Ask anyone about dating, and they’ll either laugh or roll their eyes.
Being single and independent has many perks, but few people actually enjoy the ritual of dating. Many find it difficult and tedious. And if you’re newly sober, there are other challenges.
The Washington Post and Verily magazine feature fascinating insight from women and men about the modern courtship process. Here are some of their thoughts:
“A successful date will give me a rush which lasts almost long enough to get to the next one without experiencing low mood. I’ve had early-stage relationships which have ended because I’ve told them about my illness (depression and anxiety) or they found out due to a chronic attack.”
“Guys and gals alike need to be straight up. Without direct and quick communication, both sides get hurt and it drags on. Getting hurt is OK. In fact, I wish people would be more straightforward upfront so you can spend your time on someone who you’re meant to be with.”
“I’ll only date men who were married and have children. Also, I’m a widow (for over eight years) and some men have hesitated as they think I may have emotional issues due to the loss of my husband. It’s hard to find an eligible man who was married, has kids, and can write a full sentence with correct punctuation and grammar.”
“Online profiles now frequently express sexual preferences and sometimes sexual requirements, and first dates that don’t progress toward physical intimacy raise red flags. Our obsession with sex creates problems in modern dating. Those who want to find lasting love feel the loss of things like chivalry and genuine romance. Perhaps it’s worth re-evaluating the new norm when it comes to dating and sex. One way to counter this is to be intentional when you go on dates and focus on the little things. Go on dates instead of just ‘hanging out.’ Find ways to show affection that won’t lead to the bedroom.”
These are just a few of the many views that demonstrate how much more complicated dating seems to be now. And here you are, newly sober and learning to navigate relationships more authentically without a mask of substance use. What should you do?
Trust the Process
During treatment, you learned new behavioral patterns, better communication methods, essential coping skills when encountering conflict or trauma, and numerous other tools for recovery. For many people, rehabilitation is a chance to shed old skin and reveal what’s underneath.
But that uncovered real you is still a little raw. If your treatment and 12-Step process encouraged you to not start a new relationship or date when you first entered recovery, reading the above comments helps reinforce the importance of that action—many people simply don’t know what “the rules” are half the time. And, as this article from U.S. News and World Report points out, dating when you’re not ready might prompt triggers and even relapse.
As you’re learning how to handle emotions directly, what happens when you move through the stages of dating and experience other elements such as physical chemistry, different personalities, and the wants and desires of someone else when you’re still trying to understand yourself?
Take it one step at a time. Let’s look at a few points.
- I’m lonely, and I want companionship. Yes, it’s perfectly valid to feel this way, as loneliness in sobriety is a common and sometimes challenging experience. Make time to understand the root of your loneliness, and try not to force a romantic relationship as a substitute for something else. While a significant other might be nice, maybe you’d also like to build a stronger group of friends, or find other people who share your specific interests, or get to know your neighbors so you feel comfortable in your community. Each type of relationship has merit.
- I’d like physical intimacy. Without question, a healthy sex life is often one part of the human experience. MentalHelp.net positioned in an article that “when we discuss healthy sexual practices, good questions to ask ourselves are: 1) Is there consent (i.e., are both partners freely agreeing to this)?, 2) Is the behavior exploitive, coercive, manipulative, and/or self-destructive?, and 3) Does the behavior cause problems or harm to any of the participants, or to society as a whole?” Dating simply for sex will likely cause various problems in the long run, because no matter what we’d like to believe, human beings need authentic connection to really appreciate physical intimacy.
- I miss my previous relationship. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of addiction is often a marriage, family life, or dedicated partner. In therapy, you probably examined a previous committed relationship, and perhaps made amends to anyone you may have wronged while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Moving quickly into the dating scene shouldn’t be an attempt to replace what you lost, any more than you need to be rooted in guilt and shame for the rest of your life. Dedicate your time and attention to being the best version of you. The right people will meet you where you are now.
Talking About Your Recovery
Should you talk about your recovery with people who might want to date? Yes. Open, compassionate honesty helps anchor any relationship. Do you need to do this on the first date? It depends.
Maybe you’re meeting an individual at one of Twin Lakes’ continuing care groups. Right away, it’s easy to let down the walls and talk about addiction and recovery. If a friend wants to introduce you to someone at a social gathering, or you’re connecting with a person for the first time over coffee or a walk in the park, it’s probably not necessary to unpack all of your life experiences right away.
Talking about your recovery is always in your control. Right now, simply enjoy meeting people and discovering how they fit into your life in this moment.