7 Ways To Date When You're Doing Sober January

by Lindsay Tigar

By now, my best friends and I just don’t mention the month of January. While they’re ever-supportive, they also know that the first 31 days of the year are ones where I won’t quite be as fun as I usually am. Why? Starting three years ago, I decided to skip the wine, the margaritas, the cocktails, and the brews in an effort to detox. It’s proven to be a time when I reenergize (never having a hangover is awesome) and I get back into my workout routine, setting the tone for my entire year. My besties might wish I didn’t sip on my tonic water with lime and head home way before midnight, but many experts agree: doing Sober January it’s not a bad idea.

The only issue I really struggle with though? Dating. It’s not quite as sexy — or intriguing — to meet a new potential date for coffee or a smoothie, or sit through a meal when I’m not sure if I’m interested. I’m definitely not alone, as Grant Hilary Brenner, M.D. tells Bustle, dating and drinking are as common as peanut butter and jelly.

“People get used to meeting one another romantically while under the influence. This often dates back to adolescence. Sober dating may mean the person both feels insecure about dating, and also prior experience with intoxicated dating plus inexperience with sober dating leads to an actual lack of skills,” he says. “Together, this means heightened anxiety about dating sober. It's a great learning opportunity, however, if approached properly.”

Here are some tips on getting through January sober AF:

1. Realize It Might Not Be The Best Month To Find Love

One of the reasons I love Sober January is how much time it gives me to truly focus on myself. I clean out my apartment, I get so much more sleep, I eat well, I see more of my friends for workout or booze-free brunch dates, and overall, I feel more inspired. While as a single women who would like to be in a long-term, happy relationship, I’m always open to meeting someone, I realize January might not be my star month of romantic potential. Instead, I try to focus on the positives of dating in this situation: I save money (whoop!) and it pushes me a bit out of my comfort zone.

2. It'll Challenge You To Try New Date Ideas

“Sober January could either benefit or hinder your dating life. For those who drink less than 1 to 2 drinks a day, this change may not be drastic for them and benefits could occur. The biggest benefit could be your wallet size increasing; alcohol is not cheap and those drinks add up on dates. If you are going out more than one time weekly, that's a huge chunk of money. Therefore, choosing to go dry for a month could allow you to save more money,” Relationship therapist, Courtney Geter, LMFT tells Bustle. “Sober January may also challenge you to explore more than ‘let's grab drinks’ idea. Happy hour or grabbing a drink is the new dinner and a movie concept. When that option is off the table, it will force you to explore other date ideas such as an outdoor activity, class, or local museum.”

3. Try To Date Other Sober People

While there’s no official tally how many people participate in Dry January, you likely know a friend-of-a-friend or a Hinge match who is skipping the drinks for the month, too. Dr. Brenner advises trying to go on dates with other sober people, as a way to hold yourself accountable and make the experience less awkward. And better yet? It could actually lead to a healthier, more long-lasting and stable connection. Why? When you take booze out of the equation, your choices are smarter and more authentic..

“When you are both sober, you have a better shot at making good relationships decisions," Dr. Brenner says. "If you don't want to meet people under the influence, and being sober allows you to be more yourself, for many people the best bet for a long-term solid relationship is to start off on the right foot. A lot of relationships start with people getting close too fast in different ways — meaning they develop what psychologists call an ‘attachment’ too soon — and find out once they are bonded with one another that the fit isn't very good. But separation means painful loss, and people stay together — sometimes suffering. But when you are both sober, you have a better shot at making good relationships decisions."

4. Be Upfront With Your Date

So you’ve finally matched with someone who you’re semi-attracted to, but they suggest grabbing a drink post-work and you know that can’t. Instead of showing up and ordering a tonic water as they raise an eyebrow, get honest before you ever meet up or set a place for your date. “Let your date know in advance that you are trying a dry month. Imagine the awkward of getting to the restaurant and a bottle of wine has already been ordered. Do yourself (and your date) a solid by letting them know ahead of time,” holistic health and lifestyle coach, Caitlin Padgett tells Bustle. “This will also give you the opportunity to clearly explain your reasons for participating in Sober January.”

5. Embrace The Awkward

If you’re anxious about going on a date without some red wine to make you a tad more flirty or a straight whiskey to ease your nervous, remember that no matter if you’re drinking or not, first meetings are, well, awkward. And the more that you can accept and embrace that it won’t be totally smooth, the more enjoyable your dating experience will be. YouTube dating and relationship expert and author Shallon Lester tells Bustle to roll with it and relish the fact that you’ll seeing the real them: “Being sober will probably increase the amount of awkward pauses, but remember: they won't kill you. If anything you should see what your date does in a lull. Do [they] ask you a question? (good!) Do [they] pull out [their] phone? (bad) Marriages are long and full of silences and sobriety so if you can't handle that upfront with that person, better to know ASAP,” she says.

6. Keep It Short

Ever had one of those never-ending dates? One time, a first date of mine lasted from 12 p.m. until 10 p.m., and though the connection was stellar and we dated for a few months, he wasn’t the right match for me in the end. Lester says that marathon dates are usually fueled by alcohol and don’t always signify a true possibility of longevity. Instead, she says, go into the date with a timeframe in mind so you aren’t tempted to sneak a sip of booze. “Keep the date short. Have a specific out time, like fake plans with a friend or a work project you need to get back to. Those six-hour dates are largely because of alcohol, so put a 90-minute cap on a date and leave [them] wanting more — not a hangover,” she says.

7. Consider The Month A Research Project

Writing a term paper might feel like a century ago, and while — OK — I’m not suggesting you pen down an essay on what you learned throughout the month, I am suggesting that you sit back and let yourself soak it all in. If you’ve never dated without alcohol, it’s going to be a whole new experience for you and with anything out of the ordinary, you’re bound to find something interesting.

“Stay open. If dating sober is a new experience for you — stay open," Padgett says. "Focus on the best possible outcome. Try new things. Step out of your comfort zone a bit. Pay attention. See what you learn. And above all else, know that anyone who belittles or shames your decision isn't worth your time or energy. This is experiment is one of the surefire ways to hone your powers of discernment."

And what's a better way to start off 2017 than that?

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