Someone told me that when you drink to ease your nerves, you never learn to actually conquer that uncomfortable situation. As I stood outside my office building in Chicago waiting for my date, I knew that was true. I was 24, and I had never been on a first date stone cold sober. The fact that most of my prior “dating” experience took place in frat houses, packed bars, or house parties didn’t help my anxiety.
My date took me to a seafood restaurant and we shared a dozen oysters. He was kind and a good listener. I texted my mom afterwards on the train: “He was nice. No sparks, but I survived.” I felt like a nervous 16-year-old girl most of the time, but I survived.
Fast-forward a few years, and I’ve done a lot of sober dating. I’ve experienced the awkward “are we going in for a handshake or a hug?” moments, as well as incredible first kisses. I’ve learned a lot from both, and today I have only one piece of dating advice for my friends: go on first dates completely sober! Here’s why.
Dates are more creative.
I don’t know about you, but I was really tired of hearing, “We should grab drinks some time.” When I stopped drinking, that millennial mating call was even more frustrating. Isn’t there anything else we can do? When I nixed drinks as a first date activity, guys brought their A-games. I shared oysters with that first date. Another date took me to a dive bar with board games and carb-loaded appetizers. My favorite first date (my now-husband) asked me out for coffee – on a Sunday afternoon, no less. I loved getting to know people outside of a dim, noisy bar.
You’re bringing your best self to the table.
You know that confident, unstoppable feeling you have when you’re tipsy or drunk, only to cringe at photos the next day? Well, that was me every time I drank. I thought I was charming and beautiful, but in reality I was sloppy and a few decibels too loud. I have many friends who stay composed and delightful whether they have one glass or five – and kudos if that’s you! – but I simply know I’m a better human being when my blood alcohol content is zero.
You’re a more discerning judge of character.
Your judgment is best when you’re totally clearheaded. I went out with plenty of guys who were virtually perfect on paper, but the conversation and chemistry just wasn’t there. I turned into Simon Cowell, and was totally confident when I said, “It’s a no from me.” (I was actually probably more like Paula, because I made sure not to hurt feelings). I knew with certainty if there were sparks or not, and I didn’t waste anyone’s time.
The warm fuzzy feelings are real.
On a similar note, sober dating means you can trust that good dates are really good dates. When I was a few glasses of wine in, I could have warm fuzzy feelings toward just about anyone. When I’m sober, I know those warm fuzzy feelings are genuine. I knew that my laughter, my giddiness, and my butterflies were about the person, not the alcohol.
You get to know someone authentically.
As a drinker, I could speak to dozens of people and not have one genuine conversation. With a little bit of a buzz, I would start talking at someone instead of talking to someone. Strip away the alcohol and things change. Suddenly we’re talking about real things that we care about, and I’m being completely myself without a boozy security blanket.
For me, the benefits of sober dating go far beyond the first date. One year into the relationship and I could remember each and every date vividly. Two years into the relationship and I know that every “Sorry” I’ve spoken has been for an innocent mistake instead of a blurry regret. Three years into the relationship and I got to dance at our wedding with clear eyes and overwhelming excitement for our future.
Go on your next first date completely sober. It might not seem pleasant or important right this minute, but it may just be the vibrant and memorable first step in the best relationship of your life.