Will drinking kill this new relationship?
February 8, 2011 10:16 AM   Subscribe

The person I’m seeing drinks frequently, and sometimes their drinking annoys me. It’s only a month into this relationship – what is the best way to either bring this up as a topic of conversation or to decide whether this is worth it?

I should start by saying that aggressive behavior from people usually makes me a little scared, since my father was physically violent with my mother when I was growing up – raised voices literally make me super stressed and withdrawn. I have a hard time communicating my discomfort, however, since I realize that many people are just louder and more forceful in their opinions.
Anyway, I’ve been seeing a boy for about a month now and it’s been going pretty great. We like each other’s friends, like hanging out, have fun together, all that good stuff. Boy has expressed that he is interested in a long-term relationship, and I agree that I’m looking for stability in my life. We’re both 26. So we talk in an idle fashion about trips we’ll take in a few months – it’s just very comfortable and awesome.
However, the one thing that bothers me about this otherwise wonderful person is their drinking and the anger and confrontational tendencies that go along with it. He’s normally somewhat withdrawn, but when he drinks he becomes much louder and more social. He’s having some business troubles lately and he tends to curse a lot and get angry when he talks about them, which freaks me out a little because of the aforementioned reasons. I want to be more supportive, but it seems like he’s mostly just venting when he’s drunk and it just seems like he’s really angry with the world. I really don’t know what to do in these situations – the last time this happened I sort of shut down and he recognized this and went home. But, I like hanging out with him and it hurts my feelings that he would prefer to get drunk to deal with this situation than hang out with me.
From what I gather, he’s always had some problems with aggressive drinking – gotten into some fights, one that left a scar and he drinks a beer at least once a day. When he’s just had a few beers, he’s perfectly wonderful to talk to, but any more than that and he tends to pick verbal fights with people. He realizes this and has pointed it out before, but I brushed it off at the time.
So, I am wondering what the best way is to deal with this problem. Should I bring it up? Consider it a dealbreaker this early in the relationship and get out? Figure out a better way to listen to his problems without judging him for the harsh words that he uses? Wait and see if this problem is consistently bad and results in behavior that makes me uncomfortable and get out? Or is it simply a problem that we don’t get along as well when he’s drunk because we have different personalities and I should just try to hang out with him without alcohol present?

Possibly pertinent information: I am pretty damn inexperienced with romantic relationships, and I have problems with occasional heavy drinking.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Consider it a dealbreaker this early in the relationship and get out?

Yes. This.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:21 AM on February 8, 2011 [54 favorites]

I think you should bring it up and consider it a dealbreaker depending on his response. Shocked and repentent and starts exhibiting changes in his behaviour: wait and see. Denial and blaming others: red flags, alarms and sirens.

If you've noticed it enough to bother you within just one month (when people should be on their BEST behaviour in a relationship!) it's not something that will improve over time.
posted by like_neon at 10:23 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're already this upset by it, enough to post this question, then it's a problem. Don't look past it.
posted by thorny at 10:24 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

At only a month in, if he's not willing to curb his drinking and his outbursts to avoid upsetting you, then I think you should move on. This has nothing to do with whether or not his drinking has become a problem for him or not, it's about his lack of respect for your comfort.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:25 AM on February 8, 2011

If he has already realized this and pointed it out, by brushing it off you've indicated to him that you don't consider it to be a big deal. You should definitely make sure that he realizes that it is a big deal to you.

This guy doesn't seem to be unhealthy in his drinking, at least not for a mid-twenties guy, but you need to let him know that his behaviour is causing you stress and concern.

Have you confided in him about your father? Have you told him that loud voices and anger make you afraid?
If you haven't trusted him enough to tell him about the reasons behind your aversion to his drinking, and you've downplayed your own feelings when he brought it up to you, you can't be too surprised if he doesn't think that he's doing anything wrong.

Talk to him about it in a non-confrontational and supportive way, explain to him that his behaviour directly impacts you and ask him to understand where you're coming from when you say that you want him to drink less and work on his anger. I think he'll understand and try hard to improve.
posted by sarastro at 10:26 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tell him what you've experienced; tell him he seems to become a lot more angry and aggressive when he's had more than a few beers and that this worries you. Say it in a non-judgmental way.

