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#607: Do I have to stop drinking entirely because my boyfriend is in recovery?

Dear Cap, 

The first date I had with him, we both ordered water–I feel awkward having a glass of wine with dinner if the other person isn’t having a drink too. It took three dates, when I suggested touring a brewery that I’d wanted to check out for ages, when he told me that he was an alcoholic in recovery. I asked him if he minded me drinking around him; he said that he’d thought I abstained entirely, and I told him that I did not, but that I’d be happy to stick to water or tea around him if me having a drink made anything harder for him. He said it was very courteous of me and he’d appreciate it. 

No problem so far. We hung out a few times a week and had fun. I never felt like I was missing anything by not drinking around him. 

We went out for three months before I mentioned, casually, that on a night we weren’t hanging out I was planning to go to an artisan cocktail bar with a few friends. He began to ask me for details–was there a DD, how much did I plan to drink. I told him I usually didn’t do more than three cocktails over a long evening and that we had a DD who just doesn’t like alcohol and planned to sample the gourmet sodas at the bar. 

Then he asked me to give up alcohol entirely, even when I wasn’t around him. He said that he didn’t feel comfortable in a relationship with someone who drank at all; he went into detail about his relationship with alcohol, comparing it to an abusive relationship, and explained that he felt that my drinking was in a sense cheating on him. 

I told him I’d have to think about it, but that I was still going out with my friends as I’d planned, and I wasn’t going to make a decision like that right then and there. His answer was that if I truly wanted to make the relationship work, I wouldn’t even have to think about it, and that even considering choosing alcohol over him was a clear sign that I had a problem and needed to go to AA. 

“I’ll do a fucking moral inventory in the morning, but I’m going to go out with my friends tonight,” I said, and hung up on him. He hasn’t called me back. 

I’m genuinely torn. On the one hand, I’m sure I’m not an alcoholic (and I did give it much thought). I enjoy good libations in moderation, and I get seriously drunk maybe once or twice a year in safe circumstances. There have been times when I haven’t had alcohol for weeks just because I didn’t feel like it; I give up beer for Lent every year and it’s not a hardship. 

But I chose the freedom to drink (responsibly) over a budding relationship with someone who was, frankly, otherwise wonderful and well-suited to me. 

Is that the sign of someone who has a drinking problem? Or was this the first sign that he was a controlling jerk? 

Signed, 

Lovely Lady Lush 

 

Dear Lovely Lady Lush,

I think your boyfriend (probably soon to be ex-boyfriend) has the right to decide that he doesn’t want to date anyone who drinks alcohol, and that any amount of it, even on the edges of his life, is too much. That might change with time, as he gets more secure in his own recovery, but right now he’s got some information about what he needs, and that’s what he should definitely do, going forward! And if solidarity around not drinking, ever, is something he really needs from a dating partner, then he should ask for it up front and not try to ease into it by degrees. Some friends/partners/family members of recovering addicts do abstain entirely as a gesture of solidarity. They do it by choice, though, and not in response to panicked ultimatums or accusations.

It doesn’t make you a bad person or mean that you are an alcoholic who chose an “abusive relationship with booze” over him (even if that’s the story he ends up telling after the relationship is over). You were living well within your agreed-upon rules, and I think you were right to say “I’m not making a decision like that right now, this second, on my way out the door” in response to an ultimatum that he sprung on you. I don’t think it’s okay for him to project his addiction onto you and to try to diagnose you as a fellow addict when you aren’t just because it would be easier for him if you were. If he is a controlling guy, setting himself up as your mentor/sponsor/leader/drinking monitor is a handy step in the process, and isolating you from your friends is another. Recovery is very isolating, as people figure out just how many social activities involve booze, and I can see why it’s tempting for him to want company in that isolation. A lot of controlling behaviors spring out of a sense of loneliness and panic. That doesn’t make them okay, or something that you have to live with.

I don’t think you have to be an alcoholic, or he has to necessarily be 100% a controlling jerk for you to be incompatible and for this to all be more work than you want to put into a relationship right now. He’s in recovery, and the stakes around this are very high for him in a way that they are not for you, and that’s okay. You both have some information now that you didn’t before. It’s okay to not be invested enough in him to want to quit socializing with your friends to make him feel better. It’s okay to decide that dude, you’re in a different place from me, and I can’t sign up for a lifetime of working on this alongside you at this point in my life. It’s okay for you to resist his casting you as a fellow addict when you aren’t. It’s also okay for him to decide that he wants to date teetotalers only. I think the best outcome for both of you is for you to disengage from each other right now. I would send him one more message, like, “I really don’t like the note we left things on the other night, because I care about you and wish you all the best. But I don’t think we should date each other anymore.” And then, do your best to let that be the end. Don’t get drawn into a long negotiation where you start talking about a breakup and end up talking about booze.

Sometimes you date someone who is great in many ways but it just doesn’t work out, and that is an okay ending to this story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

247 comments
  1. caryatid said:

    why did he think the LW “abstained entirely”? based on the fact that they just had water on the first few dates? that’s a huge assumption to make…

    anyways, i think it’s pretty unfair of him to make this demand in a pretty new relationship; it’s one thing to show solidarity for an established relationship by abstaining.

    it could be it’s just limited to the drinking/his addiction issues, but if he pressures in this way (quit now or you’re an alcoholic), where else might he apply this tactic??

    • Knights Who Say Knit said:

      Agreed. And his “if you really loved me, you wouldn’t even have to think about this” crap is throwing up a MAJOR red flag for me.

      • Mercy said:

        Yeah, that and “you drinking when I’m not around is cheating on me” (I’m assuming in the same sense as, say, sleeping with someone else) both raised big red flags for me.

        • thepaintedlady said:

          That was the reddest of red flags for me.

        • annejumps said:

          Yeah, he is out of line.

        • Courtney said:

          Major flags, holy cow.

          1) If you loved me you would automatically acquiese to my sudden, unreasonable ultimatum
          2) You doing (non-romantic, non-sexual activity with non-romantic, non-sexual friends) is cheating on me
          3) Assumption that she abstained entirely based on minimal information + projection of his identity as an addict=”I don’t really recognize you as a separate person from me”

          RUN. Run far and fast, and don’t look back. This guy keeps his Darth Vader outfit in the back closet with the Evil Beekeeping gear.

          • Solestria said:

            Yes to all of this. It is reasonable for a recovered alcoholic to desire an abstaining partner and to ask whether that is something a partner can do, or would consider. To approach it like he did seems absolutely controlling. Running for the hills definitely seems like the best course of action here.

          • Silva said:

            Not to negate the whole “get out while the getting’s good” thing, but I’ve seen the projection of identity as addict in otherwise non-abusive people when they’re going through AA. I think the program encourages this kind of armchair diagnosis.

          • Cait said:

            OOOOh, yes. Exactly. As an addict in recovery there is the well known phrase, ‘some of us are sicker than others.’ This dude is not worth a minute more of your time.

            When someone recognizes they have a drinking problem and gets sober, that does NOT automatically magic-fairy-dust make all the rest of their dysfunctions all better. In our natural state, we addicts are manipulative, underhanded, unpleasant, self-seeking, self-serving, self-pitying, egomanics with low self-esteem. Drinking or snorting or lighting up or whatever is a solution to that intolerable and unliveable reality, until it stops working or it kills us or it earns us too many DUIs or family screaming matches, lost relationships, lost jobs. If we’re lucky, we live, we realize the consequences, and we stop drinking. That’s jim dandy. But it only brings all the rest of that raw mess of our underdeveloped, childlike, demanding, self-serving personalities up to the surface. Where the mess sits, and quivers, and cries. Until we deal with it. It hurts.

            Some addicts try to deal with it by getting into a relationship. Because domapine + sex = ahhhhhh, high! Some addicts go back out because they can’t handle realizing what they’ve really done with their lives, who they’ve done it to, and what they’ve become. Some, the most courageous, or the most lucky, find a way to live with rigorous fucking honesty and humilty and they try to be of service to other people than themselves. And not just in a lip service kind of way. But this never comes naturally to them. It’s hard work. It takes a willingness to go against the grain every day.

            Getting sober is great, but it’s the first step down a lonnnnnng road of hard ass work in basically reforming one’s manipulative, self-serving, selfish personality. And that is not done by telling your new girlfrield to choose you or her friends, now, tonight, or else. That is some bulllllllshit.

            Call him on it. Tell him it’s bullshit. Kindly but firmly. He has poor experience with boundaries of all kinds, his and other people’s. And tell him that’s it. And go. This guy has a lot more work to do. And you are under no obligation to be his sobriety relationship kindergarten.

      • craniest said:

        my ex threw that at me about smoking, the “if you really loved me you’d quit.” Even though I smoked before we even met and didn’t hide it at all. We were together married and otherwise for seven years.

        When ex asked for the divorce I quit smoking the following day, as I couldn’t afford it and needed money to get out of the house and move 3000 miles back home. Have only had one since, and that was the day before my mom died, so I’m allowed.

        I’ve said for years ex wanted me to quit because of ex and that I quit despite ex instead.

        • craniest said:

          sorry, can’t edit above.

          I suppose I should add this was 20 something years ago, before the major push to stop smoking because of the secondhand effects really got underway. Some days I can’t even believe I ever smoked at all, now. But it was the guilt thing more than anything else I was commenting on, and it’s quite possible I didn’t quit earlier just out of sheer orneriness. The point is, that kind of emotional blackmail barely works when you’re a few years married, it sure doesn’t work in 3 month old relationships.

        • Muddie Mae said:

          UGH, my best friend’s boyfriend is like that. He met her with a cigarette in her hand, and he’s frankly an idiot about smoking so he constantly bugs her about quitting. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t actually help her attempts to quit since she’s not fucking ready to quit yet, and then she lies to him and he gets pissy with her friends (mostly me) for bumming her cigarettes.

          He’s definitely in bitch eating crackers territory for me these days, but I think the smoking thing would bug me even if I liked the guy.

          • Erin said:

            How controlling is that? To wit, I don’t believe I could go out with a smoker, but I think he should either make up his mind and end it or shut the fuck up forever.

          • Laughing Giraffe said:

            When you say “he’s an idiot about smoking”, do you mean that he’s a jerk to smokers (which is bad and, yes, he shouldn’t do) or that he’s very very stubborn on the subject of smoking causing lung cancer, etc.?

          • Muddie Mae said:

            Erin -maybe controlling isn’t quite the right word, but he is constantly pressuring her and is generally an ass about the fact that she smokes. I agree, he should either deal with it or leave.

            Laughing Giraffe – he does not know anything about addiction and refuses to acknowledge that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s into the old “moral failing” concept.

          • Erin said:

            Muddie Mae: I called it “controlling” because I think this constant pressure/nagging is designed to wreck the nerves of any person … and once they give in, or their self-esteem is eroded, the person is indeed controlled. But I won’t die on this hill and you know the situation first-hand. We agree anyway :)

      • fussbot said:

        Hah, yeah, come to think of it my most recent ex threw those exact words at me when I broke up with him. Further ammo for my feelings of having made the right call, thank you :)

      • atma said:

        “And his “if you really loved me, you wouldn’t even have to think about this” crap is throwing up a MAJOR red flag for me”

        Yes, yes, yes! The ONLY answer to that demand is “If you really loved ME, you would respect me enough to have a dialogue about it!”

    • espritdecorps said:

      Yeah, I drink socially and Spouse abstains which made him uncomfortable because his alcoholic family were mean drunks, and me uncomfortable because I like being social with him and it felt weird to be happily tipsy when he was nervously sober.

      We have made accommodations for each other around that, but that happened informally over a couple years of dating and more explicitly when “Maybe I would like to be with you for the rest of my life” became a thing.

      Three months is way to early to lay down ultimatums.

      • Beth B said:

        Agreed, agreed.

        “Please don’t talk to me about anything booze-related — if you’re going out with your friends, cool, but if it’s to a bar don’t tell me that” is probably a fair request to make — but it’s not a fair ultimatum or expectation, and LW would also have the right to refuse. (That would quite likely be a sign that this relationship might not last, between these two people at this time in their lives, but it’s still totally reasonable for both of them.)

        And it would also be entirely fair and human for the LW to agree to something like that, and then to later say “You know, I thought that was a thing I could totally reasonably do, but actually it’s become a big strain for me to be constantly police what I do and don’t say about my social life to my boyfriend.” At which point they would have to either renegotiate their needs, or break up because their needs on something important were incompatible.

        But to lay down the ultimatum of “If you care about me, you won’t drink at all, ever, whether I’m present or not, and if you don’t instantly agree to this you don’t care about me and you’re probably an alcoholic too” — let alone to do so three months in — yeah, no. That’s not fair to the LW, or to any romantic partner. If he needs that out of a dating partner, okay, but it shouldn’t be a surprise ultimatum and it shouldn’t be framed in that way.

        • thebearpelt said:

          I agree. That’s actually a fairly close agreement that my boyfriend and I have since I grew up with an alcoholic parent. He doesn’t drink around me and usually doesn’t bring it up if he is somewhere else. He has mentioned it once or twice if I’ve asked, and while there is a noticeable tension on my end, I back off and leave it alone. Ultimatums are not healthy.

    • Q-chan said:

      Yup, I read that bit and cringed. That is manipulative as hell, and unless he knocks it the fuck off I’m fairly certain this will only lead to more, and worse, gaslighting-type behaviors.

      • hebbyn said:

        This is just my experience but… people who are addicts often develop useful manipulative tools in order to manage the rest of the world around their addiction. Sometimes these are tools used on themselves (“it doesn’t count if…”) and sometimes they’re tools used on other people (“If this is such an issue for you, maybe you’re the one with the problem…” is a favourite). Those habits can remain even after they’ve stopped using whatever they were addicted to.

        (which is not to say those tools are unique to people with addiction issues– just that if you’re doing something on a daily basis, you can get pretty good at it)

  2. Outragesaur said:

    Cap’s advice is perfect. I also think he is asking a bit much and it is unfair for him to do so. He gets to make his choices, but he doesn’t get to make yours. That said, the way he went about trying to get a certain promise from you was not cool, manipulative, controlling, and ultimately, a red flag. You were right on to spot it and question it; your darth-dar is good!

    • charmed.omega said:

      “He gets to make his choices, but he doesn’t get to make yours” could be the summary of so much good advice.

  3. Suzy said:

    Holy crap run. Run like hell. Maybe he can’t be around someone who drinks but how long before he starts saying you can’t hang around with people who might drink? This is the first step in isolating you from your friends and setting himself up as someone who can “help” you. This well no doubt involve slowly shattering your faith in yourself and taking away your Team Me.

    • Jessica said:

      Oh, man. Absolutely. LW, read the above!

      LW, you might want to let a few friends know what happened if you haven’t already. Spread the word a bit that if this guy tries to weasel himself back into your life or tries to badmouth you to people you know (setting up a situation where others start pressuring you about drinking — “See, I told you you had a problem, now everyone else is saying so, too”), there are people who can help defend you. Much easier to stop acquaintances from believing him if you have friends who can back you up, exposing him for what he is.

      • This is awesome advice. I think often it can feel weird and uncomfortable to reveal stuff like this, but in a situation where someone doesn’t have a good sense of boundaries and decorum, it can be very helpful to control the message. If you get to it first, by default you are ahead in the controlling the message race. And it’s easier for Team You to react properly when they know there’s a possibility someone might try to mislead them.

    • Kade Azkyroth said:

      Yeah, having been married to an alcoholic for five years (who is, amusingly, still convinced that the reason our marriage failed was because I didn’t go to Al-Anon, the confusingly named 12 Step Recovery (….) Group For Partners and Friends of Alcoholics Who Are Not Addicts Themselves), I can’t second the “run like hell” advice enough if he’s trying to force you not to drink on your own or insisting you must be an alcoholic because you’re reluctant to stop drinking socially and in moderation just because he demands it.

      I feel like the Captain’s advice is soft-pedaled, if anything, and I’m kind of surprised.

      • I’m a bit surprised too–I got *major* controlling vibes from the (ex)boyfriend. Accusing the LW of cheating because she drinks socially? Demanding that she cancel plans to see friends at the last minute? Insisting that she must be an alcoholic?

        And this: “His answer was that if I truly wanted to make the relationship work, I wouldn’t even have to think about it…” ?!!!

        It’s really, really hard for me to see that behavior as anything other than a factory churning out one red flag after another. There’s layers upon layers of gaslighting, controlling, and trying to isolate her from her support system, all within only three months. If that’s how he acts at the *beginning* of a relationship, I’m scared to imagine his behavior farther down the line.

        Thirded, RUN LIKE HELL.

      • Well, the Captain did tell the LW to break up with the dude.

      • Siobhan said:

        I am an alcoholic, in recovery now for 10 years. While I would never dream of even asking someone to not drink around me, different people have different triggers. However…

        There is a very, very, common trait among alcoholics, and that is being controlling to the point of abusive. Half of the Big Book of AA is lessons on giving up control. It manifests in very different ways: for example, I don’t try to control my husband at all. But we live in a foreign country, where I don’t speak the language well, and sometimes, when we do official business (e.g., immigration), he doesn’t translate, he just handles things. And I go completely batshit off the wall (I’M WORKING ON IT!). He doesn’t do it to be an asshole, he does it because he’s not good at translating on the fly — one language or another is fine, but trying to do both is hard for him. But I hate having the ability to deal with my own shit even a little bit out of my hands.

