but I'm drunk on love!
September 23, 2012 6:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm not so into drinking these days; my new boyfriend enjoys getting drunk. How do we best manage this low-level incompatibility?

I've never been a crazy drinker, but over the past couple of years (I'm 31), my interest in going out and getting drunk has gone way down. It doesn't seem worth the money, and it often makes me feel gross and unhealthy. I'd be happy having two glasses of wine a week, with an occasional (once every month or two?) wild night/special occasion/silly drunken time.

My boyfriend of four months likes to drink. He has a job where he can't drink ~3 days a week, but if he's left to his own devices, he'll drink on the remaining 4 days, and probably get pretty drunk 2-4 of those days.

My problem is that I enjoy his company less when he's drunk. He just gets kind of loud and sloppy, as people do, and if I'm sober it feels kind of like both of us are trying to have a conversation in a language we're not quite fluent in. To compensate, I've been drinking more -- especially if we're hanging out with his friends, who are pretty drink-happy -- but not particularly because I want to. We seem to get along fine when we're drinking together and maintain a relatively similar level of tipsiness -- say, when we split a bottle of wine over dinner; the problem arises when we meet up in the evening and he's already drunk, and I'm not. Or when we split a bottle of wine, and then I stop, but he keeps ordering drinks. (He doesn't seem to have an alcohol problem, from what I can tell; we often have non-drinking dates. He just likes to drink, and when he drinks he does so enthusiastically.)

I've brought the subject up, and he says he's not worried about it -- he's into the idea of drinking less, and he likes that he drinks less when he's around me. (I also think that he probably thinks it's less of a problem because when he's drunk, he seems to enjoy my sober company just fine; it's me who is less into drunk-him.) But then he'll hang out with his friends for a couple hours after work and show up drunk to our dinner date at 7:30. I hate feeling like some sort of nag or scold; most of my friends drink more than me, and I don't have a problem with it. I don't want to be the kind of person who makes rules like "If you plan a night to hang out with me, plan on not drinking!" because then I feel like a total square/buzzkill. There must be more elegant work-arounds to this kind of social incompatibility, right? If you have a drinking-level difference in your (happy!) relationship, how do you deal with it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You sound like you are trying to give him every benefit of the doubt, but he seems like he is an alcoholic. His having a clear sense of days he cannot drink and continuing to drink past a buzz on the nights out is concerning. I would resolve this by dating someone whose lifestyle is more compatible - sorry.
posted by mozhet at 6:30 PM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you specifically said, "It bothers me when you show up drunk or buzzed to our dates; can you hold off until we get together?" If you have, and that's what he's said he's "not worried about," I think there's a problem. If you haven't, then I think that needs to be your first step.

In other words, don't focus on high-level incompatibility issues, but on simple, specific, concrete issues. "I'm worried you drink more than I do," is a high-level incompatibility issue; "I don't like it when you drink before meeting up with me, so can you stop doing that?" is a simple, specific, concrete request.

(I don't think your description of him is necessarily one of an alcoholic, but if he can't or won't take your request into consideration, then you are looking at dealing with the higher-level incompatibility issue.)
posted by jaguar at 6:35 PM on September 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

How do we best manage this low-level incompatibility?

I don't think this is a low-level incompatibility. I've had two boyfriends where this was an issue. And it only got worse. People tend to be on their best behavior in the early part of relationships, so he likely things he's already toning his drinking down. I don't think there's ever a good excuse to show up drunk to a dinner date. He's got a problem.
posted by kimdog at 6:36 PM on September 23, 2012 [28 favorites]

Having 1-2 drinks four nights a week strikes me as totally reasonable; getting sloppy drunk 3-4 nights a week sounds unhealthy (physically and mentally) and unreasonable. Showing up to a dinner date drunk is just plain rude.

I think your expectations are too low; you don't want to nag, but you shouldn't NEED to nag. Anyone out of college should know better than to show up to dinner drunk. He is the one being unreasonable, not you.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:37 PM on September 23, 2012 [25 favorites]

Before you make an effort to "deal with" this, consider if this is the way you want to spend your life.
posted by HuronBob at 6:39 PM on September 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

He shows up to a date drunk?


