Throughout history, countless romances have blossomed over a tipple or two. For many, the idea of navigating a first date without a drop of Dutch courage is almost unthinkable. But research is showing that more and more people are choosing to embrace an alcohol-free love life – thanks in part to the pandemic’s impact on our relationship with alcohol.
In a 2022 survey conducted by dating app, Bumble, the concept of ‘dry dating’ emerged as a fast-growing trend. 62% of the app’s UK users said they believed sober dating could help them form more genuine emotional connections, while 34% said they’re more likely to venture out on a date sober today than they were pre-COVID.
So, what’s got the world’s singletons so sober-curious? In the UK, the dry dating movement has been driven in part by ongoing lockdowns and pub closures. As the BBC explains, with the local pub no longer an option, singles have turned to more socially distanced – and in many cases, sober – dating options. Lockdowns also provided the time and space to revisit old habits, and re-evaluate personal health and wellbeing. For some, this meant changing their relationship with alcohol; choosing to drink less, or even giving up the booze entirely.
In the occasionally awkward dating arena, many rely on alcohol to help ease social anxiety and boost self-confidence. But speaking with a number of sober daters, BBC Worklife found that a majority actually felt more confident without alcohol in the mix. Not only that, they also felt more conscious and mindful of their romantic experience. One dater described feeling like she could create more meaningful connections on a sober first date. Others said that without the beer goggles on, it was much easier to tell whether a potential partner was the right fit.
The rise in dry dating appears to be coinciding with a rise in alcohol-free drink options. According to Nielsen, sales of non-alcoholic beverages in the US increased 33% throughout 2021. The industry is growing closer to home, too, with Kiwi brands like AF Drinks catering to sober-curious New Zealanders who still enjoy the taste and ritual of alcohol.
AF Drinks founder, Lisa King, is unsurprised to see the dry dating trend taking off in New Zealand. “Almost 50% of Kiwis are actively trying to cut back on their drinking,” she says. “There’s always been a lot of social pressure to drink, but it feels like this attitude is starting to ease off. The choice not to drink is becoming more widely accepted, and dating without the expectation of alcohol is really reshaping the way people connect.”
The changing perceptions of dating and drinking seem to be a sign of the times. Berenberg has reported that Gen Z are drinking as much as 20% less than their Millennial counterparts – who in turn are drinking less than Gen Xers and Boomers. So even as the world’s pubs and bars reopen their doors, it looks like dry dating may well be here to stay.