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5 Things I Learned About Dating and Friendships When I Gave Up Alcohol

woman-drinking-water-sober-lessons.jpgPhoto: bignai / Shutterstock

When I tell people I moved to New York City to become a full-time writer, I think they imagine I'm Carrie Bradshaw IRL. Never mind the fact that when I first moved (read: lugged two suitcases up four flights of stairs), I wasn't having sex with dudes (let alone one of Manhattan's elite), I'm a decade younger than the esteemed fictional writer, and I haven't had a lick of alcohol since my freshman year of college. No cosmopolitans for me, thanks.

My alcohol story is low-drama. I've drunk maybe a dozen times in my life and, simply put, I don't like it. I don't like the way it makes me feel or how it tastes, and I don't like how alcohol makes me lower my standards, for both myself and others. (That's one reason more health-minded people are going sober.)

While the island of Manhattan may always be associated with Sex and the City (and vice versa), my life and my New York are a little less pink drink and heels, and a little more seltzer and Metcons (CrossFit boys, if you're reading this, hi!). Problem is, the culture of New York City life remains as boozy as the HBO show itself.

As a sober girl living in such a tipsy world, I've learned a lot of things about myself, dating, making friends, and, ultimately, my health. Here, a peek inside what it's like being the sober person at the bar.

People have a lot of stupid questions.

How do you relax? So what do you do when everyone else is drinking? How do you have fun? And my personal fave (ugh): You don't smoke weed either? So do you do cocaine? The list of uttered stupidities I hear—especially in situations where alcohol is the main activity—is long, but most of the assumptions and questions follow this theme. (BTW, here's why your brain always says yes to a second drink.)

I've never had any of my personal decisions be so critiqued and second-guessed as my decision not to drink (the only decision that's come close is the time I went back to my real life Mr. Big after he slept with my friend, but that's another story).

At first, I felt I owed a detailed explanation to anyone who asked. Now, I usually just smile or give a one- or two-word answer. Sometimes, someone will allude to their own struggles with and desire to quit alcohol, and we'll end up having a fascinating conversation about the role alcohol plays in our current social scene. (Here's a full guide to how to stop drinking alcohol). But most of the time, I'll laugh off the question and everyone carries on with their sip-sip-schmooze evening.

For each of the friend groups in my life—work, gym, high school, college, etc.—there was a period when everyone had to get used to the fact that I don't drink (and asked said stupid questions). It's been about five years since I've had a drink, and now none of my close friends (or even acquaintances) comment if I'm not drinking—it's only strangers who ask. In fact, many of my friends will buy me a six-pack of LaCroix if they're hosting a party. Cheers to thoughtful friends.

Dating without alcohol isn't that awkward.

Tell me there's a more common pick-up line than "Let's grab a drink" and, well, I'll tell you that you're lying. Alcohol is the third "person" in most dating and sexual encounters.

If drinking is both the activity that brings romantic prospects together and the conduit for so much fornication, is it even possible to flirt, date, and hook up without it? SATC might say no, but I say yes!

My last boyfriend Ben* was a fellow nondrinker—and it was a huge reason our relationship lasted as long as it did. After we broke up, I started dating again and found that flirting and dating sans beer is still fun (and possible!). Instead of meeting potential suitors at the bar, I meet them at my CrossFit box, a yoga class, or the bookstore (okay, this last one hasn't actually happened yet, but I'm trying to ~manifest~ it). I meet them through friends, game nights, or work events. (Related: I Attempted to Pick Up Men at the Gym and It Wasn't a Total Disaster)

When I get a "we should get drinks" come-on while swiping on dating apps, I'll simply say that I'm not drinking alcohol right now and suggest an alternative place to meet. And when the dudes aren't down with my booze-free plan (which has only happened twice)? Thank you, next.

I've met potential beaux for smoothies instead of margs, a workout date, or restaurants with hearty board game collections. Go ahead, tell me a better first, second, and third date. I'll wait.

You'll say goodbye to some friends.

Of all the show's plot lines, the one that most matches my own life is the strength of my female friendships. When I stopped drinking, some of my friends didn't approve or couldn't understand—and the friendship drifted. Ultimately, this was a blessing because it clarified who were my true friends are. My sober curiosity was like a high-end filter for my friendships. (BTW, here's what young women need to know about alcoholism.)

More importantly, not drinking has welcomed a pretty awesome support squad of women into my life (did I mention they buy me LaCroix?!). Over the last three years of living (soberly) in New York, I've cultivated a group of friends who are just as happy going out as they are staying in. Sure, sometimes we'll still head to bars and clubs (and, yes, I'll go). But more often than not we stay in and watch Grey's Anatomy reruns, order Thai food, and gossip. (And it's not just us—girls-night-in is *totally* a trend.)

You might make some huge fitness gains.

I'm no professional athlete, but I do work part-time at a CrossFit box, and most days you'll find me training two to three hours a day. I can't quantify exactly how much stronger or cardiovascularly fit I am than I would be if I drank. But what I do know is that a hangover or alcohol-induced dehydration has never interfered with my ability to work out or give my all to the WOD. And I've improved at a much faster rate than the other athletes at my box who started CrossFit within two months of me. (Genetics, training, or sobriety? I don't know, but I'll take it.) Experts agree that you'll likely have better fitness performance when you don't drink. (See: How Much Alcohol Can You Drink Before It Starts to Mess With Your Fitness?)

Your skin will probably look amazing.

In my experience, not drinking has saved me a lot of skin woes. I'm no beauty pro, but my skin is consistently more glowy and even-toned than that of my friends who do drink. Sure, I still get an occasional pimple, but for the most part, my skin is clear.

I asked a doc if sober-curiosity was skin-saving magic and it turns out I was on to something: "Alcohol dehydrates your skin, so people who drink alcohol tend to have skin that looks drier and more wrinkled compared to non-drinkers," says Anthony Youn, M.D., F.A.C.S., a board-certified plastic surgeon. "Giving up alcohol can remove this dehydrating effect and can help your skin look more moisturized. Plus, eliminating alcohol can reduce inflammation and make your skin look less red, irritated, and aged."

The bottom line? There are a lot of health benefits to giving up alcohol—temporarily or otherwise—and they're totally worth any lost Bumble matches, ex-friends, or sober FOMO.

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