By Joshua M. Patton
She's hot and he's into her. She slips off her high-heels, slinks a bare leg up onto his lap, fumbles with the button that just barely covers her bra and gives him that look. And him? He shakes and takes a good stiff sip of … well, whatever it is in that shot glass.
No laugh track necessary: In romantic comedies, such scenes always are good for their own yucks. In the real lives of people in recovery, however, a shot of whatever it was in that glass is not an option. So what to do with those uncomfortable pauses that can make a date quickly turn southward?
No, the answer is not, “Don't date.” Rather, like most things in recovery, getting used to dating without a drink takes time, is completely possible, and in fact ultimately is more gratifying than doing so while stupefied by alcohol.
Still cowering on the couch unconvinced? Read these stories of sober dating from others in recovery and suggestions from addiction specialists for proof that romance and recovery make for a fine mix.
Fran* left the military and dreamed of becoming a teacher, but she knew she’d have to address her alcoholism first. “The Army trained me to function with my disease,” she says. “I wasn’t close to rock bottom, but I could see it coming up on me fast.”
In the military, she traveled and met men who led lives just as hectic as hers. “Permanence was not in our vocabulary,” she says. “Eventually, I just wanted to come back. I just wanted to be home.” After finding a sponsor and regular meetings, Fran excelled in her position teaching seventh grade, 50 miles from where she grew up.
Living in rural Pennsylvania, her options for her own after-school activities were limited. Most people she knew rotated their nights between three local bars. To fill her time, she took a weekend job as a server at one of them.
“Working there made it easier for me to go to those places,” she says.
She saw the moments of fun and happiness through the eyes of customers, but also dealt with the vomit in the bathrooms. She had been sober for almost two years. To clear her mind, she took up jogging in a nearby state park. It was there she noticed Todd* and when she ran into him one weekend at the bar, he asked if she wanted to get some drinks together after her shift.
“I told him that since I worked there, getting drinks would be like us going to sixth period together for me,” Fran recalls. “I asked him if he wanted to go running together.”
They started jogging as a pair and became involved in a matter of weeks. It didn’t last forever, but that wasn’t the larger point for Fran.
“He was my first sober relationship and even though we weren’t right for each other, it was a big step for me,” she says. “ Sober dating was no easier than any other dating, but it also wasn’t that much harder.
While famously discouraged for those early in recovery, many people avoid situations like Fran’s by simply dating within their own sober community. Why? Because it's easier to relate to someone who comes from understanding and similar circumstance, says Dr. Sandra A. Davis, a psychotherapist in private practice in the Pittsburgh area.
Davis says there can be advantages to dating only people from the sober community.
“They illuminate their whole past,” Davis says, in a way that can make for a deep, lasting connection.
Davis points out that readiness for a relationship always involves two very important choices: First, you have to choose to look for and be open to having love in your life. Second, you have to choose who will bring that love to your life (which is usually a matter of chemistry, she adds).
Part of being open to relationships is spending a little time trying to understand the needs of your partner. In the case of Fran and Todd, he was not sober, but he respected Fran’s sobriety. When they lived together, Fran says there was no alcohol in the house. But she admits it was difficult for her sometimes when she knew Todd wasn’t home because he was having drinks with friends from work.
“He never drank at home and that was for me,” she says. “I didn’t even care that he was at a bar, but it did bother me a little that he never asked me to go with him.”
While maintaining your recovery is important, Davis cautions that it’s important not to be so focused on your sobriety that you close yourself off to your options. Today, sober singles looking for love can do what millions of others are doing: take their searches online.
Smart phones and iPads make logging on increasingly accessible and the type of people looking for love online is becoming just as diverse a community as the Internet-at-large.
Most of the big-name sites in online dating, Match.com, eHarmony and even free sites like OkCupid, cater to the sober community. And there are no less than half a dozen sites designed specifically for sober singles, such as SoberandSingle.com and SoberSeek.com. While they may not have the curb appeal or sheer numbers of eHarmony, the specificity of these specialized sites can lead to a higher chance for a strong connection.
It’s true that sober dating can be daunting, but dating in general is daunting. Truth be told, life as a whole can be a struggle — and isn’t one of the very things we are struggling for someone to help share the burden?
*Names have been changed
Tips for A Great First Date
Sober dating has all of the challenges of any dating, plus a few of its own. But with a little creativity, those challenges can turn into opportunities for rich, rewarding experiences with someone new.
The Challenge:It seems like everyone starts at the bar. If you do, you may be making it harder on yourself by trying to be charming in a tricky environment.
The Opportunity:Sobriety is your advantage. By skipping the bar, you’re forced to dig deeper to come up with something creative and fun that skips the cliché.
The Game Plan:Before you can plan a great date, you need to know what kind of date you want. If you want to give yourself some time to warm up and make a good impression, plan an activity. Rock climbing and white-water rafting are for relationships. Museums however, are great for dates. Art galleries and museums are essentially mazes of conversation pieces; the perfect place to linger and learn about one another.
The Other Game Plan:You’ve got a date that could go either way. If you’re not sure the connection is there, don’t sign yourselves up to spend two hours together in a couples cooking class. Choose coffee or dessert instead. This allows for an easy exit for both of you, yet also lends itself to picking a second location and continuing the date if things are going well.
The Improvisation:If you and a potential date can’t seem to arrange your schedules, suggest you go grocery shopping together. It’s something everyone has to do and it’s intimately revealing. If it’s going well, don’t buy anything perishable in case the opportunity to go grab coffee arises.
The Parting Advice:Nothing about dating is an exact science. It’s rough out there, but nothing you can’t handle.
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