I have dated guys with substance abuse problems. This is a guy with a substance abuse problem. The fact that you see this as a low-level incompatibility is worrisome.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:41 PM on September 23, 2012 [41 favorites]

I have a low tolerance for being around drunk people, and an even lower tolerance for being around high people. Sometimes you just do have to draw a clear line: don't smoke pot if you're coming to see me, don't drink before our dinner date. I've dated a couple of people who I had to have this conversation with, back in my youth, and it's a really good sign if the person understands and respects the request, and is able to honor it. That's not being square or a buzzkill; well, maybe it is. But I think both people in the relationship should know pretty early on how this is going to work for them. Somebody who really likes drinking has the right to know early in a relationship with me that I'm no fun to be around in that way, and I have a right to know, early in a relationship, whether the other person can accommodate my wishes around this, and is willing to. Some folks might choose not to date me, and vice versa. It's part of the process. You're going to get the information you need about this guy--and give him information he needs about you--if you're really clear about your preferences, and your clear boundaries.
posted by not that girl at 6:43 PM on September 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

Ask him to not show up to your dates drunk. If he can't do that he's an alcoholic.
posted by dgeiser13 at 6:50 PM on September 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

I don't know this guy, but from your description, it sounds like he has a drinking problem. Spending 4/7 days a week drunk is not normal or healthy.

Tell him what you told us: you don't enjoy drinking that much and you don't like him when he's drunk.

You can't make him change. And he probably won't change. (I'm assuming he is around your age and not a 22 year old who might age out of college-style partying). You need to figure out whether you want to deal with this. To me, it seems like his behavior might get very old, very fast.
posted by murfed13 at 7:02 PM on September 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Saying "I don't want to be the kind of person who makes rules" is the same thing as saying "I don't want to be the kind of person who establishes boundaries." That kind of thinking can come to bite you in the ass sooner or later.
posted by drlith at 7:15 PM on September 23, 2012 [16 favorites]

Saying "I don't really want to hang out with you when you are drunk" is not really being a buzzkill. He can drink if he wants, but you gotta admit hanging out with a drunk person isn't really hanging out with them. They are blabbering on and you just want to spend spend some time with them. Tell him, "It's not really fun to hang out when you are drunk". If he cares about you at all he will get the message. If he thinks you are a buzzkill, then you aren't really compatible.
posted by eq21 at 7:19 PM on September 23, 2012

The compatibility gap appears to be larger than you're presenting it as. You're talking about this as a minor difference between the two of your 'drinking levels', but really, your drinking level is normal and healthy, and his drinking level involves binge drinking multiple nights a week and drinking to excess in socially unacceptable situations (like before going out on a date with you).

I won't jump to conclusions about his alcohol 'problem', maybe he's just kind of immature and stuck in a frat boy kind of mindset. I agree with starting by enlightening him about how you don't appreciate him pre-partying before your dates and go from there.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:19 PM on September 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Tell him nicely that you feel a little embarrassed when he gets drunk, and you'd prefer not to be around if he's been drinking.
posted by discopolo at 7:23 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

To pick up on drlith's comment: saying, "You can't drink if we're going to be hanging out later," is an unreasonable rule; saying, "I won't stay and hang out with you if you show up drunk," is an appropriate boundary.

Boundaries aren't about dictating another person's behavior, but rather about expressing the types of behavior you're willing and unwilling to accept. In other words, he can choose to get drunk or not, but you choose to spend time with him only if he's sober. This isn't some weird thing you're imposing on him: it's no fun to hang out with drunk people when you're sober, and it's totally reasonable to express this preference to your boyfriend. If he can't live with that boundary, it's a significant incompatibility.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:33 PM on September 23, 2012 [16 favorites]

Well, did you know he was a drinker when you started dating him? Be careful of "trying to change" him. If he likes getting drunk then, well, he likes getting drunk.

