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“Wanna know something sucky? When you tell people on Tinder that you’re super sober and they stop talking to you.”
This was a text I recently sent to three close friends one afternoon. I was having a handful of conversations with some Tinder cuties, thinking that things were going well. I loudly and proudly had “sober” in my bio, prompting those who were offended by my teetotaling ways to swipe left on my profile, saving both of us boatloads of time.
If I’m being honest, my heart isn’t really into being on Tinder.
Between sobriety and the ending of a long-term relationship a couple of years ago, I have finally found my freedom and liberation. I love and am in love with the life that I have built by myself and for myself. I have never been someone who shapes her life around either existing partners or finding a partner.
If it happens, that’s great. If not, that’s great too because my life is full of people I love, purpose, passion, growth, abundance, and more.
In building a life that I love, I’m not exactly eager to welcome a new person into it who will require me to take time away from the things I love. And I’m also aware that the likelihood of my next partner showing up on my doorstep, during a global pandemic, is slim to none, hence, signing up for Tinder.
The text I sent to my team was less about the personal impact of the abrupt conversation exit after I expanded on my sober life; it was more the unseen and unspoken impact that normative alcohol culture has on people and their perceptions of non-drinkers.
According to data collected by Bumble, 47 percent of those who drink are open to dating someone who is sober. In other words, less than half of those on the popular dating site are even open (let alone eager, excited, and amped up) to date someone who doesn’t drink, aka someone who chooses to not put a poisonous, addictive, neurotoxic drug into their body.
It’s considered normal—indeed, desirable—to drink.
Based on Bumble’s findings, opting out of drinking immediately cuts your dating pool in half, and for those who are hoping to find a mate, this can really put a damper on the prospect of sobriety.
Normative alcohol culture tells us that we should want to drink, that drinking is the solution to so many of our problems, and when we “drink responsibly,” alcohol is fine.
Conversely, normative alcohol culture tells us that non-drinkers and sober folks are boring, no fun, wet blankets who will likely ruin the party, so it’s probably best not to invite us anyway.
Here’s what pervasive messaging tells us about drinkers: they’re fun and outgoing. They like to socialize and have a good time. They’re friendly and popular and viewed by others as attractive, sexy, and desirable—and also, white, wealthy, heteronormative, able-bodied, and so on. This article is less about these particular social identifiers, but they’re worth mentioning.
Here’s what pervasive messaging tells us about non-drinkers: they are the opposite of drinkers in almost every regard. They aren’t social or fun. They’re boring and bring the party down because they “can’t” drink like everyone else, and they’re probably bitter because of it.
Basically, being sober is a drag.
Based on this description, I wouldn’t want to hang out with sober people either.
But here’s the thing: most of the sober people I know are the most fun, funniest, and the most energetic people around. They bring great energy to the spaces they inhabit. They are present and show up as themselves. They love to have fun and go on adventures. The fun and adventures look different than they used to, but they are still fun and adventurous nonetheless.
The misperceptions of sober people are often false, but the narrative is kept alive to keep people stuck and trapped in their alcohol consumption.
The bleak and damning stats mentioned above also serve as another layer (and example of) the subtle social pressures to drink.
As humans, we all have the innate need for love, connection, and belonging. Because we’ve been fed messaging that tells us that drinking enables and secures those needs, the thought of removing alcohol from our lives can feel scary as it threatens those basic human needs. And when we feel threatened, we respond from a fear-based place.
In this case, fear can keep us engaged in drinking because of the loss that normative alcohol culture tells us we’ll experience if we ditch the booze. The most commonly reported fears that many of my clients disclose about entering sobriety are that they will lose their friends and that they won’t have fun anymore.
Don’t underestimate the strength and pervasiveness of this messaging.
We have been brainwashed into believing a plethora of lies about booze and, subsequently, a plethora of lies about those who don’t drink. So much so that we would reject a perfectly lovely stranger (me or someone else) because of messaging we’ve subconsciously absorbed over a lifetime that tells us that a drinking partner is desirable and someone who opts not to put toxic, addictive substances into their body is not.
Read that once again and sit with it. This is all part of the system that keeps us stuck.
Drinking has been made normal, and for the most part, people want to be perceived as normal. It’s easier to not rock the boat or make others feel uncomfortable.
In my own experiences, the mere presence of a sober person can spawn discomfort amongst drinkers not because the sober person has said or done anything but because their presence and their choice to not engage in a system that’s destroying us all can inadvertently prompt others to reflect on their own drinking habits—which they may not wish to do. They may also feel that their drinking is being witnessed (which it is) and judged (which it isn’t), which can result in defensiveness.
Fortunately, none of that has anything to do with the sober person and everything to do with the drinker.
I don’t care about being pre-judged by strangers on the internet.
Truly, I don’t. In fact, I’m grateful to them for demonstrating their interests and values early on so as to save me a bunch of time down the road.
Thank you, internet strangers. My time is precious, and if these are your moves early on, you clearly aren’t for me. And that’s perfectly okay.
I am unapologetically me. I show up as I am and who I am consistently, regardless of who is in the room, and this isn’t going to change any time soon.
I haven’t always been this confident in myself, my skin, my choices, or my sobriety. I’m grateful to be here.
To any folks reading this who may be flirting with the idea of sobriety or, perhaps, you’re already committed and you’re in your early sober days, know this: fear not.
Yes, there will be adjustments in what socializing looks like. And yes, some friends may fall off and, typically, those are the friendships that are glued together by booze. The cold, hard truth is that those folks don’t really know you anyway, and if your relationship is built on a foundation of drinking, it wasn’t terribly stable to begin with.
But the good news is that you will find your people, and they will provide you with the soft landing you deserve. The people who know you and see you and love every single part of you will stick around. You’ll find more of them, and it will be magical.
The more you show up in the world as your authentic self, the more you will attract the same in others. And when people show up in sh*tty ways around and about your sobriety (and they will because we are human and don’t always say and do the right things), please remember that it has next to nothing to do with you and everything to do with normative alcohol culture.
It’s always better to be rejected for being exactly who you are than be accepted for being someone you’re not.
As it turns out, sobriety is an excellent filter, so don’t be shy about using it.