Dating is hell — and it’s even harder when you’re sober.
Yet, thanks in part to an increased interest in health and wellness, more and more people are drinking less, with the International Wine and Spirits Record reporting that alcohol consumption is down across America for three years straight.
But how do you break the ice without a drink — and where can you do it when the usual dating spot is a bar?
“You know little tricks,” Mitch Leff, 32, tells Phicklephilly. The Upper East Sider has been sober since he was 19 when he sought treatment for alcohol addiction. He says he often takes first dates out for ice cream at UES., which has a speak-easy-style bar hidden in the back, or on walks in the park with his miniature Goldendoodle, Mazel.
But he hasn’t given up entirely on traditional bars. One of his longtime favorite places to meet first dates is Nobu Downtown — in part because of the half-dozen nonalcoholic drinks on its mocktail menu.
Though he says he’s now “comfortable” ordering a seltzer or soda, the former health-care worker and current experience coordinator didn’t always feel that way.
“When I was newly sober, I was completely overwhelmed,” he says. He worried that dates wouldn’t be able to get on board with his dry lifestyle. “I was like, ‘I’m never going to find someone.’ ”
And although he’s currently single, he’s sure that he’s not alone in feeling that way about dating and drinking.
“There are so many people who have no idea what they’re doing, and it probably causes them to relapse, ’cause they’re so anxious about dating,” he says.
Since socializing so often involves drinking, Malia Griggs, the social media director of The Daily Beast, finds it hard to go out. For a year after she was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2017, the Brooklynite says she didn’t have a drop of alcohol.
These days, the 31-year-old will have an occasional cocktail, but she says that sobriety has definitely affected the way she socializes.
“I think I’ve been maybe avoiding dating, ’cause I don’t want to explain it over and over,” she says.
She also finds that bars have lost their appeal.
“I think when you’re sober, all the things that are annoying about bars stick out — how loud they are, how expensive they are, how obnoxious other people can be,” Griggs says.
Queens resident Tynan DeLong, 35, agrees. The film director calls booze sobriety a “lifestyle decision” he made over a decade ago, only to find that he got flak half the time for ordering a cheaper, nonalcoholic drink.
But he found it hard to meet people anywhere else during prime dating hours. “Late night options for date spots are pretty limited,” says DeLong, who’s now seeing someone steadily.
Mike Abrusci, 30, agrees.
“It’s hard to think of somewhere after 8 p.m.” for a date that isn’t a bar, says the office-services clerk, who lives in Queens. That’s why he often finds himself at bars, even though he’s never been a drinker.
While restaurants seem an obvious alternative, the pressure of being required to sit through a whole meal on a first date is unappealing, since it gives you no chance to duck out.
“You’re definitely stuck there for as long as the meal takes, whereas, at the bar, you can have a drink and then be like, ‘Oh, I have a thing,’ ” he says.
DeLong also lets his dates know ahead of time that he doesn’t drink — he’s had bad experiences when he hasn’t. Abrusci says he usually tells prospective dates that he’s sober, to filter out any haters. He knows it’s a risky move and that people might overreact and think that it’s “a big deal” — but he’d still rather not waste his time on people who can’t handle it.
“We got to Night of Joy and I was like, I don’t drink,” DeLong says, referring to a Williamsburg bar. His date was confused and cold. “She was like, ‘Then why did you choose this place?’’ It was very mean and that set the tone.”
As far as Griggs is concerned, being sober has had some positive side effects on her dating life. “I feel less fun, but I also feel more mature,” she says, adding that her standard for dates has increased. “You really need to have chemistry with someone — sober chemistry — for the date to work.”
It’s also raised her standard for herself.
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