I’m currently single again, a sober divorcée in the strange world of online dating. It’s a new and terrifying experience. How do you allude to your past (and present) situations without lying or scaring off a potential match? The old “I’ve wrestled with my demons and won” line? “I’ve explored all the vices”? How about a simple, “I’m a pretty hot colossal f**k up”?
It’s always a little awkward when a potential date wants to “meet you for a drink.” Telling them you’re sober feels like confessing to some horrible chronic STD. “Listen, before we do this, I need to tell you something...”
Sam, a tiny, tan, and fit photographer, said it nicely, “Dating outside the program can bring up all your insecurities about being a loser, a drug addict, a f**k-up, etc."
I agree. That’s one of the main upsides to dating somebody who’s also sober. You can tell them, “I’ve been in six rehabs, four psych wards, and I’ve been arrested for assault.” And, they’re like, “Of course you have.” The downside is that they, too, are often a ticking time bomb.
Sam continues, “Dating in the program is obviously nice, because you speak the same language and you don't have to hide your ugly past. However, the chance of that person relapsing can also be very high.” And, she would know. During her sobriety, Sam’s had two relationships with fellow sober addicts, but both ended because of their relapses. One of her exes eventually overdosed and died. Dating a fellow addict can feel a bit like betting with the odds against you.
Hannah, a designer with startling blue eyes, is currently in a healthy relationship with a guy who’s been sober for almost 12 years. And, she’s a real cheerleader for sober couples. “Sober guys who are working a program [following the steps recommended by AA and NA] are the greatest. We get so many amazing tools in the program, and if you take them and run with them, then you can be a stellar human and the best version of yourself possible.” But, even she’s been ambivalent. “There have been times when I’ve told myself I would never date a guy in recovery again, but I've wavered. It's very black and white. [The relationships] can be the absolute worst or the best.”
That’s because, beyond the threat of relapse, those in recovery can sometimes substitute one addiction for another. Natasha says, “The main con is that it is guaranteed that this person has a ton of hang-ups and emotional baggage. They may well be using other ways to 'act out' now that using or drinking is off the table.”
My own experience with the program is that other addictions sometimes run rampant, morphing into other areas of their lives. And, it’s not just among the men. Many people, when they finally get sober, develop issues with food, gambling, sex, and spending. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to squelch it in all its myriad forms.
Hannah laughs when I broach the subject: “That [sex addiction] was my entire experience in early sobriety. And, shockingly, I didn't stay sober.”
Well, then if you don’t want to date a sober addict, what about dating a “normal” person — if you can find one who isn’t horrified by your past IV drug use?
Sam is in a seven-month relationship with a “normie,” and it’s going really well. “Normies don't seem to be as self-obsessed as guys in AA, but maybe that is just my experience,” she says. She also finds that leaving behind your addict identity can be helpful.
“The pros are that you can reinvent who you are and not just be ‘an addict,’” Sam says. “My boyfriend now — who is not in the program — doesn't see me as an addict. He sees me as a smart, fun, sexy, loving mom who doesn't drink and who has changed her life. He's not really interested in the details. It's also awesome to have a reprieve from the world of AA, which, quite honestly, can be a fucking bore.”
Sam confesses that her current boyfriend drinks moderately. “He also smokes pot. If there is anything that will jeopardize the relationship, it will be that I don't feel that I can be with someone who drinks as regularly as he does.“
Hannah echoes a similar sentiment, “Normie guys are great, I guess, but I think after some time, it would be too easy to convince myself that maybe I, too, could have ‘just one’ glass of wine with dinner. It's nice to have a sober partner to keep me accountable.” There are also some guys who don’t view women in recovery as long-term partners. One guy told Hannah point blank, “I love fucking you, but you're a transitional girl — not exactly marriage material.”
There are no hard and fast rules. When two people in recovery date, they have a lot in common: the same AA meetings, the same friends, the same problems. With somebody not in recovery, can they really ever understand your plight or your background?
Love is so mysterious and rare. For those of us who are lucky enough to have escaped addiction to drugs or alcohol, there’s still a lot of things to negotiate. Nothing is cut and dry, and love is messy wherever you find it. I say grab it with both greedy hands if you stumble upon it, and do whatever it takes to keep it, as long as it works for you.