If he bristles at that or if he keeps up the behavior, then just save yourselves both a lot of trouble and get out. It's only been a month, neither of you have much to lose here.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:27 AM on February 8, 2011

Just from my personal experience with people like that - they will hardly ever change, or if they do, they need a huuuuge motivator and/or considerable changes in their environment. Depending on how much effort and heartache you want to put into this relationship, you might want to just bail now.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 10:27 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is a problem of his that he brought with him into the relationship, and hence solving it is going to be completely up to him. At this stage in the relationship, all you can do is state what makes you uncomfortable, and explain the position you're coming from -- what he does with that info is up to him. But drinking is such a big part of the way he experiences life and how he defines his identity, then you are probably at a huge impasse.

FWIW, the social importance placed on drinking and smoking habits is why online dating profiles typically ask someone to indicate how much they imbibe, so that people can screen for a compatible match. It sounds like you shouldn't be with anyone who drinks this much. If you like him so much, it's worth having the conversations about it, but at only one month in this is a serious red flag.
posted by hermitosis at 10:27 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I meant it won't improve over time if you don't bring it up.

Look I totally understand people's sentiments of DTMFA, but you're 26. You guys should be able to have a calm conversation about this. You will have to have even more difficult conversations in the future in any relationships so this is one of those times where you have to realize you're having a grown up moment and act accordingly. If he can't reciprocate, well there's your answer.
posted by like_neon at 10:27 AM on February 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Drinking and anger in month 1? DTMFA. Don't need to even read the rest of the question. It doesn't get better, and talking about it will only delay the inevitable.
posted by empath at 10:29 AM on February 8, 2011 [8 favorites]

Data point: I grew up with an alcoholic parent. I drink and so do most of my friends.

The thing is, no one I hang out with regularly gets unpleasant when they drink. More talkative/sociable? Sure. But because they're generally emotionally healthy people who deal with their problems/frustrations when they're sober, they don't use alcohol as a way to give themselves permission to vent and be angry when they're drunk. If it seems to you that that's how he's using alcohol, that would be a much bigger flag for me personally than if he just got a little boisterous (not fighty) when drinking.

Wait and see if this problem is consistently bad and results in behavior that makes me uncomfortable and get out?

Sounds to me like it's already doing this - it's consistent (at least when he drinks more than [X]) and his behavior at that point makes you uncomfortable.

I'd talk to him about it, in as gentle and nonconfrontational a way possible, when you're both sober. But he will probably still get defensive, because it's a hard thing to hear and talk about. If he recognizes that this is a problem that he wants to fix, pay closer attention to his actions than his words.

I don't think, from what you've said, that any sort of ultimatum is useful (they rarely work anyway); your best path is probably to express how it makes you feel when he gets like this - that it scares you and worries you - and see what he says and what he does with that information. There's such a thing as being too willing to avoid conflict, but it's never, ever a bad thing to want to avoid conflict with someone when they're drunk and angry.
posted by rtha at 10:30 AM on February 8, 2011 [9 favorites]

I can say the above as a recovering alcoholic (and I'm not saying your interest is necessarily one), but ANY mature rational attempt at bringing up my topic of drinking drove it further underground. I used to have about 3 beers for every 1 my g/f was drinking, getting quite unpredictable, over-emotional, etc. throughout the evening. Once the topic was broached by her, I simply began purchasing doubles of vodka when she went to the bathroom so I could keep 1 for 1 to her intake... this did, however progress to "Why am I paying bar prices for this, when I can just pocket a vodka pint and sneak it in the bathroom?" Both these tactics led to more insanely drunken evenings, with a seemingly apparent reduction in intake. The rest of my story may deviate there (hopefully) from the person your seeing... but generally speaking, at 26, he probably already knows that he's having consequences he doesn't want as a result, but also wants the stability of a invested relationship, which speaking from personal experience was a "I'm gonna stop, or cut down if I only get this relationship going" bullshit line I told myself. Dealing with a potential alcoholic is not fun, and it seems like realizing this early on can save yourself a lot of pain and suffering before you get too emotionally invested.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:31 AM on February 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

It is a dealbreaker. If you have not lived with an alcoholic, you cannot know how pervasive & dream-destroying the behaviors are that go with it. I went in blind and will tell you from the heart: Do not take this project on; it is not worth it in the slightest way for someone who is still a veritable stranger to you. The lying and denial is the worst. And yes, you will be lying and denying too. It starts here. You are standing on the threshold of a path no one would walk down if they knew what the future held.
posted by Ys at 10:31 AM on February 8, 2011 [15 favorites]

Yep, get out. He knows he's a jerk when he drinks too much, he knows you don't like it, and he's not showing any motivation to change.

