For many individuals in recovery, jumping back into the dating scene can feel daunting at first. It might seem like everyone just wants to casually “grab a drink” or revolve their night around places that serve alcohol. If you’re trying to avoid those types of environments, this can put you in an uncomfortable position. However, just because you’re sober doesn’t mean you still can’t have fun and meet new people.
Dating in Recovery Can be Awkward
I have been in recovery for five years now. As a 27-year-old, I think back to 22-year-old Mike and what being sober and dating looked like. Well, to be blatantly honest, it wasn’t pretty, pun intended. We’re talking about being in your early 20s and newly sober, which means awkwardness. At that age, many people are going out to clubs or bars on the weekends – it’s just a normal activity. For me, addressing my sobriety always felt a little awkward because people are always caught off guard when I tell them, “I don’t drink.” But I needed to learn to get rid of those negative thoughts. Numbing myself for as long as I did definitely took its toll on the social aspect of my life. So, feeling like I had nothing to lose, I turned to Bumble, Tinder, OKCupid, and probably a few others that I am currently forgetting. If you’re not familiar with these “dating” apps, I’ll save you the time — it’s a cesspool. Now, I can only speak for myself. At that time I was making changes. I wanted to be a better person, a gentleman. Here’s a fun fact: being 22 years old, newly sober, trying to be a gentleman did not exactly set the ladies on fire for me. I came off as weird, awkward, and maybe not so charming, which means that Taylor Swift song about feeling 22 brings about the strangest emotions possible for me. This story gets better, I promise. Just stick with me.
Get to Know Yourself First
During my first year of sobriety, I knew that focusing on myself was crucial if I wanted to have a healthy relationship in the future. Using the skills I learned in rehab, I started looking at all parts of my life and changing the things I no longer liked. I realized I needed to face my self-deprecating feelings and how I thought about myself. I made a conscious choice to stay away from trying to meet girls so that I could really work on myself. Dating was always going to be a little awkward, but it didn’t have anything to do with my sobriety. Once I showed up for myself, only then could I truly show up for others.
Self-Confidence is Key
After working on myself and my own insecurities, I was able to gain self-confidence and slowly I noticed that the dating world became easier for me. Confidence was the ultimate attraction — not to be confused with cockiness. I was not cocky. I was just getting more comfortable in my own skin, which meant enjoying who I am. While at one point I was ashamed of my recovery and let it negatively affect my self-esteem, I now see that sobriety gives me unlimited potential and benefits. It was always in the back of my head that I did not want to be judged for my so-called “baggage.” Let me crush this myth for you. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has baggage. What sets people in recovery apart is that if you own it, and I mean really get comfortable with it, people can’t get enough of you. Honestly, people in recovery are fascinating human beings, and that attracts people. I have found that a good balance of confidence, from the work I have put into myself, and humility from my experiences has been a major factor in attracting a quality person.
Be Yourself and Stand Out From the Crowd
So, let’s talk about the actual dating part. First, you should make sure that the other person fully accepts you for who you are. If they make off-putting comments about your sobriety, they’re probably not the best influence to be around. I have good news for all my fellow sober people finding it tough to date in recovery. What I have found is that any guy can ask a lady out for a drink or to dinner. BUT, and I purposely put that in all-caps, when you are in recovery you have to get creative. Guess what? That sets you apart from everyone else. I noticed this early on. I made a mental note that if I asked a girl out to go to a museum, walk around the city, bowling, golfing, ice-skating, or whatever I could think of, I was automatically different. Planning a fun date takes off a lot of the pressure, and you can be yourself and be silly, especially with bowling. It’s hard to look cool rolling a gutterball, but nobody is good at bowling, so it’s a perfect way to break the ice.
My advice for dating in recovery? Get to know yourself. In a way, pretend you’re trying to date yourself. Know what makes you amazing; know what you can work on. When that starts to come together, the dating aspect will follow. But just like with any other part of life, give yourself time to develop. Know what you like and dislike. Once you accept yourself fully, the scary part is over. Have the confidence to be yourself and everything else will fall into place.