The six things I've learned about sober dating

Caggie Dunlop | June 2021 | 9 minutes

Caggie Dunlop shares her top tips for alcohol-free dating, from making the first move to dating people who drink.

The majority of my dating life, especially the early stages of dating, has been influenced by the social lubricant known as alcohol. So, when I made the decision to cut the booze out of my life, I learnt a thing or two about how to navigate this space sans beer goggles and Dutch courage.

There are obviously challenges when it comes to sober dating. “Grabbing a drink” is how most first dates go, they can be awkward and thus, losing your inhibitions can feel like a good thing. (It can also be a terrible thing, speaking from personal experience.)

If you are abstaining from alcohol for whatever reason but still want to date, here are my top tips.

1. Let the other person know you don't drink before the date

This alleviates the pressure you might feel when you turn up to the pub / restaurant. Do you pretend to nurse a small glass of something hoping they won’t notice you’re not actually drinking it (or even worse, you drink it)? Or claim to be on antibiotics for infected wisdom teeth (“I’m not drinking tonight”) to buy yourself time? Or say you're so hungover you couldn't possibly drink again?

Saying before the date, in a simple message - “BTW, I don't drink'' - avoids the awkwardness for them and you. They have a chance to know how to play it.

I once went on a date with a guy and ordered an elderflower and soda. He ordered a bottle of red, I said I didn't drink so that would all be for him. He ordered it anyway and drank the whole thing in about half an hour, with no food. He kept asking me why I didn't drink, and the subject dominated most of the conversation. He messaged me afterward saying, “That was fun, let's do it again.” followed by another text “Next time you're drinking.” I never saw him again.

2. You don't have to explain yourself

Initially, I felt I had to reveal a scripture of reasons to justify my sobriety to anyone who asked, explaining my past experiences, disastrous nights out, how it affects my mental health... etc. When all I knew about them was their first name.

Now I barely say anything at all. I don't need to explain or justify my lifestyle to anyone. So have whatever one-liner feels appropriate to you ready… and leave it at that. If your sobriety makes people feel uncomfortable that's not for you to remedy.

"If your sobriety makes people feel uncomfortable that's not for you to remedy."

3. Being sober doesn't mean you can only date sober people

I was worried about this at first, but once you feel confident and comfortable in your sobriety, it doesn't matter what your partner is doing. But I do appreciate that it's hard when you go home at midnight, while the other party comes in at 5am, smelling like a brewery. It's not ideal. It's just about figuring out what works for you, and whether you enjoy the same things. With or without drinking.

4. Making the first move

So many of my first kisses were when I was drunk; so many of my first everythings! But actually, doing all of those things sober is really amazing. You get to know someone on a level that is honest, and real. You don't have anything to hide behind, which of course can be scary. Alcohol creates a very artificial connection. Establishing a connection that is rooted in reality without any substances interfering is really meaningful.

"Establishing a connection that is rooted in reality without any substances interfering is really meaningful."

5. You eliminate the bad eggs much faster

Like the guy who tried to make me drink. The right people, the people who you want in your life, will support your decision to be sober. Don’t worry if you have a few disastrous sober dates with some assholes. Just think, if you were still drinking you might have ended up in a relationship with, or even marrying one of them. Now isn't that a sobering thought.

6. Offer support

Most people know that when they stop drinking, they become a bit of a sober hotline for their drinking friends who are tinkering with the idea of going alcohol-free. It's always nice to create a space of support and encouragement. Most of the time, this is just a reaction to a big night out and is swiftly forgotten by the following weekend. But there are a lot of people who want to live a more sober lifestyle and need some support in getting there. I know I did.

Whether that's a friend or a romantic partner, it's important to talk about these things in a non-judgemental way. Everyone is on their own path and you definitely can't force anyone to stop. But sometimes a supportive ear can go a long way.

  • Caggie Dunlop is the host of Saturn Returns, a podcast that explores astrological transit, the quest for authenticity, and dealing with change.