Sober Dating and 'Infla-Dating' Are Summer 2023's Hottest Trends
We may have all thought we left behind the phrase "unprecedented times" when we tiptoed into February 2021.
However, surveys indicate this summer's dating trends both reflect and respond to our current moment in time. You know, the looming threat of a global recession, global warming, an ongoing European conflict with Russia and, wouldn't you know it, another election cycle already in full bloom for 2024.
Enter summer 2023's top dating vogues: "infla-dating" and sober dating.
It's not just about the money
With 73 percent of millennials living paycheck to paycheck and average cocktail prices hovering around $15 to $20 in cities like New York and Los Angeles, many singles are skipping expensive dinner-and-drinks meet-ups and instead infla-dating, a term coined by dating site Plenty of Fish, encouraging fun, romantic activities that are free or inexpensive.
Research indicates that many singles are less interested in drinking during dates in general. As reported by Tinder's The Future of Dating 2023 report, 88 percent of surveyed singles reported having an interest in going on a sober date this year.
According to Jordan Marks, M.A., L.M.F.T., founder and the principal therapist at Mind-Body Healing Center in Santa Monica, California, these trends point to dating becoming more authentic and emotionally healthy this summer.
"There is a growing trend in prioritizing emotional health in relationships, as opposed to escapism and inebriation," he said. "If people go out and party for their dates, that means the relationship is not based on reality—it's based on escapism. When the intention of a date is to truly connect, then it's necessary to feel safe. When you feel safe and connected to your body, you can most genuinely connect to that other person."
When the date is less expensive, the focus becomes the connection, not the experience of doing something extravagant.
Marks calls infla-dating a surprise, silver lining to the current economic peril many of us face.
"When the date is less expensive, the focus becomes the connection, not the experience of doing something extravagant," he said. "You want those extravagant things to enhance the connection, sure, but you don't want them to be the connection."
Alana McKenzie Page, the Portland-based dating and intimacy coach who authored "The Art of Feminine Seduction," explained adopting trends like infla-dating and sober dating this summer can help singles find true matches who share similar values and priorities.
"Economic factors coupled with current cultural trends like widespread acceptance of therapy and understanding emotional intelligence mean that people may be shifting their dating priorities to intimacy rather than impressing dates with external signals," she said. "If you value living frugally, then suggesting [infla-dating] will help you match with someone who shares that value. Dating sober can help you get to know someone authentically and make better choices during those early days. You're more likely to ask important questions, stick to your boundaries and feel more emotionally balanced if you keep your first few dates dry."
Meeting IRL is cool again
Marks recommended opting to meet new connections in real life (IRL) as opposed to the apps, as you're more likely to yield authentic, durable relationships.
The key, he explained, lies in first knowing your own interests, desires and passions.
"Take yourself out and reconnect to yourself this summer," he said. "Get clear on your desires and needs, so your date doesn't fill a gaping hole in your life but actually complements you. If you're seeking out activities based on your own likes, you have better chances of meeting others who share your values and passions than if you found a random person online who checks your boxes."
Whatever you end up doing, be intentional about your dating, you can be responsible for your own happiness.
Page said people still "meet cute" IRL every day, especially in public places where unstructured socializing or learning is happening.
"It's still very common for people to meet in real life," she said. "Meeting in person means you already have something in common because you both ended up in the same place at the same time or you were set up by a mutual acquaintance.
A public place that offers space for intermingled socializing is best, she added, so rather than a structured group exercise class, pick the weight-lifting room.
"Or join a hiking group. Spaces that are active help you both be more balanced energetically. You can also take a class in something you enjoy, like painting, pottery or sailing," Page said. "You'll meet people who like what you like, and a learning environment encourages curiosity and openness. These are highly attractive qualities to embody when meeting a romantic potential."
Your summertime first-date plans, unlocked
Keeping current trends in mind, Marks and Page offered four ideas and guidelines for first dates guaranteed to spark flames this summer:
1. Make an outdoor adventure out of it
"If you've chatted to the person enough to know you would enjoy their company for at least two hours, plan something that is a good match for their personality," Page said. "You might arrange a movie night at a park using a mini-projector, go on a city tour together—a ghost tour is perfect—or go mini-golfing. Anything with an element of novelty or teamwork is a great choice for a first date."
Marks agreed and said outdoor activities where you're forced to use your skills in creativity and observation sans technological distractions.
"It doesn't have to be some grand gesture," he said. "It could be just a walk in the park and commit to turning your phone off. Be yourself without distraction. Be in the unknown together."
2. Get physical—outside of the sheets
"Try things that are competitive in a fun way like pickleball or ax throwing," Marks said. "When you're experiencing how someone else moves throughout the world and how they use their body, it can accelerate bonding."
3. Incorporate mindfulness
"Do something that ignites self-reflection, introspection and connection, like a breathwork or yoga class, a course you take together," Marks said. "Or seeing a documentary."
4. Don't be afraid to get educational
"If it's important to you to connect philosophically, going on an educational tour or visiting a museum can really catalyze that connection," Marks said.
Whatever you end up doing, be intentional about your dating. You may not be able to thwart politicians from making things miserable but you can be responsible for your own happiness.