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How to Online Date While Sober and in Recovery

Two people who met while online dating in recovery drinking coffee and a milkshake on a date.

If online dating gives you the hankering for a stiff drink, you’re not alone. It’s only normal to feel nervous. Who wouldn’t feel nervous while advertising their mating potential on a virtual billboard that strangers will rate? (Make that a double scotch, please.)

Then there’s the assumption that drinking and dating need one another. It seems like a given that any first date will consist of drinks at the bar, like an unspoken rule of etiquette that nobody breaks.

Sobriety and Online Dating: Common Worries in Recovery
This reality can be intimidating if you’re among the 10 percent of adults in this country who say they’re in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction and for whom drinking is no longer a lifestyle. If you’re in this demographic, you may genuinely wonder whether your sober self will ever date or have sex again. It may also be hard to imagine getting to know someone in a romantic and potentially intimate way without alcohol. Or you may have worries about the how and when of sharing that you’re in recovery, especially when your online profile is a potential date’s first impression of you. The stigma of addiction can be hard to kick.

Such questions are natural and normal to ask when you’re in recovery. (My clients in substance abuse treatment voice many of the same concerns.) And they need to be answered on an individual basis: No single approach to sober online dating will work for everyone. You need to do what is right and comfortable for you.

How to Navigate Online Dating When in Recovery
That said, here are some ideas and tips for how to navigate the online dating world with your recovery and sense of humor intact, starting with the personal profile you create:

Be honest.
In the spirit of 12-step recovery, which emphasizes the importance of self-honesty, aim for truthfulness in how you present yourself. If a questionnaire asks you how much you drink, don’t let fear about what others might think keep you from checking the “Never” box. If someone has an issue with your not drinking, then they clearly aren’t the right person for you—and that’s okay. Similarly, you’ll need to be honest about the fact that you’re in recovery— although that ideally is best left for later and in person.

Describe what you like to do for fun.
Being sober doesn’t equate with being a bore. There are many ways to enjoy oneself that don’t involve alcohol. In fact, when you quit drinking you probably gained some new hobbies, interests, and pursuits in the process. Emphasize what you enjoy doing. Do you like hiking in the outdoors? Cooking? Watching old Seinfeld episodes? Make a list of the things that fill your free time—and that you could see yourself sharing with someone else.

Plan a low-key first date that’s not at the bar.
The goal is getting acquainted and gauging the chemistry. You can do that in a low-key and informal way that doesn’t involve alcohol: a walk in the park or meet-up at a coffee shop, for example. Or, maybe you first connected over a shared interest in bicycling, in which case you might go for a bike ride.

Don’t wait too long to share that you’re in recovery.
If your first date turns into a couple more and you have an interest in a long-term relationship, now may be a good time to share that you’re in recovery. This vulnerability can be scary, but it also can build deeper love, connection, and intimacy. How the other person responds to your self-disclosure will be a great source of insight into your relationship potential.

Plan in advance how you’ll talk about your recovery, and as you plan, aim for self-disclosure that’s “short and sweet.”
If a new dating relationship has legs, there will be plenty of time in the future for all of the more gruesome details. Remember that by the second or third date, you’re still getting to know the other person (as they are you). Try to stick to the essentials and the positive lessons you’ve learned in recovery. If you’re feeling nervous about disclosing your recovery, it’s okay to let the other person know that, too.

Prepare yourself for rejection.
Understand that rejection is part of the online dating process, starting with the person whose profile you ping who doesn’t respond. If someone is going to reject you because of the fact that you don’t drink and are in recovery, it’s less painful to know that earlier on. (It’s also clear they’re not worth your time!) So try to take rejection in stride rather than personally, and as a character-building lesson rather than an opportunity to punish yourself.

Be yourself.
This can be easier said than done, but it’s freeing to remember that in sobriety you are closer to your true self than you ever were when high, drunk or in pursuit of drugs or alcohol. In addition to honesty about your recovery and the things you like to do for fun, “being yourself” involves connecting with what you’re feeling so that you can express these emotions when it’s necessary or appropriate.

Consider sober online dating sites.
For some people, the easiest way to traverse the world of sober online dating may be to register with a site that is explicitly for people in recovery. If you go this route, the biggest challenge may be deciding which site(s) to use, based on a Google search of “sober dating sites” that turns up numerous options.

With these tips in hand, you can rest assured that there are other solutions to the dilemma of sober online dating besides being chaste, lonely and/or single. Finding cyber romance is possible when you’re sober: it may even lead to a match made in heaven.

Anna Ciulla is the Clinical Director at Beach House Center for Recovery, where she is responsible for designing, implementing and supervising the delivery of the latest evidence-based therapies for treating substance use disorders. Anna has a passion for helping clients with substance use and co-occurring disorders achieve successful long-term recovery. 

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