And he gets in physical fights when he's drunk? Hell no.
posted by momus_window at 10:32 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Bail. You can do better with less effort than you think. He's not the last man on earth. This is pretty atypical behavior and a definite warning sign. Unless you're madly in love and he's perfect in every way... Bail. You're only 26, life is long.
posted by Nixy at 10:32 AM on February 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Don't think twice, bail out. What you're describing is a blatant alcohol abuse problem and a clear sign of serious emotional problems. No good can come of this. The correct amount you should be scared of a romantic partner is zero. Zero scared. By the way, you seem to be doing a fair amount of defending this guy instead of defending yourself, which is a pretty common symptom of having been raised by abusive people. You might want to look into some therapy.
posted by facetious at 10:33 AM on February 8, 2011 [8 favorites]

I was recently in a very similar situation as you, and I kept letting it slide, always thinking, well, I'll give her a second chance. Oh, it'd be too awkward to talk about. Predictably, we ended up breaking up fairly early into the relationship. At the time it seemed like a big dilemma, but in retrospect, I can't fathom why I didn't just directly express how I felt about these episodes -- as they were occurring or immediately afterwards. At least then, we would have had a chance at dealing with the issue. We might not have, but we might have. If you don't express your concerns, you'll almost guarantee they won't be dealt with.

If you can't communicate with him about something about the relationship that's a huge deal to you, what's the point in having a relationship?
posted by John Cohen at 10:33 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's a dealbreaker. His problems with alcohol precede you, plus you have a totally understandable need to stay away from aggressive personalities.

FWIW, there was definitely aggression in the house I grew up in. And the best decision I ever made was to date and marry someone who doesn't have an aggressive bone in his body, who raises his voice only in rare and justified instances, and so on. It's possible to get across a strong opinion in a calm, impassioned way. Keep looking until you feel completely, unconditionally safe.
posted by paindemie at 10:33 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't look at it as "aggressive behavior only when he's drunk." Look at it as just flat out aggressive behavior. If he were behaving this way while he was sober, would you stand for it? In other words, don't let alcohol consumption be an excuse here. He must be held accountable for his behavior regardless of the state he's in. Based on that alone, I would say leave, until he's ready to work on himself.

Also, at the risk of sounding overly alarmist here, it seems clear that your boyfriend likes to drink - often times heavily. I am by no means saying he is an alcoholic - only he can determine that - but speaking as a recovering alcoholic myself I can tell you that if he is one and he continues to drink, his behavior will almost certainly get worse regardless of what promises he makes to improve. Please keep that in mind, and keep an eye out for increasing aggressiveness if you decide to stay.
posted by Rewind at 10:36 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I clicked this question assuming you'd be talking about the person being too much of a partier, spending too much time hanging out with a beer instead of doing things you'd rather do, etc. Anger and fights are far more serious. You need to have a serious talk about this right now. Anything less than an immediate, sincere, and sustained effort on his part to fix this is a dealbreaker. And let it be a dealbreaker sooner, not later, before you're too emotionally invested - or scared.

Please note that you do not need a reason or a backstory for aggressive behavior to bother you. This is a red flag regardless of your previous experience. Don't assume, or let him convince you, that it's somehow your problem for being upset by this.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:38 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was him, to a lesser degree, when I was 26. Drank a lot, but no physical violence. Lots of anger, though. I didn't sort it out until I was 35, and divorced twice. You can issue ultimatums, but I doubt they'll work. Save yourself the time & walk now.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:41 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


posted by freakazoid at 10:41 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even if you had been together 20 years and this started to happen, you would have every right to say "no" to him and this behavior (even with all of that time and love investment) if that felt right to you. You have the right to be respected, to not be afraid of your partner, to not have to be around someone who is drunk, no matter how new or old the couple.
posted by anya32 at 10:42 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ok, stop sign.

Consider it a dealbreaker this early in the relationship and get out?

Possibly pertinent information: I am pretty damn inexperienced with romantic relationships, and I have problems with occasional heavy drinking.

