Is Dating Better Without The Booze? We Asked The Experts

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Washington Post, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

Image by Michela Ravasio / Stocksy

"There is a saying, 'Those amongst us, no explanation is necessary. Those not amongst us, no explanation is possible.'" 

That's a guy named MJ Gottlieb talking, trying to explain to me why he decided to create an app for dating without drinking. Loosid, of which Gottlieb is the co-founder and CEO, is a digital platform for the sober community to connect, find alcohol-free events and experiences, access resources for those in recovery, and—perhaps most interestingly—to find people who don't want to drink on dates.

"Many people don't understand the insane value of having the dating component," he tells me by email. "When dating on other platforms, nine times out of 10, in the conversation leading up to a date, I would get from the woman, 'Wait, you don't drink? How are we going to have any fun?'"

That experience is a big part of why he decided to create Loosid, which just launched its mobile app at the end of 2018. He was tired of having to explain to people how it's totally possible to have fun without booze and, when he did convince people to go out with him, having to listen to them spend the whole night saying how sad it is that he doesn't drink and how bad they feel drinking in front of him.

"I don't mind the presence of alcohol," he stresses. "That being said, there is something that happens when you are on a date with another sober individual that, again, you would have to be sober to understand. Being able to share your experiences with another person who shares that common bond is something so powerful, words cannot explain."

That's a fair assessment. But how exactly does removing the alcohol affect the way we connect and interact with people? We decided to ask the experts about the pros and cons of sober dating.

Your actions are probably more genuine. 

"The reason many of us drink on dates is because of the depressant effects alcohol has on our brain, which causes us to relax and feel less anxious or awkward—which is what we all want when we're meeting someone new, isn't it?" explains Caitlin Padgett, a holistic health coach who specializes in helping women redefine their relationship to alcohol. "The problem is, with both parties relying on alcohol to take the edge off, neither person is really showing up as themselves. Then add a few more drinks into the mix, and you're potentially getting a whole other side of the person that is being enhanced by liquid courage."

Jillian Richardson, a professional community builder, founder of The Joy List, and author of Unlonely Planet, says going on dates without alcohol involved can actually make human interaction more authentic.

"We're being vulnerable with each other because we want to, not because booze is loosening our inhibitions," she explains. "In my experience, drinking has been an excuse to move things faster physically and say things that might feel a little edgy. When we're both sober, if we're making a move, it's because we genuinely want to—not because we're influenced by alcohol."

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You're seeing more clearly. 

Anyone who has ever had one too many glasses of wine knows how alcohol can make things a little blurry. And it's about more than your vision getting a little fuzzy or your words a little jumbled up, Padgett explains. It's about being able to spot red flags way earlier on.

"Alcohol can cause us to hone our perceptions of a situation and not notice or respond to other cues around us," she explains. "Have you ever noticed how a drunk person will fixate on a certain story or event and repeat it over and over? Well, with a little bit of alcohol, you might be fixating as well—though usually, you will fixate on what you want to see in another person while missing red flags or warning signals that might be more obvious if you are sober."

You get more dynamic experiences. 

New York–based dating coach Clara Artschwager isn't really sold on the idea that all dates are better without alcohol. But she does believe it changes the dynamic of a date in very interesting ways.

"On a date years ago, I ended up doing some grocery shopping with someone [I had] just shared a coffee with at Chelsea Market. It was fascinating. Watching the way he interacted with the purveyors gave me such a window (much more so than our coffee) on who he was as a person," she says. "It's less about making a hard-and-fast rule around removing the alcohol or not going to a bar, and more so making the space for more dynamic experiences. … We naturally bond through new experiences, so a novel environment is very powerful when it comes to getting to know someone."

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It's probably going to be a lot more awkward.

Yes, that's undeniable.

"Not drinking can definitely increase anxiety," Richardson explains. "A first date is an awkward experience! Being sober ensures that you're really feeling those feelings. But that's not a bad thing!"

Both she and Padgett say dating while sober is probably going to be a lot harder—or frankly just a lot more boring—for a lot of people, but that's totally OK.

"We're not 'supposed' to connect with everyone," Padgett says. "There's nothing wrong with you if you start noticing that the conversation doesn't flow as easily with everyone if you're not drinking. It's actually really great information about your authentic connection with this person. Many of my clients share that once they removed alcohol from their dating life, they had more 'meh' dates or definite no's."

That just means the people who are a total hell yes are going to stick out all the more clearly.

So, should you stop drinking on dates? 

That's a totally personal decision, Artschwager says. It's totally dependent on your own relationship with alcohol, which is unique to you. 

"The more appropriate question to me is 'How does alcohol impact your judgment or behavior when you're getting to know someone?'" she says. "Does it impair your judgment? Does one drink easily lead to five? Do you have a history of leaning too hard into liquid courage and then doing something you regret? And if you do, why? The most important thing to do is gain crystal clarity on your relationship with the substance and how it either helps or harms your ability to make meaningful connections. If you're not sure, revisit some past dating experiences where you did or didn't drink too much. What went down? How did you feel about it? That will aid you in getting more honest with yourself."

Whether alcohol makes you more or less able to be more yourself on your dates and be in the present is your deciding factor here. The answer to that question will be different for everyone.

One thing's for sure: Your decision to drink or not drink on your dates really has no bearing on who you are as a person. 

"We have a tendency to attach a lot of meaning to someone's decision to not drink. It can quickly translate into the thought that that person is less fun, less social, less something. Or that there's something wrong with them," Artschwager says. "For those who prefer to not drink and are navigating dating, I'd say this: The more comfortable you become with this part of yourself, the more comfortable others will become."

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How to navigate drinking culture while dating.

If you decide you just prefer not having alcohol involved in your dating life, sobriety-oriented dating apps like Loosid might be a good move for you so that, as Gottlieb points out, you don't need to explain yourself or worry about weaseling your way out of going to a bar. But of course, even if you meet someone IRL or on a generic dating app, you can always just suggest another activity. 

"I love meeting in parks, or at sunset by the water, or in a dimly lit tea shop," suggests Richardson, who herself is consciously pursuing a sober lifestyle. "Or hey, still go to a bar but get a booze-free cocktail! Bars are a great atmosphere for a first date, after all."

"A date is a date is a date," Artschwager adds. "And if you're on the date and they inquire why you're not drinking...a simple 'It just doesn't make me feel that great' or 'It's just not my thing' is totally fair. If they're uncomfortable with it, that's their thing."

And if you're feeling that awkwardness of being totally sober with a stranger you're trying to let loose with? Lean into it, Padgett recommends. Literally just tell them that you're feeling nervous. It's OK to be nervous! It's OK to be awkward!

"There's so much smoke and mirrors online and especially in the online dating world," she says. "Many people are now craving honesty. And honesty is an essential ingredient for true connection."

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