My fiancé (they/them) and I (she/her) recently bought a house. My little sister (she/her) also lives with us. It’s awesome.
We throw parties, where people drink (sometimes a lot – fiancé and sister are college students, I’m a few years older) and hang out. We’re planning on implementing a house rule where people have to agree how much they’re planning to drink when they get to the house, and they’ll be cut off once they reach that limit. None of us really mind having our friends come and hang out and get very drunk, but I especially get upset by the whole “oh I’m only going to drink one or two” *cut three hours ahead; they’re obviously sauced and doing another line of shots*, or the good old “stop me if I’m going to drink too much” “you’ve reached your limit, stop drinking” “no I don’t want to” – mostly because that used to be me, and it’s why I don’t really drink anymore.
Do you have any scripts about how to let people know about this change in house rules? I want people to take it seriously, but also not feel like we’re shaming them. One strategy we’ve considered is presenting it as ‘my fault’ (due to my history) because the people who this is most aimed at are my little sister’s friends, and a couple of my fiancé’s, so maybe that way it would seem a little bit less personal and more of a good guest thing vs. a ‘my friend thinks I have a drinking problem’ thing.
Also, do you have any scripts for then enforcing that rule? I’m pretty comfy being the ‘bad cop’, but I’m less sure how to respond when a firm ‘No’ (and then taking and hiding the bottle) doesn’t work – for a lot of my fiancé’s friends, in the worst case scenario, we’d just kick them out and call a lyft; but some of my sister’s friends don’t live that close so they come down for the weekend and stay on our couch, so when they get drunk and petulant the options are slightly fewer, and tend to be things like ‘call it a night and send everyone home’ which tends to feel bad. We’re hoping that the more explicit boundary agreed upon while sober will nip a lot of that in the bud, but would still like some fall back scripts.
Hello No Irresponsible Fun Allowed,
Moving into a new place is a great time to rethink what you enjoy about being a host.
Furthermore, I think that party rules are great and you should definitely make some, because we all have a greater chance of thriving when we know what to expect. For example:
- If someone is hosting a political fundraiser for a certain political party on the top floor of a venue with no elevators in a room with only tall tables and no chairs, serving only beer that has been competitively brewed to include The! Most! Hops! Ever! In! A! Single! Keg!, kindly spell that out from the start so I can cheerfully decline!
- My house has cats in it, they touch everything with their little cat feet and cat butts, if you’re extremely allergic to felines, maybe we should meet for lunch at a neutral location instead of you coming to movie night.
- Let’s assume that beer, bacon, or both will be in each and every dish at the annual Beer & Bacon Fest, so if you’re a vegan and you super want to come along, that’s dandy, just, you definitely gotta bring your own food.
Guests actually need to know stuff like: What do I wear? Do I need to get a babysitter or can I bring the small buddies? Is the thing accessible to me? Who’s paying for what? Is audience participation expected? What time does it end? Is it legal to park on the street? It’s not “mean” to tell people about your party rules, and the less you assume and the more you spell out, probably the better. And don’t bait & switch! The old “Funny thing, coworker, I know I said the team was going bowling but this is really a DATE” trick calls for an immediate report to Human Resources. If you invite me to what I think is a brunch and it’s actually an escape room, I’m definitely gonna escape from that room and possibly our friendship. Tell. Me. What. To. Expect. If I opt in, I will wear shoes and a bra and other appropriate garments and joyfully try my best to follow your rules and I expect the same.
That said, Letter Writer, I think that trying to individually negotiate and monitor each guest around a pre-arranged, self-selected drink limit is almost guaranteed to fail. You already know who can be trusted and who can’t, you know that many people you & your housemates know can’t be counted on to self-monitor their booze intake, you know your fiancé and your sister are, shall we say…unsuccessful so far…at facilitating healthy drinking behavior with certain friends, so, please forgive me, but I don’t actually have scripts for implementing this plan because it is doomed? ( I should say, I cannot overstate how much I love you right now, because I can absolutely see the kindness and the logic wheels turning as you search for the most “fair” and “reasonable” solution, just, imagine The Parable of Solomon where King Solomon “modestly proposes” cutting a kid in half to find its true mother, and then imagine King Solomon’s assistant helpfully whipping out a sword, like,“Solved it for ya, buddy! Logical AND Fair!” No one wants that.)
Good news: I think we can do better!
Let’s adjust. For starters, I think you do actually mind when people get trashed at your house (hence the proposed change in policy) and that’s okay! You want to be able to relax and enjoy yourself when you host instead of worrying about your guests or fearing you’ll relapse into behavior you’re trying to leave behind, so you’re trying to find a way to do this that gives your sister & fiancé maximum cover and allows you to appear to be maximally chill.Good news, once you admit and acknowledge that you do have preferences and needs, many not-doomed options present themselves.
One recommendation: Strongly consider whether the scripts you seek are for guests (“Hey buddy, that’s enough for tonight, switch to soda or water please now” or “Oof, time to get you a cab!” are classics for a reason) or for your housemates, which may involve far more advance negotiation, re:
- Do we have parties? How many? What kind? Is this a Party House or a Once In A While, We Have A Soirée house?
