My first date with Adam was at an old-school ’80s roller rink with flashy neon lights, a disco ball, and Prince blasting through the speakers. It was a refreshing break from my last few first dates, all of which took place in the shadowy glow of dive bars around town. On those dates, the routine was to immediately order drinks and watch the night descend into a blur. The family-friendly rink Adam and I went to didn’t serve alcohol. Honestly, thank god, because if I’d had a few drinks, I would’ve totally fallen on my ass.
“You know, it’s really refreshing to go somewhere that doesn’t center around drinking,” I told him. “We need more spaces like this.”
“Oh, so you don’t drink either?” he asked.
I immediately felt my stomach sink a little bit. I very much enjoy a brunch-time mimosa (especially those bottomless babies) and a few gin and tonics on the weekends. Drinking, while not integral to my life, is a social and recreational activity I do partake in once a week or so. I enjoy going out when I’m in the right mood. I like tasting new beers and cocktails. I believe there’s nothing like relaxing with a smooth glass of red wine.
Adam, it turns out, doesn’t drink at all — he hasn’t touched alcohol in four years — nor does he use any other recreational substances. He used to be a binge drinker, and according to him, “a bit of an alcoholic” who didn’t like the way he behaved when he drank to an excess. I certainly understood why a sober lifestyle worked well for him, but I wondered if it would work for us. I’d never dated someone who was sober, and even on dating apps, I tended to skip over self-proclaimed non-drinkers.
That night, Adam and I chatted over some green tea. The tea, unlike a vodka soda, made me feel healthy and unworried about a hangover. So I thought, Why not? I’ll give this a try.
Five months later, I realize that our sober-not-sober relationship isn’t nearly as big a deal as I thought it would be. In fact, it’s opened my eyes to the many creative things to do sans alcohol. From going vintage shopping to hiking to singing karaoke, Adam and I rarely get bored. And when I want to drink around him, I do. He doesn’t try to stop or control me. I am, however, cognizant about my drinking around him.
But I’m not going to lie. There have been nights when I’ve been at least close to sloppy after drinking too much too quickly or found my head spinning thanks to a particularly strong strain of pot. When that happens, I can tell Adam is annoyed — not at me, per se, but at the situation. I don’t blame him. It’s not like I enjoy it when I’m sober around very drunk people.
Does part of me think we’d have more fun if Adam could also socially drink without fear of doing so to excess? If he could hit a joint with me every now and then? Sure. Intoxicated mischief with partners while basking in the comfort of knowing we’re both being ridiculous and laughing about it can be exciting. It can add a new layer of connection and even trust. But the pros of our relationship outweigh any of the minor cons of not being able to drink or smoke together.
Those “hey, do you really need another one?” moments are becoming fewer and further between. And I don’t wave my drinks around his face. I don’t try to see how many shots I can take in one night. I don’t try to encourage him to drink with me. I respect his choices and his boundaries, and he does the same with me. So despite me being drunk at times and him being totally sober, we don’t have any serious conflict surrounding that.
Strangely enough, when it comes to nightlife, Adam is actually more social than I am. He is out most nights at a show or hanging out with friends. Although that means being around both alcohol and plenty of drunk people, he doesn’t cave to temptation and manages to still have a great time. His sobriety doesn’t stop us from hitting up nightspots I want to check out, and as long as I don’t go too crazy, we both seem to enjoy ourselves.
I’ve had relationships literally built on alcohol. It was the 80-proof glue that held me and many a past partner together. It’d go like this: the first date would be a drunken mess at a bar. The following “dates” would be us drinking at bars, drinking at one of our places, drinking at the movie theater, or drinking at a show. You get the idea. While those boozy flings were sometimes fun, in the long run, I decided they were bad for both my mental wellbeing and my poor liver. I’ll take connecting in ways that are deeper than stumbling around after too many beers any day.
A few weeks ago, Adam and I took a late-ish walk around his neighborhood and realized the only places open were, well, bars. A brand new bar. Old bars. Dive bars. Bougie bars. Which is no surprise. Drinking culture is pervasive in our society. While I enjoy a Moscow mule here and there, I also would love to see more non-drinking establishments that provide late-night fun for couples and friends. That would truly be my cup of (green) tea.