Photo by Niklas Hamann
If you’ve spent any amount of time in a sobriety community, you’ve probably heard the recommendation to wait until you’ve gotten a year of sobriety under your belt before you start dating. For some, having an excuse not to date may be just the welcomed encouragement they need to get off the unsatisfying carousel of go-nowhere non-relationships and hookups (or clumsy stabs at hooking up).
For others, this advice may feel like a slap in the face, and even cruel and unusual punishment for trying to do the right thing by getting healthy and well. It might seem like the equivalent of committing to volunteer in a soup kitchen weekly and then being told that, “As a thanks for your commitment, you are not allowed to watch TV or movies or listen to music for a year.”
But, of course, dating goes to far more basic human needs than Netflix, which are love, affection, and companionship, for starters. So what gives? Is the no-dating thing for real, and, if so, why?
Remember, It’s Handed-Down Wisdom, Not Rules
First off, remember that, outside of court-ordered requirements, what you decide to do and not do in your recovery is entirely up to you.
Like so many of the recommendations you will hear from others in your recovery journey, the maxim that you should refrain from dating for a year is not a chiseled-in-stone law sent down from an uncaring and spiteful authority, but rather the product of the wisdom and experiences of many, many thousands of people that have gone down this road before you. Those people have made mistakes – some minor and some catastrophic – and they’ve found ways to personal growth and true happiness, and you can and should learn from them.
Some recommendations you might hear from others in recovery are questionable, in that they may come from people who have situations very different from yours, or who just don’t know what they are talking about. But other recommendations have stood the test of time based on the shared common experience of legions of those who have found a better life, and the cautions on dating fall into this latter category of proven wisdom.
So, Seriously, Why Shouldn’t I Date?
Again, it’s not a matter of what you can and can’t do (although many sponsors will not want to help you if you refuse to heed their advice on big issues such as this one), but what is best for you and your sobriety.
Let’s face it: long before Kesha sang “Your Love is My Drug” and Roxy Music more universally proclaimed “Love Is The Drug,” humanity has been under the intoxication of love, whether that be searching for “the one” or tonight’s hook-up. Spoiler alert, but Romeo and Juliet didn’t kill themselves for nothing. Going back even further, the Old Testament’s biggest hero King David saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof and promptly committed murder because “her moonlight and the beauty overthrew” him. Samson didn’t fare so great either, and half the Roman deities seemed to have lost their place among the gods thanks to that lust for human love.
You get the point – love is a drug that rivals just about anything out there. But love is a good thing, right? The thing you’re supposed to be focused on instead of alcohol, cocaine, or whatever other drug of choice, yeah?
So why not replace the drug that’s tearing up your life and your body with the many-splendored thing called love, you know the one that promises to make you whole and give you the life you actually want by providing you with a person (or persons, depending on your approach) to cherish and serve?
Because, first of all, that’s not really love. That’s an external solution for a spiritual problem that only you and your higher power can resolve. And, even if you do have a more healthy concept of love, the overwhelming odds are that you don’t have the tools to actually achieve that quite yet.
And your sincere attempts at trying to find love before you’re ready to do so can mean a broken heart for you and collateral damage for whoever has the misfortune of being on the receiving end of your perhaps well-intentioned but sloppy efforts.
What do you get when you mix heartbreak, regret, shame, and sexual/relationship frustration?
You get an excuse to relapse that surpasses just about anything else you can imagine.
But won’t that always be the case with lovesickness and sobriety? You bet. But by giving yourself a year to build up your sobriety, you will develop the tools and network you need to withstand the storm when it will inevitably come and ride the waves of love and loss without sacrificing your sobriety.
Adding to that, you probably already know that you’re going to be a far better version of yourself in a year than you are now. Don’t you want to be with the person who’s attracted to that future version of yourself?
Now you might be thinking, “I’m not trying to find love, I’m just trying to have a little fun and keep it casual.” Well, good luck with that. Without opining too much on hook-up culture, let’s just say that achieving a healthy sex life that promotes your sobriety while “keeping it casual” is probably way harder than finding “the one.” And using people for sex – or letting people use you for sex – is more or less incompatible with your early sobriety goals of spiritual wholeness and personal responsibility, no matter how well you think you’ve got it under control.
The Intimacy Your Heart Actually Craves
Does this mean you have to sit on your hands and watch “Gilmore Girls” reruns by yourself in your room for the next year? Absolutely not (although a day or three of that may be just the ticket at times). Many addicts struggled to form real friendships throughout their life, seeing other people as a commodity and means to an end, with sex and affection being among the hottest of commodities. Use this time to deepen existing relationships, and develop new friendships, both in and out of the rooms.
If you’re like the majority of people who have found happiness in sobriety, you’re probably going to find that your friendships – both new and renewed – give you more intimacy than you’ve ever known.
And when it is time to get out there and pursue the love and affection that your heart longs for, those people are going to be by your side in the good times and bad, which means you’ll be laughing and crying with them, not running for the chemical solution that only puts more distance between you and the relationships that you truly want.