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sober etiquette

SOBER ETIQUETTE- Social Sobriety for men and women.

In preparing to write this post, I researched multiple so-called sober etiquette experts on the internet. Not just the concepts but even the language in the posts struck me as outdated- even chauvinist. One suggested dropping my coat over a puddle to protect her shoes. Really? And then where do I put my sopping wet and muddy coat? I commented that I wasn’t planning on picking her up on a horse. I got no reply.

I decided the best way to understand modern etiquette was to ask modern women and men. The answers varied by age, education, and socio-economic status.

I began by asking a group of women in their freshman year at Yale how they felt about men opening doors, paying tabs, and offering coats. Was it welcomed or insulting. Stella, my contact with the group, said that they would discuss it and give me their findings.

“Okay”, said Stella, “the consensus is that it is a contested topic. Kindness and politeness are always welcome in dating and should be priorities.” She said that insistence was the problem. “If a woman would like to split, or as a gesture, pay for a meal, she should be allowed to do so without the man feeling that his masculinity is being questioned.”

When asking men, It evoked emotions ranging from pride, to confusion, to anger. The older the gentleman the more traditional his view, for the most part.

Some of the younger men felt that women are trying to have it both ways; that they had to properly assess what their date wanted or risk offending them no matter which way they acted.
To which the young group of females replied, “Yes, we would like to be treated with openness and respect. Perhaps you could ask if you’re confused.” Boom.

Their conclusion was that it is welcomed and acceptable to offer to open doors, pay checks, and offer coats, but that it should not be taken as an insult if they decline.

Money Etiquette

o If you ask someone out, you pay, unless your date makes known their desire to split it. Yes, even in online dating. If you are the one being treated it’s good form to offer to cover the tip, get coffee and dessert, or cover the Valet. It shows that you are grateful, conscious of the cost, and a team player.

o If you are recovering financially as well as physically and can’t afford a nice dinner then ask them to coffee or a casual lunch. If you can’t afford to take your date to coffee, you are not ready to date.

o Don’t bring treats to the theatre to save money unless you are already exclusive and have discussed it.
o Don’t bring a teabag to the restaurant and ask for hot water if it’s one of the first few dates (yes, this happened to 2 different women I interviewed). If it’s a special medicinal tea you can explain that before a later date. Not on the first date. It makes you look cheap and earns you the nickname ‘the teabagger’.

o Never skimp on the tip to save money; it’s very unattractive. Stinginess is not responsible- it’s cheap!

o Never discuss finances, good or bad, with someone you just started dating.


The consensus with regard to appropriate cell phone etiquette was, never put your phone on the table when on a date. It tells your date that you don’t want to miss out on something more important. While at the table you should set your phone to ‘do not disturb’. Even setting it to vibrate will be distracting and discourteous. If you think you might want to see her again then your best option is to turn it off.

Most of the younger people agreed with this dictum in theory. They considered it very respectful but agreed that, in practice, it no longer happens. Both genders said they would be impressed if the other were to actually turn their phone off. Ah, the good old days when you could go to a restaurant and hear both sides of stranger’s conversations. Eavesdropping ain’t what it used to be.

Exception: You are expecting a very important call. In this case, tell her you are expecting the call and tell her the nature of the call. Secrecy breeds suspicion.

o If your date leaves her phone unattended, always avoid the temptation to look at it.

o If her phone rings, whether she takes the call or not, do not ask ‘who was that?’. She will tell you who it was if she wants you to know. You are unlikely to know the person so it comes off as jealousy or possessiveness. Neither will earn you points with a healthy person.

o Avoid long phone conversations and text message exchanges. You are not seeking a virtual girlfriend. Set a date. Yep, that’s what the girls said.


Your shoes should always be clean unless you are midway through a hike. No excuses. The consensus of the women was that this is true. The consensus of the men was that there was no consensus. One of the younger gentlemen said, “really, why? That’s not me. I want to be authentic” to which I had no reply because I found myself pondering his point.
You should always be clean; bathed or showered with special attention to fingernails and dental hygiene. I spent more than 20 years as a hair stylist so I’ve heard the details of hundreds, if not thousands, of first dates. Just these issues have prevented many a second date and you will never know why you were rejected. She’s never going to say, “I was interested but your breath was nasty”. You just won’t get another date.

