Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and everyone has ‘love’ on the brain. For recovering addicts, however, romantic relationships can be a tricky subject. Dating in recovery can be particularly challenging and adds an extra layer of uncertainty to an already nerve-wracking situation. While there are no hard and fast rules for dating while in recovery, there are a few guidelines that can help make the process easier (and without sacrificing your progress). Before diving into the particulars of how to successfully date while in recovery, let’s address the elephant in the room: how soon can a recovering addict start dating in the first place?
When is it okay to start dating again?
Jumping from a relationship to another is rarely a good idea. There’s no set timeframe, but dating early in recovery is universally advised against. The general consensus is that recovering addicts should wait about 6 months to a year after treatment to consider romantic relationships.
Recovery is intended to be a time of intense self-reflection and introspection and being newly in love can be incredibly distracting. The first stages of a relationship are exhilarating and can have you prioritizing your new romantic interest over yourself.
At the same time, recovery is a lifelong journey that never really ends so a recovering addict may not ever feel truly “ready”. One of the best ways to go about this is to involve your support system. Speak to your therapist or your sponsor, someone who is invested in your recovery and has witnessed your personal growth. They’ll be very helpful in determining if you’re at a stage of recovery where it’s okay to start dating again.
Risks of dating too early
Aside from negatively impacting your progress, there lies the risk of recovering addicts falling into harmful, codependent, or otherwise dysfunctional relationships that marked their past. Then there’s the risk of the relationship going south which is always an upsetting experience. If the recovering addict hasn’t yet internalized healthier coping mechanisms, they’re likely to turn back to their old ways to cope (a.k.a.: relapse) and end up back at square one.
Tips for Dating in Recovery
Once you’ve successfully mastered the foundations of recovery and are sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, learning how to navigate the dating scene while staying sober becomes the next biggest challenge. How do you relax on a date if you can’t drink (or use your other drug of choice)? How do you bring up that you’re in recovery – do you even tell them at all? These are just a few of the questions a recovering addict needs to ask themselves before diving into the dating pool once more.
Have sober date ideas ready: Whether you feel comfortable telling your new romantic interest about your struggle with addiction, it’s always helpful to have an arsenal of non-triggering date ideas at the ready. Next time when someone asks to meet up for a drink (or anything that might be potentially compromising), say something like “The weather is beautiful, I actually wanted to show you my favorite park in the city”. This is still useful if you’re comfortable with being forthcoming and letting your date know that you are sober from the very beginning. You’ll be ready with suggestions for someone who might otherwise be stumped at ideas for first-dates that don’t center around bars.
Don’t date someone from a place you visit frequently: Places like your local grocery store or your job might seem like a perfect place to meet people. However, if dating goes badly, you might no longer feel comfortable going to these places. This risks a disruption to your routine (which we all know is an important part of the recovery process). If these places are key to your recovery like a 12 step meeting group, the damage is even greater.
Keep your recovery support group close: It’s very distressing when a relationship doesn’t work out. Having people to talk to allows you to process your feelings which can prevent you from turning to booze or other drugs to cope. Plus, relationships can quickly become all-consuming and a close support group can keep you from getting too distracted from recovery.
Date someone who’s also sober: The easiest way to go about dating in recovery is to find someone who had similar experiences as you. They’ll understand what you’re going through which takes off a lot of the pressure of meeting someone new while in recovery. Perhaps best of all is that you won’t have to deal with the stigma of addiction. This will circumvent some of the awkwardness that comes with telling someone you’re in or recently entered recovery. One of the easiest ways to do this is through sober dating apps.