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?
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.