As you move down the road to recovery, you likely have questions about what your sobriety means in terms of your loved ones. If you lost your significant other due to your addiction, you likely want to know when you will feel comfortable dating again. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question because everyone is different. Though you may want to meet new people and form lasting friendships, you should put your recovery first. Focusing too much on another person can lead to you slipping up and making mistakes that you wouldn’t otherwise make. Compassionate professionals and addiction specialists can help you figure out when to take the leap into the dating pool.
The One-Year Rule
Many programs recommend that those in recovery avoid dating for a period of at least one year. The 12 steps established by Alcoholics Anonymous and now used by other programs will give you a set of steps to follow as you work on your recovery. You should focus on each step and complete it before moving to the next. If you worry about making a good impression on someone you date and what they think or feel, it takes time away from your work on the steps. Until you can handle living a sober life, you should put dating on the back burner.
Stress and Dating
One of the top triggers for addicted individuals is stress. When you have a problem at work or a situation that you cannot control, you may feel tempted to reach for your substance of choice. Though many people think of relationships in terms of happy times, there are always ups and downs. Meeting someone new can make you feel as though you’re walking on air and that nothing can stand in your way. What happens when you meet their friends or family for the first time? Those situations can cause stress and trigger you in ways that make you act as you did before seeking help.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 780,000 couples file for divorce every year in the United States. This equates to 2.9 divorces for every 1,000 people in the country. Your new relationship can have emotional triggers that you never expected, such as small fights about where to go for dinner or what your partner did when you weren’t there. Emotions can also run high as you talk about your history of substance abuse.
When you meet someone new and begin thinking about dating, you need to decide when to tell them about your background. Keep in mind that some people may not understand what you went through, which can cause problems in the long run. They may not understand why you don’t want to go to a party where people might experiment with drugs or spend a night drinking at a local bar. Even things as simple as avoiding places where you used substances or attending support group meetings several times a week can affect your relationship with someone who doesn’t have experience with addiction.
Another thing to think about when looking at dating in recovery is the risk of forming a codependent relationship. In the early days, you may even want to spend as much time as possible with a person and do all the same things together. This can increase the risk that you form a codependent relationship with that person. A codependent relationship is one in which you feel as though you need another person for everything and that you cannot function without them. Some of the common signs of a codependent relationship include:
- You have trouble making decisions without your significant other.
- You put more value in how they think about you than how you think about yourself.
- You worry that the person will leave you.
- You have issues communicating your feelings to that person.
- You cannot develop thoughts and opinions of your own.
With a codependent relationship, you put the focus on another person rather than yourself. While this might not sound like a problem because most people pay attention to their partners, it can negatively affect those in addiction recovery. You risk focusing so much on your partner that you forget about your recovery. Boundaries are very important when it comes to recovery and relationships.
Identify Your Goals
Before you jump into a new relationship, sit down and make a list of the goals that are the most important to you. You then need to ask yourself if you can reach those goals if you are dating at the same time. For example, the film “28 Days” followed multiple characters in a rehab facility along with their highs and lows. Their counselor recommended that they get a plant and keep it alive before getting a pet. Only if the pet was happy and healthy could they move back into the dating phase of their lives. The same idea works in real life, too. If you can handle your steps and work on your sobriety while caring for a plant and then perhaps a small pet, you may feel more confident that you can handle the highs and lows of dating again.
Look at Why You Want to Date
Looking at why you want to start dating again can help you decide if the time is right. A common reason why people look for partners is that they feel lonely. When you go through recovery in a treatment facility, you find yourself surrounded by professionals and other addicted individuals who want to hear your stories and help you work on getting better. Once you go home, you’ll likely find that you miss the group therapy sessions and other events that let you spend time with people. Being lonely isn’t a good reason to date the first person you see. You may find that you can curb your loneliness with volunteer work or attending 12-step meetings.
