While I am neither an accredited expert in the field of “sober dating” nor am I an expert on dating in general for that matter… I can, however, attest to the fact that I have probably gone on over 150 dates in the last eight years of my recovery and I believe that experience is a crucial aspect to any legitimate words of wisdom, so in my mind, that gives me somewhat of a soapbox to stand on. While a serial monogamist before I got sober, entering the realm of dating without that social lubrication and innate ability to sweep red flags under the rug… dating in sobriety has been difficult (to say the least). When I reflect upon my dating career, I can’t help but think of the Rod Stewart classic chorus line from his hit single, “Ooh La La.” IF ONLY, “I knew what I know now… when I was younger… and stronger” (for that matter).
I have gone on so many horrific dates with people that I immediately knew would not result in a “love connection” that I am constantly reminded of Chelsea Handler’s story about going on a date with a guy, who flat-out exclaimed, “Chelsea, you really don’t need to drink so much for me to enjoy your company… You’re a super funny, fascinating girl as it is… without alcohol!” And without missing a beat… she pauses… collects her composure and replies, “hey buddy, thanks for the insight, but I’m not drinking because I think that I need to make myself more interesting… I’m drinking to make YOU (and this date) slightly tolerable…” Oh… how I’ve yearned for the freedom to have one… (or ten) glasses of wine, while sitting through mind-bogglingly boring first date “getting to know each other” stories… 100% painstakingly sober.
However, some of the best advice I have ever gotten in regards to dating came from a sober sister of mine that I grew up with in North Carolina, who informed me that long-lasting love is not supposed to be a fireworks explosion… because inherently, what goes up, must come down. “True love,” she said, “should feel more like a warm campfire… it’s sweet, comforting, and someplace you feel safe and want to return to relatively soon, but it’s no fire drill.” However, I have generally opted to forego the romantic, leisurely walk down The Yellow Brick Road, opting for the roller coaster relationships from hell instead.
Furthermore, I will always remember the infuriating advice I received from my grand sponsor (aka my sponsor’s sponsor) one evening after one of my very first AA meetings… She came up to check in on me to see how I was feeling, as she knew I was going through a break-up and hated every second of my first one to two dozen AA meetings… “I am absolutely, positively, miserable, thanks for asking,” I mumbled, as I stared lifelessly into her bright, starry eyes. Devra, my grand sponsor, assured me that despite my current situation, “God had a plan for me and it was better than anything I could ever imagine for myself…” I found that to be a ridiculous statement and thought to myself, “clearly this woman has never been inside of my head because I can imagine some pretty decadent and incredible sh!t.” She went on to tell me that, “sometimes rejection is God’s protection,” and that, “people often break up in early sobriety, as one rarely even knows who he or she really is (without a drink in toe).” Besides, she said, “you honestly have no idea how much positive change you have to look forward to! You wouldn’t want to sell yourself short now, would you? Level water seeks level water, ya know?” I was aware of The Law of Attraction; however, I didn’t see how it applied to me, as I had not “lost” all that much when I decided to get sober… everything still looked rather “perfect,” from the outside looking in… but, up close… I was a total Monet.
Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that in my most frenetic and unstable moments (aka early sobriety), I am pretty much a magnet for toxicity. For example, in my first few months of sobriety, I dated this guy, who on paper could not have been a better catch. He was a millionaire, surfer from New York City that owned a hedge fund and had played football at Princeton during his undergrad years… Three years later… I saw that same man on the cover of The New York Post because he had shot his father in the head, execution style, for “threatening to lower his allowance.” No joke that actually happened.
Four years later, when I had to go to inpatient rehab, I fell in love with a con man, whom I subsequently married two months later… contributed to my relapse, and whom I waltzed in and out of psychosis with for over a year… only to find myself heartbroken, divorced, emotionally and financially bankrupt, as a result of the “unconditional love” I had for this man. Let’s get something straight… In my opinion, love should actually be conditional. If a man or woman is abusive in any way shape or form, he or she is not deserving of your love and kindness and don’t let he or she convince you otherwise. I assure you that you are not the “crazy one,” aside from the fact that you haven’t left yet. I assure you… it will only get worse, never better. That particularly popular and emotionally abusive tactic is called, “gaslighting,” and it has caused me incredible amounts of sickeningly painful memories, in which I had no idea which way was up or down.
In conclusion, although I have apparently not mastered “the secret to sober dating” myself over the last eight single years of my recovery, I have learned that maybe there were some chunks of truth dropped on me in early sobriety, and I probably could have avoided a whole lot of tears and psychological torture if I had simply listened to the more experienced, elders for once. Upon reflection, I do believe that if there is a secret to dating in general, it lay in the words of wisdom, my southern friend explained to me along the Venice Boardwalk when she referenced the campfire analogy many moons ago.
Unfortunately, we can’t all be like Chelsea Handler and do not have the luxury of drinking ourselves into toxic relationships any longer. We actually have to take the time to get to know a person before heading to the chapel to get married. I got sober when I was 30, and all of my friends were or were about to be married, while I had just been dumped in the psych ward. I wanted so badly to move into the next phase of life with the “normies,” as if we were all going off to college again. I believed it was my time. Where the f*ck were my cash and prizes, I was sick of this “treat others as you would want to be treated” bullshit, only to get taken advantage of by a bunch of jerks. I was so obsessed with marriage that almost every guy I met, I stopped and wondered, “could this be “THE ONE?” It was very reminiscent of The Ugly Duckling children’s story, in which the ugly duckling wanders aimlessly around the pond asking every Dick, Jane, and Sally, “are you, my mother?” and is consistently rejected, before she shows everyone, “not to judge a book by its cover,” and blossoms into a beautiful swan. I regret that I never really took the time to pause and appreciate the satisfaction that I got/get from just hanging out by myself. I actually really enjoy my own company and require “alone time” to function in society and to not take for granted the good times I experience when hanging out with good people.
And… trust me… I am acutely aware of the fact that addicts and alcoholics generally insist on learning the hard way… however, it doesn’t have to be that way. Just like you never have to drink or use again… you also never have to engage in unhealthy, toxic relationships again. That is not only a choice but it is also a profoundly lonely existence (from my experience). So… I beg you to please (at least try) to listen to a sister that wants nothing more but the best for you and has also been through hell and back in sobriety… “LOVE,” whatever that actually means (I’m not so sure anymore), will always remain that fleeting feeling between loneliness and heartache unless you take the bull by the horns and solemnly swear to give up the drama addiction for good and to at least try being content enjoying some delicious s’mores around a warm campfire.