Whether you’re sober, sober-adjacent, or just someone whose life doesn’t revolve around alcohol, dating as a conscious person in a technologically hyper-connected, but often spiritually disconnected world can be a landmine. We’re used to “convenience” around every corner, from getting our meals delivered to swiping through one-dimensional profiles in hopes of finding meaningful relationships. But there’s no shortcut to actually getting to know someone. And when you’re sitting across from another human being, it’s sometimes a struggle to figure out how to actually be authentic without being “Team Too Much.” Here’s a practical guide to early dating that isn’t covered on any FAQ page.
THE PHONE ZONE
We can’t stress this enough: putting your phone away during a date goes a LONG way. Not only is it rude to ice your date out by texting, it says that whatever’s on your phone is more compelling than the person in front of you, and that sucks (even if your phone IS more compelling than the person in front of you). We’ve all seen the sad couples sitting together in silence on their phones–it’s a modern tragedy. And you’re not even in a sexless relationship full of resentment yet! (JK!) But really, early dating is supposed to be exciting– if you can’t pay more attention to your date than your phone, maybe you’re just not that into them. Spare them the humiliation of looking around helplessly for someone–anyone– to make actual eye contact with while you heart pics of acquaintances. In short: put your phone away while you’re on a date unless you’re checking the time for 2 seconds or they go to the bathroom. If you MUST check your phone, acknowledge that and excuse yourself formally, you absolute gentleman/gentlewoman/gentlethem!
GRILLING (IS FOR BARBECUES)
Let’s be real: if there’s genuine interest, we want to impress our date. That can be hard to do when you’re enduring the Spanish Inquisition. There’s a subtle line between asking questions and interrogating someone. It should feel like a flow, not an interview, even if the spark is there and you’re dying to know everything about them. Be in the moment and feed off what information they’re giving you, don’t just hop from one topic to another. Does it feel like we’re just telling you Conversation Basics 101? Unfortunately, post-Covid, a lot of people need a refresher course. Which leads us to…
NOT ASKING FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS
This goes with the above tip – for the love of God, listen to what your date is saying…or at least act like you are! Find something, anything, to springboard off of. There’s nothing worse than tossing out the most succulent of bones– “I actually only have four toes,” “My Dad was a CIA agent,” “You’ll never believe what celebrity DM’d me”), only to have your date stare at you blankly, or worse yet, change the subject. We’re trying here! Please do the same, and take interest in what your date is sharing with you. Because if you’re not, chances are you’re phoning it in or monopolizing the convo by talking about yourself. Which brings us to…
THE VAGINA/PENIS/PREFER NOT TO SAY MONOLOGUES
We were gonna say monologues are for actors, but there’s no actor erasure here at Club Soda– all are welcome to date refreshed! That said, whatever your career choice, leave your performing chops at home and give yourself, and your date, some breathing room. If you’ve been talking for more than two minutes straight, that’s too long. If you’ve forgotten what your date’s voice sounds like, if you notice their eyes wandering around the room: take a beat, or the “applause” sign is about to come on.
Don’t set up a vague, possibly never-ending date if you don’t know a person very well. No matter how much you “click” over text, let’s be real–dating these days is like a subscription organic produce box: you never know what you’re gonna get. Have a time boundary set for the date, even if you don’t tell the other person. After 30 mins/an hour/2, you can check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling. Ask yourself: am I having fun? Do I want to keep hanging out with this person? Am I feeling squirrely or stressed out? Even giving yourself an “out” privately can help de-stress and keep you more present for the actual face time (or FaceTime). Also, VERY important: if you’re not feeling it BEFORE the bell tolls, you can absolutely leave at any time. “I have to go,” is a complete sentence.
DISSING PAST PARTNERS
No one wants to hear that your ex was “crazy,” Steve. Even if she was. Even if you don’t have anything else to say at all. Just don’t say that. If every Steve’s ex was actually crazy it would be impossible to live in a functioning society. Mankind as we know it would crumble, brought to its ruin by exes who had inappropriately huge reactions to simple miscommunications and perceived slights. You’re a gaslighter, Steve. Don’t gaslight this new person too. Look inward, Steve, and zip those lips when you’re tempted to play the victim. On second thought, let’s not get into past relationships at all– they’re literally in the past and don’t matter. Unless, of course, you’re into a little thing called..
As self-help, self-healing, and “doing the work” reach a fever pitch on social media, “trauma” has become something of a buzzword. Most of us have it, and it can be tempting to bust out a particularly intense story on an otherwise placid date. Sharing something personal and most likely relatable can feel like intimacy. But it’s not. It’s not even truly vulnerable if it’s trotted out to fill an awkward silence or force connection. Yeah, we said it. Trauma bonding does not a connection make. Shared formative, negative, or life-altering experiences are worth exploring with a trusted partner, but if you’re just getting to know someone, it can be jarring to hear private information about someone’s past, or worse yet, feel pressured to divulge your own for the sake of making conversation.
SHOWING UP BROKE
This might seem like a no-brainer, but come to a date prepared to throw down– even if there’s nothing fancy on the menu. It feels so much more chill to know you can go wherever the night takes you without having to worry about money. But the more pressing reason is that whether you like it or not, societal norms have changed, and no matter what gender or economic class your date is, they’re not necessarily subscribing to the idea that they’re supposed to foot the whole bill no matter what. And honestly we stan– gender is over, and traditional gender roles do a disservice to individuality and agency. Assume you’re going halvsies unless, or until, you have a conversation about it. And hey, no expectations can lead to pleasant surprises!
THE CLASSIC OVERSHARE
This slightly differs from trauma bonding and can include, but is not limited to, the aforementioned dissing of exes. This more broad category includes a lot of things we’re all guilty of letting slip out when we’re nervous or excited: sex and dating foibles of yesteryear, bathroom-centric stuff, random TMI about mutuals, other people’s drama, other people’s secrets, our own secrets, admittedly embarrassing stuff for the sake of being candid. Look, we’re all for having loose and lively conversations, we’re just suggesting you stick to your own boundaries. It’s as simple as listening to your body; if you tense up or feel cringey/weird before you share something, maybe save that one to drafts.
THE GHOSTESS WITH THE MOSTESS
For this last one, we’ll address the elephant in the room- ghosting. No, this doesn’t usually happen ON a date– though we know it has, and if you’ve been on the receiving end, our hearts go out to you. But it’s worth a mention just because we hate it so, so much. Our definition of ghosting is firm: it doesn’t mean fizzling out, or even never hearing from a person again. It means someone completely ignoring texts, questions, calls, whatever, and disappearing from the face of the earth with no explanation AFTER you’ve been on in-person dates. Falling out of DMing with strangers isn’t ghosting, neither is not pursuing after a phone call or Facetime date or mutually fading out. Ghosting is deliberate avoidance of attempts at clear communication, and it’s extremely confusing and painful for the ghostee. If someone wants another date, and you don’t, for the love of all that is holy, tell them that. It’s more hurtful to keep someone waiting, wondering, and wishing for you to reach out.