I Dated Through Dry January. Here’s What I Learned.

A drink on a bar.

Everybody has that annoying health trend friend who bombards them with the latest pseudoscience theories about how to get into tip top shape. Well, I’m sorry to say, this time it’s me. This past month, I participated in my second dry January to help curb my anxiety, clear my head, and shed a couple pounds. I knew abstinence from drinking would affect my social life, but somehow I didn’t consider how it would affect dating. In short, it did.

In some ways it was good, other ways less so, but I lived to tell the tale so you don’t have to go into your dry month blind. If you’re thinking of taking some time off drinking and aren’t sure how it will affect your dating life, here are a few things you should know.

Some people will stop at the door.
It’s true. There were at least a handful of conversations I had across different dating apps that were headed straight for a date. They asked to go out for drinks. I agreed to meet them at some specified bar, but when I told them I wasn’t drinking for the month (but didn’t mind if they did), the conversation ended right then and there with a hard ghost. I try not to assume too much from a text chat, but I had the feeling that I didn’t have the best chemistry with some of these folks. This outcome was probably for the best.

Others will think it’s an oddity.
You’d be surprised, but some people really can’t wrap their heads around a young person who doesn’t drink, even if it’s temporary. Either over dating app text or in person on the first date, I shared that I was doing dry January to help manage my anxiety, start off the year with a solid work routine, and shed a couple pounds. But that answer was met with quizzical looks or questions like, “Why are you really doing it?” Yep, it happens.

It’s harder to amp up the energy.
One of the most difficult parts of dating is striking the balance between flowing conversation, good nonverbal communication, and tension (the good kind) and producing what’s known to common folk as fun. Many people are uneasy about dating due to bad past experiences or fear of rejection. Carrying this baggage into a date is an easy way to throw the delicate balance off and have things become, well, not fun. A lot of people rely on first date drinks to calm that white noise buzzing in the back of their brains during their dates. Abstaining from drinking can put a bit of a hamper on dating in that regard.

It’s easier to date mindfully.
For me, sometimes even a single drink can put a gloss on things, so dating without a drink in hand can mean a better focus on deep conversations and attunement to nonverbal cues. In my month of dating sober, I noticed I had more deep conversations that often dove straight into the territory of worldviews. There are probably some first date rules being broken here, but both of us walked away feeling good about the whole thing so no harm no foul.

You’ll have to get creative.
I mean, you knew this one was coming. Drinks are a classic first date option and without them as a plan A, you’ll have to come up with an enticing plan B. Coffee is the pretty obvious runner-up, which is a good alternative, although coffee does make for a pretty conversationally intensive date, so you’ll have to bring your banter A-game. I have a museum membership, so free tickets to go look at art was an easy sell. I’ve also done picnics in the park and strolls through the neighborhood. As the subhead says, you’re going to have to get a little creative.

People may think you’re more sensitive.
This is sort of an interesting one. A few of my datestold me that I must be sensitive since I was doing dry January. I’m not totally sure where this assessment came from. While I may be more sensitive than the average bloke, that’s not the reason why I decided to abstain. Do with this one what you will.

I didn’t shed the pounds I was looking to, but it was fun to see dating from this different (clearer) light. I can’t say I’d recommend it for someone just looking to vary up their dating experience, but it wasn’t the disaster some friends would’ve had me believe. If you need a quick break from drinks, rest assured. You’re dating life won’t suffer… too much.

Alex Bocknek

Alex Bocknek is the senior editor of The Date Mix and works at Zoosk, the online dating service. He’s also a recovering music critic and an aspiring fiction writer (probably lost) on the way to an independent bookstore near you. He can be found occasionally musing about politics, philosophy, and love in the modern world.

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