        It’s something to keep in mind when dating an alcoholic. And this guy obviously is not working the “letting go” part of his program at the moment. That’s ok, too, maybe he’ll get there, maybe he won’t, but it doesn’t mean it’s ok FOR YOU.

        • the neaked monk said:

          Dear Siobhan,

          May I suggest that in those situations, you bring along a digital recorder ( or use your phone) to record the audio. ( It could be discreet as well so that the official is unaware.) That way at least you have some control over the situation– you are doing __something__, not just being talked at/about in a different language. Then, over coffee, ice cream, a foot massage, your husband can translate the proceedings for you.

          I have felt the same way. Not knowing what’s going on in these kinds of vital living situations can raise one’s temperature quite uncomfortably.

          Hugs & Kittens~~

          • zyronife said:

            If this is official business for the government (immigration), secretly recording conversations could be illegal in a major way. I’d check with a legal expert before you do anything of the kind.

        • thebearpelt said:

          Exactly, this. I’m an adult child of an alcoholic (most of us have control issues too because we mimic the behavior of the alcoholic) and that was my first thought when reading this. I feel for him, but he can’t do this to her, it’s not okay. And she probably shouldn’t stick around right now. He’s just not in a place to be a healthy person to date.

    • Basically it’s all ever increasing ripples. If the LW stops drinking, that means she(?) needs sober things to do with friends, so they have to stop going to bars together, etc. Either people he may not have even met yet have to rearrange their lives for him or the LW’s relationships are going to start suffering, and that’s not very fair. I have about the same alcohol usage as LW I think. It’s definitely not something I need to have, ever, and I don’t even like getting more than a bit tipsy, but I’d still have to like someone a HELL of a lot to promise to never go to a bar with my friends for a drink.

      • Just wanted to point out that this actually isn’t correct. I was almost teetotal throughout medical school, which is a *very* alcohol-dominated culture, and it never interfered with my social life – I went to pubs (the British term) with other people and had soft drinks instead of alcohol and nobody cared. (Except to be mildly pleased about it, because rounds were cheaper and because I could give people lifts home at the end of the night.) For that matter, I recently joined a book club which is held in a pub, and nobody cares what drink I buy there either.

        I completely agree that the red flags in the boyfriend’s attitude are worrying enough to warrant serious consideration of breaking up in any case. Just wanted to make the general point that being a non-drinker doesn’t automatically mean having to give up social events in bars.

        • JenniferP said:

          That’s great! “Non-drinker” and “recovering alcoholic” are different animals, though, and you’d be amazed how much stuff takes place in a bar when you really can’t be in one for your own peace of mind.

          • Absolutely. I wasn’t saying that the boyfriend should go to bars if he didn’t feel happy with it. I was responding to Chris Miller’s comment saying that not drinking automatically had to mean not going to bars, even if the reason for the not drinking is something other than alcoholism. I mean, it’s kind of irrelevant here because the boyfriend’s demands are inappropriate anyway, but I wanted to make it as a general point because the idea that bar visit = alcohol carries its own problems.

    • Stayce said:

      I think that someone who lays down an (accusatory, manipulative) ultimatum like LW’s boyfriend did is probably not ready for a dating relationship, and the LW is totally justified in viewing that as a red flag, regardless of his intentions or whether this is just the first of many controlling and isolating behaviors. Even if he is a well-meaning person who panicked and said something hurtful, it’s okay to say that you just aren’t compatible. There will be other dudes who maybe aren’t in recovery, or who are and can manage their feelings around that more healthily than this guy can.

    • This was my reaction too. Especially because of what he didn’t do. Maybe he just handled it very badly, but if his concern were the LW drinking, a more sensible approach would be to ask her to please not drink while there. She could also sample the sodas, but still hang out with her friends. But that that didn’t come up made me feel like he’s uncomfortable with her having friends who drink, which quickly becomes way too much to lose to be with someone. I’d have been unwilling to agree to that, and I do not drink (as in haven’t had any alcohol in over a year due to medical issues). Hanging out socially around people who are drinking is simply not something I’m willing to give up. I may have to give up alcohol, and I have, but I will not give up socializing in its presence. Maybe he does need someone who will do that, but it definitely doesn’t sound like that would be worth it to the letter writer – and it probably wouldn’t be for most people. And this early into a relationship, given how badly he handled a conflict… it just doesn’t bode well. I think there are more compatible fish in the sea.

    • thebearpelt said:

      I agree. He likely needs help, preferably from a good AA group that can help him manage his control issues. Most alcoholics have major control issues, which is why so many of the steps are about learning that you can’t control the world around you. He can’t drink anymore to block out what he can’t control, so he’s trying to control her behavior. It’s very sad that he’s struggling, but this is still not acceptable or healthy. If he doesn’t cut it out immediately, he’s not healthy to be around.

  4. Jill said:

    Would you stop eating meat if your SO was a vegetarian? Would you give up your religious beliefs to date an atheist? Would you avoid buying yourself things you enjoy if SO was poor? Captain’s advice is spot on – we all have the right to decide the qualities we can and cannot accept in a partner. But no one has the right to make a partner conform to those beliefs. It sounds like you’ve been trying your best to find a balance between enjoying beverages you like while respecting his recovery efforts – – but he’s not having it. He wants you to conform and that ain’t right.

    By the way, I live in Milwaukee – Brew Town as it’s known – where we have beer at church festivals and where it’s not uncommon to see kids in the local neighborhood tavern. This person you’re seeing has a totally messed up definition of what a true alcoholic is.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      I agree. I wouldn’t give up meat if I dated a vegetarian – nor would I expect my SO to give up dairy, which I can’t eat, although I really need a dairy-free household. (Maybe we could negotiate – “this drawer of stuff I don’t touch” or whatever – but I like being in a place where none of the food will make me sick and I don’t have to worry about reading labels. Or being tempted.)

      Religion, now. I don’t think I could date someone whose beliefs are very different from mine. That’s something I’d want us to agree on from the start. So…I get that feeling, I guess? But I wouldn’t force someone to CHANGE for me. That’s…no.

      • Mercy said:

        Yeah, my husband and I have been negotiating how to get around my need for GF food and his need for whole grain non-processed bread (i.e. GF bread doesn’t work for him) –both new needs for us last summer. We do the one drawer thing in our kitchen, and he has two specific plates he uses for the bread, to boot (he used to use our small cutting boards). It’s a negotiation, just like my desire to still eat some sweet things while he can’t anymore (type 2 diabetes), and because we’d been together a decade and know we want to continue to be together and help each other out, it was a given that we would do these negotiations, but neither of us expects the other to go completely without, especially when we’re not around each other!

    • While I did not give up meat when I moved in with my then-girlfriend-now-wife, I certainly didn’t eat any at home. I sometimes ate meat when I was at my parents, or out to eat, or at lunch at work, but at home it was a simple matter to just make a single meal that didn’t have any meat. She told me she felt a bit guilty about that, but I did not mind at all, since I knew she was a piscetarian when we started dating.

      Last year she started having meat again after many, many years of having none at all, but she’s still not entirely sure why she started craving it. I have been a bit of a “meat guru” for her since, and it amuses me to no end that she went from not eating any meat to liking her steak rare in less than a year.

    • Phoebastria said:

      I don’t know that those are the best comparisons, because alcoholism is a lifelong battle against falling back into addiction and our society is full of alcohol references and availability that exacerbate temptation (as your examples about Milwaukee prove, it’s pretty ominpresent, including in unexpected places). The cravings for meat by someone who just went veg or someone who is now atheist feeling lonely for church socials doesn’t compare to the struggle of an alcoholic to keep from falling to addiction again.

      While he’s fully in the right to decide that he wants the people around him to present as little temptation as possible, to aid in his ongoing recovery, he is not in the right in the way he decided to change the boundaries on the spot as an ultimatum.

      • Phoebastria said:

        And a clarification: he’s in the right to decide he wants the people around him to present as little temptation as possible, but that does not mean he gets to decide for them if they drink or not. He can decide to stop hanging around them if they do drink, because managing his problem is his job, not theirs, though if they choose to volunteer to support him in the best ways for him, they can decide to do that too.

      • Blue Meeple said:

        They’re not perfect comparisons, but nothing ever is. They’re ways for people to try to relate to the circumstance. I can relate to a lifelong battle against temptation in a society full of references to the thing you can’t have, for example. Try going grocery shopping for dairy-free foods…

        • Phoebastria said:

          Understood! I realize I was a bit knee-jerk, for personal reasons, so I’m sorry for that.

        • nda said:

          Nothing ever is a perfect comparison, but I really think that your comments trivialize addiction. If you give in and get some ice cream, you probably don’t risk slowing ruining your own life and those of those you love, losing your job, etc. I realize that not all alcoholism presents itself the same way, but saying “I can relate to alcoholics because I can’t eat dairy” just shows that you really can’t relate.

          • Blue Meeple said:

            I didn’t intend to be trivializing. I apologize if it came across that way.

        • JenniferP said:

          BlueMeeple, Chuck, and others: Please let us not double-down on these comparisons of other dietary stuff (especially choices, like vegetarianism, but also dietary allergies) to addictions.

          Because food and drink are so embedded in social rituals and bonding, anything funky going on around food & drink consumption affects both health and opportunities to socialize, sure, ok. So there is a Venn Diagram where people who can’t have peanuts and recovering alcoholics can both be bummed about the cool Meetup at the satay bar where everything comes with delicious peanut sauce and fruity tropical drinks. But there are a lot of places where their circles of stuff they deal with do not touch. At all. Let’s be respectful of that.

    • uuuuuuuuuuuh said:

      Meat/vegetarian as a relationship combo seems like a fairly easy thing to work out-either agree to have a meat-free kitchen but not to police what you eat out or to just treat it like a kosher kitchen and have separate veggie and meat cookware and dishes if you’re strict about contact.

      • Silva said:

        Four words: easier said than done.

        I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying don’t say it’s easy til you’ve tried it.

    • cleoReads said:

      I’m gluten free (celiac disease) and my husband is a recovering alcoholic, and I can tell you, in my experience anyways, addiction is very different from a food intolerance. There’s a little overlap, and on the surface they may look alike, but they’re fundamentally different.

      I’ll add that I’m cautious about making comparisons like the one above – I’m glad the Captain commented on it. When I was first diagnosed with Celiac, and grieving, and trying to figure out what the heck I could eat, a close friend said she understood because of her experience going vegetarian. And I was so, so enraged by that comment – it felt like she missed the point entirely and was minimizing my experience because a) I didn’t choose my diet and b) the consequences for cheating on my diet are much more dire. (We worked it out).

    • High 5 fellow Milwaukeean Awkwardeer!

      • JAT said:

        We should have a meetup.

        • Yes!

  5. Bunny said:

    Agree totally.

    Also, speaking personally, if my now-partner developed a drinking problem, quit and asked me to go teetotal with him to help his recovery, I would do it in a heartbeat. But we’ve been together over a decade, we’re engaged, and our relationship is a deep and committed one. And I know that if he ever did ask something like that of me, it’d be through a series of discussions on the matter in which I’d be given time to think it over if I needed to.

    You’ve been dating this guy for three months, and he’s asking you to be down with a significant alteration in your lifestyle that he sprung on you as an ultimatum and then refused to let you take even a few days to think about. At three months, people break for all kinds of reasons up to and including “I’m just kind of bored of this person”.

    It’s okay to not want to continue to see someone because their deal-breaker is incompatible with the life you’re happy living. It’s especially okay to break up with someone because they dumped the deal-breaker ultimatum on you with no notice and treated it like any answer other than “yes of course” made you an addict. Because completely aside from the specific thing he asked of you, that is just a really shitty way to handle something like this and I would worry whether it would indicate a potential pattern of sudden demand-unreasonable ultimatum-judgement for other things in the relationship.

    • Bunny said:

      Also I just caught that it sounds like LW’s cocktail night was due to take place the same day that LW’s ex gave her the ultimatum.

      So add to all of that a demand that she basically cancel a planned night out with friends at zero notice in addition to altering her lifestyle not just around him, but permanently.

      As much as it’s possible that LW’s ex was simply early in his recovery and handling his recovery needs poorly… I am getting major controlling arsehole red flag fumes off this.

      • Yes. “You have to cancel a night with your friends with no notice or you don’t care about me.” Um…. gee, I’ve known you 3 months, exactly what do you THINK I’m going to say here?

        • J. Preposterice said:

          right? Person I’ve been dating 3 months is pretty much not going to out-hit a group of old friends in a game of Ultimatum Ball.

  6. It sucks that he told you one thing and then sneak-changed his mind. That’s not fair to you. He should have spoken up sooner. It strikes me as manipulative that he brought it up when he did. He couldn’t have waited a day? Really?

    If he had apologized and taken responsibility, that would have been one thing, but since he hasn’t I say you just dodged a controlling jerk-bullet.

  7. Captain, you’re so lovely and even-handed!

    LW, this might be a hard thing to resolve in your mind because there are cultural narratives about alcohol, and we have very strong negative feelings about both people who abstain entirely and people who are alcoholic. Him pushing you into a position where you’re defending a “vice” (and probably feeling a bit ashamed and weird about it – which are feelings he really wants you to have) may make this a bit difficult to see through. Plus, you might feel like if you break up, it’ll be a weird breakup to explain: “Yeah, I guess I did choose alcohol over Bob.”

    But there are so many examples in life where One Partner Can’t Have Things and the other partner has choices to make. There are so many food allergies. There are so many food preferences. There are so many shades of physical ability.

    If Bob had a life-threatening peanut allergy, and you were a vegan whose protein requirements were filled mostly by nuts, this relationship just wouldn’t work. He can’t stop being allergic and you need nutrition to survive. Bob has no place demanding that you add meat protein to your diet just to please him; you have no place telling Bob to suck it up and stop going into anaphylactic shock when he kisses you.

    No blame attaches, no shame connects.

    The fact that alcohol is involved here muddies the waters, but it’s the same thing: “We broke up. He wanted me to follow his diet and it got a bit weird.”

    • espritdecorps said:

      I like this narrative very much.

      • neverjaunty said:

        THIS. So much.

        The alcohol is almost a red herring. Ex pulled “if you reeeeally loved meeeeee you’d _________ right this instant, and if you don’t it’s because You Don’t Care, also something is Very Wrong With You.” Not giving up/doing __________ in response to that nonsense says nothing about whether you like __________ better than Ex.

    • (I should clarify that I’m not intending to equate alcoholism with dietary preferences, but to note that alcohol is inherently bound up in complex social mores which could distract attention from the WEIRD CONTROLLING BEHAVIOR.)

      Building on that, I wanted to add that in socially conscious circles, we really care about doing the right thing and caring for others. And abusive people definitely take advantage of that.

      Ever had a manipulative person react when you set a boundary? They don’t get violent. They try to convince you that you’re the one who’s being abusive. And they’ll tell others that you’re an abuser. And you’ll feel sick and horrified, and will probably consider erasing your boundary, because you know that abuse is WRONG. It takes a lot of confidence and clear sight to recognise that abusive people will turn this language against you, because they know that you care about it.

      Ever called a defensive racist out on their behavior? Bingo cards say that the first thing they’ll do is call YOU a racist.

      Ever defended yourself or a friend from online abuse? Your abuser will loudly call you a bully.

      I have actually been in a situation where somebody was becoming verbally abusive and I said that I was becoming upset and was going to walk away. They shouted after me “I thought you were all about USING YOUR WORDS.” Which – whoa. It is hard to feel in the right when someone’s using the Captain Awkward Glossary against you!

      People who care about others know that “alcoholics” and “addicts” and “bullies” and “racists” are types of people who hurt others. An manipulators and abusers absolutely know that. And they will use it against you. (They’ll also use faked social consciousness as camouflage for their horrible actions – see also he-who-must-not-be-named, rhyming with Yugo Shmizer. “I can’t be misogynistic or abusive because I’m a feminist!”)

      It’s a kind of gaslighting: really obvious in some ways, really insidious in others. An because alcohol is so fraught, it’s a good candidate for that.

      for this sort of predatory person, a good way to get a socially conscious person to stop their drinking behaviour – and to question their own experiences and feelings about it – would be to insinuate that they’re an alcoholic, an abuser, inconsiderate, selfish, harmful, unsafe.

      I’m sure that this isn’t what your dude is doing, but it’s something I was circling around when I posted.

      • tawg said:

        Thank you for this comment. I’m kind of working through some unhealthy dynamics in my life, and I think a lot of it is people taking advantage of the ‘doing the right thing’ system and using it for their benefit/to pressure and bully me into situations. So this was really useful for me to read right now.

      • k8899 said:

        “Ever called a defensive racist out on their behavior? Bingo cards say that the first thing they’ll do is call YOU a racist.”

        Raises hand

      • neverjaunty said:

        “They shouted after me “I thought you were all about USING YOUR WORDS.”

        But “Go fuck yourself with a Vitamix” IS words!

      • Nanners said:

        “Ever defended yourself or a friend from online abuse? Your abuser will loudly call you a bully.”

