Illustration: Hunter French
Sabrina’s date had only just arrived when he asked if she wanted to split a bottle. “I said I didn’t mind, thinking he was asking me to choose between red or white wine,” she tells VICE. “And then he tried to order a whole bottle of vodka.” Needless to say, they didn’t meet up again.This might be a particularly extreme example, but mismatched expectations around booze is an increasingly common mood killer on first dates. According to a new survey by the dating app Flirtini, one in four men and one in five women would turn down a second date with someone who got drunk on the first one. On top of that, the survey also found that 50% of women and 28% of men never drink alcohol on the first date.
I’ll confess, I was taken aback when I first read that stat. All my relationships, past and present, have started by getting pretty sloshed. I mean, how else are you meant to let your guard down enough to allow a stranger to assess your fuckability? Isn’t booze how we Brits bond after all?It seems we may be witnessing the death of drinking on dates. But is it part of a broader social shift away from excessive merriment and towards more intentional experiences? Or are we all so stressed out by the relentless dating scene that we’re trying to claw back some semblance of control by removing alcohol from the picture?“Over the last three years I found myself going on a lot of first and second dates, which were centred around drinking, telling each other our deepest fears, sleeping together and then getting ghosted,” says Cova, 27. She says she didn’t understand what was going wrong, and constantly questioned herself and why she was being treated with such little respect. But then she started to think about the role drink was playing. “I realised I was following a pattern of getting drunk and oversharing with someone, which then created intimacy that was not necessarily natural,” she says.Billie, 28, agrees that drinking on dates can affect intimacy. She’s recently started seeing someone who rarely drinks, and has found it surprisingly refreshing. “It means the sex is much more engaged,” she says, “and it’s lovely waking up the next day without a hangover.” They did drink on the first date, she says, “but since then it’s been one or two drinks max, and there have been quite a few dates where we didn’t drink at all.”
This sober-ish approach is new for Billie but it’s prompted her to re-think her attitude to dating and drinking in general. “I used to have a drink to calm the nerves while getting ready, and then quite a lot more on the dates,” she says. “Now I think it can hinder everything if you don’t know someone well.” She reckons finding someone you can be comfortable with when sober is the most important thing. “And sober sex is way more fun,” she adds, “I just wish I hadn’t only found this out at 28!”Age certainly seems to play an important role in all this. It’s no secret that people are settling down later these days. And, apologies to the 20-something boozehounds out there, it’s no secret that drinking loses some of its allure as you approach 30 and your hangovers become more vigorous. Sabrina, 30, has found herself drifting towards a lifestyle that revolves less around booze. “I think it's quite a different dating experience in your early 20s than – God, I have to say 30s now don't I?” she says, with a tone of relatable horror.Sabrina did Dry January this year, and found that she was less tired and sluggish. “Now I deliberately have a few days off in the week, and sometimes try to not drink at all from Monday to Friday,” she says. “But I find it hard not to think of a date night as one of my drinking days – it's just weird to sit and talk to a stranger for hours. Drinking helps you relax a bit.” Having said this, she tells VICE that some of her recent “standout” dates have been the sober occasions. On one, Sabrina says they were both upfront and honest about feeling hungover. “It was a Sunday date and we went for dinner and didn't drink – it was one of my best dates,” she says.
LGBTQ+ dating expert and Queer Love Stories podcast host, Eden Heath, aged 30, started his sobriety journey in December 2022. He’d just ended a two-and-a-half-year relationship and was feeling concerned about his alcohol consumption. “I began dating again in April this year,” he tells VICE, “only this time completely sober. The main difference I find is that I have more clarity on my feelings towards the person and whether I want to go on a second date,” he says.His go-to first date is getting coffee. “The best thing about a coffee date is that it’s the perfect opportunity to suss out your potential suitor and decide if you'd like to go on a second date, without breaking the bank. If either of you aren’t quite feeling it there's no obligation to get a second coffee,” Heath says. “And the best-case scenario, if you don't want the date to end, you can extend it by living out your Sex and the City fantasy and heading to your local museum or art gallery. Very cosmopolitan, but without the vodka!”Heath acknowledges that, sans alcohol, your first sober date “may be nerve-wracking”. But, he stresses that “the most important ingredient” is that your date is understanding and non-judgemental. “Don't feel pressured into explaining your reasons for not drinking,” he says. “If someone tries to peer pressure you into drinking on the first date then they're probably not the right match for you anyway.”Resisting this kind of peer pressure is hard though, particularly when so much of British culture revolves around drinking. “I think it’s hard not to revert to it, especially in winter,” says Billie. “We’re definitely lacking places to go where there isn’t a temptation to drink.” Times are changing though, and if there’s one good thing to come out of the wellness boom, it’s the uptick in sober events and spaces.“Over the last few years there's been a notable shift in people's attitudes towards alcohol as we become more health conscious as a society,” Heath agrees. “It’s my personal belief that this should be a welcome shift in the dating landscape to support people in creating lasting, meaningful connections.” He continues: “Above all, the best advice I can give to anyone dating, sober or not, is to use those first few dates to check how well-aligned you are for a future match. But most importantly, dating should be fun, so don't get caught up in the process and forget to let your personality shine.”@eloisehendy