Dating Without the Drink - Page 2

By Emily McCombs 06/29/11
The world of romance is tough even when you can down a few vodka tonics or sip a glass of merlot. How are you supposed to do it stone cold sober?
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Do I really need to be sober for this? Thinkstock

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Many now-sober addicts aren’t sure when they should talk about their recovery on dates—and how much they should share. While plenty choose to disclose all when the topic comes up organically in conversation, others prefer to keep their sobriety private, and cite stories of telling potential partners they’re alcoholic and never hearing from them again. (Which is probably for the best, since being comfortable with alcoholism is a fairly essential prerequisite for dating a recovering person.)

Catherine, a 34-year-old marketing rep, says she feels the question of whether or not to tell a would-be paramour she’s sober feels like the “third person on the date.” It wasn’t until her second date with her now boyfriend that she felt a strong enough connection to tell him she was a recovering alcoholic, an emotional experience that brought her to tears. “That was a very intense thing,” she says. “I can’t imagine going to that level on every first date. I can’t imagine going through that a couple times a week.”

Still the biggest question about dating in early recovery is this: How do you do it? After all, when they were drinking, many alcoholics’ definition of a “date” was the same as 40-year-old Darcy’s—“Let’s get drunk and fool around.” As Nina puts it, “Dating is just weird in general. The main difference is being forced to stay present through the awkwardness.” Dr. Karim agrees that dating gets a lot harder when you subtract alcohol. “If you’re sober, you’re dealing with more anxiety, less impulsivity, more guardedness and more caution,” he says. “It’s a lot more difficult.”

That guardedness and lack of impulsivity also makes it harder to hook up—which may not be a bad thing, according to Alice. “I didn’t sleep with my current boyfriend for six weeks, which is the longest I’d ever gone in my entire life without having sex with somebody,” she says. “And we’re still together.”

Even if you do manage to make it through the awkwardness of the date into intimate territory, there’s also the question of how to handle swapping spit with someone who’s been imbibing. Some addicts cop to enjoying the vicarious thrill. Says Heather, “Personally, I like it. I like the smell. Like every good alcoholic, I still want to taste that liquor. I want to lick the cap.” But according to Dr. Huysman, locking lips with liquor is “dancing with the devil,” and both he and Karim caution that it could trigger a recovering alcoholic to want to drink.

If you’re making out with someone who’s been actively drinking, you’ll get a little taste. “If you’re desperate for alcohol, that little taste may be enough to start a cascade of other feelings and thoughts in your head,” says Dr. Karim. “But for most people, it just adds to the excitement. They can consider it a little guilty pleasure.” 

Emily McCombs is the Managing Editor of Before that, she was the managing editor of the men's site, where she created and starred in a weekly web series "A Woman's Perspective." Her writing has appeared in BUST, Elle, Marie Claire, and She is in need of at least five different recovery programs, but has been free from drugs and alcohol for over two years. She also wrote about transferring addictions for The Fix.

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