Sobriety and the Pursuit of Men

I didn’t exactly set out to live an abstinent existence for five years in my late 20’s and into my 30’s. It wasn’t a life goal, but rather just sort of naturally unfolded that way.

At first by default, then by choice, and then by chance. It really coincided with my commitment to live a sober life. Men & substance abuse were notoriously intertwined for me, which happens to be true for many women I know. Once I got sober, it took out all the variables in which I might meet and commingle with the opposite sex: bars, drugs, and booze goggles.

I never realized at the outset that my sobriety would become my chastity belt.

In the beginning, I was simply consumed by my newfound sobriety. Plus, it is highly recommended that one abstains from all dating within the first year anyway, so they can focus on their own recovery. This is because getting sober is like being a newborn baby — 1 year of sobriety feels sorta like being 1 year old. We are learning how to speak directly, feel emotions, express emotions — just like children do.

After the 1 year checkpoint, I still didn’t feel ready or yet capable of forming a healthy relationship with a male and I was still terrified to socialize sans liquid courage so I was all “imma just do me.” Project self-love, if you will. I was still learning what love was. And I had learned that attachment is not love. It’s attachment.

A part of me also really enjoyed being single because of how selfish I could be with my time. It became very familiar to me. I took myself on solo dinner and movie dates and reveled in the freedom it brought, discovering for the first time my likes and dislikes without the influence of another. I spent Friday nights in bed reading or watching Netflix without worrying about whether I needed to compromise with my significant other. I had ample time to devote to my business and my hobbies and my self-care. I believe I had been given the opportunity to learn exactly what I needed to learn — how to take care of myself, how to meet my own needs, and how to not give my power away to a man.

But more time went by and as I became more open and ready to meet someone, I just wasn’t coming across any men in which the interest was mutual. Either I was interested and they were not, or vice versa. I had to friend-zone some guys. I asked one guy out and was rejected.

Against my better judgement, I went on sites like Match.com and Okcupid and browsed through the Tinder app. Install Tinder app/delete Tinder app, install, delete, install, delete. Tinder was a fun game for about 5 minutes. I was generally underwhelmed with the swipe prospects and dating from your cellphone while you could be in the bathroom was not how I envisioned meeting a potential soulmate. I tried to stay open-minded. I did. But I have a strong belief that love just happens and doesn’t need to be “found” on a dating app. Cheers to those who do find true love there.

It takes a lot of energy to weed through the creepers on those apps and try to figure out if your next tinder date may or may not be an axe murderer. I wasn’t willing to spend that time & energy. There didn’t even seem to be prospective partners when I got horrifyingly uncalled for 1st time messages on Valentines Day like, “wanna have a threesome?”

I will say I am infinitely grateful to have never been the recipient of an unsolicited “dick pic.”

In the defense of dating apps everywhere, I wasn’t trying very hard. Still hadn’t reconciled my belief that love is serendipitous, not arranged, and there was definite resistance and eye-rolling from me every time I signed on. On the rare occasion that I would get a semi-coherent email message from a potential suitor, that seed of hope was quickly buried by them flaking out.

I went on exactly one blind date set up by a friend early on in my sobriety. I had roughly 13 panic attacks and 55 outfit changes before he arrived to pick me up because of not being able to pre-game with a few liquor shots just to ease the social anxiety jitters.

Well-meaning people reciting to me the most cliche dating advice: “just be yourself.”

That made me more anxious. Hell if I know who that is. I’ve been a people-pleaser my whole life, especially with boyfriends. Who is myself?

He picked me up and even paid for dinner, just like a real date. I didn’t realize there were still gentlemen like that and it made me sad how I had been selling myself short all those years prior by meeting up for “group dates” at the bar. But we didn’t hit it off. At that time I honestly may have been repulsed by just how nice, simple, and untroubled he seemed.

I spotted a few attractive dudes at my 12-step meetings, but it never went past a coffee day date. I didn’t really want to date where I recovered but I gave it a shot anyway. Some nice guys, but there was simply never any chemistry.

Jeez, maybe dating has always been this tedious, it occurred to me. But when I was drinking & using drugs, I didn’t really care. Or I was blissfully unaware. Drugs allow you to feel intimacy that isn’t really there. Being under the influence helped me form fake connections with tons of dudes cause I was in a constant state of pleasure-seeking.

One day, a couple years into sobriety, I was getting my nails done and the male manicurist inquired, “So you have a boyfriend?”

I gave a, “no, not right now” like I do every time I field this typical question after the “what do you do?”

As if people can only fit into one of two boxes — single or with partner, employed or unemployed.

He followed in a tone of disbelief, “Why not? You’re so beautiful.”

I smiled.

and then, he…”Ahh, you must be one of those picky girls.”

I said that maybe I was.

But what I thought was, as opposed to what? Not caring if there’s a true spark? Letting anyone who asks bed me?

No thanks. I used to. But fortunately now I have sanity, sobriety, and self-esteem.

For the first year of my sobriety, I was too preoccupied to notice the absence of a plus one all that much. The second year it dawned on me that if I dated, I might have to have sober sex. Too petrifying.

The third year I started really wanting to share my time with someone, and I felt left out being the only one of my close friends who was perpetually without boyfriend or husband.

I went from being most ineligible bachelorette to being quite eligible and where is my soulmate, damn it? I thought everything was supposed to fall into place once I loved myself. Hello world, I love myself, now where is he?

For about 1.8 seconds I considered applying to be on ABC’s The Bachelor.

The fourth year I was seriously thinking wtf is wrong with me — I’m the only 20-something in history who has stayed single for this long. I’m going to die all by my lonesome. Not even a cat lady cause I don’t have any cats.

What’s a single sober gal to do? I want to be romanced. I want to meet a good man. Not to complete me (thanks Jerry Maguire — only took me a decade to unlearn that myth) or rescue me (thanks Disney), but to supplement my already full life.

Women have needs too. And sex is one of the basic human needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. But sober one-night stands are something I feel constitutionally incapable of now and no longer even have a desire for.

If I knew the last time was the last time, maybe I wouldn’t have been blacked out for it.

The more time that passed, the harder it actually became to become unsingle. I wasn’t meeting anyone I felt a spark with.

The exceptions were those who were already in relationships and therefore unavailable. But why did I want them anyway? Still more inner work to be sifted through.

I had a history of picking guys that weren’t the best for me, always falling for the underdogs and the fixer-uppers. The bad boys who take no self-responsibility with lots of problems but lots of potential. The more problems, the better. I loved a challenge. The “tough cases” in the eyes of a therapist are exactly the guys I wanted to date. Emotionally unavailable? Yes please.

One particularly revelatory therapy session, therapist lady said,

“ya know Sasha, you can’t date potential.”

Hell if I can’t.

I tried for a long time.

But I get it now. I really do.