To date or not to date during the early stages of recovery, that is the question. And, interestingly enough, when it comes to sober dating, the answer varies.
During early recovery, vulnerability is a common feeling. Facing the recovery process, suppressed emotions and an identity crisis are some reasons why this is not a unique experience. Nearly everyone at this stage is in need of a great deal of additional support.
For this reason, some addiction professionals agree that dating in recovery, even in its early stages, can be very beneficial. Experiencing the romance, and the feelings that accompany it, without substances can provide an opportunity for personal growth and healing. And, since these individuals are involved in recovery communities, dating someone who is also in recovery is often considered ideal.
Dating In Recovery
There is another perspective, however. A sense of vulnerability can be compounded by feelings of loss, loneliness and a need for distraction, escape, or rescue. For this reason, many addiction professionals agree that dating in recovery is a risk that may lead to relapse.
The general rule regarding dating someone in or out of recovery is contingent upon the personal and professional experience of the addiction specialist. Typically, these professionals advise the person in recovery to say no to dating within the first 6 months of recovery. Some even go so far as to recommend being single for an entire year.
The recovery perspective is that this time of singlehood and sobriety will allow for the recovering addict to focus entirely on themselves—their surfacing feelings through a newfound process of dealing with emotions, healing, personal growth, and individual recovery—without the added potential for emotional stress and triggers possible in any relationship. Surprisingly, however, there’s another preventative reason for this perspective on dating early in recovery—to protect newcomers from those within their newfound “safe” recovery community who might prey upon their vulnerability.
These seemingly predatory individuals are known as 13th-Steppers—persons within the 12-Step recovery community who have a longer period of sobriety (having familiarized themselves with and implementing the steps) and deliberately pursue romantic relationships with newcomers (moving on to what is known as the 13th Step).
Of course, not everyone who dates a newcomer in early recovery has malicious or exploitative intent. In fact, some might even question, “Who am I to get in the way of fate?” But, even old-timers who engage in AA dating with good intentions and believe in romantic destiny can join the 13th-Stepper category if they aren't mindful of those who are new to recovery. With that said, the responsibility still lies with both parties, as both are now in recovery to practice accountability.
In other words, good judgment works both ways.
For those new to recovery, it’s best to steer clear of dating until you’ve healed the relationship with yourself. And trust, there’s a lot of work to do. So, make new friends in recovery but keep them platonic. Your feelings and focus truly need to remain on you.
For anyone in early recovery who is convinced they're ready to navigate the dating world sober or finds a newcomer irresistible, begin by asking yourself why. If the answer isn’t defined by the person's integrity and character, revisit the 12-Steps and reassess where you truly stand. When the answer is, “This is the one,” remind yourself that true love waits, especially if rushing could trigger a relapse.