A question that has come up regularly in the rooms is dating. I do not mean 13th stepping. I am referring to a normal activity of spending time with someone where there is a mutual attraction for the express purpose of an intimate relationship. The question I am referring to is “do I date someone in the program or a ‘normie’?” That exact question was posed to me by a fellow member while sitting at my kitchen table just recently. “Good question” and a smile was my response.
As with any significant decision, I ran through the pros and cons. First, let’s consider dating someone else in a 12 step program. One benefit would be that they get “it;” they know what the 12 steps are and can see the benefits of the program. There's a common language! In addition to that, they understand the wreckage of your past. Our past can be difficult to explain. In fact, as we put a few 24 hours behind us, new acquaintances may have a hard time understanding why we go to meetings. We don’t “look” like alcoholics anymore. Other concerns such as time with your sponsor, meetings, service responsibilities, usually do not require justification to someone else working the steps. You also are usually safe using the term “Higher Power” without a second thought.
So what could possibly go wrong? Let’s look at the odds. The divorce rate in the United States hovers between 40 and 50 percent. While this is just dating, the statistic is relevant. The most recent studies note that there is, at best, a 30 percent chance of long term recovery from addiction. All we have is a daily reprieve from our disease based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Recovery is not linear. Having two people with a fatal disease in a relationship together means that the deck is stacked against them, from a probability standpoint.
Of course, this is all predicated on the assumption that the two individuals considering a relationship enjoy an active, long term recovery program. Things like step work, sponsors, sponsees, service work, 12-step work are all common place. Newly sober folks (and not so new) have no business dragging the wreckage of their past into the life of another human being, period. It's not fair to the other person and it’s time to stop taking hostages.
“Check your motives, check your program, check with your sponsor” was advice I received early on and it has proved valuable. Another gem was “you wouldn’t go shopping for a new car in a junk yard, so why would you look in AA for a partner?”
In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit I have had relationships in and out of the program. I managed to not drink through all of it. I can't tell you, even for me, which is better. I recommend finding someone that is spiritually healthy to date, program or not. Things have gotten easier for me once I was able to accept the idea that if I truly cared about someone, I would only want them to be happy – with or without me.