Back in her single days, writer Zara Barrie almost always threw back what she called a "personality drink" prior to a first date. Thanks to the drink or two, conversation on her dates flowed as freely as a just-opened bottle of pinot. But there was a clear downside, too.
"Drinking gives me a false sense of connection with a person," Barie told HuffPost. "If I've had two glasses of Champagne I can feel chemistry with anyone."
Barrie, a senior writer at Elite Daily, eventually gave sober dating a shot. It sharpened her dating spidey sense in pretty short order, and led to her meeting her fiancée, a woman Barrie loves "without any Champagne goggles" on.
"Looking back, I realize that I drank so damn much in my early 20s because I was hanging out with people I didn't have anything in common with. Booze masked that ugly reality," she said. "I told myself I needed a drink for so long that I believed it with every fiber of my being."
Barrie's story probably sounds all too familiar if you're currently single. A 2014 survey from Plenty of Fish found that 36.4 percent of singles drink before going out, and 48.9 percent drink during the date, averaging two or three drinks during the course of an evening.
The same survey found that 19.1 percent of guys have gotten drunk on a first date, and so have 16.8 percent of women.
It's not entirely surprising that modern dating and drinking are so thoroughly linked. Most of us meet on apps, and the prospect of getting to know someone based on a short bio and four or five pics can be anxiety-provoking. Many people think drinking makes them a chiller version of themselves ― someone who's more similar to the person in their dating profiles.
That's particularly motivating for women who pregame, said Patricia O'Gorman, a New York City-based psychologist and the author of The Girly Thoughts 10-Day Detox Plan: The Resilient Woman's Guide To Saying 'No' To Negative Self-Talk And 'Yes' To Personal Power.
"Women internalize society standards of perfection and then berate themselves if they do not fulfill them," O'Gorman said. "With dating, a woman often feels obligated to be more relaxed than she is, even more sexual than she feels comfortable with, and these pressures can encourage her to drink before a date to achieve this."
The problem? The line between "cool girl who can handle her liquor" and slightly hot mess becomes more blurred the more dependent you become on drinking, said Caitlin Cecil, a wellness coach in Houston who has written about sober dating.
"It took a while for me to accept that sober, natural Caitlin is just as fun and exciting as the Caitlin I was after a drink or two." Caitlin Cecil, a wellness coach in Houston, Texas
"I suffer from anxiety and sometimes the 'what ifs' before a date would be overwhelming," Cecil said. "Drinking a bit before a date made me a little looser and I felt like I would be more fun to engage with."
Eventually, Cecil realized that pre-date jitters were bound to occur, no matter how many drinks she had.
"Now I know that nervousness is going to happen whether I am sober, drunk or buzzed, but it took a while for me to accept that sober, natural Caitlin is just as fun and exciting as the Caitlin I was after a drink or two," she said. "These days, I'm able to go on dates and rely on good conversation, an actual connection, and I don't have to worry about doing something stupid from drinking."
The solution isn't necessarily outright abstinence. It's just knowing that you'll be a more discerning dater and choose better partners if you're bringing a more sober version of yourself to the table, said O'Gorman
"If you want someone to accept you, then you need to figure out how to relax yourself enough to begin to reveal who you are," she said. "And you'll also get to see how your potential partner deals with the unexpected. Is he or she comfortable with you doing what you want in such a specific way? Do you even want a second date with this person?"
If you're lost without a drink in your hand, order a soda with a dash of bitters, which contain relatively low amounts of alcohol. Then, let your sharper, wittier self lead the date with the confidence that you're dating with a clear mind.
If you start craving a drink, take that nervous energy and focus it on your date: Pre-program some of those New York Times "The 36 Questions That Lead to Love" prompts into your head. Get down to the nitty-gritty and ask your date about their passions, work-life balance and thoughts on having kids.
"Turning the focus on the other person and setting an intention to listen to what they have to say, will set you free from your own prison of insecurity and stop those swirling self-obsessed thoughts," Barrie said. "Before you know it, you'll be deep into an authentic conversation and will have (most likely) forgotten all about the drink you never ordered."