These two go very much hand in hand. Dealing with a partner who is a drinker is hard as it is for a person clean and sober as a whistle, but if you have those problems yourself, they can backfire in a very major way.
posted by mooselini at 10:45 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Run. He has a serious drinking problem. Discussing it will not fix it. And living with that problem, especially given your family history and his anger management problems is not a path you want to take.
posted by zia at 10:47 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not to double-dip, but I would just like to point out that people who do not have serious alcohol problems and serious emotional issues do not need other people to bring those issues to their attention. That is, there are approximately a billion other men on the planet that are not defective and fucked up in these ways. These are the guys that you want to invest your emotional energy in, and these are the guys that you want to have deep sincere discussions with. The posters who are suggesting that you need to take it upon yourself to discuss this with this guy are offering you an opportunity to start holding yourself responsible for this guy's problems. Do yourself a huge favor, and decline that offer. No, no, no you do not need to talk to this guy about it. People who are like this have not earned the right to have serious conversations with you. Save it for the right guy.
posted by facetious at 10:47 AM on February 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

In case you need one more confirmation: Yes. It's a deal breaker. Agree with facetious: you are already defending him. I am sorry to say you CANNOT DO ANYTHING about this. You can't talk him out of it/guilt him out of it/bully him out of it. It sounds dangerous because it is dangerous.

He might be a great guy, otherwise. It's not enough, I'm sorry to say. You say you are inexperienced but I promise you, there are genuinely great guys out there, and you will find some of those. They will not be perfect. They will snore, they will leave their underwear in the hall, they may refuse to snip their nose hairs and talk too much during your favorite TV show. But they will never make you fear for your personal safety. You deserve one of those.

You say you have some of your own problems with heavy drinking. Please get yourself some help. Leave this guy. Get help. Good luck.
posted by Glinn at 10:51 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Dealing with a potential alcoholic is not fun, and it seems like realizing this early on can save yourself a lot of pain and suffering before you get too emotionally invested.

Yep. And I say this as someone married to a recovering addict. The amounts that he is drinking may not be unusual for someone his age, but the behavior that goes along with it certainly seems problematic, and it's something your life will be better off without. Get out while you still can. Dealing with substance abuse is more emotionally draining than I can properly express here. Even if he isn't a textbook alcoholic, he uses alcohol in a way that isn't acceptable to you, and you are perfectly within your rights to dislike it.

It may be worth mentioning your concerns to him, but you should not have any expectations that it will result in changed behavior.
posted by something something at 10:52 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not only is he not right for you, but you aren't right for him. You state that you are romantically inexperienced, that aggressive behavior scares you but you don't know how to communicate that, and that you are looking for a better way to communicate. Those words mean you're trying to change yourself to accommodate his behaviors. You don't need to do that. He's the one with the problem here, not you.

I wish my younger self had someone to tell me these things. Good luck.
posted by Sukey Says at 10:54 AM on February 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

But, I like hanging out with him and it hurts my feelings that he would prefer to get drunk to deal with this situation than hang out with me.
From what I gather, he’s always had some problems with aggressive drinking

This person is a bad fit for you in my opinion. That said I'd bring it up in a neutral way "Hey, you seem to get crabby when you drink and I'd like to hang out when you're not crabby so can we do something different next time?" Simple, easy, non-accusatory. See what he says and see what he does. If, after you being quite clear that you don't enjoy this, he is not able or willing to adjust his behavior, then this is a bad fit.

Part of the problem with people who are timid around angry folks is that they feel that their timidity is wrong or overbearing on the other person's moods or preferences, especially in the face of angry people being angry. As a bit of a timid person myself, I've had good luck just keeping my emotion out of it and saying "I don't enjoy being with you when you are like this, if you are saying that this is my only option, then I choose not to do this"

And yes, this is a bad combination of drinking and moodiness that sounds like it's not much fun for you. I'd move on. As I've mentioned in other new relationship threads, a month in is when the only thing you should be arguing about is who needs to put on pants to pay the pizza guy. This is too much bad and not enough good, to heck with it.
posted by jessamyn at 10:55 AM on February 8, 2011 [11 favorites]

I've been down that road, and it doesn't lead anywhere nice. The anger, and aggressive expression thereof, are even harder to change than the drinking, which is hard enough. No matter how much fun this guy is when he hasn't had too much alcohol, it's not worth it. It's gonna get worse, not better, and it's gonna bother you more, not less, as time goes on. Dealbreaker.
posted by Corvid at 11:02 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Starting off, if he needs to drink every day, even if it is just a beer (as far as you know) that is an initial red flag, follow on with predictable aggressive behavior after X number of drinks, a limit which he willingly/knowingly ignores, the fact this coping behavior is continuing into mid to late twenties when behaviors start to become much more ingrained in personalities... all of this points to serious problems.