        Oh man. I had someone call me a bully in an argument on Facebook once. Before she called me a bully, I had actually removed myself from the conversation because she was responding in very reactionary, knee-jerk, offensive ways and I didn’t feel there was any way to respond without either repeating myself or being drawn into an actual fight with her.

        Then another of my friends came around to combat her, and made some really good points (which I “like-buttoned,”) and also got involved in an actual knock-down, drag-out, name-calling fight with her (which I ignored completely). She called me a bully because I didn’t respond to my other friend’s “attacks” against her, despite her having attacked me in the same ways just a few posts prior.

        She unfriended me on Facebook after that, and I’m so glad I haven’t had to deal with her since.

  8. 30ish said:

    I agree with the Captain. I also think the (ex)boyfriend was projecting quite a bit. Just because he has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and needs to abstain from drinking doesn’t mean that everyone who is not ready to give up alcohol entirely has a problem, too. There’s a difference between not being able to live without alcohol and saying “abstaining completely feels a little to restrictive to me, so I won’t date you if that’s a condition for you”.
    Plus, I feel it’s hugely problematic to tell someone they “need to go to AA”, like this guy did. Even if it’s a situation where you really have reason to believe that someone should go to AA (which this one wasn’t), it would still be a statement that would probably not be very helpful. Just rings a little to authoritative.

  9. Hi LW, recovering alcoholic here. You don’t say how long the ex/STBX has been in recovery, but I get a sense it may not be very long. I can only talk about my experiences. When I told my friends I was getting sober, many of them opted not to drink in front of me, but that was THEIR decision, not mine. My best friend insisted on only serving sparkling cider at NYE, for example. I firmly believe that I am the one with the problem with alcohol, and that shouldn’t keep anyone around me from drinking. (I will say I don’t go to bars or events where I know the main activity will be drinking, but I don’t stop my friends from going, either!)

    I totally agree with Cap that this is a controlling guy, and you are not a bad person. What I’ve found in recovery is that just because I stopped drinking, the work on myself is far from complete. I’m in my first relationship sober now, after 3 1/2 years in a program. Some people are ready more quickly, but I wasn’t one of them. I’d venture to say your guy might need some more time before he’s ready.

    One more thing. I’ve had lots of people ask me if they could be alcoholic over the years. The only person who can decide if you are or not is you. I can’t (and shouldn’t! Ever!) diagnose anyone. My answer to them is usually in question form. Are you able to only have one or two drinks? Have you ever left half a drink in a glass that you didn’t feel like finishing? I can tell you my answers to both of those questions is a resounding NO.

    Best to you. Sorry this turned into such a long answer!

    • akestra said:

      My partner is a recovering alcoholic, and from what LW wrote, I agree that this guy is probably a “recent convert” to recovery as a lifestyle. Having been subsumed by a need for alcohol for so long, and finding a recovery technique that finally works, can make people extremely enthusiastic about it, to the point of being evangelical (& somewhat insufferable). However, in a society literally awash in liquor as a “social lubricant”, total abstinence, and only associating with teetotalers, can also be difficult (& somewhat insufferable.) So his sensitivity and stance make sense to me, but they may also indicate he just hasn’t figured out how to navigate as a sober person in a drunk social world, and doesn’t want to risk his recovery figuring it out, yet. Which is fine, and he has to do what’s best for him, even if it is difficult and kinda jerky to the LW.

      Regarding the “am I an alcoholic?” question, I think this is really two questions. One is factual: are you physiologically dependent on alcohol? Do you feel horrible if you don’t have a drink every day? Do you get DTs and other withdrawal symptoms when you try to take a break? Then there is no debate, you ARE an alcoholic AND you have an alcohol dependency, which needs to be treated. Alcohol dependency can be treated in an outpatient setting with minimal monitoring, but it is a potentially dangerous medical condition. A lot people don’t know this, try to quit, and have very adverse reactions. It is nowhere near detoxing from heroin, but it is not nothing. It is very possible, and common, to be an alcoholic without being physiologically dependent, but most alcoholics will develop some level of dependency after a few years of heavy drinking.

      The second “level” of alcoholism is usually a mental dependency, a pattern of behavior that feels good, or that is needed to get thru the day, mentally. A lot of times alcoholism is co-morbid with other common psychiatric issues, like depression, and the alcohol is serving as a self-medication. If this is the case, a path to recovery needs to contain some plan to treat the underlying issue, or relapse is likely.

      • Muddie Mae said:

        People in early recovery, people who have just found Jesus, and new runners… they’re all very excited about this lifestyle change and really, really want to tell everyone about it.

        • thepaintedlady said:

          And new derby girls, as it turns out. ::skates away in shame to apologize to all my friends for that first year::

          • victoria said:

            And slightly obsessive knitters. It’s been a decade. Have you met yarn?

          • thepaintedlady said:

            Oh my goodness, yes! It took me awhile to realize when people say things like, “Oh I always wanted to learn to knit!” when they see me with my needles happily stitching away, it’s just them making conversation and I shouldn’t respond with, “OMG! Really?! I can teach you! Here, extra yarn! TAKE MY SPARE NEEDLES AND SIT WITH ME!”

            HOWEVER, I do teach art to teenagers and can put a grade on it so that they MUST LEARN.

        • Light said:

          Crossfit and paleo. The combo clogs your Facebook in nothing flat. I love my friends, but I don’t want to do Crossfit and can’t eat paleo and the lectures are- not so fun.

      • they may also indicate he just hasn’t figured out how to navigate as a sober person in a drunk social world, and doesn’t want to risk his recovery figuring it out, yet.

        Or even a “drinking” social world. It is very possible to drink and not get drunk, at least most of the time.

      • And thank you for clarifying the difference between physical and mental dependency. Many people think mental dependency is all there is; I saw my father going through physical detox and yes, it wasn’t pleasant. (He was in the hospital at the time.)

      • A few years ago here doctors were actually telling alcoholics to keep drinking because there weren’t enough recovery beds. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal without treatment sometimes.

        • duck-billed placelot said:

          I have a family member is who is a doctor for non-general med stuff; occasionally he will prescribe one beer/time period to in-hospital patients, because the DTs are too stressful on a body that is trying to heal from traumatic injuries and can result in terrible outcomes/death. It has raised some eyebrows but also means his patients do better, have fewer incidents where they get a friend to sneak in a fifth.

        • J. Preposterice said:

          Even if the withdrawal itself wouldn’t kill you, it puts you at risk; a friend lost his uncle a few years ago when the DTs caused a fall which caused a fatal head injury. Scary stuff.

      • thebearpelt said:

        I just wanted to mention that I’m actually really pleased you mentioned the loosely referred to “second level” of alcoholism because that much more closely describes my mother’s alcoholism while I was growing up. She was lucky in that she didn’t develop the physical dependency on it and quit all at once. Years later, she can occasionally have a beer and be okay, and occasionally meaning like half a beer on Christmas or something. (Also, it was white wine that she would get drunk off of, so she avoids that completely just in case.)

        It was just refreshing to see that you mentioned that because a lot of people seem to think that that isn’t alcoholism.

        • akestra said:

          Thanks, I’m glad my comment was helpful. I come from a family of functional alcoholics, none of whom (that I know of) have ever developed a physiological dependency, but many of whom either drink every day, at least two drinks, or find themselves unable to stop drinking at social events. Several of my family have quit drinking completely because they just can’t control it, but they never developed any adverse symptoms aside from hangovers. My partner, on the other hand, also comes from a long line of drinkers, and they have experienced adverse effects, from DTs to seizures to alcoholic hepatitis. One doctor we spoke to said that some people can drink their whole lives and be “fine” (that is, as “fine” as one can be when one drinks every. single. day.) and others simply can’t, and they don’t really know or understand all the factors that makes one person susceptible to cirrhosis and other complications, anymore than they really know why one person can try heroin or other addictive substances and be “fine” and quit and be “fine”, while others can be totally dragged down and destroyed by those same substances.

          I hope that future generations learn more about the genetic/environmental factors that feed into these addictions, and be able to flag people who are high-risk more accurately than just “family history”. And I really hope they develop better treatment plans for alcoholism than AA’s “higher power” (we’re both atheists, and find most AA groups just outgrowths of churches, full of “jesus this” and “jesus that”, which is completely unhelpful.) Plus AA’s claimed “100% success rate” is based only the people who stay in the program. If they fall off the wagon, AA says they weren’t sticking to the program, so of course they failed. Thus the only successes they count are the only successes. The failures get memory-holed. It is fair to say I have issues with AA, tho we have found one atheist group that is okay.

          • thebearpelt said:

            I haven’t been to an AA meeting personally since I don’t drink at all, but I have been to Al-Anon meetings and I, for me, the meeting I went to was very relaxed about the higher power portion. I never felt any pressure to believe. It’s more like it was recommended but when I told people that I didn’t think I could make that leap, they seemed okay with it. But some groups probably aren’t as nice about it, unfortunately, since it’s run by regular people and all. I also didn’t know about that success rate thing.

            Actually, for me, the problem with Al-Anon wasn’t the higher power part, it was that I was only 21 when I started going and the next youngest person was in their 30s and had a baby. Most of the people who went were in their 50s. They were nice, lovely people, but I was too old to go to Alateen and felt weirdly out-of-place in Al-Anon because of the age difference.

            Glad you’ve found a good atheist group for yourself, though!

    • Muddie Mae said:

      “What I’ve found in recovery is that just because I stopped drinking, the work on myself is far from complete.”

      I’m not an addict myself but there’s enough of it in my family that I’ve observed that the work is pretty much just beginning when the person first quits using. And not everyone actually does it – my grandfather quit drinking but never dealt with his glaring personality deficits, and remained a sober asshole for his entire life.

      • Ruth said:

        My family calls those people “dry drunks.” We’ve got a few we’re related to.

        • I’m so glad to find out that’s a thing. My ex is an alcoholic – quit drinking for four years, but the asshole/abusive behavior was still all there. Knowing that, I’m kind of glad he started drinking again – it gave me the push I needed to ask for help to get the hell out of there. Dry drunk. Just knowing there’s a name for it helps, thanks!

          • Leilah and others – Quick shout-out here for Lundy Bancroft’s ‘Why Does He Do That?’ about abusers, which has a chapter on how addiction and abuse do and don’t relate. Short version: If your drunk partner is abusive, then getting them off the alcohol won’t stop the abuse. They may become more controlled about it, and they may also change their excuses from “It was just the alcohol” to “You can’t call me out on this or the stress might make me start DRINKING again!”, but an abuse problem is separate from an alcohol problem, and the fact that the two sometimes co-exist doesn’t mean that treating the addiction will treat the abuse.

            There was also a useful list of the ways in which addiction and abuse are similar, and the ways in which they differ. They *are* different problems, to the point where the term ‘dry drunk’ to describe an abuser who’s a recovered alcoholic may actually *not* be helpful, because the abuse problem isn’t actually part of the alcohol problem but is a separate thing.

        • hummingbear said:

          *ahem* G.W.Bush.

      • wonderbink said:

        my grandfather quit drinking but never dealt with his glaring personality deficits, and remained a sober asshole for his entire life.

        I’ve heard the term “dry drunk” used to describe those sorts of cases, where one is sober only in the sense that they don’t drink anymore but the underlying issues remain unresolved.

      • leslie427 said:

        Absolutely true. I thought when I stopped drinking, everything would magically fall into place. Not so! That was when, for me, the really hard work began. It’s a difficult, humbling process to really look at yourself and your character defects (personality deficits), but it’s the best thing to ever happen to me.

        My dad was a “dry drunk”, and he was also a selfish, self-centered, abusive jerk, so I can also relate there.

      • espritdecorps said:

        When everything bad someone does is blamed on alcohol, is easy to think alcohol = bad behavior. But no, all the nastiness doesn’t go away until they deal with it. Which they do not have to do.

        My addictions were easy to deal with compared to my “I’m secretly better than all of you, and will tear you apart in my mind while every once in a while letting the odd comment slip to throw you off” brand of judgmental nastiness. I’m a recovering asshole.

    • neverjaunty said:

      As a side note, the highest of fives to you on your continued recovery.

      • Thanks so much! :)

  10. pleurothallid said:

    One nuance here: many of my friends who are now in recovery, when they were starting, were very much encouraged to only associate socially with other folks in recovery. It’s easier, perhaps, and there’s no chance of social pressure. I think that makes it a little different than, say, the vegetarian example above.

    And what the Captain says about sometimes a relationship doesn’t work out and that’s OK is really smart.

  11. Muffin said:

    I would really like to know how long this guy’s been sober.

    In my limited experience with friends in AA, there’s a big difference between the attitude of someone who’s been sober, say, a few years, and who knows himself and his habits well, and someone who has JUST started recovery. This guy could be a controlling jerk (and I definitely agree with other commenters that the ultimatum was a red flag), but he could also be someone who’s still sorting out what being an alcoholic means *for him* and who’s still working on not making that about other people.

    I agree with the Captain’s advice, totally. I guess I’m wondering if any of the rest of the Awkward Army things this might be a relationship that could be revisited in the future, once the guy has more sobriety chips in his wallet (presuming that he’s new to recovery right now, which we don’t know), or whether this is something that should just be put behind the LW no matter what.

    (None of which changes LW’s right to walk away — as Dear Sugar says, wanting to leave is enough.)

    • I personally think that, depending on things like how this ultimatum was delivered, this guy might be non-dangerous to give a second chance now, if he, very soon and without any prompting, offers an apology that indicates that he knows he was (way, way) out of line and understands why and sincerely means for it to never happen again. I can very easily read this as a moment of panic on his part where he said things he’ll regret later; it could be a calculated effort to control and isolate the LW but it could also not be. And then be out the door if the controlling behavior appears again, even in a mild form, even only for a moment, even with apology, because outburst-with-apology is also a common abuse tactic. And all this caveated with: you have zero obligation to give this guy another chance, wanting to leave is plenty reason to leave. LW, by dating him you didn’t sign on as his caretaker, and he just told you that he will need some serious caretaking around alcohol from anybody he dates right now; you have received new information and have every right to reevaluate the relationship even if he does all the ‘right’ things.

      Also, just my $0.02: you aren’t “choosing alcohol over him”; you’re choosing not to give up a significant part of your social life for a guy you’ve known for a few months. You’re choosing not to take on the (I can tell you as a TT it’s high) social cost of abstaining, without a reasonable basis for his request. You’re not cheating, either; the only reasonable definition I know for cheating is breaking a promise/agreement, explicit or otherwise (society offers handy templates but couples get to revise them heavily), and one side of the relationship can’t unilaterally alter the agreement, that’s Darth behavior (“pray I do not alter it further”, etc).

      • Muffin said:

        one side of the relationship can’t unilaterally alter the agreement, that’s Darth behavior (“pray I do not alter it further”)

        This is both really wise and really excellent phrasing.

      • neverjaunty said:

        But in his “moment of panic”, the tool he reached for was controlling, manipulative, gaslighting behavior. That’s a huge red flag. Anybody can be dumb, but the ways in which they are dumb are pretty revealing.

        LW has been in a relationship with this dude for all of three months. There is very little upside to a second chance.

      • Silva said:

        Even if it was the new recovery (and concurrent evangelism) talking, I don’t see the upside to a second chance *now,* because those problems will still be in place. Perhaps a second chance in a year or two when he’s worked out his relationship with sobriety a bit better, but the problems that happened aren’t going to change without a lot of time.

    • Ginny said:

      “This guy could be a controlling jerk (and I definitely agree with other commenters that the ultimatum was a red flag), but he could also be someone who’s still sorting out what being an alcoholic means *for him* and who’s still working on not making that about other people.”

      Not necessarily an either/or. The kind of moral framing he did, where LW’s decision to go out with friends that night was suddenly converted into a referendum on her entire value system (what’s more important to you, me or alcohol?), *is* super-controlling. The fact that that’s where he went with this would have me very concerned that he would go back to the same tactic in any area of life with with he has a fraught relationship. Having recently left a relationship with someone who applies this tactic liberally, it makes my skin crawl.

      In my opinion, for this to be a relationship worth revisiting, he would have to not only have a more solid and bounded relationship with his own sobriety, but he would have to have shown that he’s grown out of the impulse toward this kind of manipulative framing in general. Being a controlling jerk today doesn’t mean you’re a controlling jerk for life, but his behavior here sure was controlling and jerky, and that’s a thing that needs to be worked on, aside from any issues with his relationship to alcohol.

      • Muffin said:

        I’m persuaded by this comment — I guess I hadn’t carefully disambiguated the behavior. Like the commenter below says, sometimes a person is just a jerk even once the addiction is gone. Thank you for replying to my question!

    • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

      One thing that you all have caught on to is something that it took me years to figure out–that a person may just be an asshole once the addiction is removed. It’s not like kissing a frog and they turn into a prince/ess–if you were a shitty person before you became an addict, you will be a shitty person when the addiction is removed from the equation, unless you work on that. This guy sounds UBER controlling. I am in recovery, and ONLY I am in recovery–not me and everyone around me, even when they aren’t around me. That is not my business, what people do when they are not with me. Shitfire, I’m hard-pressed to sweep around my own doorstep, I certainly don’t have the energy to police others!!
      I don’t mind if people drink in front of me, but that’s only because it doesn’t trigger me. You get to determine how much alcohol you can safely be around, but you sure as hell don’t get to tell other people what they can do when they’re by themselves, or armchair-diagnose them with addiction issues. Run far and fast, LW.

