5 Tips for Mindfully Navigating Drinks-Free Dating (Beyond Dry January)

Whether you’re participating in Dry January for the first time, living a sober curious lifestyle, or always abstaining from alcohol: You’ll find that dating without booze is a bit different than imbibing on dates.

The fact is, drinking on dates is often the norm. According to alcohol.org, 86 percent of people drink on a first date. Ironically, though, there are a variety of benefits to dry dating and meeting potential love interests, short-term flings, or your soulmate without the influence of booze.

“While moderate consumption might help to ease nerves and lubricate social interaction, it can also make you less intentional about how you’re showing up and getting to know your date,” says Allie West, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker in Jericho, VT. “My clients who stop drinking report feeling more clear, grounded, confident, energized, and content, which allows them to show up as their best selves on dates and up-level the type of person they hit it off with.”

Experts In This Article

Whether you’re swiping, sober bar-hopping, or meeting people through friends, here are five tips for dating without drinking. Carry them with you through the remainder of Dry January—and more importantly, beyond:

Guidance for mindfully dating without drinking

Be Intentional on Dating Apps

That familiar wine glass icon on dating profiles—indicating how you imbibe—isn’t new. With that, Dry January is a good time to utilize that symbol and display your abstinence or sober curiosity. (On that same note, pay attention to this section when you’re swiping, as it alludes to how often your potential dates drink. This is an important part of potential dates’ profiles, if you’re looking for someone with a similar lifestyle.)

Another way to indicate your beverage preferences is to take up real estate in one of the provided app prompts. Get detailed when answering questions about your “ideal date” and include that you’re looking to meet up without alcohol.

If you don’t have the right words for a profile question, once you start a private message, you can describe your current relationship with alcohol. When you are chatting one-on-one, you can boldly state your newfound sober-curiosity, or your month-long Dry Jan pledge or that you’re a teetotaller.

And, of course, if you meet a potential beau in person: You can tell them you’re not drinking right now, or wait to exchange information.

Practice Active Listening Skills

Just as you want someone to hear you and see you for you—it’s important that you do the same. Once you’ve established your boundaries on drinking, listen for a response. Whether you're not drinking for a night, a month, or beyond, it's important that your date respects your decisions. (Whether or not they participate in a dry month is up to them, but respecting your goals is key!)

Of course, it’s perfectly okay if your date asks questions (showing genuine interest is a good thing!) but if they don’t want to hear what you have to say—or they disregard your feelings—now is the time to hear their lack of understanding loud and clear.

If someone tries to pressure you into having a drink (read “just have one!”), or balks at your goals from the onset, chances are this isn’t your person. Drinking (and not drinking) is a personal decision. If the person you are on a date with can’t appreciate your resolutions or lifestyle when it comes to abstinence, they might not understand other parts of your life (or goals), either. On to the next!

Date With Creativity

So often “going for a drink” is the norm. Next time, instead of sitting with someone over drinks interview-style and asking the same questions: Pick an activity that shows personality. Both you and your date can gain a better understanding of each others’ interests by participating in your favorite pastimes.

Some ideas include art galleries and museums, hiking (if that’s available to you), cooking classes, food tours, and workouts like yoga, HIIT, or cycling.

Not only does dating with creativity get you out of the bar and out of routine drinking-related dates, but it can help you find common ground with each other, too.

Instead of sitting with someone over drinks interview-style and asking the same questions: Pick an activity that shows personality. Both you and your date can gain a better understanding of each others’ interests by participating in your favorite pastimes.

Try Nonalcoholic Beverages

Over the past few years, there has been a bevy (pun intended) of nonalcoholic wines, beers, spirits and ready-to-drink cocktails, popping up across the United States and the rest of the world. So, even if you or your date want to check out the neighborhood bar or restaurant, you can both enjoy a tasty and sophisticated drink without booze.

Here’s where a little bit of planning goes a long way: Check the restaurant’s menu in advance to make sure they offer nonalcoholic options on the menu. Or, if you’re in a pinch and don’t have time to take a peek,  it’s fully acceptable to ask the server for a nonalcoholic cocktail. Most bartenders can easily whip up a mocktail with common bar ingredients. (And if you have one in mind, definitely share the recipe upon ordering!)

Note Your Feelings

Whether you phone a friend, journal about, or use social media to document your dating experiences, it’s important to recognize what you like about your date (and what you don't).

Questions to ask yourself include if you felt comfortable in their presence, if you felt pressured to drink, if you have common interests, and if you want to see them again.

Because you aren’t drinking: you won't be missing any red flags due to beer goggles. And, you’ll likely have a clear idea of why you do or don’t see yourself continuing to spend time with this person. In addition, without booze, you won’t be bogged down by thoughts of potentially misinterpreting words or actions on dates.

The best part in all of this? Any sparks you feel will be real—not induced by alcohol whatsoever.

Hilary Sheinbaum is the author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month and the founder of goingdry.co.

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