The Short Version: Since 1998, Mountainside has offered programs and resources to help people dealing with alcohol and drug addiction recovery. The treatment center has trained experts who can mentor individuals in making a fresh start with healthier habits. Recovery Coaches Stephanie Mahoney and Ean Szalan have been in the recovery community for years and can offer practical advice for singles looking to date while maintaining a sober lifestyle.
The dating world is full of temptation. It may start with a little harmless flirtation, but things could get real quickly once someone asks “Can I buy you a drink?” This question is a standard invite for first dates, but it can pose a quandary for singles who are in recovery for alcohol or drug addiction.
Singles may feel pressure to go with the flow and get a drink with a potential love interest, so they need to look out for their well-being and draw the line when they feel uncomfortable.
For over 20 years, Mountainside treatment center has created a support network for alcohol and drug addiction recovery, and its team of experts can provide guidance in all aspects of the sober life, including how it impacts dating.
Stephanie Mahoney and Ean Szalan are recovery coaches at Mountainside and work with people who are in recovery for alcohol and drug addiction. Stephanie has been in recovery for four years, and Ean has been in recovery for seven years. They share their stories to give inspiration and hope to people on similar paths.
We asked Stephanie and Ean to share their insights on how to meet dates and build relationships as person in recovery. They urge people in recovery to set clear expectations from the beginning and take ownership of who they are and what kind of life they want to lead.
“I’m a firm believer that anybody can wear any outfit as long as they wear it with confidence, and it’s the same thing with sobriety,” Stephanie said. “If you say it with confidence, it can be an attractive thing because you show this higher level of self-awareness and strength.”
Be Honest About Who You Are & What You Want
People who struggle with addiction often do so in the shadows because they fear the judgment they will receive from their friends, family members, and peers. They don’t want to carry the stigma of being an addict, so they keep their pain quiet. However, they inadvertently do a disservice to themselves and the people in their lives who could offer support and consolation.
Mountainside’s recovery coaches share their stories and struggles to raise awareness about what addiction really looks like. It’s not just a homeless person or bar fly — it’s a lawyer, a business executive, or a doctor struggling every day to resist temptation.
Stephanie said she understands how easy it is to bend to peer pressure and drink to fit in, but it can be empowering to come out as a confident sober person in recovery.
“I think the misconception that you can’t have fun without alcohol is a detriment to society,” Stephanie said. “I’ve had more fun and genuine laughter in sobriety than I ever did while drinking.”
Daters may have preconceived notions about drug or alcohol addiction, but those ideas can change if someone they know shares their experience in recovery. By being honest, individuals can educate others about the reality of addiction and how many people this disease impacts.
People in recovery can foster stronger relationships by being honest about who they are and why they don’t drink. They don’t have to get into all the details on a first date, of course, but they should be clear about their choices and avoid making fake excuses for their sober lifestyle.
“Within our first three dates, I’ll usually say I’m in recovery,” Ean said. “I’d rather be honest in the beginning and say this is how it is and don’t view me based on my past.”
“I’d say be honest as early as possible,” Stephanie added. “That leaves less room for hiding your sobriety and potentially relapsing because you want to fit in.”
Suggest Alternative Date Activities Outside the Bar Scene
Some daters use drinking as their go-to icebreaker in the dating scene. They can justify it by saying it relaxes their nerves on a first date, but it can also inhibit judgment and lead to bad experiences or unsafe situations. And, for people in recovery, it can pose a serious health risk.
Singles don’t have to go out drinking to meet new people, enjoy flirty conversations, and have a great time. They can suggest sober dating activities — hiking, picnicking, kayaking, etc. — to explore their interests alongside another person.
“It gives you the opportunity to get more creative with what you do on a date,” Stephanie said. “That opens the door to a relationship that has more depth.”
Whether they’re visiting a museum or playing putt-putt golf, daters can create a more memorable date experience by going outside the bar scene.
Singles can also counter an invitation to a bar with an invitation to get coffee or tea. These types of interview-style dates are common and tend to be just as low-key and inexpensive as dates at a bar.
Suggesting an alternative date activity is a good way to find out how receptive and adventurous your date prospect is. It’s a test to see how similar your lifestyles and expectations are. If that person is unable to imagine dating outside of a bar, you’re probably not compatible anyway.
Of course, sometimes a bar can offer a good dating activity through karaoke nights or comedy shows, and then it’s up to the individual to decide if they have the willpower to go and not drink. Ean said he has gone on bar dates and ordered non-alcoholic beverages with the simple explanation of “I’m not drinking tonight.” If the person asks follow-up questions, he’ll answer honestly that he’s in recovery.
“Whatever you decide to say depends on how you feel about that person and how you feel about yourself,” Ean said. “As time went on, I got to know myself, and I became more comfortable just saying ‘Hey, I don’t drink, and this is who I am.'”
Choose a Romantic Partner Who Fits Into Your Sober Lifestyle
It’s easy to focus on superficial qualities when seeking a date, but it takes more than good looks and a quick wit to make a relationship work over the long run.
People in recovery have faced personal demons and broken self-destructive cycles, and they need to continue moving forward by cultivating healthy relationships. That means choosing a partner who is supportive and nonjudgmental.
Stephanie and Ean agreed that it doesn’t matter so much if a date prospect has experience with alcohol or drug addiction themselves — it matters if they are compassionate and positive influences on someone in recovery.
A romantic partner can be instrumental in keeping a person on the right path and providing encouragement in the sober lifestyle. But people in recovery should also hold themselves accountable and not depend too heavily on another person. Mountainside experts urge people in early recovery to hold off on dating or starting a new relationship for a few months to a year.
“You need to make sure you’re a whole person before dating someone,” Stephanie said. “Make sure you have a strong sober network that can identify with your disease.”
The coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges to addiction treatment centers like Mountainside, but Ean said he’s encouraged by the growing trend of virtual support meetings. These video meetups are easily accessible and can make newcomers feel more at ease.
“You don’t have the anxiety of going in person and sitting alone,” he said. “You can even turn the camera off and mute yourself if you want to stay anonymous at first.”
Stephanie pointed to the recovery coaching resources as another way for people to continue moving forward and find motivation and support within the recovery community.
“We want to give hope to people who are hopeless,” she said. “It’s not an easy road, but it’s a road that’s worth it.”
Mountainside Supports Daters Moving Forward
Going out for drinks is a dating norm that doesn’t work for everyone. People in recovery can struggle to find their comfort zone in the dating scene, but those challenges can push them to be more authentic and vulnerable with a potential partner.
“It can be uncomfortable in the beginning,” Stephanie acknowledged. “But you have to be uncomfortable in order to grow.”
Stephanie and Ean know that change is possible because they’ve seen it in their own lives and the lives of the people they work alongside. Mountainside runs five treatment centers in Connecticut and New York, and its recovery programs have given hope to many individuals who feel trapped in a toxic cycle.
“It’s about making goals, taking steps to reach those goals, and holding themselves accountable,” Ean said. “We’re here to help people and guide them to reach their potential.”