Hilary Sheinbaum is a journalist and author of “The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month."
In fall 2015, I met a guy named Will at a costume party on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He was tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes, smart and flirtatious.
We were both single 20-somethings, drinking mixed concoctions out of Solo Cups and wearing ridiculous outfits (I was dressed as a panda. He was an American Gladiator). We exchanged contact information and made plans to see each other in the week ahead.
Over the course of a month, Will and I went on five dates -- four of which involved alcohol. He proved to be handsome, charming, courteous and an all-around great guy. But, truth be told: I couldn’t tell if there was a spark, and drinking certainly wasn’t helping me analyze the situation. In the end, we amicably went our separate ways.
In 2018, Will and I reconnected as friends. By then, two-plus years had passed. In between our first encounter and our reintroduction, I had participated twice in Dry January, the act of giving up all forms of alcohol for the first month of the year.
When I was single and dating during dry months (in 2017 and 2018), I found dry dates were more creative -- at ice cream shops, fitness classes and other fun, interactive venues -- rather than grabbing a drink, as per usual. And, most importantly: I could gauge a connection unfiltered and spot red flags in potential partners early on, instead of assuming I misunderstood someone’s actions or words while under the influence.
In late 2018, as friends, I told Will about all the benefits of cutting out alcohol for 31 days -- including better skin, better sleep and more energy -- and that I had planned on completing the dry challenge again for the third time.
In January 2019, we started dating, and Will volunteered to participate as well. Without alcohol, we were able to connect with clearer communication and reevaluate how we enjoyed spending our time together (hiking vs. boozy brunches, for example).
Giving up alcohol for a mere month allowed us to bond without a filter.
Will repeated the dry challenge with me again in 2020, now in January 2021, and during a few sober months in between. We just celebrated two years together. Giving up alcohol for a mere month allowed us to bond without a filter.
If you’re single and embarking on a Dry January for the first time, or if you’re considering forgoing the booze during dates, here are some things I learned along the way.
Date + Flirting – Alcohol = Still a Date
Extracting alcohol from the dating-game equation impacts much more than where you go on said date. (How often are adults’ first dates spent innocently sipping milkshakes at the diner or waiting in line at an ice cream scoop shop? Answer: While it sounds adorable, the truth is: Not so frequently.) Boozing also affects how you feel (while drinking and in the hours/day after), what you say (while intoxicated and during a hangover) and how you act (inhibitions = gone, or at least more liberal), among other intimate elements (from personal boundaries to the bedroom).
Picking Up Dates (Rather Than the Tab)
If you’re single (and looking ... and maybe your New Year’s resolution involves meeting a new love), Dry January will influence how you meet people (romantically or otherwise). The places you’ll get hit on and the locations in which you pursue a potential special someone will shift away from drinking-centric events like happy hours and tailgates.
Meeting someone who isn’t under the influence (and being attracted to this person without the support of beer, wine and spirits) is most definitely a positive realization. When you’ve consumed 0% alcohol, you know your attraction is 100% unsullied. The same can be said for the person who likes you -- it’s a win-win: The booze isn’t talking; your feelings are organically coming from the heart!
Apps-Taining From Alcohol
When swiping right and left for love on popular dating apps, build a profile with information and photos that truly represent your amazing, one-of-a-kind self -- especially when you’ve committed to a booze-free month. Whether you’re looking for your soulmate, a relationship, a date or a one-night thing, it’s OK to state loud and proud that temporarily giving up alcohol (and everything that entails) is high priority. Of course, you have the option of not mentioning it at all -- but because it’s a month-long commitment and part of your lifestyle for a handful of weeks, the topic will arise soon enough.
Without the influence of a split bottle of wine (albeit romantic), it'll be clearer to you if you're actually connecting with someone (or if you just love rosé). If you hit it off on a date when you haven't been drinking: Surprise, surprise, it's not the alcohol talking!
If you hit it off on a date when you haven't been drinking: surprise, surprise, it's not the alcohol talking!
How far along in the month you are will play into your decision to disclose your commitment, whether it’s displayed on your main profile or through private chats.
During the first half of the month, openness is the best (and most attractive) policy: Explain to a possible date that you won’t be drinking, but it’s not a forever thing.
In the second half of the month, as you near the finish, you may want to mention your dry challenge if you’re planning a romantic rendezvous before the end of the month to be fully transparent and also to give your date a heads-up about what to expect during your time together. There are several reasons: Honesty can be surprising -- and impressive -- on a first date. It’s also good to be clear about your booze-free commitment, because the other person might be expecting liquid courage to help boost his or her confidence. Telling your date about your endeavor ahead of time will also avoid potentially giving the wrong impression (like the notion that you are sick and avoiding mixing medication with booze -- no one wants to catch a cold!). Also, here’s something new and different to talk about!
Finally, if you’re chatting up a storm with a girl or guy (whom you’ve never met before) during the tail end of your challenge, and making plans for the upcoming weeks (when you’ll be drinking again), it might not impact your date night at all. The choice is yours!
From the book "The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month" by Hilary Sheinbaum. Copyright © 2020 by Hilary Sheinbaum. Reprinted by permission of Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.