My boyfriend and I had the same exact issue. We met many years ago in a club scene and we were always buying each other shots and getting wasted. I hadn't seen him in 4 years before we met up again (which was 3 years ago). My tolerance took a nose dive during that time... and I didn't care to drink anymore. Well, he still lovvvved drinking.,
Anyway, because my anxiety was getting unbearable, I talked to him several times about it. At first he said "I still love drinking, you can't change me".
Well, after a Christmas incident in which he passed out in the bathtub and flooded half the apartment, I told him that I couldn't deal with that shit. He realized I was serious and since then has calmed down. -He gets drunk like twice a year and hardly drinks.

So, it's definitely possible if you talk to him seriously, he'll stop.
There's also a possibility he will resent you and also a possibility he can't actually stop.

So I guess bring it up again and be super serious.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:38 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't want to be the kind of person who makes rules like "If you plan a night to hang out with me, plan on not drinking!" because then I feel like a total square/buzzkill.

No way. Even if setting boundaries around drinking makes you a total square/buzzkill (which it does not), you are 100% entitled to be a big fat square and/or buzzkill when it comes to your own life. This is not an acquaintance, this is not a friend of a friend, this is not a guy you met at a party. This is your boyfriend, and his excessive drinking is interfering with your dates as well as 2-4 nights of your relationship per week.

Is "if you plan a night to hang out with me, plan on not drinking" how you feel about this? If so, say it, buzzkill or not. This is an entirely reasonable thing to ask from someone you've been dating for four months. I think Meg_Murry above has a good point about how best to phrase it.

As for being "the kind of person who makes rules": if you are not this kind of person, someone else will be. And they will make unspoken rules like "you have to put up with it when I show up drunk to a planned dinner date" and "you have to sit there feeling uncomfortable while I get sloppy/loud drunk four nights out of seven". There are always rules, and in my experience they are rarely improved by refusing to discuss them out loud.
posted by vorfeed at 7:44 PM on September 23, 2012 [13 favorites]

My problem is that I enjoy his company less when he's drunk.

This is not a minor problem. This is actually a very big problem.

I say this to people a lot, and it's worth saying to you as well. Folks don't have an alcohol (or other) problem until they decide they have a problem. The guy you are dating does not, as far as we know, think he has a problem with alcohol. And that's ok.

But here's the important part. You have a problem with his alcohol use. And you are allowed to have a problem with it. His use of alcohol makes you uncomfortable and interferes with you having a good time.

If you left him over this, he would either have a you problem or an alcohol problem. But your problem with his alcohol use would stop. Because you would no longer be exposed to it. And you know, whether he decides that you left him because you're an uptight bitch, or he decides that his alcohol use was excessive and wrecked a potentially awesome relationship? Not your problem. You can't decide that for him. You can, however protect yourself and your perfectly normal right to enjoy your time.

The best way to resolve this incompatibility is to find a person more compatible with you. A person who gives you equal power in the rule making of the relationship. Because by deciding that he can be drunk (or just tipsy!) for nearly all of your time together, he is making rules that you have to drive everywhere (and/or tolerate his drunk driving), limit your activities, and prioritize his "good time" over your minimum comfort, much less your fun. Setting a rule that you get to have fun too is about the farthest thing from being a buzzkill that I've ever heard of.

If setting that rule will make him angry, or you are afraid of prioritizing your fun equally with your partner's fun...please seek therapy or counseling for potential codependent behavior. His drinking interferes with your life, and will continue to do so for as long as you let it.