      • Muffin said:

        that a person may just be an asshole once the addiction is removed

        Wow. I think there is so, so much wisdom in this.

    • I would never revisit the relationship, if it were me. Someone giving me an irrational ultimatum? Life is too short.

  12. Jen said:

    Granted, the recovering alcoholics I know aren’t date material (rather, friends), but it’s generally been something they’ve mentioned soon in the start of a relationship (friendship’s a relationship!) Namely, “hey how about this place for dinner?” “I’d really like it better if we go to place Y. I don’t drink.” “Okay! See you at 6?” I think the non-alcoholic’s reaction gives the other person a chance to respond or not, depending upon trust. (Friendship is a strange thing. It just sort of happens.)

    But I wouldn’t say I’m “normal,” either. I grew up around alcoholics in recovery: my dad was sober 20+ years when he died, and I remember his “friends” coming over on Friday nights all through my childhood. (Usually meant I could stay up late and then have a piece of coffee cake or some other treat when the fellowship part happened.)

    So I don’t drink around my AA friends. They’ve never asked it of me, but it just doesn’t feel right, know what I mean? I do agree that the boyfriend and LW aren’t compatible. I think at this point in the BF’s recovery, he’d be happier around someone who also didn’t drink. (And he needs to realize that his choices are *his*.)

    • Blue Meeple said:

      So just for the record, saying “I don’t drink” doesn’t necessarily mean someone is a recovering alcoholic. I don’t drink for other reasons and people make a lot of assumptions when I say that (alcoholic, super religious, straight-edge, pregnant, etc) and it’s really tiresome.

      • lisslalissar42 said:

        This happens to my boyfriend all the time. He’s never had a drink (aside from sips of whatever I’m having now and then out of curiosity to see if he’ll like the taste…he never does) and just has no interest in drinking. Not because of any big reason, it just isn’t his thing. He gets so many weird looks and assumptions and a lot of pressure as well. It’s ridiculous.

        Another very strange thing that happens is that people who know I enjoy a drink sometimes will end up pressuring me to drink MORE, as if to make up for him. Of course I don’t but I can’t even begin to understand the “logic” behind THAT.

        • Blue Meeple said:

          The number of people who have said “You just need to find YOUR DRINK” and then offered to ‘help’ me find it is stupid and insulting. If I was interested in “finding my drink”, I would have done it already. There are a number of reasons that I don’t drink, but the one that matters is that it tastes absolutely vile. In every form. Even when you’re not supposed to be able to taste it, I can taste it, and it’s gross. Even in food, when it’s supposedly “cooked off”, I can taste the residue. Anything that uses more than a little bit is unpalatable to me. Blech.

          • kaberett said:

            This is because (chemistry nerd!) the ethanol doesn’t actually all boil off – ethanol-mixed-with-water is quite difficult to get all the ethanol back out of in a reasonable timescale. & if you think it all tastes vile, it’s pretty likely to be the ethanol you’re responding to (which: yes! fair! it’s a poison!), so. The people who’re telling you it’s “all cooked off” are in point of fact wrong. You’re not making it up or w/e, and even if you were it would be a legitimate preference.

          • elizilla said:

            I feel similarly. The script I use is this:

            “I used to force it down just to prove I wasn’t a goody-two-shoes, but eventually I decided I was too old for that shit. I never learned to drink coffee either. Bring on the sugary kid drinks!”

            A little cursing and self-deprecation so I don’t sound sanctimonious, and the kid drink line makes people laugh.

          • Mercy said:

            This is both to Blue Meeple and kaberett and elizilla below, because nesting issues.

            I’m also a non-drinker who never liked the taste of anything much besides Bailey’s in hot chocolate. (EVERYTHING else I can taste the alcohol in, yes that too, no, that too.) I used to be polite and try things that people pushed on me, but that got old and I got put on meds for a while that said no alcohol, so now I have lots of practice with the people-assuming-i’m-pregnant (ARGH) reaction in restaurants and things.

            kaberett, thank you for the chemistry lesson! I will definitely pull that out if people push again!

            elizilla: may I steal that response? I love it! (also, never learned to drink coffee solidarity)

          • elizilla said:

            Mercy, go for it. I shared it because it has worked for me and I thought other people might like to use it as well. :-)

          • elizilla said:

            Oh, and the other one I use is, “The only kind of cocktails I like are the ones with the umbrellas, and that’s because I really really want an little umbrella. And a sword, can I have a sword?”

          • I’ve never liked alcohol — it pretty much all tastes bad, no matter how it’s prepared — and more to the point, there’s alcoholism on both sides of my family. Why tempt fate?
            Besides, it’s cheaper to be the DD: Tell the server, “Just a Diet Coke for me, please, I’m driving” and they may refill you all night long for free.
            Occasionally people are actually clueless enough to ask, “But WHY don’t you drink?” I generally give such people A Look, pause for a beat, and say something like, “I’m sure we can find something more interesting than my personal choices to talk about here.”

          • hcj said:

            You sound like a supertaster to me! Google it and do the food coloring test if you want. I’m one too, although I’ve gotten used to coffee/alcohol – neither of which I liked initially. I can taste that milk is going bad the day before it does, and can tell between organic and non-organic milk. So I’m sure you can taste the alcohol in things, since I know I can. You can use the “supertaster” thing with people, distract them with science! and maybe they’ll leave you alone (which they should, regardless).

          • Kaz said:

            aaaah I can relate to so much of this. I desensitised myself to wine (in the “I can now suppress the grimace while drinking it” way) for social reasons, but at the end of the day alcohol still tastes bad. (Although I’m fine with it in food!) Also, I don’t like altering my mental state; I’ve been borderline drunk once and my reaction was really just “this is so boring, I can’t focus, why do people do this for fun”. So really, why bother?

            This has not stopped various people from plying me with all sorts of alcohol in order to find the One That Kaz Likes so that Kaz Can Be A Normal Person. It’s died down over the years, thankfully, but I did not have a fun time as a nondrinking teenager.

        • Marvel said:

          My partner doesn’t drink either, and never has, partially because he’s Lakota Sioux and there’s such a huge drinking problem in the community, and partially because he just doesn’t like it. But he doesn’t tell the first part to just anybody, since he doesn’t want to deal with a lot of “oh yeah Indians are drunks” bullshit, so usually it’s just “I don’t drink” as a full sentence. He also dislikes being around drunk people he doesn’t know well.

          It is AMAZING how intolerant people are of that, like his choice to abstain/not hang out in places with a lot of drunk strangers is some kind of commentary on them (and while I know some people are deeply judgmental of any alcohol consumption, he’s not one of them). I don’t get it.

        • espritdecorps said:

          Spouse gets this, and it’s really not okay. He has actually found “his drink” that tastes okay, he just doesn’t like the feeling of being drunk.

          People who are not our close friends sometimes get defensive about his not drinking in social situations, so I end up drinking more as a way of saying “Look I drink, and he married me. It’s cool, no one’s judging you. Please resume getting tipsy”.

          Which isn’t fun for me either. I would much rather people not make a thing out of it.

          • Laughing Giraffe said:

            A friend of mine who doesn’t drink says he’s never sure which is more annoying: people who pressure him to drink, people who accuse him of judging them for their consumption, or people who get all constipated in terms of seriousness and say how cool it is that he’s so principled. Which, he isn’t, he just doesn’t like alcohol.

        • Ugh. I was like your boyfriend for most of my life–I just didn’t want to drink. (A lot of it was due to my extreme phobia of vomiting, and since on TV and in movies drinking too much always ends in vomit, I never wanted to drink.) Now, I have other, more physical reasons for not drinking. I have IBS, which doesn’t go well with alcohol, and I’m on a bunch of random medications that say DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL WHILE TAKING THIS MEDICATION in big letters on the warning sheet. But honestly even if I didn’t have those things, I probably still wouldn’t drink. It’s not something that holds a lot of attraction for me. And that should be enough, but of course for some people it’s not.

          Usually my friends are cool with me just not ordering alcohol when we’re at a bar or restaurant, but I do have one friend who kept pressuring me to drink “just a little bit,” and when I asked why, she said she wanted her boyfriend to drink with her so he’d be more emotionally open, and since I’m friends with said boyfriend, she thought me drinking would make him feel more comfortable drinking. It was peer pressure by proxy!

          I showed her the prescription warning sheets and she shut up, at least about me drinking, but it still worries me that she’s willing to go to such lengths in order to pressure boyfriend to drink. She’s a very controlling person in general and didn’t see what was wrong with her behavior when I tried to point it out to her.

      • kaberett said:

        Yeah – to sidestep this I actually tend to go with “my doctors prefer that I don’t drink”, which is 100% true as a general rule, but I’ve clarified with them that they’re okay with the tiny quantities I drink rarely, and just… it’s so much easier than it is to say “I don’t feel like it today” and have the arguments. :-/

        • Blue Meeple said:

          Which is so ridiculous! We shouldn’t have to have that discussion, over and over again.

          I’ve considered saying that I’m on medication that doesn’t mix with alcohol (which is true) but if someone is being unreasonable about my alcohol consumption, then I really don’t want to talk to them about my health, either.

          • kaberett said:

            Yeah. Like, it’s a slightly different situation for me (probably), in that I’m a part-time wheelchair user & very vocal about my health in general (because it was people being open about mental illness that got me to a point where I could get treatment), but I completely understand not being interested in sharing that info.

          • Mercy said:

            Yes! “No, thanks” should be enough!! And if I said medication, like, people would ask WHICH ONE??? WTF makes random waiters think they’re entitled to this info??

            (*ahem* buttons, obviously, pushed)

          • TheFreshDill said:

            To the “Which one?” waiter: “The one I’m taking.”

        • Xenophile said:

          Why can’t people deal with “I don’t feel like it today”? Sometimes I drink and sometimes I don’t, and I really don’t want to discuss my health problems and religious beliefs every single time I don’t want to drink. See also: that damn bartender in the West Village who won’t serve non-alcoholic drinks.

          • “See also: that damn bartender in the West Village who won’t serve non-alcoholic drinks.”

            Srsly?? That’s terrible! And it’s also surprising to me, with recovery culture being pretty prominent in NYC.

          • vass said:

            Is that even legal? It wouldn’t be over here.

          • hummingbear said:

            Now I’m wondering if water is included in “non alcoholic drinks” and if every single patron walks out of there dehydrated with a splitting headache.

        • Liz said:

          I’m allergic to most alcohol (probably to do with the sulfites, because I’m also allergic to sulfa drugs) and so I say to everyone who asks that the feeling of being tipsy isn’t worth the big red itchy blotches all over my face and chest, but you go right a head, and I’ll be the designated driver.

          • I haven’t had many problems with people pressuring me to drink (because my friends aren’t jerks–what the hell is it with people who think that’s ok??), but I find that when it comes up I can say, “It gives me migraines,” and they shut up. If they keep pushing after that, a somewhat graphic description of cyclical vomiting syndrome usually does the trick.

      • I read it as, how someone reacts to you saying you don’t drink can be an indication of how safe it is to tell them you’re in recovery. Saying they don’t drink doesn’t equal recovering addict, but later on clarifying that the reason they don’t drink is because they’re in recovery probably does.

      • Spc. Agent Bluejay said:

        My husband simply doesn’t like the taste, not even a little, in any context. Because it’s equivelent to not liking licorice, he certainly doesn’t care what anyone else is doing. Still, every now and then someone makes a big deal out of it and accuses *him* of making a big deal out of it because he is neither acquiescing to their demand that he drink, nor is he providing a satisfactory explanation.

      • neverjaunty said:

        Yes, this. It’s none of my business why other people don’t drink; all I need to know is that they don’t so that I know not to offer them any alcohol. I don’t get people who want to turn “I don’t drink, thanks” into an opening for a quiz show.

  13. Phira said:

    Yeah, this isn’t fair.

    Like the Captain said, it’s FINE for him to want to date someone who also abstains from drinking. The way he’s bringing it up isn’t very kind or fair, and from your letter, it’s not really possible to tell how troubling his behavior and sentiments are. But even if I mentally spin your letter so it puts him in the best, most understanding light … this still isn’t fair behavior from him.

    The thing is, this guy isn’t wonderful and well-suited for you. This wouldn’t be you picking alcohol over the perfect man. This isn’t really you picking anything over anything else. The fact is, you could drink alcohol AND still have a wonderful relationship with someone well-suited for you.

    Again, this would have been fine: “I love you and want to keep this relationship going. However, over these past few months, I’ve realized that I’m just not comfortable dating someone who drinks alcohol, even occasionally. I thought I would be, which is why I said so when we first started dating. I’m sorry; I really wish I were okay with it. Do you think this is something you could do? Take some time to think about it.”

    But he didn’t say that. He’s not taking responsibility for being the one to change. He’s using his own personal issues with alcohol and telling them that they have to be your issues, too. He’s insisting that taking time to make the decision means you are an alcoholic or you don’t love him. This is not okay behavior. At all.

  14. lisslalissar42 said:

    You did the right thing, OP. This guy was demanding something completely unfair from you, and dropped it on you at the least minute, either as a manipulation tactic or because he’s not mature enough to speak up about things at a more appropriate time. It sounds like you two are not ideal for each other, and it sounds to me like he still has some control issues to work through.

  15. I think the Captain nailed this solidly.
    FWIW Lady Lush – my own stepfather has been in recovery for about 30 years, and my mother is a big ole wine-loving WASP (like me) who’d also had an abusive, alcoholic father (who never stopped drinking.) It was made pretty clear to me early on what responsible/maybe *slightly* irresponsible alcohol consumption looks like, and what a problem looks like.

    I’m not sure how long the guy has been sober, but I’d armchair-guesstimate him to be within a couple years of sobriety at most. My stepfather staunchly believes that his disease is his problem to deal with, and projecting or shirking it onto anyone else is a defense mechanism of an addict who hasn’t, perhaps, completely matured into their recovery. He would never call someone who goes out for drinks with their friends “an alcoholic”, and my mother has had a DD built into her marriage for New Year’s Eve/weddings for decades, keeps alcohol in the house, has wine with dinner with no pressure on the relationship whatsoever. Maybe your guy will sometime get to that point, but that time is *not* now, and whether he’s always been controlling or this is a recent development to the loneliness of sobriety, dictating your behaviour and labeling you an alcoholic ON NO EVIDENCE OF ALCOHOL ABUSE WHATSOEVER is way, WAY off base.

    You seem to have great instincts, and I’m sure you’ll find another wonderful man who won’t issue ultimatums or control you, out of insecurity or otherwise.

  16. Chris said:

    I’m kind of in a similar situation, and I know comments aren’t necessarily THE place to ask for advice, but it’d be nice, especially since I’ve come to really love the community here.

    My situation is a little different, where my SO of a year+ doesn’t drink because of bad experiences, but I do/used to. I have a tendency to go overboard when I feel comfortable in the space, like a close friend’s home. The last incident, I overdid it and did a few things that seriously harmed how much SO trusted me and seriously hurt SO. The entire episode left me in a depressive slump for a few weeks, and at the end of it I decided to swear off alcohol for a bit.

    But SO decided to stick with me through this, but has asked that I don’t drink at all while we’re together, as SO “trusts me but not the alcohol.” I’ll admit my habits with alcohol sway a little further towards abuse than most people are comfortable with, but I don’t see the harm in a few drinks with people I trust in a place I trust.

    The ultimatum SO gave me about staying sober for the entire relationship gives me the heebie-jeebies, but I don’t know if it’s truly a red flag, since I also know that overdoing it on the alcohol is a serious thing that I actually do. Is SO a good person for seeing this and trying to help me, or is SO a control-freak?

    Right now, I really feel for LW and I realise I’m probably encroaching on their space on this post, but this post hit a little closer to home than I expected.

    • MellifluousDissent said:

      How do you feel about seeking out a therapist, preferably one with experience treating folks with alcohol/substance issues? An experienced therapist could help you figure out whether and to what extent (a) your drinking habits are problematic and/or (b) your SO’s ultimatum is problematic, and will help you figure out how to address those issues.

      • I did manage to get into some therapy sessions about a year ago, but quit after my therapist took a vacation, school started, etc. I’ve been seriously considering going back, but maybe with a different therapist with a different approach.

    • lisslalissar42 said:

      Years ago I had a somewhat similar experience as to what you describe, and my SO and I did some research and found Moderation Management. What I like about it is that it’s not a program that necessarily insists on abstaining forever, just one that helps people who are concerned that they may not have an addiction but that their relationship with alcohol/etc might not be ideal. It is also non-secular.

      Anyway, is it possible that maybe by using those resources or maybe even a meeting of MM if there is one in your area, you and your SO could come to some sort of middle-ground?

      • LouBee said:

        Totally looking this up. I abused alcohol in waves in my younger years – to wit, throwing up was easily a twice a month occurrence in my 20s and now has happened about once a year in my 30s (33 now). That said, the fact that I continue to drink to throwing up even once a year is kind of ridiculous. I don’t drink daily and usually max out on a weekend night at 2 or 3 glasses, but there is just *something* about me and alcohol. We have a relationship. It gently pulls at me. I don’t feel like I fit the narrative of AA though, because for the most part, one glass is in fact enough.

