A few weeks ago, there was an adorable article in the paper about dating — ideas for first dates, anniversary dates, sweet little restaurants in the greater Portland area, etc. Since I’m single and need all the help I can get, I eagerly read it. Meredith Goad is a great writer, and it was a good article, but I couldn’t help but notice that every single recommendation within it involved alcohol in some way or another. And the article specifically said you shouldn’t go for coffee on a first date, because “it isn’t romantic enough.”

Dating is hard. Dating as a recovering alcoholic is harder.

When I went through my last breakup, I had two main worries. One was that I would die alone and unloved and that my cat would eat my body. The second was that I wouldn’t be able to date while sober.

You don’t realize just how ingrained alcohol is with our culture until you can’t have it anymore. And then it’s everywhere. Let’s say I match with someone on Tinder and start chatting and ask them on a date. And they say “Sure! What about (very nice bar with craft cocktails)?” So then I have a choice. I can immediately say something like “I’m not comfortable in a bar setting” and then have to explain why, or I can suck it up, agree to the bar, make myself enter the uncomfortable space, stare at all the fancy alcohol I can’t have, and then order a soda — and then have to explain why.

I’m not ashamed of being a recovering alcoholic — in fact, I’m quite proud of my sobriety — but it’s not exactly a fun and flirtatious first-date conversation topic. You don’t normally have to dump your worst fears or childhood traumas on the table on the first date, but because of our weird social rituals, I sort of have to put the biggest problem I have right on the line from the start. I don’t even get much time to lure prospective partners in with my sparkling personality first before they have to decide how much time or energy they want to invest in someone who can’t really be around alcohol.

Fortunately, I have been very lucky so far. In addition to getting actual people to agree to go on dates with me (which is a pretty big accomplishment for me), they have all been very chill and understanding when I disclose that I don’t drink anymore and prefer not to be around large quantities of alcohol. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, and young people are more hip to sobriety, or if it’s a Maine thing, or maybe I am just lucky in this one very specific sense.

In my personal opinion, one of the best first-date (or any-date) spots I’ve ever been to is Elements in Biddeford. If you’ve never been, it’s a coffee shop/bookstore that also happens to serve beer and wine. So there is alcohol present, but it isn’t front-and-center the way it is at most bars and restaurants; and there are plenty of appealing non-alcoholic options. Also, since it’s a bookstore, the vibe is low-key and chill and books are everywhere, which I happen to find very sexy. (I understand not everyone feels this way about books.) While I understand people who might not find it atmospheric, I personally like coffee for a first date because first dates, when done properly, leave you filled with energy and excitement for what the future might hold. And in a pinch, coffee has the same effect.

Dates can be a little scary — figuring out what to wear, going somewhere, meeting someone, making small talk, trying to impress them but not too much, whether or not to go for a kiss at the end — a glass of liquid courage makes everything a lot easier. It smoothes out the edges. But it’s no longer an option for me. I have to gather up real, actual courage, the kind that comes from the gut and the spine, to make my move.

And what I am coming to discover is that something done with Real, Actual Courage feels a lot more triumphant than anything done with the aid of liquid courage.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial


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