Sober Dating: How Long Should You Wait, and How to Not Be an Emotional Wreck on a Date

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When you enter rehab, you may be tempted to try to start up a romantic relationship with a peer who is on journey similar to yours. After all, you can’t use alcohol or drugs anymore, so such a relationship would seem like a viable option for pleasure and emotional release going forward, right? And this person of interest would seemingly provide comfort as you both tackle the arduous task of sobriety.

However, there’s a reason many rehab centers advise against starting up a new relationship within the program, and even for some time after graduating treatment. In this aticle, we’ll explore the rationale behind that advice, and we’ll lay out exactly how long you should wait and what to do when you finally begin dating again.

So How Long Should I Wait Before Dating Again?

Alcoholics Anonymous recommends waiting at least a year after starting recovery to start dating again. And although we don’t always agree with every AA directive, we tend to agree here.

These are the potential backgrounds of individuals you might try to go on a date with after the first year of sobriety:

  • An individual you went through rehab with
  • Someone you haven’t dated before who doesn’t drink or use drugs
  • Someone you haven’t dated before who does drink
  • An old flame who will get to know the new, sober you

The last two on the list are usually the hardest ones to navigate, although it is possible either one could turn into a long-term relationship. In the case of an old flame, perhaps your drug or alcohol use played a role in the separation. You’ll have to consider whether that person served as a trigger for your drug or alcohol use, and whether it’s worth moving forward and if you’re both in a better place now.

Why Should I Wait a Full Year?

It’s kind of a faux pas to be outright selfish, although you can argue that society and the media subtly encourage it, but it is OK to be a little selfish in early recovery. After all, this is your time to focus on you. It’s your time to decide what you want out of the rest of your life, and to figure out how to achieve that without leaning on drugs or alcohol as a crutch.

You definitely don’t want to take your eye off the ball in recovery, especially in early recovery. It may feel like a relationship would be a good way to “distract” yourself since you can no longer drink or use, but the reality is you don’t want to distract yourself at all. And while having a close, intimate partner to share all of your successes, struggles and fears with isn’t a terrible idea, it can wait. Focus on yourself for at least the first year.

Make note that being a little selfish in recovery doesn’t mean you should overlook volunteer or charity work. Many rehab programs encourage (if not require) it, and people going through recovery tend to discover a passion for it and see it as an enjoyable sober activity that’s an alternative to drinking or using.

Does This Mean I Can’t Even Flirt?

Just because you should avoid getting into a romantic relationship during the first year of recovery doesn’t mean you can’t make friends with the opposite sex (in rehab or outside) or flirt a little. Finding someone who’s receptive to your flirting reminds you of your self-worth, which you may have lost while you were in the throes of addiction. It also injects some joy into the recovery process.

But no matter the extent of your flirting, remember that a relationship should not be the end goal. Early recovery is your time to get to really know yourself and to figure out how you want to present yourself to the world as a sober individual. You will get to know who you are without drugs or a drink by your side, and the type of partner you’ll end up looking for will likely be much different than the ones you pursued while under the influence.

How to Approach Sober Dating

After waiting at least a year after you first entered rehab, nobody would fault you if you start looking to date again. However, this process is going to feel much different than it did before.

The obvious reveal you’re going to have to make to a new romantic interest is that you’re in recovery. There are stories of people at this stage who felt like revealing such information was akin to disclosing an STD.

But should sharing that you’re in recovery really be that intimidating? If it scares a person off that you can’t drink with them, then move on to the next.

Our advice is it’s best to get this information out up front – whether on the first date or even as you’re texting or instant messaging before that point. You don’t have to go into full details of what the lowest point of your addiction was, or how many rehabs you’ve been to, etc. This can come later as you get to know the individual better.

If it doesn’t reach that point with a certain individual, then keep trying until you find someone who’s more receptive to your background and what you’re trying to accomplish going forward. And if you’re having trouble connecting with someone who drinks, there are several viable sober dating sites and apps you can use in order to find like-minded romantic interests.

How to Not Be an Emotional Wreck on a Sober Date

It’s common for people on first dates to have two or three drinks during the date, and surveys have found that many of these individuals “pre-game” with a beverage or two to take away the anxiety heading into the evening.

As someone in recovery, you don’t have this option, and your mind should be in a completely different place, anyway. That’s why we recommend thinking outside of the box during early dating.

Forget the traditional candlelight dinner until much later in the relationship, and instead choose an early dating setting such as:

  • A hike
  • A ballgame
  • The theater
  • A coffee shop
  • A museum
  • Rock climbing
  • A theme park
  • A drawing or painting class
  • Food or music festival
  • A guided tour
The possibilities are almost endless. It’s going to be up to you, your imagination and your best read on your romantic interest. The stakes are lower when you’re not just face to face with the other person over dinner for an hour or more; choosing an alternate venue will help relieve much of the pre-date anxiety. Just remember to avoid any place that might be a trigger for your alcohol or drug cravings.

Avoiding Relapse in Recovery

The best part about sober dating is that your judgment won’t be clouded by drugs or alcohol. Many people hit it off over drinks on their first date, but once they both hang out sober, they find that they don’t have that much in common or are not that interested in each other, after all. Sober dating allows you to get a more accurate read on the other person right away, and then decide if the relationship is worth pursuing.

One of the other reasons that experts warn against dating in the first year of recovery is that it is a trigger to many former alcohol and drug users. They may get into a relationship as some sort of “replacement addiction,” and this is not healthy, in almost all cases.

For more about relapse prevention and to see some tips on how to manage stress and risky situations during recovery, check out our relapse prevention fact sheet. Best of luck in your sober dating journey!

See Our Relapse Prevention Guide

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