Sober Dating 101: Read This Before you Start a Relationship in Early Recovery

By Megan Krause

It was summer 1996. I was 25, and I had just picked up another newcomer chip. Got a sponsor. Gonna change my life.

There he was. The sickest one in the room. My sponsor had suggested I not date until I finished working my steps, which sounded good on paper. But then I met him.

We went out to dinner, jumped into bed, and got engaged. All before I picked up my 30-day chip.

True story.

There was no happily ever after, however. Turns out my Prince Charming was an HIV-positive psychopath off his meds. He neglected to mention those things to me. To be fair, I was 20 shades of crazy myself.

It ended as well as you would imagine — chaos and cops and threats of homicide and suicide. He’s dead now, murdered several years later in a hotel room in New Hampshire, I hear. I’m finally sober. I did find my Prince Charming — but then I divorced him. Found another. And another.

And another.

Dating in recovery. What a trip.

sober dating

What The Big Book Says

It seems everyone has an opinion on dating in recovery, even if their opinion is that they shouldn’t have an opinion. While the Big Book of Alcoholics is not the be-all end-all on the matter, it does offer some good advice on pages 68-70:

Now about sex. Many of us needed an overhauling there. But above all, we tried to be sensible on this question. It’s so easy to get way off the track.

We want to stay out of this controversy. We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct.

In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal for our future sex life. We subjected each relation to this test — was it selfish or not? We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them.

God alone can judge our sex situation. Counsel with persons is often desirable, but we let God be the final judge.

Sober dating

It’s that “counsel with persons” part that trips some of us up. We often hear advice such as:

  • No dating for the first year
  • No dating until you work your steps
  • No sex
  • You must go out on “real” dates
  • “You’re fishing in the swamp”
  • “You don’t shit where you eat”
  • “It’s like pouring Miracle Gro on your defects of character”
  • “Dating a newcomer is like shopping in the dented can aisle of the supermarket: Once in a while you can find a real bargain, but it’s still a dented can.”
  • For men: “There’s a slip under every skirt”
  • And, for women: “Men will pat you on the ass, women will save it”

What Gives?

We’re not well when we’re new in recovery, and we tend to choose unhealthy partners (see the intro to this article). Sick people hurt others, take emotional hostages, and either try to control everything or expect to get rescued.

“Everybody needs a chance to recover before dating,” says Jesse Valiente, a Phoenix addict with six years sober. “I wasn’t capable of taking care of myself, let alone being in a relationship.”

Most of us are just beginning to get to know who we are. Addicts and alcoholics are codependent creatures (to put it mildly), and we’re also kings and queens of using other things — including people — to avoid looking at ourselves.

Recovery should be number one, and it’s too easy to put our partner first in the tenuous weeks and months of early recovery. Getting into a relationship too soon could lead to relapse.

“Do the work first, with no distractions,” says Jose Ozuna, an alcoholic with five years sober, who met and married his wife in recovery. “Jumping in a relationship in early sobriety is like trying to detox at the dope house.”

Besides, can you really rely on your decision-making skills in early recovery? Most of us have a lousy track record in that area. Give yourself time to recover.

So, When is it Time to Date?

Here’s some good, common sense advice from a few addicts and alcoholics with long-term sobriety and in healthy relationships:

  • “I always suggest my girls stay out of relationships until they have finished the steps and started sponsoring. I know I change as a woman the stronger I get with God, so my ideals will grow as well.” Danika Sweetser, 11 years
  • “If you have experienced a spiritual awakening as a result of the steps, and you’ve shaped a sane ideal for future relationships during the fourth and fifth steps, and you are living in God’s will and not your own selfish will, then you are probably ready.” Julie Erb, 2 years
  • “I always suggest that my girls work the steps first and see where God takes them from there.” Amy Gilliland, 3 years
  • “You are on your own journey. Pray and ask God for guidance, and then meditate until you get the answer. Do your stepwork and stay in fit spiritual condition. Be honest no matter what. It’s not my job to tell another person what they can and cannot do.” Jessica Smith, 19 years

‘We Avoid Hysterical Thinking or Advice’

Again, no one can say for sure, and there are exceptions to every case. But perhaps the best final piece of advice comes from the Big Book:

“See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass.”

Maybe even your Prince or Princess Charming.

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