A guide to the sober scene.
Drop into a happy hour at any given bar or restaurant and you’re pretty much guaranteed to be given front row access to a first date or two. Maybe even more. It’s a simple enough date idea that requires minimal planning, the social lubricant of alcohol, and the flexibility of timing: Drinks are way less time-consuming than a full dinner course if you need an easy out. It’s no wonder Why cute wine bars and sleek cocktail lounges are such popular date spots—but things can get trickier for those who don’t drink.
As The New York Times reported in 2020, nearly 50% of singles who participated in a survey by the dating app Plenty of Fish said they drink two to three alcoholic beverages on a first date, and nearly 40% pregame with a drink beforehand. When such a large portion of the dating pool approaches the getting-to-know-you phase with a light buzz, those who choose to remain sober may find themselves in a tricky position. And the best thing to do in that case is, to be honest upfront.
Pretty much every mainstream dating app allows users to note their drinking preferences, along with other bits of crucial personal information—like your political leanings—that let potential matches know what you’re about. (If someone’s not cool with your sober lifestyle, they’re probably not your best match anyway.) But being honest in your profile doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll find your person—which is why some people take different approaches.
For some, sobriety is best explained in-person or in messages, one person told the New York Times in 2020. While he notes that he doesn’t drink in his profile, he doesn’t explain his recovery until later: “I try to show my personality first and then come out with it.” Especially for sober people who are open to dating people who drink, this dance can be a tricky one. Singles who want to cut out alcohol from the picture entirely (meaning, they want to date a fellow sober person), may choose to use a sober dating app, like Loosid (which also suggests plenty of alcohol-free events and activities, if you need a little more inspiration).
That doesn’t mean bars are off the table for everyone, though. As low ABV drinks and non-alcoholic spirits have boomed in popularity over the past few years, there are more options for sober or sober-curious singles to enjoy if they do meet up at a bar. A simple seltzer with lime can even make way for a non-awkward sober date, too, as one writer explained in GQ in January 2021: “The smoothest way to handle this dynamic is to make it normal. Because honestly, it’s not weird—or it shouldn’t be.”
If you’re tired of the bar scene or just not up for it, there are plenty of other options for meeting a potential match, too. Suggest grabbing a coffee on a Sunday morning, or ice cream on a summer day, or take a cue from many people’s go-to COVID-safe suggestion: ask if they want to go for a walk.
The most important thing about a first date is that it helps you get to know a person in a way that you’re comfortable with—and that’s certainly possible without a drink in hand.