It seems that this guy would drink 7 nights out of the week, "if he could." The comparison can be made to a guy who is "only" violent 4 nights out of the week, because the cop who lives next door is home the other three.
posted by bilabial at 7:51 PM on September 23, 2012 [12 favorites]

There is a middle ground here, unless he gets smashed on one or two drinks. It doesn't sound like you mind hanging out with him after he has a beer at happy hour with friends; it sounds like he shows up drunk on date night, which is unequivocally rude. Think about what specifically bothers you about it (e.g., "It makes me feel like our date is secondary or unimportant, which makes me feel like an afterthought in your life") and then express that to him in those terms.
posted by sallybrown at 7:53 PM on September 23, 2012

From what you've described, you two are not compatible and this isn't a small issue. If, in four months, you haven't come to a mutually satisfactory way of dealing with this major difference between the both of you, I don't think that this is a good relationship prospect for you. In the months you've been together, you've adjusted by drinking more than you would otherwise, and his response to your bringing this up is to not change his behavior to the degree that you want (if at all). It may be that you two are not in equivalent stages of your lives, but the issues you describe can't be fixed with an elegant and easy work-around.
posted by quince at 8:33 PM on September 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I dated a girl who showed up to the first date after drinking two bottles of wine. She was otherwise lovely, smart, hot, funny, career-oriented, etc. I was mesmerized, and for three months we dated, and it went nowhere and problems only got worse. YMMV, of course but I wonder by how much.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:55 PM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think 3FLryan is on target. If it's difficult to negotiate not-showing-up-wasted-on-date-night (especially this early on), trouble is brewing. Consider moving on, I'd say.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:05 PM on September 23, 2012

I have been where you are, but didn't have the presence of mind to ask this question as early in the relationship as you have. This early on, it should be easier for you to leave than a year down the road. Knowing that, ask yourself how disappointed you'd be to just cut it off. Not so much, good - leave now. Would you be able to leave after trying harder to address the issue? That's ok too.

The advice above about the difference between rules and boundaries is great. Take that into consideration and have a very serious conversation with your SO about the drinking. It's ok to say that you don't want to lie like this forever if that's how you feel. And it's also ok for the conversation to make you realize that you're just not compatible WRT alcohol.

Trust me and the others above when we say that it's so much easier to nip this in the bud now than try to deal with it when it seems more than a small incompatibility. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to talk more - I have a ton of experience in a situation like this, but don't want to go into too much detail here.
posted by youngergirl44 at 9:25 PM on September 23, 2012

I am going to buck the trend here and say I think you can resolve this with a conversion with him. Don't be accusatory, just discuss expectations and perceptions.

The first date with my future wife turned into a drinking contest, but before we married she decided that excess drinking was not for her. I cared more about her than beer so I only drank when with my friends. If he cares for you, he will make a decision to compromise or stop.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:27 PM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sooner or later the drinking is going to be
more important than you.

He will be drunk, doing random loud things while
your trying to sleep. It'll cause problems and heartache.

Do you want a lifetime of cleaning up messes
and watch him embarrass himself and you?
A lifetime of sheer agonizing disappointment .
posted by Bun Surnt at 9:27 PM on September 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

I've gone through a bunch of non-drinking periods with my partner who has only had one non-drinking period in the same 10 or so years. A good three years of mine was pregnant/nursing but before that it was medication and at the moment it is related to anxiety. A complicating factor is that I get anxious around drunk men (his non-drinking period was after he drunkenly did something I found threatening). So when I'm not drinking, he puts a lid on is while we're together and I simultaneously help manufacture times where he can get wasted with friends.

If he still insisted on getting drunk most nights of the week? I'd be unimpressed to the point of counselling and possible separation. And this is after six years of marriage, nine of being together. You have far less invested in this relationship - is it something you are willing to be compromised on for extended periods of time?
posted by geek anachronism at 10:14 PM on September 23, 2012

I agree with everyone else.

I'm a big proponent of people in their relationships having a healthy sense of individual life and confidence to maintain boundaries. He has a habit that can't involve you, at least not in a way you find pleasant. Fill drinking nights with something that has nothing to do with him. Don't subject yourself to some unpleasant evening where you're bothered and unhappy just for the sake of your boyfriend's company.

Accept that you are a buzzkill, own it and don't apologize for it. Let him know straight up, you'll have one or two beers with him occasionally, and that's it. If he shows up drunk on a planned date he can walk home. Don't say it like you're angry, but that's simply the ground rules, and don't budge on it.

