I’m “not a bar person.” Like, really not a bar person. I dislike almost everything about them: the overpriced cocktails, the elbowing to place an order, the shouting over way too-loud music (seriously: why can’t they ever get the volume right?! I swear I’m not 100). In other words, I’m “no fun.” My friends who drink have stopped inviting me out unless a hang meets my criteria: copious food is served, I can hear myself speak, and we’re done before nightfall. Suffice to say, I don’t get invited out very much!
It’s funny how social cues have evolved to make rejection assumed until proven otherwise, the rule rather than the exception.
In my dating life, it’s been hard to explain my bar aversion and finicky drinking habits to new people. I prefer to do something other than getting drinks on a first date, but when I do, and the bartender asks about a second round, I usually pass–however well the date is going. This often gives the impression I’m not interested. “I’m just not a big drinker,” I say, to their visible confusion. Even ordering water has been interpreted as a sign of being just not that into them.
The more I use dating apps, the more I see patterns. People defer to first meetings late at night in bars. I love the ambiance of a low-lit, buzzy date as much as the next hopeless romantic, but I’ve started to notice that many people *need* booze in order to meet up with me. They’ve scoffed when I’ve said I’d rather not drink on our first meeting. They’ve been resistant about other options, and squeamish about meeting in the daylight. When they aren’t game to do something that doesn’t involve alcohol, that’s a red flag for me.
Even in peak Covid times, people pushed to drink. One person slammed beers throughout our hour-long Facetime date– and suggested I do the same. It was 3pm. No judgment on how anyone chooses to relax, but the sheer volume of alcohol she consumed (on-camera) meant that she couldn’t possibly be present with me even 30 minutes in. I get wanting to loosen up to make flirting a little easier, but when we’re both in the comfort of our own homes, I wondered why that pressure still existed so strongly.
Whenever I’d find someone who didn’t drink, it felt like hitting the jackpot and I’d aggressively swipe right.
It meant that we would usually have similar lifestyles. I even put in my profile “12-steppers to the front.” Cringe? Maybe. Setting myself up for yet another awkward explanation (“No, I’m not sober, I’m just not into bar culture and I like to wake up early”)? FOR SURE. But I’ve started getting different matches– people with whom I’m more aligned not only interests-wise, but emotionally and spiritually. There’s a self-awareness there that I find really important in a romantic partnership.
When I was younger, I never thought about my own drinking habits, whether I really liked drinking or not, and especially not whether my partners drank. Back then, it was anything goes. My girlfriend gets drunk every night? Cool. She drinks occasionally, but punches through a wall every time she does? Great. She blacks out so much she doesn’t remember half the relationship? Why the hell not?
I know what you’re thinking: that shit is dark.
But it’s also VERY common. Drinking to excess is so normalized in our culture: hangovers are funny, messy nights out are “epic”, and wine moms are entire ad campaigns. On the weekends we’re supposed to get carried away. Battling a “shameover” every Sunday morning is a given. Calling friends to corroborate the details of a fuzzy night doesn’t necessarily sound alarm bells; in fact, the play-by-play the next afternoon over more booze is something of a national pastime. I feel like the starring role booze plays in our culture needs an adjustment, or at least a critical review at this point.
Over the years, I’ve worked on reevaluating my own relationship with alcohol. I’ve asked myself why making a beeline for the bar and grabbing an “anxiety drink” before any social interaction was so automatic. I realized that I was never asking myself if I wanted a drink before having one. So I experimented with pausing and seeing how I felt. Was I craving alcohol or just going through the motions? Was alcohol really improving my socialization skills or contributing to my enjoyment of a night out that much? I found that it wasn’t, and that I don’t need to drink to have a perfectly pleasant, even super fun night out. I’ve gotten to know myself well enough to realize that a lot of the time, drinking just feels unnecessary.
My future partner’s sobriety isn’t a dealbreaker, but their self-awareness is. And whether they identify as “sober” or not doesn’t matter as much as whether we’re on the same page around drinking habits. I want to date someone who, if they do drink, is responding to their own desires rather than just going along with what’s expected of them.
Dating is f*cking hard. Especially online. Especially post-Covid. Someone who can show up to the experience without liquid courage is just really attractive. I’ve dated all kinds of people, but I’ve loved the presence-of-mind of people who don’t drink. I want to date someone who is confident, classy and most importantly, in the moment. When alcohol isn’t part of the equation, I’m usually getting all three.