July 5, 2012 at 11:49 AM ET
Alcohol has been part of human society for thousands of years, and it’s likely been part of the mating game for most of that time. And why not? A little liquid courage helps folks put aside those first-date jitters and let their hair down a bit.
But while it might seem natural to have a drink or two early in your relationship, the results of the recent Love Bitessurvey conducted by TODAY.com and Match.com make it clear that drinking and dating can be a minefield for singles. The survey gathered information about the dating and dining habits of 4,000 singles.
Almost 70 percent of women who responded to the poll said they would be turned off if their date had more to drink than they did, while 23 percent of both men and women said it was a turn-off if their date had nothing to drink at all. So you’re damned if you do (too much) and damned if you don’t.
How should a person looking for love navigate the world of drinking and dating? We turned to a panel of five experts to help us figure it out.
Skip the booze altogether
More than 35 percent of single respondents said they usually don’t drink on the first date. That’s a lesson writer and editor Laura Barcella learned the hard way. After a few years of booze-fueled dates, she called it quits on alcohol altogether in her late 20s.
“The biggest benefit of not drinking on a first date is that you see everything clearly, so you can more honestly assess whether you're having fun and enjoying the person you're with. There's no false insta-chemistry or beer goggles,” Barcella said. “And when you're sober, you're way less likely to overshare, talk about an ex, cry, vomit, or wake up next to someone repulsive.”
Putting it that way, it seems clear that drinking and dating simply don’t mix. But there are benefits:
Wait, scratch that!
While skipping the booze may seem like a no-brainer, dating coach and author Evan Marc Katz says that means you’d be skipping his favorite kind of date. “If I were to design the perfect date, it would take place over drinks - you get to dress up, go someplace interesting and it’s less formal than dinner,” he said. “No one should get sloppy drunk, but it’s nice to let down your guard and get to know someone. Plus, no one kisses at the end of a coffee date!”
Katz isn’t the only one who thinks alcohol is a natural part of dating. About 20 percent of singles who responded to the survey said that drinks are always a part of their first date, while 43 percent said they have a drink “most of the time” on the first go-round.
So lots of people like to have a drink on the first date, and if you’re one of them, you should:
Take it easy there, partner
If there’s one thing our experts agree on, it’s that you should pace yourself. “If you're ripping shots of Jose Cuervo on the first date, then sure, you might have a good chance of getting lucky, but you're probably not going to create much of a strong emotional connection with your date,” says dating confidence coach Adam LoDolce.
Worse than not bonding with your date, TODAY.com relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle says excessive drinking sends up a big red flag. “If you consume a lot more alcohol than your date, they are likely to think you have a drinking problem,” she says, harmonizing with the 70 percent of women in our poll who are turned off by such boozy behavior. “It sends a message that you really don't give a damn about the other person's feelings or impressions of you.”
And being oblivious to how your actions are being perceived is the exact opposite of what you should do on a date. Instead, you should:
Pay attention to your date
A big part of playing the dating game well is reading what’s going on and adjusting to it, and this includes when you choose to have a drink and when you choose to pass.
Forty percent of respondents said they were game to have a drink as long as their date ordered one first, and that’s exactly what Adam LoDolce advises his clients to do. “If your date is having a drink, then you can have a drink,” LoDolce said. “If your date doesn't, then it's time to find a date spot that doesn't require the booze.”
He recommends ditching the bar scene and heading out a coffee shop, a nearby park, or maybe catching some live music – anywhere you can keep the conversation going and where alcohol isn’t the main attraction.
Of course, SOMEONE has to order that first drink, and if a cocktail is something you enjoy, then the best advice is to simply:
All of our experts say pretending to be someone other than yourself makes little sense, at least if you’re serious about having a healthy relationship.
“I've counseled many people during breakups who complained their partner was not the person they thought he or she was,” says Dr. Gilda. “Part of getting to know someone is getting to know his or her eating and drinking preferences.”
So if you want a drink, order one. As dating coach Evan Marc Katz says, “Are you going to hide the fact that you enjoy having a drink when you go out forever?”
And if you’re opposed to drinking, then be honest about it. “A person who doesn't drink isn’t going to do well with someone who has an alcoholic beverage every night when they come home,” advised dating coach David Wygant. “Cut it off right from the get-go.” Why waste your time trying to make a love connection with someone whose lifestyle choices don’t match your own?
The bottom line is: Don’t make alcohol the centerpiece of your date, pay attention, and be yourself. Beyond that, have fun and let Cupid handle everything else.
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