        • lisslalissar42 said:

          I hope you find it helpful! I really did, it’s got this great nonjudgemental tone and is more about figuring out a way to set reasonable limits for yourself than using shame to make yourself feel bad. Their website has a TON of resources as well, even if there aren’t things like groups in your area. I went to a couple groups in fact, and honestly found the website stuff more helpful, but I’m generally just better at using journaling and such as opposed to talking so that might just be me.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          Personally, I’m a fan of HAMS (Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support) – located here: http://www.hamsnetwork.org/

          It’s another alternative to AA, which I am hella uncomfortable with anyway Because Reasons – and my Reasons are not dissimilar to the LW’s experience but in a different situation with different surroundings – the “anything bad ever happened to you while you were drinking means you ARE an alcoholic and MUST go to AA now and forever or more Bad Things will happen to you and you deserve them all!” speech is something that has happened to more than one person I know, and some AA groups have problems with the idea of people taking prescribed psychiatric medications to the point that a spinoff called Double Trouble in Recovery was started to focus on the dual-diagnosis population. (And I have other problems with the model that spin off from things I learned in social work school but that’s many other stories.)

          • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

            Big old seconded on the orange-papers recommendation. Also read “Goodbye Hangovers, Hello Life” for a refreshing take on things.

          • MamaCheshire said:

            Oh yes, I love the Orange Papers!

    • Liz said:

      Like your SO, I am…for lack of a better word, triggered by heavier drinking (for a multitude of reasons). Partly, though, because a beloved aunt died recently from alcoholism/liver failure right before she was scheduled to go into rehab. The whole situation had been a hot mess for awhile, because various family members had been trying to get her to quit drinking by writing (and I quote) “stern letters” about writing her out of wills and also lectures, etc. I mean, things had gotten pretty bad, to the point of a four minute seizure and hospitalization and her hiding vodka in tea mugs. But even right after the seizure, she did not see that her drinking was a problem — or at least, not to the point where she needed to stop drinking. And my main point is: no one could show that TO her or see it FOR her (even though there was ample physical evidence, like you could wrap it up and tie it with a bow).

      She had to get to that point on her own, and the more pushing/prodding/nagging/etc that was happening, the more she dug her heels in or (more likely) poured some more vodka into a tea mug to drown her sorrows. Eventually she did get to the realization that she did need help and felt able to ask for help, but unfortunately by that point her liver was toast.

      Anyway, I can see where your SO is coming from: I have a strong genetic component for alcoholism in both sides of my family tree, plus I’ve been in bad situations with people abusing alcohol and then being abusive. So I tend to avoid social situations where I know people will be drinking, because I don’t know if they’re going to have one drink or…too many drinks. It just squicks me out. My partner, fortunately, only drinks rarely and only one drink at a time.

      OTOH, anyone diagnosing you or pressuring you to stop drinking is the opposite of helpful. Because let’s look at it this way: if you are truly an alcoholic who manages to stop out of love for your SO and you break up or what have you, will you have the recovery toolkit you need to stay sober in this transition-vulnerable period? Or will you relapse? Which, if you were alcoholic, would be BAD. Or, perchance, you are an alcoholic but want to stay with your SO. If you are like my aunt, you may find ways to sneak vodka into tea mugs and buy it so it doesn’t show up on the communal expense account. Which would sabotage your relationship. And you would do that because you had not chosen to seek treatment and sobriety yourself, your SO had emotionally blackmailed you into maintaining the pretense of sobriety to make them feel more comfortable (versus “I care about you and your health and am concerned about your drinking’s impact on you, do you want to talk about it? Do you think you need help? Do you want to talk to someone?”)

      So anyway, if you are legit concerned about your drinking, or just want to double check: talk to someone with medical training, or they have those free quizzes on the AA website, or what have you. Don’t let someone else diagnose you or whatever, and make your decisions freely rather than out of coercion.

      P.S. At my aunt’s funeral, there were approximately 200 people. The church was overflowing and people stood outside in the rain. I think only one friend outside the family even knew she was struggling emotionally, let alone with alcohol abuse. That is a whole untapped support network and she did not believe that they really cared about *her* even though she poured love into the world. Team Awkward, I speak directly to you: if you suffer from any kind of issue (or not), be it mental or physical or just merely socially awkward, please believe that you are loved in this world. People will miss you. Every single day.

    • rachelmack said:

      Hi Chris,
      From your picture, you look like you’re in your 20s or so. There were a few times that I drank too much/was self-destructive at those times/said things that hurt my relationships before I ironed out some maturity issues in how I saw myself/related to other people/my expectations of others, and learned to Use My Words better. This is a process called Growing Up! Which alcohol can exacerbate, but, in my case at least, also provided key learning experience and induced self-awareness and growth.

      Binge drinks does not an alcoholic make. As was said in comments elsewhere, are you able to only have one or two drinks? Have you ever left half a drink in a glass that you didn’t feel like finishing? (Further, does your heavy drinking affect/damage many important relationships? Does it severely affect your studies/work? Do you hide bottles? Yadda.)

      You “did a few things” that harmed your SOs trust. (The vagaries here make it hard to isolate what the problem was. Did you cheat on your SO? Did you slide into doing hard drugs? Did you blab secrets around the room? Were you violent?) If it was any of those behaviors or something else, have you really analyzed/thought about WHY you did them? Are they signs of a hidden insecurity, a carelessness for others feelings, etc? And do you think you would likely do them again, or that you’ve learned from the experience and the hurt you caused your SO? I get the feeling that you’re moderately self aware and haven’t instantly gone into “I’M NOT AN ALCOHOLIC” denial and are spinning towards total destruction of your life, which is a good sign.

      In my opinion “I trust you but not the alcohol” is bullshit and meaningless. They don’t trust you, with alcohol. I honestly think they’d be within their rights to break up with you if you repeated the behaviour, but I’m personally uncomfortable with someone issuing that kind of diktat. I feel like they can either honestly forgive your behaviour and move on, or decide they can’t live with it – and then you can decide for yourself if you need to change your behaviour and habits for yourself.

      I hope the Captain chimes in, though, she’s better at this than me.

      • MsM said:

        Not the Captain, but I agree with this. As a very occasional drinker, I don’t grasp the appeal of losing all control, whether you’re with friends or not. So if I were your significant other, what I think would make me back off the knee-jerk “seeing you around alcohol scares me now” reaction would be understanding what you get out of that, and whether there’s a way to accomplish the same thing that won’t tip you past the point where you’re no longer aware of or care how your actions are going to affect others. It may not work on your SO – and if it doesn’t, I think you do face the same choice as the LW in this situation – but I think that’s still a valuable perspective to have.

      • eightysixed said:

        I 100% agree with this, and also the earlier suggestion of perhaps checking in with a therapist.

        There have definitely been times, particularly in my 20s, where I was going through “other issues” and went out and self-medicated with alcohol. The results of which definitely fell in that self-destructive category. Choosing to abstain from alcohol for a while or not, never really addressed my “other issues” – but rather getting in therapy and piecing through my various other issues did.

        Working with a therapist may help tease out if something else is an underlying cause, or if addiction is an underlying cause and how to go from there. For me, alcohol was a way to treat anxiety – and by treating the anxiety instead – I stopped self medicating. I really don’t want to diagnose that there’s necessarily another “problem” that needs to be teased out or that there is/isn’t an alcohol problem, but that is what it meant for me.

        I will also say that what “acceptable” drinking is, can vary wildly from person to person and social group to social group. So I don’t think there’s ever going to be a solid line where once you cross it, BOOM – problem. Recently, one of my bosses came in talking about how he really cut loose over the weekend and was kind of hungover – he then admitted to having had two beers. Then during the World Cup, I watched a number of games with my other boss who would frequently have 4-5 drinks during a game. Clearly, my bosses don’t really socialize with one another….

      • Jane said:

        This is a really interesting comment thread. I feel that I am also kind of similar to Chris, in that I am Not Trustworthy when I have alcohol in me. I have definitely gotten drunk before because I was desperately unhappy and only felt safe saying what was on my mind when I had an “excuse” to be honest, or doing something I wanted to do when I had an “excuse” for doing it. To be honest, I’m not sure I would ever get drunk if not for the brief feeling of freedom from judgment. Which is. . . a shitty reason to get drunk, though, God, sometimes it feels really good.

        I have found that basically the litmus test of whether it is okay for me to drink or not is my general mood . . . any negative emotions/motivations/intentions will rise to the surface when I am drunk. Like: I can’t get drunk when I want something from somebody or I will ask them for it/demand it/try to do something to get it from them in the shittiest, most manipulative way possible. But, as you can maybe guess, that’s a bit hard for me to gauge. In general, though, it’s good to ask myself: “What do I think getting drunk is going to let me do without feeling badly about it?” If that’s something like, “Dance while wiggling my butt” or “Sing loudly in public” then, okay, sure, go ahead. If it’s something like, “Scream at someone who I really think deserves it” or “Send a really passionate email to a friend who I sorta didn’t get over my crush on” then eh. . . not a good idea.

    • Sucre said:

      When you say «staying sober for the entire relationship», did SO ask you to completely swear off drinking, or just to not do it around them?

    • Marvel said:

      Considering that the ultimatum is based off of your past behavior, I don’t find it particularly red-flaggy. Your SO has the right to set boundaries for his own comfort, and if one of those boundaries is “you act in hurtful ways when you drink, so if this relationship is going to work, I need you to not drink while we’re together,” then that seems reasonable to me. It’s not so much that he’s a “good person” for “trying to help you”; he just has the right to set his own boundaries.

      One of the things I am hearing from this letter is that you have a problem with alcohol (by your own admission, regardless of what your SO has to say on the matter). I think the suggestion for some kind of management program is a good one, and might put some of your SO’s fears to rest. I would also possibly look into therapy, not for the alcohol problems, but to figure out the reasoning behind the things you did while under the influence. Alcohol is often the instigator of questionable behavior, but I think it’s rarely the actual cause.

      Even if you do both of those things, your SO might just never be comfortable with you drinking. At which point, well, would you rather stay with this person and stay sober or break up and find someone who is compatible with you even when you’re not sober? That’s your choice; his comfort is his.

      • I feel like maybe we didn’t read the same letter?

        • JenniferP said:

          Marvel is answering commenter Chris, not the Letter Writer.

    • golden peanut said:

      Your situation reminds me of a previous relationship where I was a light drinker, and my SO was a heavy drinker. They could not drink without getting drunk. Or maybe they could but chose not to, I don’t know. They weren’t an alcoholic, just when at a party or other place with drinking, they would get drunk. I hated it. I hated them when they were drunk. I don’t really like being around drunk people in general. I drink, I just don’t drink to the point of drunkenness. So their behavior bothered me a lot. I asked them on a few occasions to slow down, and they didn’t. That also bothered me a lot. It’s notable that my SO also didn’t trust me to drink if I was driving. I don’t drink to drunkenness, anyway, as I mentioned, and I drink less than I otherwise would if I am driving. Eventually my SO stopped drinking completely.

      What I see in your story (and I’m sure I’m projecting) makes me wonder two things – one, is can you drink without getting drunk, the other is, does your SO really understand that one can drink without being drunk. I don’t think his request is completely unreasonable. I do wonder if there is a middle ground where you can have a drink in a safe place but refrain from getting drunk or even tipsy.

      It’s possible that your SO will just never get why you would even want to drink, in much the same way that I never got why my SO always wanted to get drunk. If that ends up being the case, it might help to focus on which drunken behaviors make him uncomfortable and demonstrating that you are capable of avoiding those behaviors. Take the emphasis off the drinking and focus on those things that harm the trust your SO has.

    • monologue said:

      I’m not going to try to diagnose whether you’re an alcoholic or not, but I’m also a person that sometimes goes overboard and does things I regret. Usually those things have hurt me and not others, but still something I had to work to get under control. After some practice, I’m now pretty good at knowing when to slow down or stop drinking to avoid an outcome I don’t want. I would definitely suggest finding ways to track how much you’ve had in how much time. For a while I had a no mixed drinks at parties policy, since I had a tendency to overpour when drunk. Now I’m ok with that again. I also never attend a house party without eating a big dinner now. I’m also confident that I’m not an alcoholic though. If you’re honestly not sure, I would definitely think about doing some reading online and/or talking to your doctor.

      If you’re not ok with your SO’s request, I don’t see a problem. Personally I could maybe not drink in front of my SO ever, but I would not be ok with never drinking even if they weren’t around. I would also be willing to break up over it though, and that could be what you’re looking at, unfortunately, if you can’t come to some sort of mutual compromise.

    • Your interactions with substances are ultimately up to you. I think supporting you in *your* decision to stop drinking for a while is appropriate, and your SO absolutely has the right to ask you not to drink while the two of you are together. Everyone has the right to ask for the things they need in a relationship, and if what your SO needs is you to not drink while you’re together, it’s great that they feel comfortable asking for it. It’s totally legit, however, for you to look at a future with this person where maybe you move in (and then are with them all the time!) and see a relationship where you never get to have a glass of that wine you love or the beer that tastes so great in the summer or make boeuf bourguignon and be like “whoa, wait a hold it”.

      Anything where someone tells me what to do and expects me to fall in line is a huge thing for me *personally*, because I have some prior history with that kind of thing and I don’t intend to ever have *future* history with it, if you see what I mean. But that’s me. Maybe you’re more comfortable with that kind of demand, or you feel like this specific thing would be a good change for you in your life, and so this is totally okay with you. Basically, if this works for you right now and you like your SO enough to keep on like this, there’s nothing wrong with doing so. In the future, if these dealbreaking demands keep happening, you may end up making a decision that you don’t want to keep on like this and breaking up. And that will be okay too. :) It is hard to say whether this is an isolated incident around a fraught topic that your SO has some previous unfortunate history with or whatever or the initial stages of a negative behaviour pattern from your SO. Right now, either could be the case.

    • I’d second the comments about possibly seeking out a therapist or MM – if you’re going over the line far enough that you’re seriously messing things up like that, it sounds like a problem to me.

      For myself, having been with an alcoholic for ten years, I am now massively triggered by the way people act when overdoing alcohol – so I totally get your SO’s response. I’m fine with drinking, and I drink moderately myself. But being around even people I love past a certain point of intoxication? Absolutely not. I can’t deal with it at all. I usually hang on long enough to make sure they’ll be ok and then spend the whole next week being really depressed and screwed up.

      As far as whether it’s possible to compromise where you don’t drink around them and only drink like this when they know you’ll be safe and don’t have to worry about you, that probably depends on exactly what it was that you did.

    • h said:

      On the one hand, I’m not fond of ultimatums: “do/don’t do this or I will break up with you.”

      On the other hand, you say yourself that when you drink, you tend to drink more than you intended to, and that when you become intoxicated, your behavior “sways a little further towards abuse than most people are comfortable with.”

      So my question is, do you want to be the person you are when you’re drunk? And if not, can you find a way to NOT be that person without your SO being the one to “help” you?

      Another thing to consider: do your heebie-jeebies come from the thought of giving up alcohol, or from your SO attempting to force you into making a particular choice? If it’s the latter, does your SO engage in controlling behavior in other areas of life? If it’s the alcohol, would you be more comfortable with a more limited promise, such as “I’ll take six months off from drinking and then let’s talk it over?”

      The bit about “trusting you but not the alcohol” is kind of worrying, because relationships require trust. On the other hand, people who have broken trust sometimes want it back without making any changes or doing anything to earn it. This comes up in relation to affairs: the partner who cheated will guilt-trip the victim about how the victim is a bad person for not trusting them. This is coming out like I’m criticizing you, but actually I mean it the opposite way: was what you did extreme enough to justify your partner saying they don’t trust you, and trying to make you change your behavior to earn it back? Basically, is your SO aiming for self-protection or for control over you?

      I’m biased here: my husband drank to varying degrees for most of our relationship. His behavior when drunk was sometimes very hard for me to cope with. He would dump every anxious and depressed thought on me, and get angry if I tried to give a different perspective. He never hurt me or even swore at me, but the anger alone hurt so much. Even when he went through months where he wasn’t drinking, or if he drank in moderation, the alcohol had a bigger ripple effect than either of us realized. He was using it to self-medicate for depression and anxiety, and even if he wasn’t drinking on any particular week, the alcohol was there waiting for him to turn to when he wanted/needed it. He stopped drinking for multiple reasons – partly health reasons unrelated to his drinking. He also got therapy. One thing he told me later was that he thought drinking contributed to his NOT working out various issues for many years, because the drinking was a crutch that let him endure the issues without resolving them.

      (Unrelated but please let me vent: I also have a friend who has serious issues with alcohol, which I won’t get into in detail. I get so frustrated at other friends at times. Like, how hard is it to _not talk about alcohol_ or to _not drink_ in front of someone who is hurt by it? I swear there’s a whole Don’t Think of a White Elephant thing going on. Instead of laying off, people double down and can’t talk about anything else.)

      • Mary said:

        >>that when you become intoxicated, your behavior “sways a little further towards abuse than most people are comfortable with.”

        FWIW, I read that sentence as “when I drink, I get closer towards abusing alcohol than …” rather than “when I drink, I behave abusively [to people]”. Big difference!

