With Dry January in full swing, millions of people are taking the challenge by not drinking alcohol for the month. ICYMI, it's the annual movement that puts the focus on alcohol, but without consuming it. But it's a great time to look at your relationship with alcohol and take a break from it while you figure it out. Speaking of relationships, you may wonder what impact Dry January has on your dating life, or will have, and that's a great question. After all, some people feel that alcohol acts as a social lubricant, and going out for "drinks" seems to be a popular date activity, especially for first dates. Whether a person is on the quiet side and feels that a drink or two makes them open up more or it's an easy go-to date idea, alcohol and first dates seem to go hand-in-hand for some. However, believe it or not, alcohol is not necessary to have a successful dating life — I've been there.
I used to think: A date without drinking alcohol? Is that possible? Does anyone do that? But, take it from me, once you try it, you may realize that there are many bonuses: You get to know the person for their true, sober selves; the person sees you for your true, sober self, too; you see that you can have fun when you're 100 percent sober; you don't make any alcohol-impaired decisions; and the list goes on and on. It's very liberating knowing that you can have alcohol-free fun with someone, even if it may take some getting used to at first. Especially if you've dated a string of alcoholics like I have, once you start dating people who don't drink — they're either sober, don't like alcohol, abstain for health reasons, you name it — it's such a relief versus being on a date with a binge drinker who pays more attention to their empty pint of beer than you.
"There exists a long-standing idea in society that a person needs to bring a foreign substance into [their] body to achieve a higher state of consciousness or connectedness,” Shlomo Zalman Bregman, Rabbi, matchmaker, and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "Trust me, this is nothing new, and goes back to the beginning of time!" But even if drinking feels like it makes dates easier, it's never a long-term solution.
"At the end of the day, while alcohol may help a person lower their inhibitions, and they may experience themselves to be a better dater or more 'carefree' or likable when feeling tipsy, this is not a long-term solution," says Rabbi Bregman. "What is a person going to do — forever only date and interact with their significant other while under the influence?"
Below, relationship experts weighed in on what impact Dry January will have on your dating life, and you'll probably be pleasantly surprised at the results.
1. It Will Make You More Comfortable With Yourself
You may think you're the same person when you're sober as you are if you've had a few drinks. However, that's likely not true. "Inevitably, Dry January will make you work on feeling comfortable with yourself and your own self-esteem," Rabbi Bregman says. "Look, nobody is for everybody. This is part of life! There is no person on the planet — past or present — who is or was universally liked. So you might as well be yourself, sober and all — because the ideal partner for you will LOVE the person that you actually are!"
2. It Will Give You New Date Ideas
As you probably know, alcohol-centric dates are different than ones that don't involve drinking. And, if you think about it, there are so many fun activity dates you and your date can do that don't involve even a sip of alcohol. "One of the best advantages of not drinking alcohol is that it means you have to think up new places to go on your date," Dating Coach & Relationship Expert, Keynote Speaker, and Author James Preece tells Bustle. "Coffee shops are fine, but not especially original, so be creative and you'll get extra brownie points when you meet up. If you are both being healthy, you could visit a juice bar and suggest random creations for each other. Or, afternoon tea is always a very popular idea that is classy and relatively inexpensive. Whatever you do, it will be a talking point, and you'll make a lasting impression."
3. It Will Encourage You To Meet Potential Future Dates In New Places
When it comes to the way you meet your dates, it may be online or it may be IRL. Well, a lot of IRL places may be at bars, but this will probably not be the case as much if you do Dry January, since the concept will expand your where-to-meet-people horizons. Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives, agrees. "You'll find motivation to meet people outside of the bar or club scenes," she tells Bustle. "Let's face it, a lot of us meet people at bars, but that may not be the most conducive place to meet quality partners. There are always exceptions to this rule, but still, you may find you can meet people through friends, at bookstores, on sober online dating sites, at coffee shops, and/or at outdoor events. Life is an adventure — it's good to try new things. Try meeting people while taking an art class or through joining a running group. There are so many options out there, and it always helps to meet someone who shares similar interests."
4. It Will Make You Date Authentically
Say you meet a potential date at work or at a café when you're working on your novel. Chances are, you're both sober when you initially meet and still had a fun, engaging conversation. So when you initially go out on a date, what's changed? You're still you, and they're still themselves — the way you both were with no alcohol. "Dating without alcohol is an excellent way to really get to know the person you're meeting — your judgment is not clouded by the alcohol, and you have full control of your own behavior," Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of The Real 13th Step: Discovering Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the 12-Step Programs tells Bustle. "Many people think they need some 'liquid courage' to approach someone or to go on a first date, but it's not the best way to go about it. If you need to bolster yourself with alcohol, perhaps you're recognizing that the situation is not right for you. Getting to know people by doing activities with them before actually dating is a much better way to calm yourself down and feel more secure."
