How on Earth Are Sober People Supposed to Handle Dating?
Even those who make it through addiction can discover that the pesky problems that proceeded sobriety are still there.
Of those struggles, the one that seems to take center stage rests in the love department. There are reasons for this. Many come into recovery having been isolated to the point that romantic relationships were but a distant thought; others are in relationships that no longer work when they stop numbing themselves.
Then, out there in “the field,” there are many heavy drinkers who don’t look too appealing to sober folks. There’s also the challenge of figuring out how to handle disclosures about sobriety (“I don’t drink because I used to be a drunken hot mess and oh also have a co-occurring mental health disorder” doesn’t exactly scream “great partner material” on a dating site or app).
I can vouch for the challenges. I’m over 17 years sober and it took me years of frustrating and painful efforts to find the guy I eventually committed to. In that time, I encountered more men than I can count who drank so much that it rendered them completely not present.
Part of my issue was that I staunchly avoided the recommendation that I not date for my first year of sobriety. I was, in fact, horrified by that notion. After all, I’d been holed up in my apartment for the previous few years with only cats and cocaine for company. Now I was cognizant and leaving my home! Not date? I felt like I was finally ready to date!
The experiment didn’t go so well, but it wasn’t a disaster either. “Don’t get them on their back before they’re on their feet” is an expression in recovery circles but I never felt like I was a victim of anyone I dated, or taken advantage of because I was new to sobriety.
I just had, as they say, a “broken picker.” Another popular recovery expression: “stick with the winners.” Alas, when it came to dating when I was new, I pretty much just stuck with the losers.
Other people actually follow the suggestion to abstain.
“I didn’t date for at least a year,” says 37-year-old Mike Reed, who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona and has been sober for seven years. He admits, however, that it wasn’t that he was staunchly refusing to date so much as “it just worked out that way. I was avoiding bars and other places where I was used to meeting people.”
Still others wait a year, and then turn to dating apps like Tinder and Bumble—only to encounter people whose lives revolve around drinking. “When every guy I chatted with balked if I suggested we meet at a coffee place instead of a bar, I gave up on the apps,” says New York-based Sarah, 34. (She’s now dating a guy she met at a 12-step meeting.)
Sarah’s not alone with that frustration and as a result, many sober people decide they want to date other sober people. Reed noticed that and, sensing a need, decided to do something about it—namely create a dating site for sober people.
“I was curious if a dating website existed that was tailored around people in recovery from drugs and alcohol. So I typed the words ‘single’ and ‘sober’ into Google and the website www.singleandsober.com was indeed for sale. Then I sat in my room for 30 minutes, going, ‘Wow, should I do this?’” Reed recalls. “The domain cost $1,500. But the fact that it was even available had my wheels spinning.”
With 7,000 users in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, Single and Sober is proof that sober folks are appreciating the help—not just because they may find a future Mr. or Mrs. Right but also because it’s a place where they can simply share about their recovery.
“A lot of people on the site list their recovery dates and how long they’ve been sober on the profiles they create—it’s really cool to see that,” Reed says.
Speaking of sobriety, Reed has to regularly scan the site to “make sure people don’t have a beer in their hand or a marijuana leaf on their profiles,” he says. Inappropriate content of any kind is not tolerated. Why on earth, I ask, would someone who’s so into pot or alcohol that they put it on their profile be attracted to a site called Single and Sober?
“You’ve got me,” Reed says with a laugh. “It’s free to create a profile so I guess that attracts them.”