Sober & Swiping: 4 Tactics for Navigating Dating Apps when you're not Drinking

I logged into my first dating app a little over two years ago after moving to Austin, TX. At the time, I was living it up on the social scene and meeting a match out for a drink was the norm. Then, in January of 2017, I decided to do an extended period of sobriety. What went from a 30-day stint to a 90-day stint turned to a whole year. This left me with two options: go on zero dates for a year or figure out how to date sober. While I seriously considered the first option, I didn’t truly know if I’d go back to drinking after my year-long hiatus. So, I decided to choose the latter option and figure out how to date sober.

While this might sound simple enough, a quick survey of my girlfriends and colleagues revealed that it would be quite tricky (some even suggested it would be intolerable). With few options, I decided to give it a try. I knew immediately that I’d eliminate a large portion of the dating pool. There would be plenty of guys who couldn’t handle dating someone who didn’t drink. To be fair, I’d already dated a lot of those guys and it hadn’t really gotten me anywhere.

So, after I eliminated the guys who I deemed “too boozy” from the start, I had to plan my next move: how would I reveal my new sober lifestyle to my dates? If you’ve found yourself in the same predicament, you’re in luck: I’ve done all the work for you! Here are the four main tactics I used to reveal my sobriety to my dates (including how each worked out):

Tactic #1: Keeping it Quiet. If my memory serves me; I tried this tactic two times. I’d simply agree to meet for drinks and casually order a sparkling water when my date ordered a drink. The first time I used this technique, my date immediately asked if I was “super Christian.” I am not, but I could tell he didn’t approve either way. Spoiler: I never saw him again.

My second try with this tactic went much better. My date and I were already having good conversation and the topic came up naturally This date was impressed by my decision to focus on health and personal growth. It seemed to set my apart from the crowd. Though we did go out on several other dates, we weren’t ultimately a match (which is good for you, because I that’s how I got to Tactics Two through Four!).

The most difficult part about using this tactic was being caught off-guard and not being fully ready to explain that I was not drinking and why. I felt the pressure to over-explain my sobriety to my dates when caught off-guard. I'm sure this came off as defensive or, at the least, incredibly spacey. If I were to use this tactic again, I'd come prepared with a quick explanation; something like; "Oh, I'm actually not drinking right now. I used to, but I am focused on being healthy right now (or another no-nonsense reason you might give up booze). I hope you don't mind." This offers up a quick response, indicates that you don't feel like your sobriety is a big deal, and shows that you assume it won't be a problem with your date. If it is, so what? Don't go out with them again!

Tactic #2: The Meet & Reveal. I attempted this tactic three times in total. I had already learned that “Keeping it Quiet” would still result in my date asking why I was not drinking. Determined to avoid the awkwardness, I decided to try out a new tactic: The Meet & Reveal. It seemed simple enough: I’d meet my date, order a non-alcoholic beverage and simultaneously mention that I wasn’t drinking.

My first time using this tactic worked like a breeze. My date was into wellness and thought it was cool that I was into taking care of myself too. We went out a couple of other times, but didn’t stick it out for the long haul.

The second date I went on where I used the Meet & Reveal did not result in a second date. Admittedly, I was really excited about this date. The guy and I were  connected through mutual friends and my girlfriends had suggested we meet up several times before we connected via a dating app. From what I understood, he was also into fitness and not a big drinker. This seemed like a no-brainer. Except for the part where I asked him to meet up for drinks. Dumb. Why would I ask someone to meet for drinks when I was NOT DRINKING? This really set my entire Meet & Reveal tactic off the rails. I ended up feeling deceitful, though my invitation to “meet for drinks” had been completely innocent. While we might not have been a match on other levels, I feel like I really blew the details here.

My third and final Meet & Reveal date went...okay. I got the vibe that my date was pretty healthy and physically active overall. He shared that he didn’t drink much. However, upon revealing that I wasn’t drinking at all, he immediately asked if I just got high all the time instead. I explained that I did not because I was truly focused on being healthy. Though he seemed to understand, he also casually mentioned that he’d go on cocaine benders when he had friends visiting. You can guess how this one ended.

Similarly to Tactic One, I might have deployed this tactic much more successfully had I gone in with a quick script that would allow me to casually explain why I wasn't drinking. Something like, "Hey, sorry if I didn't mention this, but I'm actually taking a break from drinking right now. I try not let it effect my social life and I'm really feeling good." 

Tactic #3: The FYI. To date, the FYI has been my most successful and comfortable tactic. While I’ve varied the timing of utilizing the FYI, I always drop it before my date and I meet up, though I typically try to disclose my sobriety sooner rather than later. The purpose of using this tactic was two fold: make sure my date is okay with me not drinking and give us an option to meet for an activity versus sitting down for “drinks.” I’d always offer that I used to drink, but don’t right now and didn’t mind if he drank. I’m not sure how many dates I went on using this tactic, but it seemed to be the most effective.

Implementing this tactic would go a little something like this:

  • Him - Want to grab a drink Wednesday?
  • Me - Hey! I'd love to meet up, but am actually taking a break from drinking. I don't mind if we meet at a bar, but wanted to give you a heads up.

Typically, we might talk about why I wasn't drinking or decide on an alternate activity. If he did ask why I wasn't drinking, I'd offer, "I just wanted to take a break and focus on being healthier. I'd love to tell you all about it when we meet!" This helped solidify that I had no reservations meeting at a bar, if he drank or about further discussing my decision to be sober. I found this tactic to be the most comfortable and positively-focused approach of all. 

Tactic #4: The Upfront Disclaimer. In one particular bout of frustration, I went for full disclosure: posting right in my profile that I wasn’t drinking. I tried several iterations and did, overall, find this technique to be helpful. In the end, I only ended up leaving up my alcohol-free disclaimer for a little while. Here’s the deal: I have unquestionably grown more as an individual as a result of being sober for the past year. Sobriety has helped me uncover a deeper sense of self, but it is not all of who I am. Ultimately, profile bios are short, y’all. I didn’t have enough room to adequately explain that I was not drinking and why (yes, I know, I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but really didn’t feel I could be effective without sacrificing precious bio characters!).

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Here’s the thing: figuring out how to tell your date you’re not drinking is only the tip of the sober dating iceberg. Dating these days has enough nuances, throwing the sober thing into the mix doesn’t make it any easier (except for when you factor in that you’ll never get “too drunk” and embarrass yourself or make bad decisions. Trust me, you’re capable of doing both sober too!). I can’t wait to share some more tips for navigating the dating scene sober - what are some topics you’d like to hear more about?

Ready to take a break from drinking, but not sure how you’ll navigate social scenes like dating? Download the 30 Day Alcohol Detox, a self-guided program designed to help you change your relationship with alcohol, others, and yourself.