Can Single Sex/Porn Addicts in Recovery Date in Healthy Ways?

Scott Brassart

In an article posted last week, I discussed the fact that recovering sex and porn addicts can develop a healthy and enriching sex life and how to best go about that. The obvious follow-up to that post is an examination of how recovering sex/porn addicts who are not currently in a relationship can safely date and develop an intimate, emotionally connected sexual and romantic relationship.

There are many approaches to dating while in recovery, all of which involve an examination of goals, the setting of boundaries, and accepting feedback from one’s support network. My favorite approach is the Traffic Signals Dating Plan described below.

Red, Yellow, Green!

For recovering sex and porn addicts, healthy dating can feel confusing, slow, and, at times, not very exciting or interesting. In such cases, it helps to know your longer-term goals for dating. If, for example, you are hoping to date and ultimately get married, you can stay focused on the endgame even as you lament the intensity you are no longer experiencing. So, even before you begin the process of creating your Traffic Signals Dating Plan, you should list your top five goals for dating.

Examples of goals might include:

  • I want to meet new people and get to know them, and let them get to know me – the real
  • I want to find someone who shares my hobbies and interests so I’ll have a long-term partner with whom I can enjoy life.
  • I want to have at least three dates with a person before we become sexual.
  • I want to date someone that my friends and family think is worthy of me, instead of consistently undervaluing myself.
  • I want a committed, monogamous long-term relationship with kids.

After you’ve created your list of goals, you should discuss these goals with your therapist, your 12-Step sponsor, and others in your support network, asking for (and accepting) their feedback. These are the individuals who know you and your sex/relationship issues best, so they can point out things that seem to be missing, or inaccurate, or unrealistic. If, for example, one of your goals is to meet your soulmate and live a perfect life from that moment on, your advisors might suggest that you tone it down to something like, “I want to find a good match with my personality and to experience life with that person, doing my best to enjoy the downs as well as the ups.”

When you’ve settled on your top five goals, you can work on your boundaries for healthy dating – aka, your Traffic Signals Dating Plan. As you might expect, this plan involves red, yellow, and green lights.

Red Lights: These are traits and behaviors that are unacceptable in any person you might date. If a person displays even one red light trait, you should not date that individual. Examples of red lights traits include:

  • Still in a relationship.
  • Actively addicted to a substance or behavior.
  • Living with his/her ex.
  • Financially unstable.
  • Emotionally unavailable.

Yellow Lights: These are traits and behaviors that should automatically cause you to exercise caution in a relationship. Examples of yellow light traits include:

  • Habitual lateness.
  • Little or no interest in learning about or meeting your family and friends.
  • Lying or secretive behaviors.
  • Does not share your goals for dating (i.e., you want a long-term relationship but he/she only wants to date casually).
  • Lack of mutual hobbies, interests, or important values.

Green Lights: These are traits and behaviors that you find desirable in a person you date. If there is an abundance of green lights, that is an indication that you may want to give this person a shot, even if your heart isn’t pounding out of your chest every time you see them. Examples of green light traits include:

  • Shared hobbies, interests, and important values.
  • Has nice friends who seem to genuinely like you, and your friends seem to genuinely like him/her.
  • Likes to have fun.
  • Is as interested in you and your life and you are in his/her life.
  • Shared goals for dating and relationships.

As with your goals for dating, you need to share your Traffic Signals Dating Plan with your therapist, 12-Step sponsor, and others in your support network before you attempt to implement it, again asking for (and accepting) their input.

And then you’re ready for a coffee date. You go out on a brief coffee date, no more than an hour, to get to know a bit about the other person. Afterward, you again consult with your support network and ask for feedback. If your support network feels this person is a dud, you need to trust them, even if you disagree. If, however, your support network feels like you should aim for a second date, and you think that yes, you would like to spend more time with that person, you can proceed.

With each subsequent date, you must check in with your support team for feedback, remembering that they have your best interests in their minds and hearts, and their only motivation is to help you reach your stated goals by following your boundaries for dating.

The last thing two things I want to say here are: 1) Dating should be fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not dating the right person; and 2) Finding the right person for a long-term relationship takes a bit of effort. In fact, you’re likely to meet and have coffee with at least 10 to 20 people before you meet someone with whom you truly connect. So, if you’ve met a bunch of men or women who don’t seem to be what you’re looking for, that’s OK. Stick with it. Remember your goals and your boundaries, and continue to trust your support network. If you do, the right person will eventually come along.