Dating in recovery is a lot like going to the gym — I want to like it, and I know I should keep at it, but sometimes an evening of Ben & Jerry’s and my cats just sounds a whole lot more appealing.
To be fair, dating in the “normal” world isn’t any easier, according to my normie friends. All things being equal, I don’t think dating recovered addicts and alcoholics is any more complicated than dating among your average normies.
Please note, however, the use of an important word in that sentence: recovered. That is the key distinction.
(Let’s dispense with the semantics of being a “recovered” vs. “recovering” addict or alcoholic; whichever word you want to use, fine. What I mean when I say that is, the person in question has worked their steps, had a spiritual experience and is now enjoying a personality change sufficient enough to maintain long-term sobriety and live a healthy life.)
Dating when you’re newly sober is a whole different ball game. Let’s take a look.
Wait a minute. What’s so bad about being newly sober and dating?
Why are we all up in your newly sober business, is that what you mean? I get it. Why do we (sponsors, friends, members of 12-step fellowships) even care?
Well, because we’ve been there. And most of us have made some pretty stupid decisions in the name of newly sober love.
“I tend to pick the sickest one in the room,” says Angela M., an alcoholic who has struggled to stay sober for years but now has two years sober. “When I’m new, I’m needy and I want to be rescued, even if I swear at the time that that’s not what I’m doing. I’m too new to know what I’m doing.”
“I don’t have healthy boundaries, and I’m trying to change that,” says Jeff T., an addict with just under a year sober. “I’m not even 100 percent sure who I am. I’m still figuring it out.”
Deedee C. relates. She has four years clean and sober and she’s still gun-shy when it comes to dating.
“We pretend to be somebody else throughout our addiction, and it got us nowhere besides loaded,” she says. “Take the time to find yourself and know your worth. A lot of people have a hard time doing that if they date right away. I stay single by choice, because I’m still working on myself.”
Most people who have been around a while have a horror story or two (or 10) about dating in early recovery, whether it’s their own or that of a sponsee or friend. Those usually look something like this:
- We get into a relationship and make the other person our Higher Power
- We use them to avoid looking at ourselves, or we permit ourselves to be used in the same fashion
- We pour our attention into the person, not the process of recovering
- Having not done the work honestly and thoroughly and not taken the time to know ourselves as sober children of a loving Power, many of us relapse
As for me, my typical newly sober dating ritual used to look like this:
- Jump into bed
- Move them in
- Get to know them
In that order. Boo. Do I have to even add that it never ended well? Probably not.
Don’t do that. Let us help you.
What does the Big Book say?
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t offer sober dating tips per se, but it does have some good general advice on pages 68-70:
- Now about sex. Many of us needed an overhauling there. But above all, we tried to be sensible on this question. It’s so easy to get way off the track.
- We want to stay out of this controversy. We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct.
- In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal for our future sex life. We subjected each relation to this test — was it selfish or not? We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them.
- God alone can judge our sex situation. Counsel with persons is often desirable, but we let God be the final judge.
That’s it; it doesn’t say no dating in the first year, no dating until you worked your steps, no dating while you still live in a halfway house, dating is OK but no sex, or any of that. Its advice is this: Seek the counsel of others, but ultimately, it’s between you and your Higher Power.
If you’re skilled at deciphering what your HP wants for you at all times, why are you still reading? Go do your thing!
But if that’s still a work in progress for you, keep reading.
OK, I get it. How do I know if I’m ready for sober dating?
Talk to your sponsor. Or someone who knows you really well and whose opinion you trust. Be honest with where you’re at. Ask their direct opinion. Pay attention to their answer.
Pray and meditate on it. Remember that part in the steps that goes, praying only for knowledge of His (or Her, or Its) will for us and the power to carry it out? Yeah, they meant that. Pray to know your Higher Power’s will for you on this matter. If all signs point to no dating just yet, well, heed them.
Ask yourself, “What’s my motivation?” This is a good tip for a lot of things, not just dating. Ask yourself why you want to date. Ask yourself if you’re ready. Pay attention to the answers. If your motives are pure and in your heart you feel you’re ready, then go for it. If you know you still have work to do, it’s better to stay sidelined for a bit longer.
One last thing. Have you had a spiritual experience? Do your roots grasp new soil? Are you now on a different basis — the basis of trusting and relying upon a Higher Power? Are you free? If you answer yes to those questions, you are probably ready. Go forth and date.
Should I try dating a normie?
Sure, why not? Or don’t. It’s up to you.
Many recovering people have partners who don’t have a drug or alcohol problem. Dating a normie could lead to a meaningful relationship. Like anything, there are pluses and minuses.
“It’s tough sometimes, because he doesn’t understand that (drinking) is not a conscious choice for people like us,” says Danyelle Gerrie, who’s married to a nonalcoholic. “So that sympathy that recovering people have with one another isn’t there to an extent. But he’s supportive of my recovery, and he understands my need to help others.”
Carole T. has 16 years sober and a marriage that’s approaching the 35-year mark. “As long as I continue my spiritual path, our communication and respect for each other grows,” Carole says. “It’s working, and we have never been happier.”
Others have no interest in dating a normie.
“I just have nothing in common with them,” says Brad Z. “I don’t understand them, and they don’t understand me. Besides, I want to share my recovery life with my partner.”
This is 100 percent up to you. If the opportunity presents itself and you want to date a normie, give it a shot — as long as you are in fit spiritual condition first.
Any parting words of sober dating advice?
Yes. As happens in life, every now and then a couple turns up and proves all of the above advice wrong. These couples are the exception rather than the rule, but it happens.
Meet Garth and Ashley.
Ashley had about 30 days sober and was living in a halfway house when she met Garth. Garth had two years sober and he, too, was technically living in a halfway house, although he was managing it.
Garth and Ashley probably did everything this article says not to. They fell in love right out of the gate; she got loaded several times in succession; he hung around against advice of sponsor and friends; she got pregnant; he proposed when neither one had the proverbial pot to pee in; they took off to Vegas.
Recipe for disaster, right?
Nope. Three-plus years later they are both still sober, still madly in love, with a beautiful 2-year-old daughter and a son on the way. They just moved into a house, they run a successful business and they continue to be a force for love and freedom in the lives of countless others who are recovering. They are, simply put, beautiful and happy.
This article is full of sound advice, and you should probably take it. But every now and then… you just gotta follow your heart.
I’m totally ready to try sober dating. What now?
Be open to the experience. Put it out into the Universe that you’re ready, then see what happens. Tell sober friends you’re looking. Invite someone you find interesting to coffee. Be patient.
Try a sober dating site like Single and Sober. Most of the normie world is participating in online dating, and maybe it’s time you did, too. Single and Sober is committed to connecting single, sober people who are looking for healthy and loving relationships. If you feel you’re ready, why not register to use the site and see what happens?
Good luck. You are sure to meet others trudging the same road; smile at them as you pass by. Sobriety is a blessing.