Yes, he may change. Absolutely he can recover from this. But the longer it goes the more the odds are stacked against him, and don't make the mistake in thinking hat he is going to change that behavior for the sake of a girlfriend of a month.

I would never argue against more communication, and agree with others that say it may be worth having an open honest talk with him about your fears and concerns. I also think the overwhelming likelihood is you should bail in this relationship. AS others have said, it is the first month of the relationship, the point where you try not to fart in front of one another, you make sure your teeth are brushed before kissing them and you are at your most pleasant. Odds are low it gets better then this.
posted by edgeways at 11:05 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

My fear here is that you are repeating a pattern and getting into a relationship with someone who is very much like your father.

You are not being unreasonable to think of this as a deal breaker. These are gigantic, enormous red flags! I wouldn't even bother talking about: this is not like some weird habit or quirk like leaving the seat up on the toilet.

Don't walk, but run away from this guy as fast as you can.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:15 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, this sounds like a dealbreaker. It sounds like he's a guy who you could have a great relationship with if and only if he makes some huge life changes. And you should never try to build a relationship on a partner making huge life changes. It sounds like his drinking and aggressiveness have been set in the same pattern for years. Those habits are very well established, and I wouldn't put my money on being able to change them.

Also, I'm another person who gets really freaked out when people yell and are aggressive. I find it stressful and really scary too. I decided quite a while ago that I just couldn't date a yeller. Yes, this rules out some wonderful people, but it leaves plenty of good ones, too. I just figure, if fear-inducing raised voices don't need to be a part of my life, why should I let them be?

You could spend months or years dealing with his drinking and anger trying to make the relationship work. Or you could spend that time hanging out with people who don't ever scare you, and use that time to find a guy who fits you better. While it is possible that you could make this relationship work, the problems sound pretty serious, and I think you could save yourself a lot of stress and pain by getting out now.
posted by mandanza at 11:34 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I mean the takeaway here is basically if this was a relative or some one you were married to or a long term relationship, you'd have to think seriously about ways to cope with this. But you're lucky that you found out this quickly. Just consider it a lesson learned, enjoy the memories of the good times you had and moved on. Maybe you guys could even stay friends online or whatever. If you're both single in a few years and he has his shit together, you can try again.
posted by empath at 11:37 AM on February 8, 2011

If your relationship models growing up were violent and abusive and you haven't had any treatment since, then you will tend to be attracted to partners who will reproduce those relationship patterns. Even if they seem perfectly nice at first.

Nthing everyone who's said that this dude is one of those bad guys. Get out.
posted by Bardolph at 11:37 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

You shouldn't be with someone who makes you scared.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:39 AM on February 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

Facetious has it. I strongly disagree with the (mercifully few) comments above suggesting you talk to him about it. Why take that project on yourself? You didn't cause it and it's going to be stressful as hell (as well as useless, in all probability.) This is a serious problem -- even if it's not an alcohol abuse problem, it's a serious personality problem -- and you shouldn't take it on yourself for someone you've only dated a month. Run.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:20 PM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dealbreaker. If you're already seeing the anger now when he drinks, you can be sure it will be much worse later.

In the dark, murky recesses of the unexamined self, some girls who grew up with an scary, angry father are able to spot from a mile away the guy who has that potential. That guy is deeply attractive to those girls because he is the very model of a man to the little girl's lizard brain and she's mesmerized; she goes for it. Her rational mind then tries to do all the right things to make the relationship come out right this time so she can enjoy the good parts but it never, ever will since, unknown to her conscious mind, she picked him because he is charming/exciting/scary, just like daddy. Add alcohol/alcoholism and this guarantees disaster. If she survives the crash, she zooms in on the next charming, scary guy and it begins again. Rinse. Repeat.

Back away from this guy and get some help to re-educate your 'picker' so you don't get into this deadly cycle of abuse. Learn about anger. Learn about violence in relationships. Read. Educate yourself. You can learn to spot the guy with the angry sparkle and avoid him while learning more about the positive qualities you are also responding to. See the anger and immediately back away rather than be attracted. (Of course, when you're drinking enough yourself to be a bit uninhibited, your own lizard brain can sabotage everything because it will say, "now, there's a man.)

