I'm not quite sure when or why it happened, but grabbing drinks has become our generation's go-to, failsafe first date. Here's the thing: After years of unsuccessful (OK, downright disastrous) meet-ups over shared bottles of chenin blanc, craft saisons, and cucumber gimlets, I’ve become a firm believer that you’re better off doing pretty much anything else. Admittedly, the fact that my current partner doesn’t drink has only strengthened my revelation that drinks are the worst first date idea.
A couple libations can help you loosen up, which is probably why people tend to resort to drinks when they're feeling anxious about a first date. However, there's a fine line between taking the edge off and getting wasted. A chart from the University of Oklahoma Department of Medicine details the seven stages of drunkenness based on blood alcohol content. The second stage, which has been dubbed "euphoria," could be considered the ideal buzz: you become talkative, confident, and animated. However, by stage three, which typically requires two-to-four drinks for a woman, you've reached the "excitement" stage, which involves loss of coordination, perception, judgment, and balance, and emotional instability. In other words, all it can take is one extra drink to push you over the edge.
I've seen this unpleasant transformation firsthand many times. I've taken a slew of dates to countless Boston bars, from dives with $3 PBRs to swanky speakeasies with $12 fizzes — many of which went downhill because the person across the table from me didn't know their limit.
I once went out for drinks with a financial planner who I met at a networking event at a bougie cocktail bar in my neighborhood. To my delight, the conversation was flowing freely. But as the night wore on, he became increasingly pushy in his advances, and after he paid the tab, he insisted on walking me home. When we got to my doorstep and I refused to invite him in, it suddenly became clear to me that my date was drunkenly belligerent. “I’m disappointed in you, Rebecca” he slurred, like a parent scolding a child for bad behavior. I quickly said goodnight before bolting inside the door, leaving him standing on my brownstone stoop totally dumbstruck. Then, I raced up the stairs to relay the tale to my horrified roommate.
Staring at the ceiling in my tiny Back Bay apartment bedroom, I found myself pondering whether the alcohol had merely helped me to see this guy’s true colors. Three days later, he reached out over text asking if I wanted to grab drinks again that Friday. I honestly didn’t know what was more perplexing — the fact that he had the gall to propose another date in the first place or the fact that he didn’t seem to think an apology or explanation for his aggressive behavior was necessary. The only valid excuse for not apologizing would have been that he simply didn’t remember. And let’s be honest — that’s not really excusable, either.
My booze-soaked first date tales of terror don’t end there. There was the personal trainer who met up with me for beers after attending a Red Sox game and literally almost passed out at the bar. Then there was the friend-of-a-friend, a real estate agent who took me to a wine bar and then invited me up to his roof deck to see the supposedly incredible view. When he tried to make a move on me, I rejected his advances, so he flipped out and scolded me for “leading him on.”
Consuming too much alcohol can often make it difficult to resist flying off the handle, because the substance can alter the chemistry of your prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls aggression. Dating can already feel pretty stressful, so when you add a couple drinks to the mix, you may not even notice when you’re starting to accidentally get hammered. Next thing you know, you’re spewing unfortunate details about your ex, and there are #tequilatears rolling down your face. Or, you spill your sauv blanc all over them and call them the wrong name. Sound familiar?
My definition of dating completely changed the night that I first went out with my current partner. After meeting through work, I proposed we celebrate a mutual success on the job. Naturally, I suggested we grab drinks to toast to our achievement — and that's when my date decided to place his trust in me and open up about his sobriety. He explained that he had given up drinking due to his sibling's alcohol-related death, and I was in awe of his honesty, especially since he was still getting to know me. A 25-year-old guy who forfeited booze for life to honor a loved one? That was someone I immediately knew I wanted to get to know better.
I’ll admit it — with drinks off the table as a first date option, I wondered what our night would entail. Would he feel weird if I ordered a drink? Would I be more nervous without a glass of wine or two to take the edge off? My anxiety was quickly quelled when I asked what he wanted to do, and he responded, “Don’t worry about it. Just be ready at eight.” That element of surprise not only added some excitement to the first date, but showed that he was putting some real thought into our evening together. His efforts made him stand out, and let me know that he cared about making a solid first impression as much as I did.
He picked me up after work and drove me to a sushi restaurant we'd talked about a week or so prior. Let me tell you: sharing sushi with someone is an intimate experience. As a piece of a shrimp tempura roll fell apart between my chopsticks, I shrugged my shoulders, let my guard down, and gruesomely devoured it. After dinner, he surprised me by taking me candlepin bowling, something I'd previously mentioned that I'd never done.
Side note: I am quite possibly the worst bowler on the planet (no, really, it's downright humiliating). But if anything, my lack of skills only made the night more fun. He showed me a few pointers and cheered me on as I steadily improved, and I marveled at his finesse in the lane. The fact that he didn't judge my ineptitude and encouraged me the whole way was incredibly attractive to me. To this day, he still says that my willingness to try something I suspected I'd be terrible at, ability to laugh at myself throughout, and continual attempts to improve rather than throwing my hands up, attracted him to me even more.
This date revealed a lot about who we are as people. It forced us to loosen up, show different dimensions of ourselves, and learn from each other — without leaning on the lucidity of alcohol. Amidst countless lackluster drink dates, it's a night I'll definitely never forget. The absence of booze not only made it easier for me to accurately assess my chemistry with him sans beer goggles, but it also allowed me to get to know him on a deeper level beyond bar-seat small talk. That night, we were our purest, most authentic selves.
Look, I get it. Drinks are generally cost-effective, help ease the first date jitters, and don’t require a lot of planning. Still, there’s so much to be gained from planning a date that’s a little more eclectic than drinks — you may discover skills you didn’t know you had, find a new hobby to pursue together, or get the chance to show off some expertise of your own. By planning an out-of-the-box date, you’re far more likely to learn more about your potential partner and evaluate your compatibility in the process. Better yet, ditching the drinks will force you to bond over something other than booze — and that’s the kind of experience that leads to long-term relationship potential.
I certainly don't regret the first dates I've had over drinks — in a way, each experience brought me one step closer to realizing precisely the kind of person I want to be with. The one who pays for my rental bowling shoes instead of buying me a third drink in hopes that I'll invite them up. The one who walks me home because they're concerned about my safety, not drunkenly trying to get lucky. The one who doesn't need a social lubricant to keep me interested. Dating someone sober led me to realize that vulnerability takes true courage — not the liquid kind.
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