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Drink-Free Dating


If you’re dating someone who keeps sober, follow our etiquette guide to avoid any awkward moments for either of you.

By Anna David

onsider this scenario: You sit down to dinner, nod when the waiter asks if you’d like to see the wine list, then suddenly notice a look of discomfort flash across your date’s face. After the waiter wanders away, your date announces that he or she is a newly sober alcoholic. What, exactly, does this mean for you—should you renounce alcohol yourself, grill your date for the gritty details, or ignore the confession and proceed as you otherwise would? Here’s advice.

DO simply ask your date before your order a glass
“If you’ve really been looking forward to having a drink, ask first. Say, ‘Does it bother you? Because I want to respect your wishes,’”
Step in to derail anyone who offers you two alcohol.
says Sammy Hess, a certified chemical dependency counselor at Promises in Los Angeles. But if you’re not really hankering for a drink, he says, you might want to consider skipping the alcohol in favor of staying on your date’s level. After all, their admission isn’t a sign of weakness or a warning that they’ll be boring—in fact, it’s the opposite. This person is able to recognize when he or she has a problem, smart enough to get help, and creative enough to have fun without alcohol. All of those are great qualities in a date.

DON’T assume your date can’t bear to be around alcohol
That said, be prepared for the fact that some sober people are just fine with their dates drinking. That’s another reason why asking is a good idea—and why if your date says, “Go ahead,” you should take them up on it. Brett Howard of New York City says that when he dated early in his sobriety, he was far more comfortable when his dates drank. “I liked it because I didn’t want to feel like people had to behave differently around me,” he says. He’s now engaged to a woman who’s a “normal” drinker.

DO help your date navigate in a drinking world
When you know your date’s drinking status ahead of time, you can also help smooth the way so your time together isn’t interrupted by awkward moments—you can wave
If you’ve really been looking forward to having a drink, ask first.
away the wine list, skip champagne fountain brunches, and step in to derail anyone who offers you two alcohol. When Audrey Bristow, a sober alcoholic from Los Angeles, went to dinner with a guy she was seeing and his family and ordered a Diet Coke, the date’s mother asked her if she’d prefer a glass of wine. “I got really nervous, but then the guy said, ‘Oh, she doesn’t drink,’ and I really appreciated that,” Bristow says. “His mom goes, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful,’ whereas I feel like if I’d said it, it somehow just would have made everyone uncomfortable.”

DON’T overdo it
Of course, getting sloppy drunk is never cool, whether your date is slamming shots or dead sober. “I’m fine with a guy ordering a beer at dinner as long as he’s not pounding drinks the way I used to,” says Audrey Bristow of Los Angeles. “If he seems like he has to drink, then I’m uncomfortable.” While some recovering alcoholics are perfectly fine being around liquor or beer, there’s never an excuse for you to be rude or drunk on a date. “If someone tells you they’re a sober alcoholic and you can’t order juice or refrain from alcohol for that one night, then you should ask yourself if you think you might have a problem with alcohol,” says Hess.


Anna David is a Hollywood-based writer who covers sex and entertainment for magazines like Details, Playboy, Razor, and Premiere.
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