This Will Make You Think Twice About Getting Drinks On Your Next Date
Sober dating is the future, anyway.
"Have you been drinking a lot?" Dr. Akhavan repeated.
The only other time my doctor had ever called after a check-up was to tell me I had gonorrhea, so any incoming calls from his office felt like the medical Grim Reaper. This time, he said my blood work had shown elevated liver enzymes. He told me to stop drinking until my next blood exam. Three months of sobriety didn’t seem like a problem to me — until the weekend arrived with all its tipsy opportunities. It was a wakeup call.
Suddenly, it felt like I couldn't participate in anything! At drag brunch with my friends, the bottomless mimosas don’t let you leave until you're ordering an Uber with your shoe. Even my work events seemed to revolve around drinks. (I’m a sex writer. The media industry loves a good cocktail party.)
And then there was dating. After my recent breakup, I was going on dates a couple of nights a week, all of them involving alcohol. Aside from bar-hopping, the only other activity gay men seemed interested in was anonymous sex. It was nice of them to offer, but years off the market had turned me old-fashioned.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get through a date without breaking my sobriety. I would inevitably beg the bartender to add gin to my soda water. I had never felt so aware of myself and the space I took up until I actively chose not to drink. Abstaining felt like swimming against the tide.
For many people, myself included, drinking and dating are completely intertwined — even if it puts our health at a greater risk. If you use dating apps, you’re more likely to drink. In 2021, Zoosk surveyed its users and found that 72% consume alcohol, compared to 64.8% of the general adult U.S. population. Three-quarters of singles said they liked to drink on dates “because it’s easy and less formal” and “because it’s a good way to let your guard down and have a conversation.”
Alcohol affects both your health and your love life — and as it turns out, getting drinks on a first date might just be going out of style.
Why Is It Tempting To Drink So Much On Dates?
It boils down to two words: Liquid courage. Per Healthline, alcohol can temporarily make you feel happier, calmer, and less shy — but once the effects wear off, you can actually feel more anxious than you did before you picked up a drink.
"Do I think dating revolves around drinking? No," says Stella, 25, a straight magazine editor in New York City. "Like, I'm not just going on dates to drink. I love dating and drinking, and I think they pair well together. But especially on a first date with a stranger from the internet, [I think] a little social lubrication is necessary." She worries about how excessive drinking might affect her health in the future — especially from a vanity perspective — and plans to reduce her alcohol consumption in her 30s. But for now, she prefers meeting for cocktails. She thinks coffee dates are for "networking, not f*cking.”
Stella also likes to drink in order to get out of her own head. "I have whatever hang-ups and traumas that can sometimes make sex (especially with a new partner) feel daunting to some extent or other, but I know I want to be able to hook up and leave those inhibitions at the door, so I get drunk to be able to explore and enjoy my own pleasure," she explains.
The idea that dating and alcohol go hand in hand is a common one. Jacquelyn, 30, a bisexual welder in New Jersey who uses Tinder and Hinge, says the default invite to hang out is, "Do you wanna have a drink?" It’s so ubiquitous that 7% of sober singles report pretending to drink on dates, according to Zoosk.
Although Jacquelyn enjoys drinking, she knows she can have fun without it. "My first date with this girl was so simple,” she recalls. “We went to get ice cream and walked to the pier to watch the sunset. That was probably the best date I've been on in a while without alcohol."
If you’re single, get ready to have more dates that look like Jacquelyn’s. America is experiencing a boom in sober dates, according to Logan Ury, Hinge’s Director of Relationship Science. She says young singles are leading the tide away from relying on alcohol as a social crutch. “Grabbing a drink is no longer the go-to first date for many daters,” she says.
In May, the dating app polled over 3,000 users about their dating habits in relation to drinking. Overall, 75% of Hinge users would rather skip the bar on the first date. A third of Gen Z singles avoid alcohol entirely on first dates. They’re 59% more likely than millennial daters to be comfortable without alcohol on the first date, while millennials are 46% more likely to drink just to keep up with their partner. Over half of people set a limit for how many drinks they have on a first date, and the most common limit is two. The most popular reasons for dating sober include concerns about health, money, and being in the right state of mind.
How Many Drinks Is It OK To Have?
There’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how much alcohol a person can healthily consume. "It's very variable. It depends on a person's size,” says Dr. Alexandra Shustina, a board-certified gastroenterologist and internist. “Someone smaller wouldn't be the same as someone who is bigger because they would have a smaller liver and a smaller volume of blood flow distribution. Also, if someone has any kind of liver disease, they can't drink alcohol at all.” The smaller you are, the less alcohol dehydrogenase (enzymes that break down alcohol) you have.
According to the dietary recommendations from the federal government, men should have no more than two drinks per day and women should have no more than one. Unfortunately, even those guidelines might be too generous. A 2018 study published in The Lancet found that an average of more than five drinks per week can take up to five years off someone's life.
For more personalized guidance about how to drink safely, consult with your doctor.
How Can You Combine Dating & Drinking In A Healthy Way?
Remember word problems back in math class? If you have two drinks on Monday with Todd, then three drinks on Wednesday with Stephen, how much can you drink with your friends on Saturday night after your date with Roberto?
If solving this puzzle alarms you, Dr. Shustina suggests examining why moderating your drinking seems like a problem. You might not realize your dependence on something until you're told to stop. Excessive drinking can negatively impact other aspects of your life, including your career, friendships, personal goals, sex, relationships, and even the pursuit of love.
But just because sobriety is becoming more popular (19% of American adults tried Dry January this year, according to Morning Consult) doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to cut back on your drinking.
“If you’re looking to go the sober dating route, be upfront about your preferences from the beginning,” Ury says. “If you don’t drink, do you mind if your date does? Let the other person know what you feel comfortable with. They might not know how to navigate the conversation, so lead the way by sharing vulnerably and making them feel safe asking questions. If they push back, that’s a red flag, and they aren’t the right person for you!”
However, if you like the idea of meeting people at wine bars or breweries, that’s fine — just watch how often you do it. To prolong a date, switch to mocktails or water. You might learn your urge was less about the drinking and more about holding something in your hand. Also, pace yourself with those sips! (God knows how quickly a glass of wine disappears when your date doesn't look like their photos.)
Ury suggests replacing the idea of liquid courage with a pre-date ritual to help you get into the same confident mindset. “This can include listening to a pump-up playlist, calling a friend for a pep talk, or making a mental list of all the reasons you’d be a great partner.” And of course, the easiest way to avoid drinking on dates is to plan activities that don’t involve alcohol: go for a hike, take a cooking class, get bubble tea.
Ultimately, I couldn’t cut back on drinking until I found my triggers. For example, the sea of strobe lights and loud music at gay clubs always made me want to drink. I found I didn’t mind eating dinner sober or with mocktails, although even then, I often caved for a glass of wine before the night was over.
It would be foolish for me to think unlearning years of bad drinking habits would be easy, but I’m working on it. I’ve come to view moderation as a path to a long, meaningful career as a sex writer. It’ll benefit my health, and it’ll also help me distinguish fun, tipsy times from the encounters that are actually worth writing about. That’s something to cheer about — no “cheers!” necessary.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).