I was a social drinker until 2010 when I tried the 30-Day No-Alcohol Challenge. After that, I quit alcohol cold turkey. Until that point, my dates had always revolved around alcohol. Like most people, I'd meet women in a bar for a drink, or we’d order wine with dinner. We think, drinking will relax me, so I'll seem more confident and less nervous. It's the standard game plan.
Sure, it might lubricate the proceedings. It might take us a few drinks before the conversation finally starts to flow. At that point, we'll stop evaluating each other so acutely and start to flirt, increasing the likelihood of a first kiss (or something else). That strategy is effective — when you want superficial, short-term connections. But I know from experience that it doesn't facilitate real, meaningful intimacy.
After taking that initial hiatus from drinking, I quickly started to become a health-conscious man interested in exploring the world through every possible vehicle — not just by "going out" and drinking. I was starting to become the kind of person I wanted to meet.
And even during that first month, I started to notice a shift in my dating life. By trading the late-night bar scene for morning exercise, I started meeting fit and healthy women. Our conversations revolved around meaningful issues, which created a deeper connection.
These smart, emotionally developed women started showing up in my life. I met women through friends, at farmers markets, at yoga classes, and in parks. I opened up a whole world of potential partners by rejecting the belief that "in bars, at night" is the only way to meet women.
I started inviting women I was interested in to go on walks in the park or hikes in the hills rather than to bars. The response from these women was infinitely more positive when I suggested a creative, meaningful date than when I would ask them to "meet up for drinks." People connect over shared experience.
Many people believe that romance can't unfold unless alcohol is involved. My experience is just the opposite.
Yeah. I've dated as a drinker and I've dated sober. Dating sober is way better.
Here are a few of the most helpful tips (and some of the most fun activities) I've discovered on my journey:
1. Try a morning hike.
A morning hike is great because you're more energetic and fresh. Arrange a hike or a beach walk on a weekend or before work. Walking side-by-side through nature will make you feel more like you're relaxing with a friend than like a job interview in which you sit at a dinner table and grill each other across the table.
Being in nature also puts you both in the moment. Being present throughout your date — free of electronic distractions or alcohol-induced slowness — helps foster that warm, fuzzy feeling of attraction.
2. Go for a walk in the sunshine (or the snow).
Meet at a park or on a street corner and just start walking. There will always be plenty of things to notice and talk about — dogs, people, stores. Moving from place to place makes moments of silence feel natural, not awkward. And with every corner you turn, you'll find new things to talk about.
3. Meet at a café or juice bar.
A tea or coffee tasting is utterly unique, unlike a wine or beer tasting. You could also just meet at a coffee or juice shop, take it to go, and combine your coffee date with a nice walk.
4. Run errands together. (Seriously.)
Pursuing a common goal together intensifies feelings of closeness. Suggest running errands as a date. She wants to buy an outfit? Perfect. Demonstrate your patience and offer an opinion. He needs to go grocery shopping? Go with him and help him find the best ingredients for a delicious recipe.
Weekend farmers markets are amazing opportunities to walk in the sun and discover produce you’ve never even heard of before. Bonus points for cooking a meal together after the shopping trip.
5. Meet for dessert.
Make your intention to take alcohol out of the equation clear and suggest meeting for an after-dinner dessert. For example: "Hey, let's meet at 9 p.m. at that frozen yogurt place with the killer coconut ice cream."
6. Get silly on a novelty date.
Experiences like mini-golf and bowling encourage laughter and lightheartedness. If you're not into that, try being a tourist in your own city — without GoogleMaps. Start a quest to find the best cappuccino in town. Experiences plus laughter equals chemistry. Not drinking never has to mean you're not having fun.
7. Jump into a conversational game.
When meeting someone new, play “My Life Story in 60 Seconds." The rules are simple. Start with “I was born in …” and end with “And that’s how I got here.” In between, you have to talk about family, career, and romance. Here’s a quick example.
“I was born in Australia. I’m one of three brothers. I’ve visited 44 countries and lived in London, New York, Colombia, and Los Angeles. I’ve been in love and had my heart broken. I’ve interviewed star athletes and actors, hosted a TV show, and now I help people create healthy habits. Oh, and I love oysters and pizza. And that’s how I got here.”
If that feels too ambitious, just start by trying to describe your career creatively. For example, “I help people get coverage in magazines and on TV” is more interesting than “I do PR.” “I help people sleep easy at night” is more descriptive than “I’m a financial planner.” “I help kids/people achieve their dreams” says much more than “I’m a teacher or coach.”
8. Show genuine interest.
The best question is, “What’s your story?” because the conversation can go anywhere and people love talking about themselves. Listen intently. Pick up on something. And then say, "That sounds interesting; tell me more."
9. Have a standard drink order on deck.
Whenever a waiter asks what I'd like to drink, I repeat these words: "I'll have water, ice, and a piece of lime. Thanks." It costs nothing, tastes amazing, and leaves me hydrated, clear-headed for great conversation, and energized for whatever else happens. Your drink could be something different, but not hemming and hawing about what to order makes your commitment to not drinking clear.
10. Know what you'll say if your date asks why you aren't drinking.
When a date questions my alcohol-free lifestyle, my stock response is, "I had a break from alcohol and felt terrific, so I kept going." It’s never an issue when my date sees my confidence and conviction. It often occupies no more than 10 seconds of the conversation. If you're not off drinking forever, you could say, “I’m having a month detox. This crazy Australian guy wrote an article about how to date without drinking and still have fun, and I wanted to try it.” Maybe your date will want to try it too.
11. Don’t try to trick people into thinking you're drinking.
A few weeks into my sobriety, I went on a date but was still self-conscious about not drinking. I told the bartender in advance not to put alcohol in my drinks. My date thought we were drinking vodka tonics all night. We started dating, and one month later we were at the Coachella Music Festival with her friends.
“James, what do you want to drink?” her friend asked.
“Nah, I don’t drink,” I automatically replied.
“Yes, you do! On our first date, you were drinking,” my date interjected.
[Cue long, awkward pause where time slows down.]
“Yeah, umm, I was actually drinking tonic and lime,” I sheepishly replied.
“What?! Are you serious?”
For the next two hours, she was furious. Rightly so — I’d misled her and betrayed her trust. Luckily she forgave me. When we recently met for dinner, she said, “I admire that you still don’t drink. You’re cool, personable, and outgoing.”
The woman I was once fearful of judging me admires my choice. That is one of the many things that's taught me that honesty pays and the right people always respect choices that matter to you.
If you want to quit drinking as I did, go for it. Your dating life won't suffer. You'll begin to attract more suitable partners and become a better partner yourself.
Sober is the new sexy.
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