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Explore ways to date safely while prioritizing yourself and your sobriety

Jennifer Hardney, M.A., LPC, NCC
• April 25, 2022

A quick swipe right, and it is a MATCH! You start with a flurry of text messages and recognize a vibe between you and this newly found single. The next step would be to ask them out, but they beat you to it, suggesting, “How about drinks?”

As you stare at the device in your hand, you wonder, “Do I say I can’t and risk losing a person I feel connected with?” Or perhaps: “Do I jeopardize my sobriety by putting myself in an uncomfortable setting?” Maybe it’s: “Am I in a good place in recovery for this?” The thoughts roll on, sometimes feeling so overwhelming that you want to give up.

Experts and the 12-step sobriety guidelines suggest refraining from dating while working on early sobriety and then for a minimum of one year after being sober. The goal of this suggestion is to shift focus to ourselves and regain our internal power while garnering techniques to navigate stress and triggers. In addition to shifting the focus internally, it is also equally important to develop a new socialization setting and do the best to not engage in new patterns of risky behavior that can lead to failing to address core underlying addiction issues, various aspects of your mental health, or even cross-addictions. But how does this serve the basic human craving for a connection with others?

Early recovery can sometimes feel like an exceptionally lengthy process, but it is also recognized as a very lonely one. While there is no timekeeper that waves the flag of when it is safe to date in recovery, read on for a few ways to engage the idea as safely as possible:

  1. Be mindful of and confident in who you are. It is easy to say you know who you are, but the truth is, substance use warps your perception of how you see yourself. Typically, by the time someone enters recovery, they do not have the best sense of identity. So, when dating, take stock of your emotional resilience, move slowly, and engage in mindfulness to remain emotionally balanced. Remember, the priority should always be preserving yourself and your recovery first. Doing so will not only benefit you but will allow you to be a better partner in the long run.
  2. Honesty is the best policy. While many people have concerns about dating someone who is sober, do not take this as a negative. Being upfront signifies a new stage in your recovery because you are no longer hiding; you are walking into your new stage in life exuding confidence. You are also setting clear intentions and expectations for yourself, others and your support network.
  3. Know your environment. The worst thing a person in sobriety can do is allow someone to encroach on their boundaries. Healthy boundaries are meant to safeguard your overall well-being, and less about pleasing your potential partner. Therefore, when seeking to dive deeper into bonding time, challenge yourself to embrace environments that are void of substances and explore new hobbies such as pottery or hiking. Potential partners that are not supportive or respectful of your need to live a sober life, can cause emotional damage and potential relapses. So, remain aware of your interactions, they are the best indicators for knowing when to move on or reaffirm your boundary.
  4. Be selective. Life can sometimes feel like a solitary experience, especially trying to navigate it sober. When choosing to dive back into the dating pool it is important to recognize that you should not rush into a relationship nor should you date someone in recovery. Dating someone going through a similar journey seems like it would make the process easier. However, in some cases it implies a false sense support and can lead into further issues of codependency and possibly a relapse. As you are making your choices, be aware that you are not selecting similar partners as you would have when you were not in recovery. As you grow more confident remember that we teach people how to treat us, so do not be scared to demand to be treated differently and if that is not met walk away and recognize the growth.
  5. Keep a support network and continue filling your toolbox. Recovery and its management are hard work that deserves your full attention and cooperation in order to cope with new sober challenges. The worst thing you can say to yourself while sober and dating is that you don’t need help. Vulnerability is a skill that can deepen your bond between your potential partner, yourself, and your sober network. Therefore, do not fear reaching out to them. Continue to surround yourself with as many supportive and positive individuals as you can, and practice new methods to navigate a sober world.

Overall, dating requires a personal investment in honesty and the willingness of both parties to communicate and be upfront about their feelings. Even though managing the throws of dating and sobriety can be stressful, approach the experience by first recognizing your preparedness and, most importantly of all, how much you genuinely love your whole sober self.

Jennifer Hardney, M.A., LPC, NCC

Therapist

Ms. Hardney is a graduate of DePaul University with a bachelor’s in psychology concentrating on Human Development. She earned her master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Adler University as well as a certificate in Substance Abuse counseling in 2018.