It was my first date as an alcohol-free woman. I’d met him on a dating app. We “met for drinks” where he welcomed me to order what I wanted. I ordered sparkling water.

“Oh, you don’t drink?” he inquired.

“I don’t.” I smiled and said cheerfully, hoping my tone of positivity would minimize further questions.

“Oh,” he paused. “Are you like, super religious or something?”

I was not, but what did it matter? Did my decision to abstain naturally imply something about me? Yes, in this world, it did. If I’d been thinking on my feet, I might have leaned in and slipped into a deep southern drawl before whispering, “Yes, and I’ve come here today to tell you about our lord and savior.”

Instead, we sat there making small talk until the date had run its course. Spoiler: I never saw him again.

The fact of the matter is, I’m not super religious. I didn’t give up drinking as part of my dedication to faith. Furthermore, I’m not an alcoholic. I didn’t give up booze because I had a “problem.” As it stood, I had no neat, precise label. I’d stopped drinking because it no longer served me but I could see from this initial experience that my new alcohol-free lifestyle was going to present some unique challenges when it came to dating.

I’d stopped drinking because it no longer served me but I could see from this initial experience that my new alcohol-free lifestyle was going to present some unique challenges when it came to dating.

The fear set in. Would I be alone forever? Would I be un-datable? Would all men question my choices with such clear disbelief that anyone would willingly choose to just quit drinking? Perhaps this was an isolated experience. Whatever the outcome, it was clear that I’d have a few obstacles to overcome when it came to this whole “I don’t drink” thing,  but I felt determined to navigate this new adventure.

To add a level of complexity to my already clumsy path, I’d stopped drinking just as popular dating apps like Bumble, Tinder, and Hinge were coming on the scene. Throwing technology into an already convoluted conversation presented some unique challenges I hadn’t been expecting.

“I don’t get it,” a girlfriend lamented. “Can’t you just show up on a date and not drink? Or,” she continued, “You could just put it right there in your profile and eliminate guys who aren’t cool with it.”

Because of the stigma around sobriety and the normalization of drinking, none of it was that easy. For me, sobriety couldn’t be diluted to a line in a bio. I was trying to fit myself in a system rigged to have us all believe that the only way to be calm, cool, collected, sexy, flirtatious, and intriguing to a potential romantic partner was if both of you were a little tipsy.

Turns out, there was no expert out there sharing how this all worked, so I set out to get the hang of living the sober single life.

First, I had to date myself.

I said before that I didn’t identify as an alcoholic. I also didn’t go to AA or utilize traditional recovery paths. However, that doesn’t mean that navigating the sober world was all rainbows and butterflies. I still had work to do. Though I was eager to find companionship, I first took the time to find companionship in myself. I sat with my emotions and thoughts and did the work that helped me feel comfortable with me. Although this is an ongoing process, I gave myself at least 90 days to simply date myself before I even contemplated dating anyone else. This meant many nights home alone reading and writing versus mindlessly binging some television show or escaping with my friends. Truth be told, I hadn’t spent much time with myself over the last decade of drinking and partying. This was valuable time.

Furthermore, I needed this time because I was not equipped with the mindset or tools I needed to get back out on the dating scene right away. At 31, I realized I’d actually never been on a sober date or had many romantic encounters of any kind that didn’t involve alcohol. As a young adult, I’d used booze to help silence the gawky, awkward girl who didn’t know how to flirt with boys. Now, I had to sit with that gawky, awkward girl until she had the confidence to date without any liquid courage.

I got sober… and started swiping.

We already know that my first sober dating app experience didn’t go well. Let me assure that my next few weren’t wildly successful either. I fumbled with how and when to bring up my alcohol-free lifestyle in a way that “worked” for this specific medium. Of course, dating apps are not the only way, but as someone who had always met romantic interests in boozy social situations, I didn’t quite know what my options were. So, I just started swiping.

Now, before you roll your eyes and lament about how awful dating apps are, let me assure you I’ve often thought the same. But, I can promise you with full certainty that — like anything in life — the results you experience are incredibly reliant on your attitude and approach. Let me explain.

I realized quickly that a guy who had multiple photos showcasing his drinking skills or listed “Day Drinking” as an interest in his profile was not my target demographic. These guys earned a hard swipe left. Let me be honest: This tactic also significantly narrowed the dating pool.

From here things got tricky. I wanted to attract high-vibe guys who were emotionally available and ready to entertain a healthy relationship. I didn’t mind if I dated a guy who drank a little but I knew I couldn’t date someone who was on a completely different path. This required a lot of filtering during conversations because I knew I didn’t want to waste my time actually meeting up with men who wouldn’t be a lifestyle match.

I didn’t mind if I dated a guy who drank a little but I knew I couldn’t date someone who was on a completely different path.

Text conversations were also a challenge. I was incredibly self-conscious about semantics and the stigma behind being “sober.” As harsh as it sounds, I knew that “sober” was often read as “project” or “broken.” Now, you may be thinking: But Amanda, it doesn’t matter what other people think, the right guy will not be deterred by labels. I get it, but I also considered my own struggle to communicate about sobriety. If I was still struggling, how could I expect others to show up better prepared to a conversation which society has literally groomed us to avoid at all costs? I couldn’t. It was my responsibility to set the tone. My ability to do so greatly impacted the direction of the conversation.

So, while I didn’t include a direct reference to sobriety in my profile, I learned it was absolutely necessary to introduce my lifestyle quickly and tactfully in conversation. It goes something like this, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I actually don’t drink anymore because I didn’t feel like it was adding anything to my life. I don’t mind if others drink, but find it’s best to be upfront about it on here because I know it’s not a lifestyle match for everyone.” I’d either get crickets or curiosity, and I’m fine with curiosity.

Meeting my dates for drinks.

Are there other ways to date without “meeting for drinks?” Sure, but we’ve all been taught that this is the best path. After all, a little cocktail helps us loosen up and feel a little less anxiety when meeting up with a stranger off the internet, right?

I did go on a couple of dates where my date had a cocktail and I had a club soda. Then, I decided to take control of the situation. If I had to be vulnerable and go into a date void of liquid courage, then dammit, my date could do the same. I recommended morning coffee dates over cocktails and afternoon walks over evening dinners. Can I just tell you, while many of these dates were not matches, they were some of the nicest dates I’ve been on. What’s more, I think most of the men would agree.

And then, the shift.

Being single and sober has provided me with tremendous opportunities for personal growth. I know with certainty that this time has made me a stronger individual and prepared me to be more present in all areas of life, especially to be a better partner. As a result, I know I have a lot to give and will add value to all relationships — romantic or not — and I seek the same in others.

This work has paid off. I’m attracting high-vibe guys who see my choice to quit drinking as a differentiating factor.

This work has paid off. I’m attracting high-vibe guys who see my choice to quit drinking as a differentiating factor. I’m meeting men who are ready to have mature conversations and work towards real relationships (though, unfortunately, there have still been plenty of duds).

Most importantly, I’m happy to report that dating as a sober woman is not the damning sentence I had once feared. On the contrary! Once I got the hang of it, dating as an alcohol-free woman has been an extremely exhilarating and liberating experience and, if you’re considering dipping your toe in the sober dating pond, I have full faith that it can be an exhilarating and liberating experience for you, too.