        • h said:

          You’re so right! I misread that line.

    • I don’t think SO is necessarily an evil control freak, but they might be incompatible with you.

      My advice is that if you decide to stay sober, you should do it for your own reasons and not because SO asked you to do it. If you think of giving up drinking as something you need to do “for SO,” then you are more likely to end up resenting SO. If you think of giving up drinking as “something I choose to do for myself, because I’m aware that I have a weird thing going on with alcohol, and better safe than sorry” or something like that, then SO becomes a person who can help you stick to your own choice, but is less likely to seem like a big bad forbidder.

    • Mary said:

      I think if I were you, I’d spend some time thinking about what happy drinking would look like to you if your SO weren’t involved. What’s the behaviour you regret? Who have you hurt? How much self-hatred did you feel afterwards? How much fun do you have when you do get drunk?

      Perspective: I’m 35, and spent my late teens and early twenties not drinking very much by British-student standards, and my mid-late twenties and very early thirties being fairly binge-drinky, along with my partner and our friends. My partner was a pretty heavy binge-drinker from her mid-teens all through her twenties. Both of us have kind of got bored with binge-drinking in our early- to mid-thirties. (In my case, it was kind of observing the pattern of getting argumentative and thoughtless when I was drunk: the way I framed it was, “I could drink to lower my social inhibitions, but actually, I pretty much *like* my social inhibitions. I’m not actually shy or underconfident or anything, so actually what I’m calling “social inhibitions” are basically the things in my head that make me look at stuff before I say it and go, no, Self, don’t say that, it’s assholish.” So I gave up binge-drinking and now only drink drinks I actually enjoy (mostly real ale or sparkling wine), mostly with food, and tend to stop at the 2-drink point and have a cup of tea instead.) I also have a couple of very heavy drinkers in the family, as well as a few moderate drinkers and non-drinkers.

      Anyway. There are spectrums of bad things that can result from or be exacerbated by drinking: stuff that affects you (eg. depression, poor health, not dealing with emotions, spending too much money), stuff that affects others (eg. being mean, being physically violent or abusive, being messy and having to rely on other people to look after you, opting out of difficult conversations/emotions/situations in ways that affect others). stuff that can affect you/others depending on circumstances (unsafe sex, bad-idea sex, being hungover at work). There are some negatives that are probably worth it to you, and which are negotiated with your friends (eg. everyone is the messy one who needs to be looked after every so often), and others that you really would prefer to avoid. On the other hand, there are lots of upsides to drinking too, and I include binge-drinking in that: it can be fun! It can be a good stress relief in the short term! It can make it easier to pull hot people! It makes cheap and tacky nightclubs feel glamorous! It can be a way of bonding with your friends! It can make for hilarious stories! It can make you feel cool and rebellious! It makes cigarettes taste nicer!

      (NB: none of those are good reasons for drinking *if* your drinking is also having seriously negative side-effects for yourself or especially others – in that case, they all look pretty damn hollow and pathetic. But if your drinking isn’t actually having negative side-effects, I don’t think you need to feel guilty for enjoying any of those things or considering them worth the occasional hangover.)

      So. Look at yourself, and think honestly about what you get out of drinking, both positive and negative. If you struggle to do that by yourself, then maybe talk to a therapist. Figure out how much negative is worth it to *you*, and whether that kind of drinking is achievable. Then figure out whether it’s compatible with what your boyfriend wants, and if not, whether you’re prepared to compromise that for the relationship.

      And you know, it’s OK if you’re not. This is like any other partnership disagreement: if you want X and he wants you to Y, it’s OK to choose X. He’s not automatically in the right about what you should want just because you’re discussing the presence of alcohol in your lives rather than, say, children. If what you want is ultimately incompatible, that’s awfully sad, but you are totally entitled to make that decision.

    • Zillah said:

      I posted about this below in terms of my life, sort of, but here’s my perspective:

      When your using a substance leads to a situation that seriously hurts your partner, especially when it happens multiple times, it’s important to take ownership of that.

      Part of that is being truly sorry for what happened and taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again, but part of it is also recognizing that in your partner’s mind, they may associate your using that substance with so much anxiety/hurt feelings/whatever that it doesn’t even matter whether you can use it responsibly – they can’t differentiate because they’re not in your head, and there are so many other emotions at play that it’s not just a drink.

      I don’t know if that’s the case for your partner, but it is for me. In our situation, it’s marijuana, not alcohol, but I think it’s a similar sentiment. For me, the only way I could feel safe around my partner was if he quit completely. If he’d said that he wasn’t willing to, I would have totally understood, but it almost certainly would have ended the relationship.

      I don’t think I’m super controlling, in general, but I am very firm about that rule.

      That’s not to project onto you or say that you should come to the same conclusions – you’re different people and in a different situation. But, that’s my perspective from someone who’s made a similar condition for her relationship.

      • Zillah said:

        Also – I don’t really understand why many other commenters have such huge issues with the idea of someone stipulating “I cannot be with you if you do this period, even if it’s not around me.” Most of us do that in one facet or another of our relationships – monogamy is the biggest example, but there are others. As with monogamy, it’s totally fine to decide that that’s a deal breaker, and it’s a huge red flag if there are a lot of them, but I don’t think a couple are unreasonable in theory. The execution is obviously super important, though, and manipulating/browbeating the person into it is never okay.

        • Marvel said:

          FWIW, I agree with this.

        • kaberett said:

          … oh GOOD call, thank you so much – I’m dealing with a situation where I’m having to ask a partner to quit smoking full stop, because my smoke sensitivity is reaching the point where even “hasn’t smoked for two days, clothes came straight out of the washing machine” are causing me problems (and every exposure reduces my tolerance in future, which is… kind of a problem, given that I like being able to leave the house). And… consequently, perhaps unsurprisingly, this post has been hard for me, but also very valuable (I want to note that we did try all sorts of other options, but nonetheless partner caused more major exposures since Feb than I’d had in the previous several years) so… yes. Thank you. Something to mull over.

          • Zillah said:

            Yeah, this post was kind of hard for me for the same reason. It’s hard, because while I totally get that it’s a thing abusive people do, it’s also a thing that plenty of reasonable, not abusive people do, and I think that it’s really important to not lose sight of that. It’s okay to say, “This is a dealbreaker for me, and if you choose to do it, I cannot be with you.” I completely understand where you’re coming from – it’s terrifying to have your body react so strongly to something, and for me, at least, it really damaged how comfortable and safe I felt around him.

            For us, we tried several things, but I ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth the risk. I do not want to have to jump through hoops to stop myself from being knocked out for a day. His freedom to do something recreationally didn’t trump my desire to breathe and not worry when he went out that this would be a time I’d get sick. It was making me an anxious wreck, and as with you, it was increasing how sensitive I was in the first place. I needed him to stop smoking and stop being around people when they were.

            Did that change his life? Sure. And, I would have understood it if he’d decided he couldn’t be with me with those conditions. But, after a lot of discussion and heartache, he decided that it was a condition he could live with.

            I mean, it sounds like the LW’s boyfriend did not present it in a mature or measured way – it sounds like he presented it in a panicky, out of the blue way, and that’s a problem. And, it’s possible that Chris’s situation is one where their partner is being manipulative. But in general? I don’t think there’s anything wrong conceptually with “This is a thing that I can’t deal with, even if you only do it when I’m not around.” It’s all about the execution.

        • Mary said:

          I think most people commenting are reacting to the execution rather than the idea of having a boundary per se – at least, the way I’m reading it. I agree with you that it’s reasonable for someone to only want to date people who are teetotal, even when they’re not around, and also that’s it’s possible that the LW’s boyfriend thought he didn’t mind dating someone who drank when he wasn’t around, and then realised that actually, that wasn’t something he was comfortable with. But the last minute change and the request for a snap decision and the plain nastiness of “if you choose X you’re an addict” means that it’s very likely that the LW’s boyfriend is either using alcohol as a means of control, or is seriously not ready to be getting into a relationship with someone yet.

          • Zillah said:

            I agree that the execution was pretty terrible. I’ve been reading the comments a little differently than you, though – a lot of people are clearly objecting to the execution, but a fair number of people also seem to be objecting to the concept of an “ultimatum” in the first place.

            Maybe I’m a bit sensitive about this issue because I set a similar condition on my relationship and definitely had a couple panicky over-the-top reactions during the process. I like to think that I’m not a Darth for that.

          • Mary said:

            I think for me the difference between a boundary and a controlling ultimatum, even if both are stated as “if you choose X, I will Y,” is how much you respect the other person’s agency. If you state a boundary, you do so with the awareness if the other person’s agency and their right to say, “I choose X,” even if that option makes you sad, and you are giving them information that they can use to make that decision, and you want them to make the decision that will maximise their own happiness, not just yours. If it’s a controlling ultimatum, it’s done with the intent and expectation that the other person will choose as you want them to. Their own desires come second to yours.

            I don’t think it’s a difference of “it’s acceptable to ask your partner to do some things but not other things” or “it’s all about the particular words you use”: it’s a fundamental difference about how you view your oartner’s agency and your respect for their ability to make choices that are different from yours. And in this account, the LW’s boyfriend is really falling on the bad side of that.

          • What Mary said. There’s a difference between “I’ve thought about it a lot and I cannot deal with this thing you do, so if you choose to continue this thing, I will have to not be in this relationship anymore,” and “If you keep doing this thing you’re an addict who doesn’t really love me!”

        • If you and another person keep your dealbreakers in the same place, they don’t look unreasonable, they look like reasonable stipulations on conduct within a relationship. If you keep your dealbreakers in very different places, they look like ultimata. A lot of people react very vigorously to restrictions on their behaviour that they feel are unreasonable, so if you run up against one of those, but it’s not something you consider a big deal, the reaction is going to seem “huge” to you.

          For myself, if someone says at the beginning of a relationship “if this gets serious, I’m going to need you to [restrict or stop something I enjoy]” that’s one thing–I’m able to make an informed choice about whether I think they’re worth the possibility of whatever it is. If we’ve been going out for a while and then suddenly they spring it on me: “I know you like X, but I need you to stop”, I am going to be pretty darned indignant. And it’s entirely possible I’ll break up with them regardless of what it is, because *I* see that as an indicator that the rest of my time with them is going to involve more and more restrictions on my behaviour, and I’m not okay with that.

          And because I’m not okay with other people doing that, I’m very upfront about my weird dealbreakers. Because I don’t want to do that to anyone else. I’ll give you an inflammatory example: I don’t date vegetarians or vegans. I view it as saving a lot of trouble down the road, because our lifestyles won’t be compatible. Other people view it as “What the eff is wrong with you, you judgmental freak”. It’s all about where we keep our dealbreakers. :)

        • I totally relate to the “too much anxiety/hurt feeling” and that so many emotions can swirl around drugs, drink etc. if you have something of a loaded relationship or a negative history with either the substance, or the person whilst they are on the substance.

          I’ve dated a partner who was into drugs, to the point of doing MDMA once a week and having a “come down” that then lasted at least 1, maybe 2 days, of any given week = any kind of drugs were too much for me. He also did pot and passed on drugs to his friends (technically / legally, dealing, even though he did not profit). Being around drugs was too much for me, including being around a drug deal when I had specifically asked not to be. Some promises he broke on drugs, and some situations where he prioritised his desire (need?) to do drugs over my own feelings of safety and comfort, were too much. We also ended up on a trip where one girl developed drug-induced psychosis leading to a diagnosis of bipolar, and it was scary as fuck. When I ended things with him (for other reasons too!), he tried to compromise by saying that he’d cut down to five or six times a year, max. But that would still have been too much for me – five or six times a year where I would have been anxious and emotional even if he wasn’t doing it around me.

          tl;dr – It’s totally possible to have a strong emotional response to someone’s consumption of substances (and probably other habits too!) and in and of itself I don’t regard that as controlling – but either a compromise can be made or it’s a dealbreaker and ya gotta go, in my experience. I also think that some relationship problems are less about the substance per se, and more about respect, boundaries, how safety and comfort v. enjoyment gets prioritised, communication, trust and a bunch of other relationship skills and elements.

  17. ona555 said:

    From what I understand about AA, if someone in recovery is in such a panicky head space that mere knowledge of other people’s non-sober actions feels like a pressing and current threat to their sobriety, that person needs to call their sponsor. That person does not need to try and control their own sobriety by controlling the outside lives of other people. Someone in recovery does get to set their own boundaries in regard to how people treat them, “Please do not invite me to parties where booze is served,” “This convo about Beerfest is really triggering for me let’s change the subject okay” and what they are willing to do, “I cannot go with you to [friend]’s house because they are always drinking but I would love to go to brunch with you at the coffee house next week,” but they don’t get to decide what other people do when they are not present. By all means, establish boundaries and set standards which are healthful in regard to continued sobriety! No one in recovery (or who just doesn’t like drinking) has to date someone who drinks/smokes/what have you, that is very reasonable! But one cannot demand/guilt trip/relationship ultimatum other people into joining them in their sobriety. However much I understand the urge to try and exert control over other people when one feels out of control oneself, it is not a thing that is okay to do.

  18. espritdecorps said:

    Spouse and I both come from families where people are either alcoholic/addicted or fundamentalist judgmental abstainers. Most of them have been both at various points in their lives.
    Since neither approach worked out very well, we are attempting a moderate relationship with alcohol. We have spent time talking about modeling appropriate alcohol use to our children, and when/how alcohol fits into our lives.

    Those conversations started at the same time as conversations about “Children? yes/no?” “If I got an awesome job in a place this was not here, would you move with me?” and “My family, here are a few of the ways in which it sucks.”

    Most online dating sites have check boxes for deal-breakers like drinking, smoking, and kids from previous relationships. Now that he knows this is a deal breaker, he can use those strategies along with being upfront on first dates that he doesn’t like drinking.
    I suspect he didn’t know how much he wouldn’t be able to deal with a partner who drinks socially, and this is a kind of FEELINGS LANDMINE that got triggered and caught you both in the shrapnel.

    Maybe in a few years he could have a relationship with a social drinker by setting boundaries like “When you drink socially you stay at a friends house that night, and then we host an alcohol-free get together at our place so I don’t feel left out.”
    But right now he’s calling you an alcoholic for normal social drinking, that is some hard core fear/projection and he needs to figure out how he’s going to deal with that away from you.

  19. Dea said:

    Another thing to consider is the fact that, if you gave up alcohol in order to stay with this guy, would you ever want to cheat? Not on him, but on the condition he’s set?

    I have a friend who has become a long-term vegan for the sake of a long-term love. But when I go out with him solo, I’ll notice that he occasionally (gleefully) forgets to ask for soy milk in his coffee in place of regular cream. It’s a little thing, and doesn’t seem to be a big deal to me, or him, but I’m not the one who made a commitment to a somewhat challenging lifestyle for moral/emotional reasons. In his case, I’m not sure how his SO would react to his dairy cheating ways, but in the case of your guy, it sounds like he wouldn’t handle it well if you slipped up, or innocently loaded up on, say, rum cake. So that’s something to consider, I would think.

  20. I’m like you, Lovely Lady Lush, I can take or leave alcohol. Mostly I leave it – I can’t even remember the last time I was drunk. But hey, occasionally I fancy a glass of wine, a tiny dram of whisky or a couple of cocktails. By your boyfriend’s warped standards, I’m a total addict!

    Your boyfriend suddenly demanding that you give up alcohol and projecting his AA beliefs all over you is Really Not OK. I don’t know how far he is into his recovery but it sounds as though he has a long way to go if he’s trying to artificially control everything and everyone around him. He is absolutely entitled to set his own boundaries around alcohol but he is not entitled to set yours. Unless you want to sign up for a whole lot of dealing with his considerable baggage around alcohol, I would run a mile from this man. His reaction to your perfectly reasonable level of drinking is a huge warning sign.

  21. Esti said:

    LW, I think everyone is totally right that the way this guy sprung this on you (even if from a place of panic or insecurity about his own relationship with alcohol) was unfair and is a perfectly valid reason not to date him anymore.

    But even if he had done it the “good” way–being up front about his issues with alcohol and what he needed from a partner, giving you time to think things over, etc.–I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you deciding you don’t want to be in a relationship where never drinking is the price of admission. I don’t (and I don’t think anyone would) consider myself an alcoholic or someone who has a problem with alcohol, but I don’t think I would sign up for that type of relationship. Some nights I like to have a glass of wine with dinner or while Game of Thrones is on. I like to try out fancy cocktail bars sometimes. I like to go wine tasting at vineyards when I’m on vacation, or to the occasional beer festival. I wouldn’t want to never do any of those things again. I know that because it’s alcohol, saying “I chose drinking over this guy” sounds scary and worrisome. But if you really don’t think you have problems with alcohol generally, then it’s not that you “chose drinking”–it’s a lifestyle choice.

    Think of it in contexts other than drinking/alcohol. For example, if you were a big TV buff and this guy said that he could just never live in a house that had a television. Maybe it would sound weird to say “I chose television over this promising relationship.” But what you really did was choose the lifestyle you enjoy over a guy who wasn’t compatible with that lifestyle.

