It feels like drinking and dating are inextricably intertwined. First dates are often at bars, or at least at restaurants where the parties can order a cocktail to quell their nerves and help them open up. Some coffee shops and movie theaters even serve alcohol. But as ubiquitous as drinking seems, there are plenty of people who choose not to imbibe. A Morning Consult poll from 2019 found that 43% of Americans over 21 don’t even drink.
If you’re a social—or frequent—drinker about to head out on a date with someone who’s sober, don’t despair. Here are some tips to make sure everything goes down as smoothly as a Shirley Temple.
Don’t assume you know why they don’t drink
Let’s get one thing straight: Someone being sober doesn’t automatically mean they’re in recovery or 12-stepping. Some people don’t like the taste of alcohol, others don’t like the feeling of being tipsy, and others have their own unique reasons. Don’t assume you know this person’s reasoning unless they tell you outright, which they don’t have to do.
You can ask, of course, respectfully, but don’t get pushy if they demur.
“You have no idea what drove them to be sober. Some have chosen sober life for religious reasons, allergies, prior addictions, bad experiences, simple dislike of the taste or feeling, or any other reason. Don’t be afraid to ask the reason. You’re not asking because of judgement. You are asking because the reason might give you more insight into who they are,” said Laurel House, a dating expert at eHarmony. She added it’s key to “give them time” to tell you their reasoning.
Don’t make a big deal out of it
Whatever you do, don’t make the fact that they don’t order wine with dinner the focal point of the date. There are so many interesting things about this person that you can talk about instead. And don’t fret endlessly about whether it’s acceptable for you to have a drink, either. Ask simply, “Do you mind if I order a beer?”
If they mind, they’ll let you know. Don’t make this about yourself. Their sobriety has nothing to do with you. You can make your own choices, just like they do, and they might be totally cool with you ordering a drink in the same way you should be cool with them not ordering one.
Besides, if your drinking were a deal-breaker for them, you probably wouldn’t be on the date in the first place.
“Since I got sober during quarantine, I met most of my dates on apps or reconnected with people I knew via social media. I’m pretty open on the internet about being sober, so most people know about it before they even talk with me. This keeps most ‘party people,’ as I call them, away,” explained an art model named Syn who has been sober for a little over a year.
House made a good point: Dating profiles really do their job when it comes to attracting good matches and eliminating bad ones, no matter what each person’s specific deal-breaker is.
“Your profile is not supposed to please, turn on, or intrigue everyone. In fact, it’s supposed to turn away the wrong people,” she said. “You want your profile to pull in the right people for you…It’s ok to say that you are sober, or that you are looking for someone who doesn’t ‘need to drink to have fun.’ Yes, some people won’t reach out or respond. And that’s great! Those are the people who you don’t want anyway, so may as well eliminate them sooner than later.”
In September, Bumble launched a “Sober badge” to make it easier for non-drinkers to self-identify and, thus, find more appropriate matches. Bumble’s “Drinking badge”—which allows users to specify if they drink frequently, socially, or never, and now lets them state if they’re completely sober—is one of its most used badges.
The company also did a little research and sent their findings in an email, citing that of those users who don’t drink, 75% say it upfront before or during a first date. Further, 34% of them are open to dating someone who drinks, and 34% will only date other sober people.
Don’t count yourself out from the jump, then. Again, if this were a huge issue for them, they wouldn’t be going out with you. That data proves it.
Syn pointed out that though she’d prefer to date someone sober, if she falls for someone who drinks in the future, she won’t walk away from them. She acknowledged it could be tricky to get serious with someone who might keep alcohol in their home, especially if the relationship progresses to the point of moving in, but like any other difference in a relationship, that’s just something to address and work through at the appropriate time. A neat freak and a more slovenly person have to compromise on a shared living situation, and so, too, will a sober and non-sober person. What matters is communication and a mutual willingness to figure out solutions that work for both people.
Stay aware of how this makes you feel about your own drinking
Yes, another person’s sobriety is not about you, but you might still end up doing some self-reflection while sitting across from someone who is totally fine talking and opening up without liquid courage.
“Most people are pretty open to it, but it does make dating uncomfortable for the non-sober person,” noted Syn. “It makes them more aware of their own drinking and drug use, and most people get self-conscious about it. This is something I’d experienced similarly when I became vegan seven years ago. Sitting across the table from a date eating meat makes them act really weird, even if I don’t ever object to it.”
Don’t allow yourself to become fully self-loathing or anything, but doing a little internal audit of how you feel about your own drinking is healthy. Bumble’s data revealed that 39% of its users are “sober curious,” or interested in thinking a little more about their own decisions to drink. You’re not alone in questioning whether you really want to keep uncorking a new bottle of wine every night for the rest of your life. You don’t need to become totally sober instantly, but use this date as an opportunity to see what that’s all about.
Consider the merits of trying it out
If you date someone who loves baseball but you don’t know anything about the sport, you’d probably go to a game with them just to see them in their element and learn about their interests, right? Why not try being sober on your date for the same reason?
“Know that dating doesn’t require drinking. You can still be sexy, fun, and even more authentic if you are sober,” said House. “You don’t need alcohol to be yourself. Some people think that a date isn’t a date without alcohol, but a date can be an even better date without it. You can still go to a bar if you want, which many people do because bars are often beautiful, romantic environments conducive to conversation, connection, and contact. And you don’t have to order a coke or sparkling water. You can even go to a bar and get a cool muddled thyme and jalapeño cocktail without alcohol. And the great thing is you wake up in the morning remembering everything, not feeling sick, and not feeling depleted.”
House and Syn both suggested a few non-drinking date options. Of course, you don’t want to over-correct and embrace the other person’s sobriety so enthusiastically that you end up being offensive, but there are loads of things to do besides sit in a bar.
Syn said she has started having first dates at hookah joints. House suggested having a traveling multi-course dinner, grabbing appetizers, dinner, and dessert at three different locations. It’s exciting and you won’t be sitting awkwardly in one spot long enough to start feeling like you need to order a drink to keep the vibes up. House also suggested making art or ceramics, checking out an independent bookstore, or doing something competitive. Hell, try one of those trendy new ax-throwing spots.
Ultimately, it doesn’t need to be a big deal. Be open and honest—but not pushy—and allow yourself to be surprised by how little the other person’s personal decisions about alcohol impact what is bound to be a great date.