I had a good friend who was tall, handsome, intelligent and charming. He had more first dates with beautiful women than almost anyone I know. His other guy friends and I could not figure out why the women would disappear within a few dates. One day I noticed an odd and disturbing odor as he was speaking to me. I wrote it off to a bad meal or just a bad day. When I spoke with him again I noticed the same unpleasant emanation. I subtly offered him a breath mint but he said he doesn’t like the taste of mint. Now what?

Since I only saw him every few weeks or so I forgot about it. One day I was hanging out with one of his other close friends and lo and behold, he mentioned it too! We decided one of us would have to talk to him. Being slightly more tactful than his other friend, I got the unenviable job.

I rehearsed scenarios in my mind until I was convinced I could be tactful. With all the courage I could muster, I marched in to the coffee shop where we planned to meet. We discussed the usual subjects; girls, sports, and work. When the check came, I knew it was time. I told him that I had dealt with a similar problem and that a good friend had gently made me aware. He reacted with a combination of anger and embarrassment and stormed out, leaving me the tab.

I never saw him again but saw on social media that he had married the very next girl he dated. Mission accomplished.


Never stop by unannounced. No good thing has ever come of it. Both men and women were in complete agreement on this one.

If your date runs into someone she knows, does sober etiquette dictate that you should you stand by quietly and wait for her to introduce you? Or, introduce yourself to the person with whom she is speaking?

Introduce yourself without any extraneous information. You don’t need to say, “Hi, I’m her boyfriend Greg”. I’m Greg, nice to meet you, will suffice. You want to avoid coming off as aloof but you also want to avoid appearing possessive.

Conversely, if you should happen across someone you know, introduce your date and then move along. It’s rude to extend the conversation beyond niceties.

Men should always walk on a woman’s left side.
Exception: Military men walk on the right so as to be ready to salute. The new etiquette says this rule is arbitrary and most of the men I interviewed felt they should position themselves between their date and any possible danger. This was acceptable across all groups.

o If you wear cologne (or perfume, ladies) or aftershave lotion, use it in moderation- you want to attract, not distract. If she isn’t close enough to kiss you, she should not be able to smell you. If you apply aftershave lotion with your hands, wash them thoroughly with soap and water. You shouldn’t transfer your scent to another person when you shake hands.

o Don’t try to impress her with style that is not your own. How do you know if you can pull off a certain look? If you don’t feel completely comfortable wearing it, you can’t.

o If you are forgiven after you apologize, don’t revisit the subject. It rarely goes any better the second time around. You are only likely to re-offend.

o Keep your focus on your date. If you are constantly scanning the room it will appear that you are scouting out other possibilities even if you aren’t.

o If she pays you a compliment accept it graciously. False humility is a sign of arrogance. Just say, “thank you, that’s very kind of you”.

o Take off your hat indoors; no matter how cool you think it looks. While this has been a traditional rule, the young people I interviewed had very mixed opinions. Remove your hat when meeting her parents, family, or close friends; in church, during the National Anthem, in theaters (so as not to block the view), or when first meeting someone. Feel free to wear it outside, in a coffee shop or casual restaurant, or when it is legitimately cold out.


One of the most common gifts to bring to a party host is wine, or some other alcoholic beverage. If you’ve been sober many years you may be comfortable doing that. If not, here are some gifts to consider:

 Exotic Coffee Beans or Loose-Leaf Tea
 Flowers in a vase
 A Guest Book- be sure to write a thank you in it
 A Card Explaining Why You’re Grateful for Them
 Decorator candles
 Essential oil with warmer
 Guest soaps
 Tickets to an event you know they’ll like
 A visa card to cover babysitting

Anything homemade and thoughtful is appropriate.

Always keep the tastes of the host in mind if you know them.

If you are taking your date to an event at a private residence, bring a small gift to the host. Include your date; “we brought you a little something”.

TABOO SUBJECTS ON SOBER FIRST DATES (or any date for that matter)

Financial status- good or bad.
Medical problems
Family problems

Do not discuss (gossip about) people who are not there- no matter how innocent the topic.
Subconsciously, she will believe you will do the same to her when she isn’t present. Besides, it’s just cowardly and unattractive.

We would love to hear your comments, horror stories, and additional suggestions on your experiences in sober etiquette!

1 Comment
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