During a therapy session I was sitting with a very bright, successful, attractive and single thirty-something who was expressing her frustrations about the dating scene. “Every time I agree to go out with someone new, things feel great for the first two dates and I get really excited. And then reality sets in and I realize either we actually have very little in common, I’m not so attracted to him after all, or there are big issues that somehow got ignored.” We were both curious about why her judgment was initially “off” and how she was able to ignore the red flags that suddenly seemed to reappear after a few dates.
In the past, when I thought it was relevant, I’ve asked my clients to notice how much alcohol got consumed during the date itself, and whether or not there was a connection between alcohol use and sexual boundaries. However, it never occurred to me to ask about “pre-gaming”; drinking at home or in a nearby bar before going out on the actual date. In the case of the aforementioned client, I was genuinely surprised to discover that she was drinking, on average, three glasses of wine before her date rang the doorbell to pick her up. She also confirmed that “most of her friends” drink before going out with someone new.
A Disturbing Phenomenon
When I began to research this, I discovered it’s a real and disturbing phenomenon. A 2014 survey found that “36.4 of singles drink before going out,” and “nearly 50% drink an average of two to three drinks during the date.” There are even on-line guides to “pre-date drinking” with advice that includes, “show up early enough to do your early drinking” and “keep moving around every so often so you don’t get too wrecked.” Many single people are still meeting up in bars and alcohol can be a social lubricant as well as a means to quell the anxiety and inherent vulnerability that “putting yourself out there” can evoke.
Although it seems as if alcohol provides short-term relief by “loosening you up,’ boosting confidence, and making you feel “more relaxed,” it also impairs judgment and creates a false sense of comfort and connection. My client’s initial positive reactions and first impressions about potential boyfriends were colored and distorted by alcohol. In subsequent dates when she met with them sober, the “truth” about how she felt in their company and what she noticed about who they really were came into focus.
The Benefits of Sobriety
What I am learning is the importance of encouraging my clients to do “sober dating.” It’s important to normalize their anxiety about meeting someone new, and to trust that if it’s the right person that anxiety will begin to dissipate. Sober dating will also decrease the likelihood of prematurely engaging in sex or taking sex farther than intended. In truth, the only way to get an accurate take on the other person, to truly assess if there is a real connection, and to be in touch with one’s own instincts about how it feels to be in their company is to pursue this endeavor in a sober state. And needless to say, this becomes even more important when driving is involved!