Ah, Valentine’s Day: bringer of rarely-met expectations if you’re partnered, bouts of loneliness and resentment if you’re single. It’s a weird day any way you slice it, and when you’re sober it can be even weirder.
But it’s a great day to reflect on what you want, so I wanted to share my thoughts on dating as a sober person who kinda, sorta wants to date someone who drinks a little. Yes, we’re out there, and we’re coming for the normies!
Picture it: you’re a sober gay guy at bottomless mimosa brunch (because you may not drink, but you still LOVE brunch. You exist.) Your bubbly and buzzed friend suddenly turns to you with a familiar, conspiratorial look.
“Sooooo, I know this guy…. Who’s sober”— he says with a wink.
Uh-oh, I think. Here it comes.
“Yeah?” I say carefully.
“He’s really cute,” he continues. “I think you might be a match.”
“What makes you think that?” I say with genuine, if guarded, interest.
“I mean…. He’s sober…you’re sober…”
I remind my friend that as a gay man, he should know that just liking men doesn’t mean every. Single. One. is a candidate. We’ve both been through this with our well-meaning girl friends who meet literally any gay man and send him our way, hoping the mutual preference for dudes will be enough. Never mind chemistry, common interests, or compatibility. But besides that, being sober can bring its own set of dramas to the table.
“Sobriety” represents a wide spectrum of people with all the hangups, flaws, and issues as everyone else, plus some other fun ones thrown in for good measure. In the best case scenario, sobriety has come through rigorous self-work, but that’s not a given. I don’t think sober people are better or worse than anyone else, but there’s one thing I don’t want to focus on when I’m trying to get to know someone– and that’s sobriety, as a concept, lifestyle, or philosophy. Or God forbid, our personal “rock bottoms”. Trauma bonding does not a fun and playful date make, and I get to discuss these things regularly with my sober community. In dating, I just want to talk about something, anything else.
When I first got sober, I stressed when people acted sheepish about drinking around me. They would hesitate before pouring a glass of wine, nervous it would trigger me. Although I think it’s sweet when people do it now– I know their intentions are good–and assure them it’s fine, I think this kind of behavior highlights an important misconception about who sober people are and what they want. Mainly, that we have “special circumstances” and need to be handled with kid gloves socially.
For me, a sense of “normalcy,” NOT a booze-free bubble, is the key to having a good time. This means being around all kinds of different people, as they are, who aren’t fussing over their drinking habits or mine. It also means a diverse social group, not hanging out with just sober people. In fact, it would be really refreshing to just date a “normie”– for those not in the know, that’s a person who drinks, but not in a way that makes their life unmanageable. In other words, someone who can have one drink and stop there, whose drinking doesn’t ruin their or their loved ones’ lives, who drinks yet whose life doesn’t revolve around alcohol, somehow. (What special, magical beings! Who wouldn’t be obsessed??)
Sober people aren’t a monolith, but I’ve talked to a lot of others whose ideal partner is a “normie.”
While it’s cool to have a partner that understands recovery language, it’s nice to just be a person, too. Sober spaces are essential for many people just learning how to be without alcohol– and triggers,especially in early sobriety, are real. But let’s be honest: I LOVE to party. (That’s what got me into this mess in the first place! Kidding…kinda!) Having a partner who drinks, but for whom it just ISN’T a thing, would remind me that I’m not excluded from the world just because I don’t drink. We could go to whatever parties and events we wanted, and not stay inside the microcosm of recovery. I could mingle with people from their world, who may or may not be sober, but who are outside my circle of sober friends. We could talk about things besides recovery. Like… politics. The latest HBO limited series starring Nicole Kidman. Um…cryptocurrency?? (What do people talk about who aren’t in recovery? See? I need more normie friends!)
Sobriety has made me comfortable in my own skin, and I want to share my authentic self with someone who really sees me as I am– a fun loving, happily non-drinking social butterfly who wants a lively and diverse social life. Weirdly, since I quit drinking, I’ve never felt MORE like the life of the party. I’d love to be with someone for whom alcohol isn’t an issue. Because while being sober is a personal choice that means so much to me, it’s only a small part of who I am in the world. It’s nowhere close to the most interesting thing about me, it’s not my whole identity, and I don’t want it to dictate who I do or don’t let into my life. How’s that for a Valentine’s Day miracle?!