What I Learned About Dating After Getting Sober

This newly engaged couple discusses what they've learned from sober dating, about themselves and past relationships. This is their engagement picture from Joshua Tree National Park.
A few months ago, my friend was telling me that due to some medical challenges she was experiencing, it would be better for her to quit drinking because of the high sugar content in alcohol.

However, she said, it seemed impossible to integrate sobriety into her life for the sole reason that her dating life was just beginning to take shape. So much of early dating involves getting drinks with the person as you get to know them, she said.

I used to think the same way until I got sober. Sobriety forced me to learn a new way of relating and connecting to people.

I stumbled along for a while, made some wrong decisions, even without alcohol, and made some right ones. With time, being in bars didn’t bother me so I would do the same thing as everyone else: go on a first date over cocktails. He would order a vodka tonic, and I would order a sparkling water with lime.

More times than not, my date was more uncomfortable with me not drinking than I was with him drinking. Those pursuits never went anywhere.

This past May, I met a very handsome guy at my friend’s housewarming party. After talking for a moment, I noticed that he was also drinking a La Croix. We awkwardly talked about the Los Angeles traffic for much too long until I asked him what he did for work. He said he was a Marriage and Family Therapist — a career he decided to pursue after getting sober. I told him that I, too, was sober. This opened up the conversation to more personal matters and we somehow figured out that we are both fascinated by the Enneagram (something we had both gravitated toward as a means to understand ourselves better).

We went on our first date the next weekend and excitedly brought our Enneagram books along. We had dinner, went to the beach, and sat in the sand taking turns reading our books to each other. When alcohol (quite literally) isn’t on the table, you find a lot of other things to do!

We’ve been dating for seven months now, and it is unlike any relationship either of us has encountered before — not particularly because we don’t drink, but because our paths are merging as we move toward spiritual growth and self discovery.

However, our foundation of recovery has provided us with a ritual of self-reflection that shifts our perspectives — and that’s something that any single person or couple can have.

Recovery is not about not drinking; our view of recovery and addiction is that of a symptom of something deeper, so we are forced to look at what we understand as our spiritual malady.

Being in a relationship is like having a mirror in front of you (all the time) that you can’t just step away from. Part of the journey is just realizing that. You can see the problem, have perspective, and then work on it.

In previous relationships, we couldn’t differentiate so the cycle was always the same — we would fight, break up, and think that person was crazy. Then meet someone new and play that out all over again.

As a therapist, Paul sees that what attracts couples to each other initially may also be a source of friction as things progress in the relationship. The idea, from Imago Relationship Therapy, is that we are attracted to potential mates, in part, who have traits similar to our childhood caregivers, and in the process allows us to heal old wounds.

Paul and I have both found this to be true for one another and the result has been some very intimate, and at times very difficult, conversations. If we had not been working on ourselves as single people, we would not have been able to identify these patterns and have these conversations as a couple.

Self work allowed both of us not only to discover a much more authentic version of ourselves, but to bring that into the relationship. Due to that, we are able to make amends and have conversations even when there isn’t a fight. We can communicate rather than just argue over our differences.

We are able to find more productivity by searching for where our feelings are coming from in our pasts and how we can begin to live from a different place in our lives.

Having such deep and searching conversations so early on in a relationship can also feel very heavy. Paul and I discovered that one of our challenges as we got to know each other was to find a way to bring levity and light-heartedness to our relationship as a way to balance those deep, existential conversations.

We learned to be really silly with each other and in that, we allowed ourselves to be seen. The paradox for us was that we were actually confronted with more work when we allowed ourselves to be more light and playful. We realized that we were so much more comfortable pontificating about all of the things we had learned of ourselves than we were just actually being ourselves.

When we were silly with each other, all those things that we pontificated about became real. We were able to actually see the things we needed to work on. We were then not just talking about ourselves, but we were really being ourselves. That added a whole new level of depth for us — an added layer of understanding about each other.

We found a level of comfort in the presence of the other that we had so often been looking for before we found alcohol to mask it. And that is not to say that it was comfortable to be seen in this way. It felt very vulnerable and uncomfortable for us both to be truly seen by the other.

Our relationship now has room to hold both the absurdly silly and deeply spiritual — there even seems to be a connection between the two. On a practical level, we have recently found that our days together are exponentially better when we start them in prayer and contemplation together.

We have a few books that we read from and we sit in silence, next to each other, with God. If either one of us doesn’t feel innately worthy or loved by the One greater than ourselves, we tend to look to each other too much for this validation. We cannot look to each other to have all of our needs met without imploding the relationship.

And just like for our own personal sobrieties, we have places to go and good habits we have to keep to be able to maintain wellness in our romantic relationship. We learned that things like daily exercise, eating healthy foods, going to AA meetings, and having our own personal prayer lives were necessary for our own well-being. It’s easy to drop those habits when in a new and exciting relationship, but we see the direct benefit of remaining steadfast in them.

When I think back to my friend telling me that she didn’t know how she could both give up alcohol and maintain her dating life, I can relate. My sobriety has been a journey of reflection and discovery that has been uncomfortable and challenging.

Ultimately though, it’s been rewarding. Rather than end my dating life, sobriety provided me with a gateway that has led to growth and connection both with myself and another person that I never knew possible.
Handwritten script about lessons learned from sober dating over an image of the couple, that reads, "Our relationship now has room to hold both the absurdly silly and deeply spiritual."

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