- Are booze or other substances on offer/allowed? How much? What kind? All the time? Only at certain times?
- Do you realize I’m trying to be sober? Can you help me out?
- Would you prefer to have awkward talks with the people among your friends who always tend to overdo it or would you prefer to change up how we do our inviting for a while and see if that solves the problem on its own?
If you, a person who owns a house and lives in it, are looking actively for non-boozy things to do at home and trying to change your hosting style to be less-boozy because that’s what’s best for you, that is a legitimate thing to want and expect your housemates/partner/family members to support you in. And in my opinion, making it quite personal – “I’m not drinking currently, so while I want to see people, I need the people in my life to be cool with changing the style of what we do together so booze is centered far less, can we plan the next six months accordingly, with a mix of parties with clearer limits and more dry events” – is actually way more respectful to everyone (including yourself) than trying to get everyone to stealthily buy in, drink by drink, under the illusion that it is somehow NOT personal. (Especially if we consider that drinking is not required at any time and that there are places besides your home where people can drink if they are that committed to it.)
Here are some party alternatives, which I recommend you try out on an event-by-event basis (vs. trying to set and explain and enforce a new rule on each person at every event):
- Make parties shorter and have a hard (and much earlier) end time. “Please come by next Saturday! Doors open at _____, we’re kicking everyone out by ______.” People from far away can decide if they want to make the trip for the time window offered, they can decide if they want to drop by your party on their way somewhere else. For years a friend has thrown an annual cocktail shindig that goes for exactly two hours and deposits everyone outside in plenty of time to make a dinner reservation or theater tickets. It’s delightful.
- Outright ban drinking at certain events. “We’re taking a break from being the House of Booze this month, but we’d still love to see people. Come by for movie night on Friday, we’ll have 2 kinds of soup. Bring bread, cheese, or whatever (non-alcoholic) thing you’d like to drink.” Are you afraid to ban drinking b/c you fear nobody would come if that stopped being an option? Because in my mind it would be extremely interesting to see who enthusiastically shows up to something like this and who skips it or makes it weird.
- Reset expectations by drastically shifting the time of day and the type of activity. “Afternoon board games + pizza,” one month, “Come by for brunch & bring a craft project you’re working on, we’ll have art supplies and pancakes” another time, or “BYO Complete Works of Shakespeare, we’re gonna pick a play at random and read it doing all the voices, costumes provided/welcome” another time. There are more parties on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in “come to our house, get shitfaced!” models, you have infinite freedom and infinite time to reinvent…all of this. People’s expectations about what parties at your place are like didn’t come out of nowhere, and you’re allowed to reset things any time you like.
- Consider smaller guest lists and rotating invitations. Who are the hard-core drinkers? Does it make sense for your sister and/or your fiancé invite them all together (and get it over with) (maybe on a night when you have theater tickets and can crash with a quiet friend)(or to invite them one at a time to daylight/lower key things, maybe spread their influence out, and see who adjusts)? And then you invite the people who love moderation or not drinking at all to other things? Also, be honest: Is it time to kick out some assholes?
- Hire a bartender mix & pour drinks vs. letting people help themselves. Maybe every now and then you throw an old-school all-out party, but plan it a little differently, with a theme, a dress code, a distinct start and end time, a clear budget, and a bartender – not a friend-bartender, a REAL bartender – to keep an eye on your guests so you don’t have to.
- Straight up use drink tickets, a certain # per guest. This is not my first or most ideal suggestion (people who want to can always trade/accumulate tickets, for example), but this is a common way of setting an overall expectation for how much guests should plan on drinking, and it’s still probably less work and angst than trying to implement individually tailored Drinking Contracts and then try to enforce those once everyone’s had a few.
Fortunately there are lots of ways to tackle this so you see friends, provide good hospitality, and honor your own well-being and comfort level in your new home. Whatever you do, spell it out in the invitation so people know exactly what to expect, and celebrate with the people who enthusiastically show up and enthusiastically respect your house rules. I hope you find something that works for you very soon!
P.S. A note for this Letter Writer’s potential guests: If someone you know used to have boozy parties and changes up the booziness or the general partyness of their parties (like, there are definite ends to parties now, and instructions to go home), a good thing to do if you like this person and want to keep spending time with them is to show up as you’re able and just quietly abide by the new expectations without making the person explain or justify anything. Assume they have reasons, please also never pressure people to drink or to center drinking in an event if they’ve made another choice. Committed followers of Dionysus can always throw their own parties, their way, in the woods when the moon is full and the harvest is safely in, flanked by trusty Maenads who are dressed for justice and glory.
P.P.S. *Mad love to my former housemate B.B.M.B. who 100% fostered a Party House and who 100% just used to turn on all the lights and play Closing Time on repeat when she wanted to kick people out of the place at the end of a night. People immediately grasped what was happening, they had a good laugh, and most importantly, they left by the fourth play-through. Definitely by the fifth.
P.P.S. **Mad love also to my other friend, A., who used to get really stoned and bake homemade treats late at night and push us all out the door with something hot and sweet in our hands for the walk to the train. “Smells like toffee bars, time to find my coat!” It’s okay to end things!