The hardest part about quitting drinking? Dating
After one too many hangovers, I decided to swear off alcohol. I didn't know I'd be giving up women, too
By Joe Berkowitz
"Do you just like Diet Coke a lot?" my date asked.
I considered each of the dozen excuses I'd prepared for such a question, but finally I settled on the most straightforward answer: "I'm kind of not drinking right now."
Everyone at the bar kept talking loudly; we did not. Melissa seemed to require more information, and so I offered it, trying to look casual and comfortable in a way I didn't feel. "I wasn't forced to stop or anything," I said, smiling. (Did that sound defensive? Like I was hiding something?) It was my first dry date, and it was going to be a long night.
A month earlier, I realized it was time to take a break from alcohol. My reasons were probably what you'd imagine. I simply liked drinking too much, and I did not know my limits. It wasn't any dramatic event that made me want to stop, but rather a series of recurring regrets. After a particularly horrendous hangover, I decided to cut out drinking indefinitely. But while sobriety was great for my health, and my head, it was proving bad for my dating life.
Before I quit drinking, meeting girls was easy: I met them in bars, a place in which, as a young, social New Yorker, I spent a fair amount of leisure time. And that's where I was, sipping my Diet Coke, when I met Melissa. We hit it off right away, despite the fact that she was at least two sheets to the wind (possibly three). I enjoyed our conversation, but I realized the first problem with meeting girls sober in places of drunken revelry: You feel weirdly guilty. Our exchanges were unevenly matched. She was overly enthusiastic, loud. Her eyes betrayed a lack of comprehension at times. Was it predatory to hit on this girl? Then again, if I wouldn’t have cared before, why stop now? So I got her phone number anyway.
I could have just lied on our first date, although that seemed dodgy, an unpromising start to a possible relationship.
"It's totally fine if you drink," I said. "You can drink all you want." I immediately regretted that. It sounded so creepy, like I was encouraging her to get wasted.
"It doesn't bother me if it doesn't bother you," she said, surprisingly casual, and sipped her vodka tonic.
By her third drink, having a conversation with her was like trying to play the game Telephone during a Sleigh Bells concert. I didn't want to be judgmental. I wanted to be the coolest sober person ever. But she kept sucking down vodka tonics, as if in defiance of arcane Prohibition laws, and as she got looser, I grew more anxious: Am I allowed to kiss her like this? Did I even want to?