5. It Will Help You Relax More When Dating
If you're like most people, you get nervous before a date, particularly a first date. Though you may be tempted to drink to quell your nervousness, not drinking alcohol can actually help you relax more so. "Dry January will help you learn other ways to relax," Dr. Flores says. "Most people drink on dates as a means to reduce first-date nerves and to loosen up enough to dive right into conversation. Taking deep breaths can help calm your nerves while centering you to the reality that a date is just a meeting, an introduction, a social experiment, if you will. It's OK to allow yourself to just show up and allow the chips to fall where they may. This may be a bit cliché, but there is some truth to the old saying: If the person in front of you is Mr. or Ms. Right, everything will fall into place."
6. It Will Make You More Aware Of Red Flags And Social Cues
When you think about it, you cannot accurately judge how a date of yours went if you were drinking at the time. And by not drinking, you can actually up your chances of finding love. "While you might have some concerns about dating while not being able to drink, it can actually improve dating, and the likelihood of finding a love match," Antonia Hall, psychologist, relationship expert, and author of the Sexy Little Guide books. "Remind yourself that you've made an important commitment to your health and well-being during Dry January, and any decent person will understand and respect that. Be upfront with your date before planning your meet up, or plan something that won't involve alcohol, like an afternoon coffee, a trip to a museum, or other activity date. If you do meet for dinner or happy hour, ordering a non-alcoholic drink — like mineral water with bitters — will give you something to sip. You'll find that the lack of alcohol makes you more aware of social cues, whether or not your date is actually all that interesting, and any red flags that might have been overlooked by cocktails. You'll also find that you make better choices for yourself without the alcohol, and that could mean not only turning down someone wrong, but connecting wonderfully with someone right."
7. It Will Enable You To Remember The Date & Be Fully Present During It
It's nice to remember experiences you have, right? And it's essential to remember dates, so you can honestly assess if you want to see the person again. "There are many upsides to the Dry January movement," Dr. Flores says. "For example, no hangovers! Nothing ruins an encounter like associating the experiencing with a serious headache and stomach pains the following morning. Staying sober will help you remember the date, there's less chance you will say something you will regret, and sober dating may provide you with a new perspective on the whole experience. Plus, you will be more alert to the conversation. After a night of serious drinking, many people experience memory gaps — not truly recalling what they said or how he or she responded. Being sober while dating allows you to be fully present in the experience. You can use this reasoning with your date as well, and say, 'I want to be 100 percent present with you, and I find that's easier without wine.'"
8. It Will Make You See People For Who They Really Are
"In high school, many people have fond memories of their high school sweetheart, and I'm going to assume that most of those memories didn't have much to do with any drinking," Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert, tells Bustle. "I actually suggest to clients that a first date be a brunch, sans alcohol. This way, it's cheaper, less pressure (meals are easier to finish the date when the check comes), and you get to see people for who they really are. Dating doing fun activities can also be a good way to date: hiking, rock climbing, and doing a fitness class all require that you come in sober and not hungover from the night before. Try something new this month, like Dry January — you may find it leads you to the right person!"
9. It Will Show You Your Date's Attitude About Drinking
There's no quicker way of knowing how your date feels about drinking — and you not drinking — by telling them the latter and seeing how they react. Will they push the issue and encourage you to "have just one drink"? Or will they think it's cool you're doing Dry January, and they'll be supportive? Maybe your date will even offer to do it with you, at least for the night. "If your date does not understand that you don't want to drink, they may not be worth dating," Dr. Flores says. "Think about it: If your date's main concern is that you are not drinking, this calls into question why this is so important to them. Perhaps they can't imagine enjoying someone's company without alcohol, or they can't appreciate you making healthy decisions. Either way, if your date pushes the issue, it is best to remain elusive: say you're partied out for a while or that you simply chose to start the year out by getting healthy. But ultimately, if he or she cannot support your efforts to live well, then it might be best to lose them and move on."
You may face a lot of peer pressure during Dry January, not just from dates, but from friends as well. But as long as you're disciplined and stick to your reasons for doing the month-long break from drinking, you should be fine. Plus, it will help to get some friends to do it with you. There's a Dry January app that'll help you stay motivated, too. "Individuals giving up alcohol for the month of January, especially while dating, may find the experience challenging for other reasons," Dr. Flores says. "Namely, a lot of people love to drink. People meet each other at bars, they do happy hour, or they like to have a glass of wine with dinner. Dating without drinking is certainly possible, but can just be tricky in that it can be a very similar experience to dating itself: it's awkward, there are expectations involved, and you don't know how your sober dating will be received. But the right person will understand, or else they're not the right person."
And who knows? Maybe, after January is over, you'll even prefer alcohol-free dates. In the meantime, here's wishing you luck and toasting to your success — with a non-alcoholic drink, of course!