  22. I have a friend who abstains from alcohol for personal/religious reasons, and who would not consider dating anyone who didn’t also abstain from alcohol. He deals with this limitation by being up-front about it from the get-go and letting the women he dates decide whether they’re on board with potentially lifelong abstention. It’s made dating really hard for him – he usually doesn’t get past date one or two, if there’s even a date at all after “the alcohol conversation” – but this is something that’s of really serious importance to him in a partner, so he’s willing to miss out on some fun times with some nice ladies over it, and I respect the hell out of him for handling it this way.

    Sounds like (ex?)b/f, rather than being honest from the get-go about this dealbreaker, decided it’s easier to spring it on people when they’re already invested in him, perhaps in hopes of “converting” someone to his way of thinking/living. Not. Cool. Not cool for any reason. If you cannot date anyone who does (or doesn’t do) a thing, and you know it, and you know the other person you are dating does the thing (or doesn’t do the thing), you have the responsibility to end the relationship with a “sorry, I have ::insert dealbreaker here::, but you’re otherwise cool and good luck to you.” You don’t withhold the information about said dealbreaker, spring it on other person at a totally inopportune time, and then try to guilt other person into doing (or not doing) the thing you want them to do (or not do) with a “so you love THING more than ME?!?!” Gross. LW, don’t feel badly about this. You were honest about yourself from step one – he wasn’t. That’s more than enough reason to end things, and you’re under no obligation to give up something you enjoy and that doesn’t appear to be harmful to you or others to “prove your love” to a dude who has basically been lying to you since at least your 3rd date (when the drinking conversation first came up).

  23. Everyone has dealbreakers and that’s fine; we’re all entitled to set our own boundaries and it doesn’t make us bad people. They don’t have to be important to anyone but us. If this guy’s is someone who imbibes at all, that’s his lookout.

    Ultimatums – particularly with judgment – are not fine, and the people who make them are not treating other folks as autonomous folks with the right to make their own decisions. The Captain is generous of spirit to an extreme I apparently don’t have in me, as my gut reaction to anyone who says “X or me” is to say “X, then.” Doesn’t even much matter what it is – I won’t be in a relationship where someone treats me as the other side in a used car negotiation. If my wife of five years walked in the door with that sort of proclamation that would still be my reaction.

    I’d follow it with “but if you want to talk about this, let’s,” because I love her and value our partnership. But unilateral sudden demands aren’t how good people treat each other. That sort of thing at three months? That’s a big red flag, IMHO, that this is a way of dealing with conflict for this person. Personally I wouldn’t continue to tolerate it, were I you.

  24. Pseudonymous said:

    Also in recovery.
    I agree with CA here. At first, he sounded like many nervous, newly recovered people. But the rest of the narrative makes it clear that alcohol is actually irrelevant here. It’s a feint, common in many early stages of relationships with controlling people, where they choose something *very* fraught to muddy the waters.
    The issue here is not alcohol, alcoholism, or sobriety, it’s the control dynamic.
    I’m also getting nervous that this comment thread turning into a series anecdotes about imperfect recovering alcoholics, rather than talking about boundaries, new relationships, and controlling people.

    • Fuzzy said:

      This deserves a signal boost.

      I have been in this exact situation, and it did not stop with trying to control my drinking habits. What started as then-boyfriend saying he didn’t trust people who drank and “didn’t know what it would do to our relationship if I chose to drink, even away from him” (and he claimed not to see how that was manipulative when I got pissed at him) ended up with him trying to control my time, who I could and couldn’t see, even down to what video games I could play.

      LW, this guy absolutely has a right to decide that he only wants to spend time with people who never drink, if that’s what works for him. But he doesn’t get to dictate your life to you or manipulate you into a situation where his actions/feelings/etc are “your fault”.”If you REALLY wanted x, you’d do y,” is a fantastic tool in the manipulator’s bag of tricks. It puts the entire success of “x” on their target’s shoulders, absolving them of any culpability if “x” doesn’t happen. The truth is, a relationship is a two-way street. You can’t make it happen on your own, and neither can he. It’s ok if you don’t give into his demands. That doesn’t make you an alcoholic or a bad person, just incompatible with what he wants from a relationship. He doesn’t get to re-shape you into a design of his choosing any more than you would have the right to tell him that he’s boring at parties and if he wants to be in a relationship with you, you really need him to have a beer and chill out some.

      • thathat said:

        “even down to what video games I could play.”

        Wha–howwhy?

        I mean, okay, this’ll sound bad, but I get why and how manipulative/abusive SO’s control their partner’s social habits and who they see, and the whole thing with isolation giving the abuser more control/making it harder for the other partner to get away or even justify their feelings.

        But how and *why* would video games come into play? That’s just…obsessively controlling (like all the rest of it isn’t, ugh). I’m so sorry you had to deal with that!

        • Nanners said:

          I’d imagine it could possibly be because Fuzzy had some sort of friendship community (like in an MMO or something) which their partner found threatening (because OMG you socialize online with people who might drink/guys you might leave me for/people who might remind you how not-normal my behaviour really is and how much better you deserve than me).

          • Fuzzy said:

            Bingo.

            In addition, he had some other mental health stuff going on, complete with attendant (sometimes truly terrifying) paranoia, and because one of his friends had gotten sucked into said game and kind of dropped off the face of the earth for a while, that means that anyone who plays it (some 9 million people at the time) would, too. At least, that was the reason that he gave. Although the fact that he didn’t care in the slightest if I spent 10 hours straight playing a single-player game, but he would interrupt me after 10 minutes on the MMO kind of belies that position.

    • Guava said:

      Yup. Yup!!! So much yes to what you said! This letter is all about control. Making it about the alcohol is a tactic he’s using to put the LW on the defensive.

    • ordinarygoddess said:

      Yep. “If you love me/want to be with me, you’ll ***” ; “Because you choose [very complex need, desire, or lifestyle choice, deliberately oversimplified and distorted], you are bad/damaged and don’t know it, and I am just trying to HELP YOU” ; and “if you don’t make a commitment RIGHT NOW that affects other commitments you’ve already made, you’re obviously unwilling to commit at all” are all straight-up textbook forced teaming. This road leads to nowhere good.

      The breakup script that the Captain offered is really lovely and classy and kind.

    • JenniferP said:

      I think you are right on the money, and alcohol is the trump card he has to play in the dance of controlling. I was gentle in the response because hey, I get the sense that the dude may have surprised himself with his own reaction in that conversation and the LW described it as an outlier in his behaviors, but “I will control my [insert terrible problem that you have empathy for me about] better by controlling you” is bad, bad, bad juju. And known, familiar bad juju.

      Update to LW: Run, Gurl.

      • Pseudonymous said:

        I think your gentleness was appropriate and I welcomed it, (especially because so many narratives are addicts are bad and recovering addicts are worse.) If he is in early recovery, it’s possible, even likely, that he will grow out of it with help and support. If they were in a relationship, that wouldn’t necessarily be her problem but they aren’t in one, so it’s just not.

      • duck-billed placelot said:

        To paraphrase one of the creepier Beatle’s songs:
        Run for your life if you can, little girl
        Catch you with a [beer in hand], that’s the end, little girl

        (NB: Weird and patriarchal juvenile description of (presumably) adult female in original lyrics, which are sung from perspective of controlling stalker ‘boyfriend’.)

      • neverjaunty said:

        Yes, this. And people reveal quite a lot about themselves with the trump cards they show.

        Here, Ex’s trump card isn’t really alcohol, I think. It’s self-absorption and jealousy. Because he has trouble with alcohol, LW must, too, plus it’s not fair that LW can drink without having problems and Ex can’t. It’s an unwillingness to see LW as a different person with different needs and abilities, and anger that LW gets to do things he isn’t able to.

        I third/fourth/Xth what everyone else said, LW: you were smart to run. Ex is not a “wonderful guy”. He was a superficially pleasant guy who managed to keep his red flags under wraps for three months.

      • It’s so hard to say with this stuff; obviously you (and then we) only hear the LW’s side so there’s a lot of inference. I think this is one of those situations where it can look really harmless (newly in recovery person discovers Feelings about alcohol use are strong!) but it can also look like the first step in a narrative that ends “and that’s when the neighbours heard me tapping on the pipes with a discarded tuna can and rescued me from the closet”. My own issues make me read attempts at control as OMG BAD RUN AWAY where people with less fraught histories tend to see something excusable or even something that’s not an issue.

        • Courtney said:

          If it was just one minor flag, I would agree that it could be benign. For instance, the assumption that she didn’t drink at all based on 2-3 dates could go either way: minor misunderstanding or an early sign that he has problems with a partner’s differentiation from himself. But this guy’s behavior has several MAJOR red flags. I don’t think this is hard to say at all. This guy is behaving in a controlling, manipulative, gaslighting way that strongly suggests any relationship with him right now will involve emotional abusive. This may be something that he outgrows as he becomes more confident in his recovery. But *right now* his behavior screams of evil bees. If the LW were in a long term relationship with him before this started, I might suggest attempting to set boundaries around this behavior, but for a relationship that just started? Run like Godzilla is chasing you.

          • I am in no way disagreeing. My reaction was “run away, this dude is bad news”–but I am aware that interpretations of these behaviours differ, usually based on whether you’ve actually experienced them as the precursors to a progression of controlling behaviours.

  25. Badsack said:

    I was in a long relationship with an alcoholic who wasn’t drinking – but who wasn’t sober by AA criteria. I don’t drink alcohol because I don’t like it. There are no alcoholics in my immediate family, so I was really unaware of how alcoholism can manifest itself in other capacities in the alcoholic’s personality/behaviour/attitudes. In AA speak there is “stinkin’ thinkin'” – which pertain to how an alcoholic is thinking about situations related to their addiction. That this guy sprung the “not comfortable with you drinking AT ALL” thing three months into your relationship is very problematic. He should not have made any assumptions about your alcohol usage whatsoever – he should have ASKED you. If dating a person who does not use alcohol at all is very important to him – well – that is the kind of thing he should have been upfront with you about on the first date, so you could take it or leave it.

    Part of the AA 12 steps is taking personal inventory, and to make conscious choices about who is chosen to spend time with. I have also known some people involved with 12 step programs who sort of cherry pick which of the steps apply to THEM, while choosing to hang onto other destructive behaviours like lying or emotional abuse. These people usually select 12 step pals who are also cherry pickers who support their unhealthy thinking = incomplete recovery, even while they are not using. His attempt to assert this control over you, plus his assumptions v.s. direct communication are a definite red, red flag.

    • Kade Azkyroth said:

      It should perhaps be noted that AA, while they don’t use the term, appears from my significant but secondhand experience to internally define “alcoholism” as, essentially, a personality disorder, with alcohol use constructed as self-medication for it. This is not consistent with the colloquial use of the term, and I’m not sure whether it’s consistent with medical use of the term, if any.

      • Pseudonymous said:

        That is completely incorrect. AA doesn’t define alcoholism at all, let alone as a personality disorder.

        • Kade Azkyroth said:

          What.

          • JenniferP said:

            Kade, I don’t have arbitration on how AA defines or does not define alcoholism, so in the absence of a cite I will defer to the person with the firsthand experience over the one with secondhand experience.

            Questions of fact aside, this response to Pseudonymous is 100% obnoxious. You are done here for the day. Come back another day, another thread.

          • Pseudonymous said:

            For anyone else who might be interested, my point was, there are no special or secret ‘internal’ definitions that only insiders are aware of.

  26. Jenna said:

    You dated the guy for three months. Then he asked you to give up alcohol entirely, because your drinking was in a sense cheating on him. No. You had no agreement to not drink at all, therefore it can’t be cheating. This isn’t even a misunderstanding based on a one size fits all relationship template. There is NO basis for it to be cheating.
    Your taking time to consider was reasonable. His assertion that if you “truly wanted to make the relationship work, you wouldn’t even have to think about it” is an unfortunate bit of relationship garbage that is floating around in our culture. It means, essentially, that you should be willing to roll over and be a doormat if there is any disagreement with him. Obviously he knows best! Garbage. Seriously. It is closely related to “if you really loved me you would have known” which is asking for mind reading capabilities.
    His saying that “even considering choosing alcohol over him was a clear sign that you had a problem and needed to go to AA” was way over the line. This is a very manipulative misstatement of what the choice actually is. Our society has a really complicated relationship with alcohol. It isn’t a choose this noun over a person choice. It is more like a choice to give up this whole range of social and business activities (with people who will have opinions about your choices) for the foreseeable future in order to date this guy that you have known for three months. Oh, and if you choose the one that he thinks is wrong he hands you a diagnosis that will haunt you, and make you doubt yourself, and check with all of us to see whether he is right or wrong. This is really manipulative and shitty EVEN if he didn’t mean to be manipulative or shitty. Intentions are not magic.
    He was setting himself up to be the Expert in your relationship. It might have stopped at just alcohol. Maybe he would have only controlled all the interactions with alcohol in your lives. Maybe.
    My experience with someone who was the Expert in a relationship did not stop on the one subject. I looked back and discovered that the only disagreements that he wasn’t winning were the ones that we hadn’t settled yet. In other words, things went his way, or, it wasn’t really decided yet. He won disagreements by me being too tired to fight it. Did he mean to be that controlling? Maybe not. But, he was.

  27. hummingbear said:

    It’s the three months in part that’s a red flag for me. Having dealbreakers is fine – but failing to disclose them at the START of a relationship, when they’re behaviors you know your partner enjoys, is really not ok.

  28. Big Star Little Galaxy said:

    I echo the suggestion that, dear LW, if you are concerned about your drinking, you discuss it with a therapist. My therapist has been excellent in helping me with realizing triggers, setting limits, and dealing with some of the comorbidity factors that lead me to drink more than *I* was comfortable with. Whether others are comfortable with it isn’t my problem, because I’m the boss of my own underpants.

  29. thathat said:

    So after making a HUGE assumption about something that was apparently important to him but that he didn’t bother to check on Until It Became An Issue, three months into the relationship, he DEMANDS that she drastically alter her social life (including dropping plans that very evening–do you KNOW how hard it is to arrange a friend’s night when you’re an adult?), then calls her an addict if she won’t?

    Yeah, when I read the title, my first thought was, “No, but it’s a nice guesture of solidarity. And if he needs to keep alcohol out of his life entirely, that’s really understandable, one way or another.”

    But nope. Just the screaming heebie-jeebies here.

    • thathat said:

      Ack, realizing that I just assumed LW was female. Sorry about that, dumb assumption on my part.

      • Spc. Agent Bluejay said:

        well they did sign themselves Lovely Lady Lush, so I think you’re in the clear.

        • thathat said:

          There is that. I’m kinda in a tizzy this week (month), so details…whoop.

  30. I don’t drink very much. I think I’ve had one shot glass of hard cider this year. I sometimes get uncomfortable around friends who drink frequently even though it doesn’t affect their behavior and I know it’s not impacting their life, because it just feels off to me. Nonetheless, I would not give up drinking in response to that request. It was too sudden, it was disingenuous, it was entitled, and it didn’t respect your plans. Emotionally charged statements like “you’re an alcoholic if you don’t do what I want” and “you’re cheating on me” are not fair or respectful ways to argue. If you choose to end the relationship over this, I would frame it not as choosing alcohol, but as refusing to be with someone who uses manipulative and hurtful tactics when the world doesn’t bend around them.

    • Kaz said:

      Came here to say exactly this. I drink something on the order of one glass of wine every three-four months or so, have never been properly drunk and don’t plan to change that, could quit drinking completely very easily… and if a partner made those demands of me? They would not be my partner much longer. Nothing to do with choosing alcohol over anything, everything to do with the huge, huge red flags that whole conversation sends waving in my head.

  31. peregrin8 said:

    Dear LLL, I am a recovering alcoholic (not using AA) & my primary partner still drinks. This is hard for me but we’ve been together 22 years & we do a lot of negotiating/discussing etc. I do find it exhausting and stressful to be in heavy drinking settings like a meetup at a bar, and if I were shakier in my recovery I would stay home. (And he is an introvert & would stay home with me rather than fly solo, but that is his call.) I completely understand not wanting someone to drink around you, and also not necessarily realizing how much it was going to matter to him until the day of (re: omg, who’s driving, etc.). But the part about not drinking NOT around him? That gives me the Thought Police heebie jeebies.

  32. Vasilisa said:

    Wow I really relate to you, LW. My first ever partner was a guy who pulled the same “if you really love me you won’t drink” (he just didn’t like it; no past history of abuse). It was definitely the first step towards other bizarre controlling behaviours including but not limited to: what I ate that day, personal choices about my body, and whether or not I could wear a skirt to a show where his friend was going.

    Three months seems to be about the time when people have gotten comfortable enough to let some of their inner weird show and I think the way in which he brought this up (angrily, with ultimatums and diagnoses, right as you were leaving) strongly suggests that he will do this again and again. If he really needs to be with a non-drinker (which is totally legitimate) he should mention that within the first three dates.

    However you decide to deal with this, best of luck.

  33. My very first thought was “that guy needs to get to call his sponsor and get to a meeting ASAP.” LW, you didn’t do anything wrong, you’re not an alcoholic (do you hate what happens when you drink? no? you’re just fine), you’re just dating someone who has found The Answer For Him and now he’s running around trying to pronounce it The Answer For Everyone. Which is a jerk move, and a really typical new-recovery-in-AA jerk move, and the solution to that is to call your sponsor and get to a meeting ASAP.

