Sober dating is all the rage, but what are the rules?
Broken by the first uninterrupted Christmas season post-Covid, it felt like everyone I knew was involved in this year’s dry January. So did I, taking the longest break from alcohol for the first time since I started drinking. Unfortunately, everything they say is true: I felt healthier, I slept better, and I even went to an exhibition at nine in the morning on a Saturday.
It’s not just my circle, an estimated nine million people in the UK ditched the sauce in the first month of the year – and if previous research is anything to go by, 70 per cent are still drinking healthier after six months. the line. This is definitely true among my friends – I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been drunk since January, while some of my friends have given up completely. It’s the same story on TikTok, where strangers seem to be bragging — with more regularity than usual, anyway — that they’d rather go out for coffee with friends than go out for a night out. The era of the sanely curious is very much here – and according to statistics, young people are leading the way.
Since this demographic (16-34 year olds) is also the most prolific on dating apps, it makes sense that sober dating is also on the rise. According to dating app Bumble, 34 percent of British users are more likely to go on sober dates now than before the pandemic, and 62 percent believe it would help them form real relationships. According to a 2020 survey by competitor Plenty of Fish, 83 percent of users are open to dry dating, while the hashtag #SoberDating has been viewed by more than four million people on TikTok. In fact, according to new research from jewelry brand Angelic Diamonds, sober dating is the 10th biggest dating trend in 2023. ‘Morning date’, meanwhile, is number 8 on the list, with people opting for a morning date such as a coffee or a run – another example of people getting creative with alcohol-free dating.
But just because more and more people are experimenting with sobriety, the culture surrounding drinking and dating has slowly changed. Drinking is still an ancient tradition for a first date. For those whose sobriety stems from problem drinking, this is not always an option. For others, without the lubrication of alcohol, pub dating can feel rougher than before. So what are the alternatives?
“At first I had no idea what to do with myself or anyone else without drinking, which I think speaks volumes about my problem and the drinking culture in general,” says Ian, 30, who stopped drinking three years ago. “But there are other things in life besides drinking.” My partner and I still do our usual date night dinners, but now we go for the food, not the drinks. We hike together in the morning, which would never have happened on our hungover days. We go to flea markets and little shopping trips.”
Marleigh, 31, who has also been sober for three years, took a similar approach. “Now I much prefer doing activities like going to an exhibition, trying a new restaurant or food market, or walking to a beautiful place. My current partner and I went to throw an ax on an early date.”
– My partner and I still do the typical date dinners, but now we go for the food, not the drinks. We hike together in the morning, which would never have happened on our hungover days.”
Others, like 27-year-old Nico, who has been sober for two and a half years, enjoy pub dates even when dry. Nico doesn’t mind his date drinking either, as long as they don’t make a big deal out of him not drinking. “I like people to drink rather than ‘not in solidarity,'” he says British GQ. “I understand this sentence a lot. I tried having picnics and bringing non-alcoholic beers, but that usually didn’t help because it got them interested.”
Organizing an activity can help the conversation flow and allow people to date outside of drinking, but it doesn’t always take away the questioning and potential awkwardness that can unfortunately often occur when someone reveals they don’t drink. “People were generally quite blunt with their responses,” explains Nico, “often asking directly, ‘Did you have a problem?’ without any prompting. It’s more curiosity than rudeness, but the end result is often exasperating.”
Both Nico and Marleigh say people’s reactions are a useful filter and have encouraged them to be more selective about who they date. “If someone’s primary topic of conversation is, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’, then obviously drinking plays a significant role in their life, which is totally fine, but they probably won’t achieve great compatibility for a long time. expression,” says Marleigh.
Sobriety has also helped Marleigh find her limits when it comes to sex, says 26-year-old Lily from London, who recently quit drinking for a year. “I got sober at a point in my life where I was trying to prove that I was queer and I slept with everyone who wanted to have sex with me and it wasn’t good sex; there was no authority,” they say British GQ. “Sobriety has helped me pause and think about whether I’m actually enjoying it or whether it’s just making me sad.” Lily says that getting sober has also helped them realize what situations they feel comfortable in, what situations they don’t feel comfortable in, and even their pain thresholds in BDSM. “He must be sober. It also makes you more current in the moment [during] sex, so you’ll be able to figure out what really gets him out of you.
The same goes for relationships. Ian has been with his partner for over a decade, so when he stopped drinking it took some acclimatization. “It’s easy to become drinking buddies in a relationship, but removing the alcohol in a situation like this really calls for a more purposeful closeness,” she says. “You can’t just rely on drunkenness to initiate conversations and intimacy.”
For daters considering getting sober or just starting their journey, Dru Jaeger, author How to be conscious drinkers and the co-founder of Club Soda has some tips. “A surprising number of people are holding drinks in their profile photos on dating apps, so choose pictures that reflect who you are and what you’re interested in,” she says. “Many dating sites and apps ask questions about your drinking habits. You can often use these questions as filters. If you want to connect with someone who rarely or never drinks, say so.”
“Remember, you don’t owe anyone your backstory or an explanation for why you don’t drink,” she continues. “It’s okay if you order something non-alcoholic and then change the subject.” If they don’t respect your choice, it’s their loss.”
None of this is to say it will be easy – it will certainly be a huge adjustment and take time to get used to. But as Nico says, “With time and practice, you’ll find the sober version of fun when you’re drunk.” Additionally, shaking up the dating formula by replacing the pub with, say, an ax and a target is a little excitement into the often formulaic world of dating. Ax throwing is best done sober anyway.
Some names have changed