he discusses being comfortable dating people who drink.

His recovery, Mr. Diaz said, is “not what you open with.”

“I try to show my personality first and then come out with it,” he added. Sometimes people are receptive. Some people don’t want to date someone who’s sober because they’ve had bad experiences with friends or family in the past, or they’re afraid that I’m going to disappear and start using again, or they think I’m, for lack of a better term, boring.”

Mr. Diaz likes to think outside the bar. He takes dates to restaurants or interactive venues like Dave & Busters, a sports bar chain with arcade games. “I’m personally not going to drink, but you can go ahead and drink if you like,” he said.

Spaces for Sober Singles

After eliminating alcohol from their lives, some sober individuals exclusively date nondrinkers.

Outside traditional dating apps, are online platforms like 12StepMatch, Love in Recovery and Single and Sober where it’s understood that no one drinks. Loosid app, a sober social network that started in 2018, offers boozeless guides, chat groups and a sober dating platform.

A few months after connecting on Loosid, Margaret Cromwell, 34, a registered dietitian, and Arthur Amstead, 31, a financial sales consultant, made their relationship Facebook official in May 2019.

Ms. Cromwell and Mr. Amstead, who live together in Wayland, Mass., are both in recovery.

Before getting sober in October 2017, Ms. Cromwell described dating as unstable. She didn’t trust men. “There were much more highs and lows,” she said.

Mr. Amstead, who gave up alcohol in February 2018, was also displeased with his love life. “When it came to dating, it was more about drinking,” he said. “It just wasn’t fun anymore.”

Now, without booze, Mr. Amstead is focused on building his relationship. “The communication is 100 times better,” he said. “We might have little arguments, but we talk through it and figure out what the problem is for both of us and work upon that to create a better life.”

To further build their connection, the couple watch movies and go boating. They visit the zoo and cook at home, and they take weekend trips to Yellowstone National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Yosemite National Park and the Rocky Mountains. “We get to go to national parks, and I get to remember it,” Mr. Amstead said.

Ms. Cromwell is a firm believer in sober dating and strongly encourages others to try it. “Even during the pandemic, life has never been as fun or as beautiful or amazing as it’s been since I met Arthur,” she said.

Finding Common Ground

Alcohol can help bridge one-on-one conversations, though it’s not required to establish common ground and a meaningful bond.

Lisa Hochberger, a sex and relationship therapist who practices in Manhattan and Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, suggests that people call prospective dates before in-person rendezvous if they’re worried about the inability to find a connection without alcohol.

“Especially when meeting people online, phone calls can really tell you a lot of information,” she said. “If you’re getting along with someone on the phone, the odds are you’ll be fine having a conversation if you’re sober out together.”

Increased Focus and Energy

Heidi Solomon, 42, an interior decorator and professional organizer in Boston, began dating sober when she was a 20-year-old student at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Around this time, she learned firsthand that mixing alcohol with the medication she has been taking since age 15 will land her in the hospital.

“If I need to choose between having a liver transplant or having a glass of wine, I’m going to choose to not drink,” Ms. Solomon said. “It’s a no-brainer to me.”

Ms. Solomon doesn’t mind if her dates imbibe, however they must respect her drinking boundaries. The topic helps her analyze potential romantic partners. “I learn a lot about somebody instantaneously by how they respond to whether or not I can drink,” she said. “People that get extremely uncomfortable tend to be insecure. Another response is, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Those people are generally more solid.”

Sans alcohol, sober daters can focus on the individual they’re spending time with and stay present. “You have a lot more energy because alcohol is a depressant,” said Ruby Mehta, a licensed clinical social worker and the director of clinical operations at Tempest, a digital recovery program in Manhattan.

For sober individuals, mornings come without hangovers or alcohol-induced feelings of regret. “People say they make better decisions when they’re not under the influence of alcohol, whether that’s how you want the date to end, or what you did or did not want to disclose on the first date,” Ms. Mehta said. “You have more control over that if you’re not drinking.”

Safer Sex Without Alcohol

The mere thought of getting intimate without alcohol might inspire anxiety for some. Ms. Hochberger suggests breathing exercises to regulate nerves. “Long inhales, long exhales and really deep sighs are good for calming you down and getting you centered,” she said.

Sober sex can also be safer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends limiting or eliminating alcohol use to reduce the likelihood of making choices that can lead to contracting H.I.V. and sexually transmitted diseases.

There aren’t drinking-related physiological snafus either. “Alcohol depresses our central nervous system,” said Dr. Miller, noting drinking numbs pain. “Being sober prevents sex injuries. It allows you to have a better understanding of the individual.”

Hilary Sheinbaum is a writer and speaker based in New York. Her book, “The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month” (Harper Design), was released this month.

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