Learning To Love Me: How Dating In Sobriety Made Me More Confident

woman holding up hand to refuse drink offer from man
Credit: itakdalee/Shutterstock

Editor’s Note: This story speaks on the writer’s personal experiences recovering from alcoholism and exploring sobriety. If you’re currently dealing with substance abuse issues and would like to seek help, resources can be found via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

I don’t think I ever dated. I just lept from one relationship to the next. The more dependent I became on alcohol, the more unhealthy those relationships became. Each one consisted of ecstatic highs and volatile lows. There was no in-between. At 26 years old, I found my life spinning out of control. I decided to sober up. 

Dating Without Drinking

When my drinking came to an end, so did my love life.

I didn’t know how to explain to people why I didn’t drink. I didn’t even know how to explain it to myself. More than that, I had no idea how to interact socially without a shot of tequila or a few glasses of wine. I wasn’t sure what dating would look like without being able to blot out my nerves with booze, so I stayed single and worked on myself. 

After several months, I felt ready to put myself out there. I got on a few dating apps and met up with matches at local restaurants and cafes. 

Some dates were terrible. I grabbed an early dinner with a guy who spoke like Kermit the Frog for the entire meal. Another showed up completely drunk. One didn’t show up at all. Yet, I always left those encounters feeling like something was wrong with me

Whatever enthusiasm and hopefulness I felt on my way to the date was always squashed by the time I got back in my car to drive home. I still believed that a date was only successful if the other person liked me. 

Learning to Love My Sober Self

So much of my self-worth was contingent upon whether there would be a second date. After too many of those experiences, I got off the apps for a while to focus on myself and my sobriety. I filled my time with new friends, new hobbies, and new interests that weren’t centered around drinking. 

Sobriety gave me the ability to see things clearly. That period of time showed me how I chased after relationships the same way I chased after a drink: compulsively, desperately, and without any concern for my own well-being. 

When I began dating again, there were guys who would be nice enough, the conversation would flow, and I could always find something I liked – his manners, sense of humor, or interesting hobbies like rock climbing or scuba diving – but it stopped there. But there would be no spark, nothing worth sacrificing another Saturday evening. I’d once again feel defeated. 

“It is going to be ok,” my fellow sober friends would assure me. “The right one is out there. Consider these practice dates for the real thing.”

What was the real thing? How would I know when it was sitting across from me in a restaurant eating a sandwich? I was numb to so much for so long, I was afraid I didn’t know. 

Learning To Trust Myself Again

Dating felt like a sport. A thing I had to practice over time in hopes of succeeding. So, it surprised me when dating became a by-product of just enjoying my sober life. Guys began asking me to go for a run or stroll through a farmer’s market. While not all of those dates led somewhere, they taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted in a partner. I stopped dating for the sole purpose of being accepted. Because I was no longer attaching my sense of worth to the approval of a potential partner, I was okay with walking away from dead ends. 

So, when I agreed to meet someone at a local coffee shop and he cut me off in line, then proceeded to mansplain the importance of tire rotation, I did not doubt my gut instinct to take my vanilla latte to go. The little nudges I began paying close attention to weren’t the enormous flight or fight feelings I had been used to in my previous dating history. They were gentle, loving urges to take care of myself. I could trust them. 

I could trust myself. 

I looked for lessons in the first dates that flopped and the guy with potential who ended up ghosting me. The rejection didn’t kill me. If they didn’t like me, that was okay. Not at first, but eventually. If I didn’t like them, that was okay too. But I had to like myself.

Recovery Can Be Awkward, But It Gets Easier

Part of recovery is relearning how to interact socially, but it is also about learning how to be ok alone. I started going to farmer’s markets on my own, learned a few new recipes, and began running. I enjoyed my long runs so much that I signed up for a few races. Over time, I began to really enjoy my own company.  

After a particularly challenging half-marathon, I was out with a few friends when a mutual acquaintance approached me. “Congratulations,” he said. “I heard you finished a big race. Do you run a lot of them?” The conversation continued late into the night. It was easy, interesting, and genuine. We began to meet for dinners and went to a few concerts together. One evening, he was sitting across from me in a booth at a local diner. It occurred to me that I didn’t need to pretend to be anyone else with him or anyone. 

A few years later, we got married.

Dating without numbing myself introduced me to genuine connection, true intimacy, and real love. Am I saying that you will meet your husband when you stop drinking? No, but chances are pretty good that you are going to meet yourself.