Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA

Healing Trauma’s Wounds

The Value of "Sober Dating"

How dating un-intoxicated can lead to a more informed and satisfying experience.

Posted Jun 08, 2018

During a recent therapy session, a bright, successful, attractive, and single 30-something expressed her frustrations with the dating scene:

     “Every time I agree to go out with someone new, things feel great for the first two dates, and I get really excited. And then reality sets in, and I realize either we actually have very little in common, I’m not so attracted to him after all, or there are big issues that somehow got ignored.”

We were both curious about why her judgment was initially “off,” and how she was able to ignore the red flags that suddenly seemed to reappear after a few dates.

Pre-gaming

In the past, when I thought it was relevant, I’ve asked my clients to notice how much alcohol they consumed during the date itself, and whether or not there was a connection between alcohol use and sexual boundaries. However, it never occurred to me to ask about “pre-gaming” — drinking at home or in a nearby bar before going out on the actual date. In the case of the aforementioned client, I was genuinely surprised to discover that she was drinking, on average, three glasses of wine before her date even arrived to pick her up. She also confirmed that “most of her friends” drank before going out with someone new.

When I began to research this, I discovered a 2014 survey which found that 36.4 percent of singles drink before going out, and  that nearly 50 percent drink an average of two to three drinks during the date. There are even online guides to pre-date drinking, with advice that includes “show up early enough to do your early drinking” and “keep moving around every so often so you don't get too wrecked.” Many single people are still meeting up in bars, where alcohol can be relied on not only as a social lubricant but also as a means to quell one's anxiety and the inherent vulnerability that “putting yourself out there” can evoke.

altafulla/Shutterstock
Source: altafulla/Shutterstock

To Drink or Not to Drink? 

Although it seems as if alcohol provides short-term relief by “loosening you up," boosting confidence, and making you feel “more relaxed,” it also impairs judgment and creates a false sense of comfort and connection. My client’s initial positive reactions and first impressions about potential boyfriends were colored and distorted by alcohol. In subsequent dates, when she met with men sober, the “truth” about how she felt in their company — and what she noticed about who they really were — came into focus.

What I'm learning is the importance of encouraging my clients to do “sober dating.” It’s important to normalize their anxiety about meeting someone new and to trust that, if it's the right person, their anxiety will dissipate. Sober dating will also decrease the likelihood of prematurely engaging in sex or taking sex farther than intended. In truth, the only way to get an accurate take on the other person, to truly assess if there is a real connection, and to be in touch with one’s own instincts about how it feels to be in their company, is to pursue this endeavor in a sober state.

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