Author of 'The Sober Girl Society Handbook', Millie Gooch shares her top tips for dating without alcohol
I used to think that the only thing scarier than the prospect of a first date was the prospect of a first date without a sizeable amount of wine. Now, three years alcohol-free with a sober stint on Bumble behind me, I’m here to tell you that not only is dry dating bearable but it’s actually a more efficient and far easier way to find the next love of your life.
Thanks to alcohol’s ability to create fireworks from practically nothing (think ‘gin goggles’), we can often overestimate our compatibility and sexual chemistry with someone when there’s a lot of boozing involved. More crucially, we’re also less likely to spot red flags and ignore things that might indicate that this person is totally wrong for us.
Still, dating with absolute clarity is easier said than done. For whatever reason you’re deciding to skip the Dutch courage, here are some tips on navigating those tricky first date hurdles without a glass of fizz.
To tell or not to tell?
If your date doesn’t already know that you’re not drinking, then there’s the inevitable internal debate about whether you should divulge this information upfront or simply spring it on them when it’s too late for them to back out. Personally, I’d go with the former. Not necessarily for their sake but for yours.
When you’re already nervous, there’s no point unnecessarily stressing beforehand about what they’re going to say when you do eventually get around to telling them. In my experience, most people will react positively (one even agreed to do our date sober, too!) meaning you can go into the date more confidently. On the rare chance that they don’t react nicely, at least you can cancel then and there, saving yourself a wasted evening with someone who definitely isn’t for you!
Time and location are both helpful to consider in the case of dry dating. Daytime dates are generally great because there’s less pressure to drink. Things like going for a walk or having a coffee are always easy options and there’s the added bonus that you can duck out pretty swiftly if it’s not going well. Often there is a pressure with drinking dates where you can feel obligated to stretch them out for the entire evening or at least “stay for one more”, so choosing something with an obvious finishing point can work well. Similarly, choosing an activity like mini-golf or a bike ride where the main focus isn’t drinking, is ideal if you’re nervous about the thought of sitting opposite someone and having to make small talk without a cocktail in hand.
What’s on offer?
Sometimes, going to the bar is the easiest option. So in this case, try and suggest somewhere that has a good alcohol-free selection, so you’re not stuck choosing between Diet Coke or an orange juice. You can check out menus beforehand, or look on their Instagram page for inspiration. If it’s a cocktail bar, it’s likely they can mix you up something without the booze. Bars are often better for their alcohol-free selection than pubs, but the latter are definitely stepping it up so don’t dismiss them straight away. Often, you will actually have to ask if they carry any non-alcoholic options as they’re frequently left off the menu.
The awkward questions
Unless you’ve already told them beforehand, it is almost guaranteed that your date will ask you why you’re choosing not to drink. Ultimately, this is none of their business. But I mainly find that people ask because they’re interested and not because they’re trying to mock your life choices. Rather than immediately getting defensive and awkward, I’m usually quite forthcoming and honest about the reasons I choose not to drink. Being authentic with someone from the beginning is a great way to gauge your compatibility and nine times out of 10, the person has actually commended me on my decision.
Things to remember
Keep in mind that “not drinking” doesn’t define who you are, in the same way being a non-smoker doesn’t. For some reason, our cultural norm around alcohol can make anyone who isn’t drinking feel “less than” or, more frustratingly, “boring”. You have so many amazing, fun, and wonderful qualities as a human that if whoever you choose to date sees your choice not to drink as a deal-breaker, well then you’re better off without them! Try and enjoy the date, even if it’s a shocker – at least you won’t be hungover in the morning.
Millie Gooch is one of the leading voices in the ‘sober curious’ movement, and founder of the Sober Girl Society Instagram community, fans of which include Sam Smith, Bryony Gordon, and Jameela Jamil’s iWeigh.
'The Sober Girl Society Handbook' by Millie Gooch will be published by Bantam Press in hardback from 14 January 2021.