Take it seriously that you have seen this red flag and have asked the question.
posted by Anitanola at 12:20 PM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

No idea whether he has a "serious drinking" problem. Its not even really the point here.

Look at this. "Aggressive behavior from people usually makes [you] a little scared," and "[he is] having some business troubles lately and he tends to curse a lot and get angry when he talks about them."
I mean are you even asking a question here?

You: jogging (and fast)
He: counseling and another job.
posted by Namlit at 12:29 PM on February 8, 2011

A month in, and you know he has a situational stress going on right now - you really don't know this guy well enough to know if this is how he habitually deals with problems. I can't fully grasp how serious an issue it is or isn't for him.

That said, you feel like it's an issue, and it's definitely an issue in the relationship at that point, so talk to him about it (like jessamyn suggested). The way that he reacts to that and his subsequent behavior will tell you a lot about him and the prospects for an ongoing relationship with him.

(I don't mean to minimize your perception - I mean that in the sense that pretty much the only thing important here is your perception of his behavior and how it makes you feel.)

(If you have occasional problems with heavy drinking, that doesn't sound like a great combination.)
posted by mrs. taters at 12:30 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a family with a couple of fiery tempers where sometimes yelling just meant "I care a lot!!!" and it's a mode of expression I'm pretty comfortable with. But,

I would run the other way from anyone who was a mean drunk.

And not just because I do believe in 'in vino veritas'.

Once you're safely gone and over him, you can think about telling him why left. I wouldn't get into why you're leavING, for the reasons young_rope_rider and others have said.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:21 PM on February 8, 2011

everyone's already said it, but i will too.

i used to go through my life thinking i had no regrets about anything. that was true until, well, i started dating the guy you are thinking of carrying on with. i tried not to let the drunk anger bother me. i figured it would get better once he realized what a dick he'd been to me the first few times he got drunk and said shit that hurt my feelings. it gets to be a cycle: he gets drunk, acts like an ass, picks a fight. says horrible things. the next day, he may or may not apologize. in my case, he usually tried to deny that it happened. he'd claim not to remember, and when i told him, "You said XYZ" his reply would be, "no I didn't. I would never say/ do that." occasionally when i had evidence (such as the time he picked a fight with me at his friends birthday and I left him there at the bar for them to deal with him, and he left me a horrible mean voicemail) he would apologize profusely and make a million promises of how he would be better, he never wanted to hurt me again, blah blah blah. the first few times i believed it. once about a year had gone by, i was starting to notice that nothing was improving, but by then i was so attached and "in love" that i kept looking the other way and wishing and hoping somehow, things would be better. i figured i'd just not hang out with him while he drank. but this was difficult when it came to things like weddings. (at which he'd get embarrassingly, destructive-drunk and often pick fights with me.) it was also bad once we moved in together (cringe.) even if i didn't join him when he was drinking, i had to deal with him coming home drunk (and picking fights, or stumbling around loud and drunk or trying to get me to sleep with him at 3am when i had a test the next day, whatever. knocking things over. once he spilled a whole glass of ice water on me when i was sleeping and he was drunk.) he was never quite violent towards me, but near the end there were some things he said that suggested he was capable of it if i hung around long enough.

by the time i gathered up the courage to dump him (recently) i was basically emotionally wiped out. i still am, and its not getting better. i just came home from starbucks and when i saw that my dog had peed on the rug, i broke down and started sobbing. i'm still sitting on the floor from cleaning it up. because i feel like i have no strength or mental resources left, i used them all up on dealing with him. i used to be happy, positive, patient, gave people the benefit of the doubt, and i was proud of my accomplishments. now i feel empty and like a failure and my temper is short and i don't trust anyone. don't worry, i'm in therapy now trying to address all that. but i feel like i'm at the bottom of a huge dark hole and it's been exhausting trying to crawl out of it, even with all the help i'm getting. i have a long road ahead of me.

i know this answer is probably way longer and more dramatic than you were expecting. but i feel a lot of shame and anger towards myself for getting into this mess. i blame myself for not listening to my instincts, the red flags. right or wrong, this is how i feel. and if i can stop someone else from falling into this hole, i'm going to try. please, please get out and don't look back. maybe he is the one who is capable of change, but i don't think there is any way for you to know unless you stay in it for a long time. and since the chances of him being the Guy Who Might Change are so, so small, it seems not worth the risk. and my story isn't half as bad as it could be. i pulled it together and left before he got violent, but what if you don't? i only skimmed, so i don't know if BlackCatCuriouser posted in here yet, but her story is beyond completely heartbreaking and could have just as easily happened to me, or maybe could happen to you.