The Lack of the Thrill
Another thing to think about before you start dating is whether you can handle the lack of the thrill. Dating as a substance abuser can feel fun and even exciting. You never know what you or your partner might do, and you love waiting to see how the night ends. Dating someone who is sober can feel much different. Some addicted individuals find that as much as they miss dating, they can’t handle the “boring” dates that they go on with sober people. Sobriety can affect both what you do and where you go. Until you feel comfortable, you should focus on your recovery.
Risk of Relapse
It is often said that relapse is a part of recovery. It’s also important to note that certain types of drugs have a higher relapse rate than others do. A relapse is when you begin using a substance again after working on your recovery. While anyone can relapse, the risk is higher when you put your sobriety behind other things in your life, such as a new significant other. As much as you like that partner, you’ll likely find yourself focusing so much on what they like and want to do that you forget about living a sober life. If you do relapse, it’s best to assess the severity and reach out for help right away.
Signs That You’re Ready to Date
No one can tell you that you’re ready to date again except for yourself. Though your friends and family might urge you to “jump back on the horse,” it’s likely that you don’t feel comfortable taking that step. Before you download a dating app or agree to go on a blind date with a friend of a friend, think about some of the signs that you’re ready to date, including:
- You can handle stressful situations at home and work.
- You have no problem putting yourself first no matter what.
- You can spend time around people who do different activities.
- You feel confident in your sobriety.
- You have ways to curb your loneliness without a significant other.
- You do not need another person to take care of you.
- You realize that there is a risk that dating might lead to relapse.
Set a Pace That Works for You
If you decide that you’re ready to begin dating again, make sure that you move slowly and set a pace that works for you. You don’t need to go on a date with a person and immediately decide that this person is the next love of your life. There’s no need to start making future plans and skipping over a few steps. At the same time, you don’t need to date multiple people or agree to meet everyone who sends you a message on a dating app. You’re the only one who can decide when you feel comfortable meeting and when you’re ready to invite that person into your home.
One of the hardest things about dating in recovery is deciding when to be honest about your past. You may find that being honest in your dating app bio limits the number of people who send you messages. Though you should be honest, you don’t need to talk about your past on a first date. Some find it helpful to bring it up after they get to know that person and feel comfortable with them. It’s important that you be honest with the person before things get too deep. There is a chance that the person may not want to date someone who has struggled with addiction.
Whether you want to date around or focus on a single person, you should establish some boundaries as early as possible. For many addicted individuals in recovery, this means avoiding situations that might make them want to use again. You need to let your partner know that you don’t feel comfortable hanging out at a bar, even if they promise not to drink in front of you. Going to parties where people drink and use drugs can be a slippery slope that leads to relapse. You might feel so comfortable around that person that you think having one drink won’t hurt, and then you find that one drink leads to another and encourages you to experiment with other substances. Make sure that your date is aware of your boundaries and understands what you won’t do.
It’s often hard for addicted individuals to be realistic about their situation. Dating anyone is hard but especially for those in recovery. A study done in 2020 found that 67% of survey respondents broke up in the last year. They could not handle the effects of quarantining with their partners. Roughly 15% of those respondents claimed that spending more time with their partners helped them realize fundamental differences and issues that led to their breakups. Though you probably don’t need to quarantine with a new partner, you’ll spend a lot of time together that may show you if you are not compatible due to your background.
When You Don’t Want to Date
You do not need to date just because your friend wants to set you up or a relative thinks that it’s time to find someone new. If you want to focus on your recovery without focusing on another person, there are many things that you can do until you feel ready. You might look for sober friends who went through the same things as you and are happy doing activities that don’t involve drugs or alcohol. Not only can you check out local parks and meet for coffee, but you can go to museums and take long hikes with people from a support group. It’s also helpful to find someone you can talk to about your issues and who also understands the difficulties of dating in recovery.
Start Your Recovery
At Granite Recovery Centers, we understand the frustrations that come with recovering from substance abuse. We offer programs for those struggling with alcoholism and substance use disorder as well as mental health disorders. You can trust us to help you get the support that you need. Call today to learn what you can do to get treatment for your addiction along with help deciding when you can begin dating while in recovery.