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The Challenges of Dating Non-Sober People

Since I’ve been sober, I’ve dated both sober and non-sober people – both have their challenges.

At first, I followed the sage advice banded around the rooms of AA – of staying single for the first year. Ahem. It was actually more like ten months for me. But I did abstain from any romantic entanglements for a while and it was worth it. I was able to focus on getting used to life without the anesthesia of drugs or alcohol. I finally met myself.

Because my journey of self discovery wasn’t scary enough, I decided to throw dating into the mix. I like a challenge. It soon became abundantly clear why that advice is given: dating while newly sober can rock your foundations.

You think you get to know yourself when you get sober? Well, getting into a relationship is when you truly meet yourself. I discovered my issues with low self-esteem, co-dependency, fear of rejection, and abandonment. Not to mention the realization in the past I’d pursued relationships based entirely upon someone’s interest in me, even if they weren’t right for me.

Dating and relationships are tough. That said, they’re also an opportunity to grow, develop, and become emotionally mature. Initially, I dated only sober people – they seemed safe. But I quickly realized I was dating people who were incompatible and they were from my 12-step group. It was too close to home.

Looking for Love Outside of Recovery

I took a chance and ventured out; I started dating non-sober people, which hasn’t been without challenge, as with any romantic relationship. There are ups and downs and glaring omissions only understandable to people in recovery.

Here are some of the main challenges I’ve faced dating outside the recovery circle:

  • Challenge #1
    They rarely understand being in recovery doesn’t mean just abstaining from drinking alcohol. I mean, why should they? They’re not in recovery.
  • Challenge #2
    Your need for structure and planning might be at odds with their free-flowing life. You may need to find a way to incorporate spontaneity, while keeping your commitments.
  • Challenge #3
    Sometimes, you’re the only one who has done the work. You can discover a lot of unresolved trauma in your partner and the need for them to find recovery – which is, of course, their choice.
  • Challenge #4
    It can be challenging to date someone on a different level of emotional maturity. Conversely, you might find someone with greater emotional intelligence that you can learn from.
  • Challenge #5
    Your need for conflict resolution may not always be a priority to them.
  • Challenge #6
    That socializing, for you, doesn’t involve drinking.
  • Challenge #7
    It can be a challenge to meet the right person, especially when a lot of single people go to bars. But not exclusively; you can find them in special interest groups (think hiking or art classes). There are non-recovery people who don’t drink, or rarely drink.
  • Challenge #8
    Their concept of boundaries can differ: from strong to limited or non-existent.
  • Challenge #9
    There is sometimes a misconception that, if you don’t drink, you don’t know how to have fun.
  • Challenge #10
    They don’t understand you can’t simply “switch off” because being in recovery means being present.
  • Challenge #11
    You can sometimes be the only sober person in a group. You need to be prepared to live in the real world – where sober people are still a minority – and decide whether that’s something you feel comfortable with. Initially I didn’t, but that has changed over time – being around people who drink no longer bothers me. I can always choose to leave.

Welcome to the Dating Game!

In my experience, there are pros and cons of dating someone sober or non-sober. Just as I’m quite sure it’s a challenge to date someone in recovery. Neither group of people are perfect. But what has become important to me is meeting someone with the same values, boundaries, communication style, and lifestyle that meets my needs – and I meet theirs.