by the way. the reason that i disagree with "talk to him about it" is because there's a good chance a guy like this will tell you whatever you want to hear in order to keep you around. it took me a long time to figure out what a liar my ex was because he seemed so sincere. hell, i think he actually believed it- maybe he DID want to change- but he sure didn't. in the end, he pretty much didn't do any of the things he ever said he would do or wanted to do.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 1:45 PM on February 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

My father was an alcoholic, my parents were both emotionally abusive, and my mother was sometimes physically abusive. Please believe me, I know exactly what you mean when you say that aggressive behavior and raised voices frighten you and put you on edge. To this day when I hear random people shouting at each other on the street, my heart starts racing. Witnessing an angry confrontation makes me feel sick to my stomach. I also know exactly what you mean about it being hard to speak up for yourself. As a kid, my parents cared zilch about what I had to say. I learned to save my breath because the loud, angry people aren't listening anyway.

But you're not that helpless child anymore. You're an adult and you have the power to say something to, walk away from the people who make you feel scared. Please do it. You have it in you, I know you do.

When I was first dating my now husband during our college years, we'd go out with friends and he would get pretty drunk. He would never get mean or angry, just really annoying and obnoxious, sometimes verging on belligerent. It was just enough to make me nervous about being around him when he was drinking. I told him exactly how I felt about it, including my past experiences with alcoholism and how frightening they still are to me, and I told him in no uncertain terms that he was not to get sloppy drunk in my company anymore.

He listened. He has since cut himself off well before he gets to the point of "acting weird." If he does have a few beers, he checks in with me often to make sure I'm having fun. He demonstrated to me through his actions that he cares more about my emotional well-being than getting hammered. Not just lip service, not like those lies my father used to insult me with, but actual matter-of-fact actions. I would not have married him otherwise. I've spent enough of my life living in that fear, and there's no way I'd put myself or my future children through that again.

PM me if you want to know more about what it's like to live with an alcoholic - but trust me, you really don't want to know. Please say something and stick to your guns, or else save yourself the heartache and go now. You don't owe him anything. You are free to leave.
posted by keep it under cover at 1:46 PM on February 8, 2011

Others have given you good advice but let me say this: You are at risk for finding a partner that is like your dad. Don't know why this happens but I have sat in enough counseling appts to know that problems like to keep going from parent to child. If you think this could be a pattern in your own life you might want to invest in a few sessions with a counselor to help you figure out how to attract less problematic people into your life.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:12 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stress happens. To all of us. Drinking is not a healthy coping strategy. Knowing you get angry when you drink and not doing anything about it is a Saturn-rocket sized red flag. The fact that he warned you of this fact, and didn't end that statement with some permutation of, "but I'm trying to work on it," means he's telling you that's how he is and that he thinks you should deal with it.

Do you want to deal with someone who doesn't seem interested in dealing with his own problems? From your question, if you stick around, it sounds like you're in for a lot of self-sacrifice under the guise of "compromise".

If it were me, I would DTMFA. I grew up with an alcoholic, abusive father. I'm now 30. What is the biggest takeaway from my childhood? Life is too short to put up with an angry drunk. Or an angry sober!

(You can DTMFA kindly, btw - just tell him exactly what you've told us, and explain that while you adore Jekyll, you don't like Hyde.)
posted by muirne81 at 2:32 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I only have this to add: this is the way he is, and it is what it is. You need to choose whether this works for you. It sounds like it doesn't, and I hope it doesn't.
posted by cool breeze at 2:35 PM on February 8, 2011

You would already know to avoid this person if you hadn't grown up in a family where this kind of behavior wasn't the norm. If you hadn't grown up in a family where "I'M JUST YELLING AT YOU BECAUSE I'M ANGRY ABOUT MY WORK STRESS" was OK, you would have dumped this guy's ass the second time that happened.

But I want to say how awesome you are for knowing better. Even though you have to check with us, you know better! Do you know how many people don't have that degree of insight or self-preservation? Go, you!

Talk to him about it, but I doubt he will change. But if you feel like a rat not to give him the chance to address this before breaking up with him, give him a chance to address it before breaking up with him. I doubt it will take too long for you to see that he's not going to change.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:33 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

He is an aggressive drunk. He is a violent drunk. He is a frequent drunk. And you know all this after knowing him for only a month. This is the time when he is really going all-out to impress you.

