Dating can be fun, exciting, stressful, awkward, and complicated all at once. Sober dating adds another layer of uncertainty to the mix. In a culture where “grabbing a drink” is a first-date standard and alcohol is the norm at dinners, parties, and other common dating activities, dating can be a minefield for singles in recovery.
Re-entering the dating world can feel daunting. Just like dating before recovery, you can count on ups and downs, but you’ll also likely find that sober dating can be much more fulfilling and authentic.
When Is it Okay to Date in Recovery?
If you’re new to recovery, you may want to hold off on diving back into the dating scene. “The Golden Rule” of dating in recovery is that it’s okay to start around one year in—with good reason. It takes time to fill the space left by drugs and alcohol when you quit. The first year of sobriety is best spent strengthening your recovery, gaining structure in your life, and filling all that new space with healthy activities and coping skills.
You also want to take care not to replace one addiction with another. It’s easy to channel all your energy and resources into a new relationship during this vulnerable time, which can take away from important recovery work. It takes time to learn what healthy relationships and connections look and feel like. You may not have had a healthy relationship for a long time—or ever. Jumping into sober dating too fast puts you at risk for repeating poor relationship patterns and even relapse. If you’ve been sober awhile and have a strong foothold in recovery, talk it through with your therapist or sponsor before you take the plunge.
What Does Healthy Dating in Recovery Look Like?
At first, dating without alcohol and drugs may feel a little like a junior high dance, with or without the bad soundtrack. You’re not quite sure what to do, things feel awkward, and your self-consciousness is palpable. It gets better!
Here are some tips for successful dating in recovery while nurturing your sobriety:
Be Honest About Recovery
While you don’t need to reveal every little detail about your life right away, recovery is not something to hide in romantic relationships. Your recovery is sacred. It’s at the core of everything you do now. If sobriety is a problem for the person you’re dating, the relationship isn’t going to work.
Hold Onto Boundaries
Maintain your boundaries with people you’re dating, just like you would with family and friends. Boundaries are different for everyone, but common ones include:
- Avoiding situations where drugs and alcohol are being abused, like hanging out at a bar or going to a rave
- Expecting respect for your beliefs and life choices, including abstaining from drugs and alcohol
- Not letting the relationship interfere with your support groups and other relapse-prevention practices
Get Therapy and Support
Dating while sober can feel like a big deal in the beginning, and it’s important to keep your new recovery safe. Don’t go it alone. Don’t skip counseling appointments or 12-step meetings. Lean on counselors and your peers in recovery to help you through this new experience.
It’s tempting to get whisked away by the excitement of a new romance, but don’t let the healthy practices important to your recovery fall by the wayside. Keep up with your self-care, or start something new that will nurture you, like:
- Doing yoga
- Joining a support group
- Maintaining good nutrition
- Getting enough sleep
At about a year in recovery, you know what keeps you in fighting shape every day, so keep that up!
If you’re sacrificing self-care for a relationship, it could be a warning sign that you’re slipping into old patterns. Time to bring up your concerns with your therapist and re-focus on your sobriety.
Make Sober Dating Fun
Dating without alcohol or drugs is going to be different than what you’re used to, but it can still be fun. Look for ways to keep it interesting without substances, like:
- Introducing each other to hobbies
- Taking hikes
- Exploring new places
- Enjoying each other’s favorite childhood movies
Dating sober allows you to experience time together with a clear mind and attention to the present moment. Connecting without alcohol and drugs to grease the wheels makes for powerful, authentic relationships.
Avoid These in Sober Dating
Sober dating takes some adjusting. Changes and transitions can be especially hard in recovery. That’s why it’s important to protect your sobriety and look out for these red flags.
You know your triggers. Avoid them. This is especially important when you first start sober dating. It might mean staying away from bars, avoiding certain personality types, or keeping clear of particular situations. Triggers can be harder to deal with alongside the pressures of new romance. Set boundaries in the beginning and stick to them.
That “Co” Word
“Codependency.” You heard this word so many times during drug and alcohol addiction treatment. You’re well aware how codependency can be a threat to your sobriety. Watch out for some of the telltale signs of codependency, like:
- Lack of boundaries
- Losing your sense of self
While you were using drugs or alcohol, you may have been attracted to—and dated—people in similar situations. Just because you’re sober now doesn’t mean you’ll only be drawn to sober people. Avoid dating someone who’s abusing drugs or alcohol; getting close to someone who’s so close to your old lifestyle makes it very difficult not to turn to old patterns, quickly.
Rushing Into Intimacy
Take your time before you get physical with someone. Intimacy in early recovery can bring up a lot of emotions. Be open with your partner and kind with yourself. If the other person has a problem with taking things slow, it could be a sign they’re not right for you.
How to Find a Sober Date
It’s hard to know where to begin when you start sober dating. Asking someone if they drink or use drugs isn’t the smoothest icebreaker. Dating people in your recovery support groups or from drug rehab can be a bit taboo. So where do you cast your net to meet sober singles? Here are some ideas.
Do What You Enjoy
By participating in activities you like, you’ll naturally meet other people who share the same interests. In early addiction recovery, you may not even know what you like to do. Because substances took a lot of your time and energy, you’ll need to get back in touch with what brings you joy. As you move forward in recovery, you’ll remember what you used to enjoy or pick up new interests. Join clubs, take classes, find activities around your interests. If in-person classes and clubs aren’t an option right now, explore the large variety of online options.
Recovery Dating Sites
Many people in recovery are turning to sober dating websites, especially in an era of COVID-19. There’s no shortage of dating sites for sober singles. Cosmopolitan magazine pegs these as the best sober dating apps and sites:
- Single and Sober
- Love in Recovery
Read the sober dating site reviews to help you choose which option works best for you.
Helping others can be a great recovery tool and a perfect way to meet people. There are countless volunteer opportunities available in just about any area. Pick your interest, and start Googling. You’ll find opportunities to volunteer with:
- Senior citizens
- People with disabilities
- And more
Nonprofits need help now more than ever. Many have activities that include social distancing and other safety protocols. It’s a fulfilling way to spend time with like-minded people.
Fitness is wonderful for relapse prevention and a good way to connect with people living healthy lifestyles. Gyms, fitness classes, training classes, running groups—the list of activities that are also social goes on and on. In light of the pandemic, there’s also been an explosion of online fitness classes and groups to explore.
Enlist Your Wingman/Wingwoman
Your family and close friends know you’re in recovery. They’re familiar with your past struggles and former relationships. Tap into this resource! Let your loved ones know that you’re ready to date again. You might feel like you know their circle of friends already, but maybe not, and you never know who they’ll meet down the road that they can introduce you to.
There are so many sober communities these days, which are excellent ways to connect with others. For example:
- DAYBREAKER has over 500,000 members all over the nation who start each day with fitness, dancing, and fun.
- Soberocity™ is an online sober community with virtual and in-person events, offering recovery content and tools as well.
- Meetup is a great resource for finding sobriety groups and events.
The more you immerse yourself in the sober culture, the more opportunities you’ll have to meet a partner who shares your values.
When Is It Time to Take a Break?
Sober dating is new territory. It’s perfectly acceptable—even advisable—to take a break and sit on the sidelines if you feel like you’re on shaky ground. Don’t pressure yourself to have the perfect sober relationship from the start. Only you know if sober dating is threatening your recovery or supporting your new life. Trust your gut, lean on your recovery community and loved ones, and take a breather for a while. Finding love in recovery is very possible, but it doesn’t need to follow a timeline.