As a rule, Tres Reeves doesn’t drink alcohol on a first date.
Reeves, who is 27 and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, isn’t sober. But going to a bar, he says, tends to convey a specific message — one that you might not want to send if you’re looking for a long-term partner.
“I hear girls or guys say ‘don’t meet your man or your spouse at a bar because most of the time it ends with them just trying to hook up,'” Reeves says. “I recommend not going to a bar on a first date because you don’t know what perception it will give.”
And it’s worked for him. Some of his best dates have excluded alcohol. And his longest relationship started with a sober first date.
“One date I went on we had a picnic because she liked being outdoors and I’m always hungry,” he says. “It was nice outside and it was a better conversation. After we finished we were able to go on a nice walk because we were at a park. There wasn’t a time limit.”
Reeves is part of a growing demographic of daters who are anti-imbibing on a first date.
Three out of four Hinge singles say going to get drinks is no longer their preferred first date activity, according to the app’s most recent data.
On Tinder, an app notorious for fostering hookups more than long-term partnerships, 72% of users said they don’t drink or only drink occasionally. And 25% said they drink less on dates this year compared to last year.
Unlike other trends that were accelerated by the pandemic — sweatpants at work, the death of the shopping mall — Covid might have altogether created this preference.
The isolation and uncertainty made many Americans rethink their relationships, not only with friends, partners, and family, but with alcohol, too.
“Covid really redefined what a date was,” says Logan Ury, Hinge’s Director of Relationship Science. ” Before, a date was getting a drink at a bar, but during the pandemic you couldn’t do that so people had to get more creative.”
One of Hinge’s features, called Prompt Polls, lets users pose a question to their matches. The second most popular prompt was “Instead of getting drinks let’s…” right behind “Choose your first date.”
The shift might be a sort of course correction. During the pandemic, Americans were drinking a lot.
In March 2020, online alcohol sales grew 234% from a year prior, according to Nielsen data.
Many Americans were buying alcohol in bulk. From February 29 to April 18, during which most states and cities in the U.S. implemented some sort of social distancing measures, boxed wine sales increased 10-fold and liquor handle sales were 23 times higher.
Increased liquor sales sustained through 2021 and 2022: In March 2021 and March 2022, alcohol sales were up 27% and 26%, respectively, from March 2019, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Simultaneously, mental health nationwide was deteriorating.
Four in 10 adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder in July 2020, up from one in 10 in July 2019, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll. Between August 2020 and February 2021, adults with symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders increased form 36.4% to 41.5%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Increases in symptoms were largest in Americans ages 18 to 29.
The two are related, says Ariadna Capasso, the director of research and evaluation at Heath Resources in Action.
Almost 60% of people with anxiety reported drinking more, according to research by the HRiA. Additionally, 41% of respondents with depression reported drinking more.
It often follows a pattern. “Alcohol is used by many people as self-medication,” Capasso says.
“You drink because you are depressed and it makes you more depressed after the initial symptoms wear off. It creates this cycle.”
The reasons Hinge daters prefer sober dates vary, but 45% of them say it’s because they are prioritizing their mental health, according to a survey of the app’s users.
Drinking might also cause you to experience alcohol myopia. This means your brain is more focused on immediate events as opposed to long-term consequences.
And daters are thinking more long-term now than they were a year ago, according to data from Match.
In 2022, 50% of singles said they would’ve been happier over the last year if they’d been in a relationship. In 2021, 35% had the same response.
The impulse to drink on dates is understandable, but for those who really want to form a lasting connection, alcohol is losing its appeal.
For Amro Alhelawe, 28, the pandemic just normalized a preference they’d always had. They’ve never been a big drinker on dates.
“It’s sort of this crutch,” they say. “It allows you to feel this fake-comfortable and when you’re going on a date you kind of want to learn who you are around this person without a crutch.”
Like Reeves, they believe it sends a message.
“I’d be down to get a drink with people if that’s what they want to do, but in my head it does feel a little less serious,” Alhelawe says. “It’s more of a tell of them wanting it to be more casual, in my experience.”
And even if you do have a connection, it’s easier to dismiss it if alcohol is involved.
“I’ve had a couple experiences where I’ve gone on dates with people and you get a little drunk and it’s really fun,” they say. “But the next few days it’s like it didn’t really happen.”
Want to earn more and work less? Register for the free CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event on Dec. 13 at 12 p.m. ET to learn from money masters how you can increase your earning power.