Even if this kind of thing were typical for a 26-year-old - which it isn't - that would only mean that the typical 26-year-old has some very dangerous habits with alcohol. It would not mean that this is something to take lightly or just grin and bear.

It's been a month. It's not like you've known the guy for years and he's recently had a life crisis and thrown a wobbly.

I've had to deal with some very destructive people in recent months. I've had people counsel me: "if you ever see people like this again, just disengage." That made me feel uneasy. Because the people in question were very good at hiding their ill nature. Okay there were some warning signs and reasons why I missed their significance. But to a great extent, I only met these monsters through their acts. They were very well disguised. So... how would I recognize "people like this"?

And then it hit me. THEY WERE ALL VERY HEAVY DRINKERS. Sure I compliantly overlooked that, because (especially in the UK) it's unseemly to be nervous about someone's drinking. So I compliantly ignored the obvious: that all the abusive behaviour they eventually came out with was completely consistent with they way alcoholics behaved. I should have gotten wary when I saw that guy on his third drink in less than an hour (again). But I'd been conditioned that it wasn't healthy to object to this, even silently inside my head. So I magnanimously waved it aside until they all turned on me like hounds ripping a fox to pieces. Other people can do what they want, but I'm going to steer clear of addicts from now on, because I've encountered a lot of them and had nothing but bad experiences with them.

Should you say something to him on your way out the door? Maybe, as long as you're in a public place and have a clear exit plan and he can't easily follow you. But it has to be on your way out the door. And you may not want to take the risk. You cannot expect to get through to him or make a difference, but if you do it will be because he suffers real consequences and he can't say that he hasn't been told.
posted by tel3path at 3:34 PM on February 8, 2011

Don't hook up with a mean drunk.

Just don't.
posted by flabdablet at 4:02 PM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

No relationship of a month should cause this much stress. Move on to the man who does not need to make major life changes to be a good fit for you.
posted by freshwater at 4:19 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you should stay away from this guy there are plenty of men who don't behave this way.

I don't think the problem is even that he's a mean drunk I think the problem is that he's a mean drunk and he still drinks, every day, when he knows its not good for him. I don't mean not good in a physical health kind of way either I mean bad in a not very much fun, can be dangerous and is hurtful to relationships way. Thats not a healthy relationship to alcohol.

I'm a bad drunk myself, I get really sad and depressed when I drink and it doesn't take much, I can get away with a drink or two but I don't I avoid it as much as possible because I know the way it affects me is undesirable.

You can find a guy who doesn't make you scared, hell no guy is better than someone who makes you feel uncomfortable and a month into the relationship with you have to post on ask mefi about.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:24 PM on February 8, 2011

Figure out a better way to listen to his problems without judging him for the harsh words that he uses?

I join others above in saying -- you are the way you are, anger freaks you out (for good historical reasons), and that's fine. Your desire for calm is as valid or moreso than his desire to fight, and plenty of people can remain well within your safe zone.

The thing is, and I say this after a four-year relationship with an angry person, the easiest way not to have anger near you is to walk away. It would be very hard for someone like him to change his behavior. It is harder (impossible really) for you to get him to change if he doesn't want to. The easy thing to do is to walk away.

Again, speaking as someone who used to shut down around anger until that relationship I mentioned, you are right -- you can learn to remain lucid and articulate, even nonjudgmental, during outbursts. It might take a lot of time. And what will be the utility of that skill? You'll be better able to respond to someone who is angry. But how often do you need that? If your life required you to be around lots of angry people, you might get something out of it. But the best use for the "this is not ok - I must defend myself" clarity you'll attain is to identify red flags and walk away more quickly, and fill your life with thoughtful and calm people. That is why I recommend cutting to the chase and avoiding this situation entirely.

You can learn to cope cogently and non-judgmentally with anger in many situations that pose much less risk to you: a frustrated boss or justifiably annoyed friend. Learn to deal with others' anger in situations with emotionally healthy people. (The combo in your question makes me fear that your date is not.)

Last, you must know that you're susceptible to falling into unhealthy, violent relationships because of your background. This one appears to be such a no-brainer. Don't be a statistic like that. Don't trick yourself into it with misguided notions of trying or helping or "to each his own." Sorry to be pushy here; the bottom line is, listen to your own self. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 11:07 PM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

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