Dating is a hot topic in recovery. Whether the focus is on a relationship that is barely hanging on after addiction and treatment, or connecting with someone new, many are hoping to build a strong relationship in sobriety and relieve some of the loneliness that is commonly felt in the first weeks and months of recovery.
While this inclination is natural and, certainly, it is fair to put some energy into working on a long-term relationship that may be struggling, it is not always the healthiest choice to focus on starting a new romantic relationship early in recovery. The recommendation is to focus instead on growing strong in your recovery and making positive friendships first.
However, if you decide that you are ready to start dating, here are some tips to help you do so with an eye toward continued progress and engagement in your recovery.
1. Be conservative with your personal information. When you first venture out on a date with someone, though the goal is to get to know each better, it is a good idea to be conservative in terms of depth. For example, talking about what you do for a living is reasonable. Talking about an affair you had with your boss while you were living in addiction that ultimately ended his marriage and ruined your reputation is not necessarily a great first date topic.
Similarly, if you are online dating, you want to keep your profile at a surface level when it comes to personal information. Basics like your line of work, number of kids, and your hobbies can help people to get a good idea of who you are, but you don’t need to talk about where you work specifically, give the names of your kids or where they go to school, or even get into the exact bowling alley or paintball location you hit up on the weekends. Consider that not everyone who reads this is someone you want to interact with necessarily. First dates can go horribly wrong sometimes, and you certainly don’t need a stalker in early recovery.
2. Be honest about your recovery. Many people prefer to avoid the topic of their sobriety initially in case the other person’s response is less than polite. Though their goal is to put their best foot forward and avoid too much personal conversation, it is not necessarily something that should be avoided if you feel that this is someone you would like to see again. While it does not have to be the first thing out of your mouth or a recurrent topic of conversation, you can reference your recovery status in conversation with an offhand mention of attending addiction support group meetings or a book that you recently read on the topic of recovery.
3. Pick carefully but avoid judgment. Looking through online profiles or going on a ton of dates can make you really judgmental – not necessarily in a way that protects your emotional vulnerability but in a superficial way. Rather than spending a lot of time online looking at your options, limit yourself to a finite amount of time. There is no rush, and you could end up missing out on someone who is great for you because you didn’t like the shirt they wore in their photo or don’t share the same taste in music.
4. Be honest about who you are. Do not lie or gloss over things about yourself in the hopes of attracting someone. Even an omission borders on “catfishing,” and no good can come of it if you are hoping for a healthy relationship.
5. Respond generously to your dates – even if you aren’t into it. There is no reason to be rude to people. Even if you walk in and know right away that it’s not a good fit, be polite and even interested in what they have to say. You could end up meeting a good friend, and that may be even better for you in recovery. Of course, if you are interested, you want to be supportive and friendly without going overboard. If you have questions, ask, and genuinely engage them in conversation about things that are important to them so you can get a better idea of whether or not this could work.
6. Date creatively. Coffee dates and dinners may be the norm, but you can make dating fun even if the person isn’t a great fit. Hit a museum, go see a band, join a walking tour, or do something that sounds fun to you.
7. Move slowly. Emotionally and physically, it is important to take it slow even if you feel an immediate connection. Nothing can be more harmful to your recovery than getting too involved too fast with someone. If they feel the same way, it can quickly become an all-consuming relationship that bumps your recovery out of the top priority spot. If they don’t feel the same way, it can be a trigger for relapse.
No matter what, your recovery must always remain your top priority. If you do not stay sober, your relationship will ultimately disintegrate into an unhealthy mess or end altogether. Keep going to meetings, keep getting treatment for co-occurring disorders, and keep prioritizing positive lifestyle choices, like healthy eating and getting good sleep, to make sure that your stress levels are as low as they can be as you enter the potentially stressful dating world.