    (Also, for the benefit of other threads, the suggested steps of AA, complete with the preamble that contains literally all the “rules” and “definitions” for joining AA, what’s required to be in AA, how AA is run, and the promises offered by the program, so as to provide a common citation and reference point: http://www.aaserenity.com/preamble.html)

  34. Anyanka said:

    LW, the thing is that there are healthy and non-controlling ways to limit yourself to temptations, or to not be around people who drink or do drugs (whether it’s because of how they behave drunk or high, or because being around them tempts you, or because you have a religious or moral belief against them).

    I drink socially and occasionally just to calm down, and I still don’t want to be around some people when there’s alcohol because of how they behave and how they encourage other people to binge-drink or go overboard. I solve this problem by not going with them when they go to drink or to parties with alcohol or to bars and restaurants with alcohol. I don’t tell them they are secretly alcoholics or have drinking problems (some do, some don’t, honestly).

    Both you and your boyfriend have the right to decide whether or not you are going to drink, and both of you have the right to decide to not be in relationships with people who drink or who abstain. That is a fact. He does not have the right to control whether or not you drink; he has the right to break up with you because he doesn’t want to or can’t date someone who drinks.

    What worries me is him telling you that you’re a) cheating on him by drinking, b) in an abusive relationship with alcohol and c) an alcoholic. You sound like you’re a pretty normal social, healthy drinker who doesn’t do stupid shit. Him projecting onto you his own feelings and problems with alcohol is weird, unhealthy, and if he’s allowed to do so then he’ll continue. Will he ‘diagnose’ your parents or family with alcoholism? Tell you you can’t be friends with anyone who drinks? Not allow you to go out alone because you might be tempted to drink? How far will he go?

    Honestly this guy sounds like he isn’t right for romantic relationships right now, and especially not with you. My advice is to break up and get away.

  35. human said:

    Wow! I am super impressed, LW, because it sounds like in this crappy situation you were AWESOME at boundary-having and at using your words and at being assertive and standing up for yourself when someone was trying to steamroll right over you. In fact, you were so awesome at it that I’m going to carry this around in my head as an example of How It’s Done, because I struggle with these things sometimes. I’m so glad you wrote to the captain and that we could read your story because hearing about people doing these things with such success gives me hope I can learn to be better at it too.

    I bet it is disappointing that you don’t get to date this guy anymore since it sounds like you were having fun with him but you were 100% right not to let him armtwist you into ditching your friends at the last minute. Way to go, with the boundaries!

    • “Wow! I am super impressed, LW, because it sounds like in this crappy situation you were AWESOME at boundary-having and at using your words and at being assertive and standing up for yourself when someone was trying to steamroll right over you.”

      Yeah, I was thinking the same thing when reading the letter! It was very impressive boundary maintenance.

      • thathat said:

        Thirded. I think a lot of us were so far into, “AGH NO BAD GETAWAYRUN!” mode by the end that LW’s really mature handling of the situation slipped by. But really, LLW, it sounds like you handled a really weirdbad situation with a lot of wisdom and grace. Well done you!

  36. Dear LW

    1) you probably aren’t alcoholic
    2) the guy you’ve been seeing hasn’t yet worked out his deal breakers and needs.

    3) you and he aren’t compatible

    I’m not convinced he’s a manipulative shit. I /am/ convinced he should only date teetotalers.

    Take care LW, drinking alcohol isn’t evil

  37. Knayt said:

    This really does sound like a crappy situation. I can empathize with the SO of the Letter Writer – not even wanting to hear about alcohol or have it around them in any way is a completely reasonable approach. Over reacting to someone else drinking is also understandable, as they could easily be outright afraid of the alcohol, and react to it the way I might react to someone casually mentioning going to meet up with some friends to shoot up heroin. They blew it with how they handled it though. The ultimatum was unacceptable, the “drinking alcohol is cheating on me” manipulative nonsense. I’m going to echo the advice of so many other people here – Run. The SO is up to some skeevy shit, and it being understandable doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.

  38. Waffles said:

    I once went on a first date with a guy, who in reply to my “Would you like a beer [with dinner]?” Said, “No, I’ve never drunk in my life, and better people than you have tried to make me.”

    Told me everything I needed to know about him.

    • J. Preposterice said:

      …wow.

      nice of him to lay his cards on the table like that!

    • Commander Banana said:

      Yikes! That’s not a giant chip-on-shoulder or anything!

    • Light said:

      At least he gave you fair warning that fleeing at lightspeed was a good idea.

  39. “You’re going to a cocktail party? But I thought you didn’t drink? Oh wow, I wish I hadn’t assumed…. See, I’m a recovering alcoholic. Seeing people drink or smelling alcohol is a huge trigger for me right now. I really need to be in a relationship with a non-drinker. I realise this is a lot to throw at you as you’re walking out the door, but do you think we can talk about this next time we catch up?”

    Followed by a conversation which would either lead to some kind of compromise that works for both parties, and might be changed or adjusted as recovery efforts continue or the relationship gets more serious, or a mutual decision that both parties are not currently compatible.

    That so hard?

  40. annejumps said:

    Your drinking habits do not say “alcoholism” to me at all. He is out of line, particularly in saying “he felt that my drinking was in a sense cheating on him.” That’s not cool. It seems your being completely sober is very important to him, but it doesn’t have to be very important to you. I’d say it’s time to break up, and if he tries to tell you you’re choosing alcohol over him, or something, don’t believe it.

  41. Commander Banana said:

    Having both had long relationships with active alcoholics and having seen friends and partners of friends going through the first steps of recovery in AA, I’ll just say that I personally think that when you’re in the first stages of recovery, it’s not really a great time to be starting a relationship. Recovery is effing hard, and not drinking can change so much about your life – your habits, your friends, where you hang out, your hobbies – that it’s really difficult to negotiate that AND a new relationship at the same time.

    That being said, the LW’s (ex?) boyfriend(ish?)’s behavior throws up some MAJOR red flags. While it may be that he just doesn’t have the tools to navigate life as a non-drinker yet, anyone someone uses the “if you loved me you’d X” I get very alarmed.

    • Mary said:

      I thought it was actually part of the AA rules that you don’t start a relationship in the first 12 months of recovery? Though I think I got that from Marian Keyes, so not necessarily the most reliable source ever.

  42. Zillah said:

    This is interesting to me, because I’ve been in a similar situation. Ish.

    I asked my boyfriend to quit smoking weed eight months ago. He never did it around me, but after we moved in together, the smell lingering on him and his clothes was triggering migraines and serious respiratory issues for me. I’d been concerned about his dependence, anyway (especially since he frequently talked about wanting to quit and sometimes called it an addiction), but that was the turning point. He lied to me about it a couple times and I got sick, which pushed me to go from “not if you’re coming home to me” to “not at all, period.”

    It’s been hard. It’s limited some of his social interactions (and probably would have limited more if there wasn’t a clear health issue), and it’s been a big behavior adjustment. He was really angry and even a little resentful for awhile, but I think we’ve mostly passed through that now.

    It was necessary for me to feel safe in our relationship, but it wasn’t easy for him, and I think that it sounds like your boyfriend is too busy projecting his issues with alcohol onto you to really acknowledge that what he’s asking is a really big ask. I can understand the visceral reaction, and if this is hugely out of character I actually don’t see it as the red flag that many other commenters seem to, but I think that if this is a relationship that you want, you need to sit down together and try to rationally find something that you both can live with – and be aware that a middle ground may not exist.

    It’s not wrong of him to want to date someone who doesn’t drink, but it’s not wrong of you or indicative that you’re an alcoholic that you don’t want to give it up completely. You’re happy to not drink when you’re around him, and to me, that says very strongly that this is not a thing that you need – it’s just a thing you enjoy when you’re with other people. That’s okay, and if it’s not something you’re willing to give up, you shouldn’t have to.

    • Marvel said:

      Oh gosh I know exactly what you mean re: smells lingering on clothes causing respiratory issues. I’m asthmatic, and I get the same way with cigarette smoke–I can’t even be around people who smoke heavily, whether they’re smoking at that very moment or not, because the smell is enough to make me start having a reaction. People get really up in arms about it, too. In one of my university classes, I moved to the other, vacant side of the room because some kid thought it was appropriate to continually bring his mini-hookah to class (it was an art class, which doesn’t make it more appropriate, but does partially explain why he thought it might be). I didn’t say anything about it until they tried to bring it over to my side of the room, at which point I explained the issue–and got a ton of flack for being antisocial and “hating” them. Despite the fact that we’d been in a VERY intensive class with each other for 8+ weeks and we’d all grown pretty close, or so I thought. Ugh.

      Anyway, getting back to the LW–it wasn’t the idea of him wanting his partner to abstain from alcohol that struck me as red-flaggy, but the way in which he asked, particularly the “if you really loved me, you wouldn’t even have to think about it, and also you not immediately choosing me gives me license to diagnose you with alcoholism!!!” Super over the line on that one.

      • Zillah said:

        Ooh, I hate it when people do that. My health issues are not reflective of my opinions about anyone else – they are my health issues. I’ve also experienced people who don’t really believe me – “The smell can’t be enough!” Yes, yes it can. And is. Thanks for ignoring that.

        I agree completely about the LW and their boyfriend, though – asking your partner to abstain is okay, but the fact that he pressured her the way he did, didn’t acknowledge that it was a huge request, and made such a huge request after three months… that’s not okay. At all.

    • I’m not sure what it means for something to be “out of character” for somebody you’ve only known for three months. I agree that if you’ve developed years of trust with someone and they do one thing quite badly, then you don’t view it as indicative of their character. But when you’ve known somebody for three months and they do one thing quite badly, well, you’re less invested and there is a higher probability that it is indicative. And what do you have to compare it to? What we know about the date is that he claims to have assumed the letter writer doesn’t drink from her not having ordered a drink a few times, which isn’t exactly a positive attribute. That he asked for one thing when he seemed to actually want much more (which makes me leery of foot-in-the-door types of manipulation). And he got angry at the letter writer and insulted her for not immediately dumping her plans to go out that night and agree to never drink alcohol again on no notice. That’s all within a three month time period, so I do see it as a red flag.

      Maybe he’s usually not controlling and is usually good at coming to agreements with his partner and flipped out just this one time for whatever reason. But we have no evidence to support that, and three months in, I doubt the letter writer does either. It’s not like there usually are major conflicts into a dating relationship that young. So, with so little investment in him, it just doesn’t make sense to me to give him the benefit of the doubt. Especially since it’s so common for controlling or abusive people to start ramping up those actions after a few months. So I think what might be lost by writing him off is much better than what might be lost by not doing so. At the three month mark, I’d consider the cost-benefit analysis to make this a pretty big red flag. I just can’t think of how somebody could establish enough trust and stockpile of good behaviors to counterbalance that within only three months of dating the guy.

  43. “You’re addicted to alcohol! Instead, you should be addicted to me.”

    I know it’s a pretty flip reading of what the dude was trying to say to LW, but still.

    You did a badass job with the boundaries, LW, and the odds aren’t great that this guy is gonna be at the top of his relationship game anytime soon. Active addiction tends to delay emotional growth, and doing relationship stuff while puzzling out one’s new sober life can be like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. If he’s falling back on that kind of behavior when he’s stressed, well … there’s probably more where that came from.

    Controlling behavior like his can be an all-consuming, comfort-promising and blame-displacing mix in a way that’s awfully reminiscent of addiction, and awfully seductive when he’s feeling vulnerable and out-of-control. His “concern” about your own drinking is probably an attempt to make you feel as shaken and off-center as he does. Don’t take it too seriously. If you’re worried about your use, which it doesn’t sound like you have reason to be, there are plenty of people in your life you can talk to who know you way, way better than this chump does.

    • Commander Banana said:

      I know this is a weird analogy, but trying to start a new relationship while very early in recovery makes me think of trying to start a relationship when you’re responsible for a newborn – your life hasn’t ended, but this new thing has changed a lot about it, and it has to be your priority for a while or it might not survive.

  44. Light said:

    The fact that he threw this at you like a FEEEEELINGSBRICK when you were on your way out the door, implied that a drink= cheating on him, made it a referendum on your relationship and tried to project his issues on you is super-sketchy and so not OK. I don’t drink very often, but this would send me out to get a cold one on general principles, the principle being, “You are not the boss of me.”

  45. Jenn said:

    One detail that bothered me was that he assumed she was a non-drinker from 3 dates, and then went completely in the opposite direction by implying she was an alcoholic just because she didn’t want to give it up. I’ve known a few people with the bad habit of taking one detail about a person, extrapolating it far further than they should have, and then being shocked when that person’s behavior doesn’t match up with the internal narrative they’ve built. The frustrating bit being that they then do it again with this new piece of information. My worry is that his internal narrative now consists of LW being either the alcoholic/recovering alcoholic (depending on LW’s choice) based on this one decision, and what else he may assume about LW that isn’t accurate.

  46. thebearpelt said:

    Okay, I feel like what this dude did really isn’t okay. And in a weird way, I totally understand where he’s coming from. My mom was actually an alcoholic from when I was in about grade 5 (which is great cuz I got diagnosed with Autism in 4th grade, so life has felt like constant struggle, yay) up until my last year of high school. She’s been sober since. She’s apologized and I have a good relationship with my mom now, which is awesome.

    However, I will never drink alcohol. And I am very uncomfortable around it.

    It wasn’t until college (when I went to a different city entirely, 4 hours away, where I didn’t know anyone; terrible idea for me) that I realized that it really had affected me. (I was the “perfect” child in the alcoholic home that thought if they weren’t a burden they could fix things.) And it took me about 3 more years before I was able to be in the same room as a friend who was having a single drink. Of beer.

    And I still can’t be around my boyfriend if he drinks. Fortunately, this is something he’s okay with and he doesn’t drink often anyways.

    I am trying to teach myself to get to a point where I can be around him if he has a beer.

    The reason this is so difficult is because there is a belief ingrained so deeply into me that, even if I logically know it’s wrong, is so hard to change: I firmly believe that alcohol is evil and anyone who drinks alcohol is bad and that alcohol transforms you into a different person.

    I know that’s wrong, of course. But I believe that. It’s a very difficult belief to shake. (I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to believe something to your core that you KNOW makes no sense.)

    But I was fortunate that the man who I interned with as a video editor, who was also essentially my mentor in high school, was one of the first people I told about the alcoholism in my house. He’s a recovering alcoholic and has been sober for years and grew up in an alcoholic home himself. He eventually got me to go to Al-Anon simply by having told me about it. And you know what he taught me right away?

    He told me that you CANNOT force anyone to go to AA or Al-Anon. You just can’t. No matter how much you believe they need it. You can mention that you’ve been going to Al-Anon or AA and it’s helped a lot, but drop it. If someone is ready to go to a meeting, they will ASK YOU about it. You cannot force anyone to go to a meeting or seek help for this kind of thing. People have to make that decision in their own time.

    And, as someone with an unwavering belief that alcohol is bad, it doesn’t sound like LW has alcoholism to me. An occasional drink in and of itself isn’t a big deal. But even if LW was an alcoholic, the boyfriend can’t force her to change her behavior, especially not with guilt-tripping and ultimatums like that.

    But the boyfriend is being a dick about it. Yes, he can decide if he wants no alcohol in his life if he’s not ready for it. That’s fine. But it’s another thing to accuse your girlfriend of CHEATING ON YOU with A DRINK (which is just ridiculous) and then trying to force YOUR ABSTINENCE on HER. That’s borderline abusive behavior because of the amount of control he feels he needs over her drinking, as far as I’m concerned. If he won’t back down on this, LEAVE. You cannot fix someone like that. You cannot be their therapist. This controlling behavior fits in perfectly with the issues alcoholics have; most alcoholics and most adult children/spouses/etc. of alcoholics have control issues and he’s focusing on his girlfriend by guilt-tripping her into behaving the way he wants her to so that he can feel a sense of control over his life again.

    I sincerely hope the boyfriend’s recovery goes well, but his behavior is not acceptable. If he won’t take it back, he’s simply not a good person for anyone to be dating right now. He’s going through too much and taking it out on those around him and it isn’t healthy.

  47. Jae said:

    Looks to me like Mr. BF has a problem himself but would like to turn it around and blame the LW for it. His problem is that he couldn’t handle alcohol in a responsible way and as a consequence has to stay away from it completely now. Which is a great and probably hard decision to make and cudos to him. That doesn’t mean the rest of the world has the same problem and he can dictate who can drink and how much around him. LW was terribly considerate to not drink around him and I find it unfair to assume that she won’t be able to handle her drinks just because he can’t. “You choose booze over me” can be turned right back at him with “you don’t trust me to be able to handle it”. What also might be a part of his feelings is “what if she comes home a little tipsy but totally in control of herself and I have to admit that she’s better at this than I am?”

    I think it might help him to take that to his AA group and LW definitely does not need an AA group nor, probably, and ex alcoholic dictating her life as alcohol dictated his.

  48. Mattie said:

    This guy actually does seem like a controlling jerk to me, tbh. Addiction doesn’t really change that. If he was neurotypical (since addiction is a mental illness), this would be at least quasi-abusive. These behaviors from him would be a huge red flag for me.

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