If he's socialising w his friends who do drink, find some new friends who don't really drink that you can hang out with in the same venue with him and enjoy their company while he and his friends are drunk.

Ask him to tone it down to twice a week or less.

Let him know he acts like an idiot when he's drunk, it's not attractive so that's why you don't like it. That's why I don't like being around drunk men - there's a time and a place, but outside of that, it's a massive turn off that I remember about the person and generally resent (your tolerance may vary).

Or, if you want to make him learn a lesson about awkward moments while the partner is acting like an idiot due to inebriation, show up one night hopped up on crystal meth. he'll remember. i'm kidding of course.
posted by joannqy at 10:23 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, I didn't know there were so many medical professionals on Ask that are able to diagnose alcoholism via a 2nd party description! That's totally what the OP asked for too, when she said she was looking for happy couples to share how they've bridged that incompatibility.

I'm a drinker who is in a relationship with a non-drinker. Honestly, there's a good chance he feels similarly, but in the opposite way. Initially, I was like "great, now I have a DD to drive my drunk ass home!". But from my perspective, the net result was that we went out and socialized a lot less, which was isolating.

If your relationship is important enough to the two of you, you'll find a compromise. It might look like: the two of you spending your time together not drinking, but him spending (a healthy) amount of time with his friends that do drink and not with you.

Compromise means you both lose something, but you both gain something. The majority of perspectives you're getting in this thread are implying that he's doing something wrong. I don't think that's a successful strategy to take on, if you're actually interested in making a relationship work.
posted by danny the boy at 12:26 AM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

A good friend of mine has a boyfriend who sounds like yours. They met in their mid-twenties, when they were both fairly heavy social drinkers. Fifteen years later she drinks like you, but he still gets drunk with his friends 3-5 days a week. Otherwise he's sane and responsible and quite low-key, but it still sucks -- he shows up drunk for dinners (like your guy), has embarrassed her at a couple of weddings, and once came home at 3AM and flooded their bathroom by falling against the toilet and knocking it out of the wall.

Over the years she has tried drinking with him, reasoning with him, and distracting him with interesting nights out, but none of it worked for long: he just seems to really like to binge-drink with his buddies. They seem now to have developed two sets of friends, mainly distinguishable by their (gender and) drinking styles. And she has developed a kind of eye-rolling huffiness about him and his drinking. It's pretty awful.

So yeah, I actually do think drinking-style incompatibility can be a really big deal. Sorry!
posted by Susan PG at 1:58 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to see this not being about alcohol, but just as a fundamental lifestyle disconnect. Replace his alcohol usage with, say, his owning 8 not terribly well behaved dogs and you don't like dogs very much. You've been putting up with the dogs he has because you want to be agreeable and you like him when the dogs aren't around, but he more often than not does have the dogs around. And when he brings the dogs out in public (which he does often) you are embarassed by how the dogs act. You never feel totally comfortable making plans or scheduling date with him because he might bring the dogs and then the date ends up being about the dogs instead of you two as a couple. Being a dog owner is never a life that you would have chosen for yourself. And even though you have already told him you really don't like dogs and you wish he didn't have as many dogs as he has already, he would LOVE to get more dogs in the future, he'd get it if he had the chance, even though it would mean more work for you to take care of them and even though you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of dogs he already has.

If it was the dog situation instead of his excessive drinking, I'm betting that you would see this much more clearly. You would see that this just isn't going to work out and you would walk away from this clearly doomed relationship, leaving him to live his life with his dogs as he pleases. You aren't demanding him to give away his dogs. You are just choosing not to have your life overrun by his dogs.

This isn't the relationship for you. Whether or not he is an alcoholic (though I'd put my money on it that he is), he is still engaging in a lifestyle that doesn't mesh with what you want from life. I feel like you are trying to downplay or justify it because it is alcohol, and you seem to feel that laying boundaries relating to alcohol consumption makes you a "square", but you need to get over that. What is better, looking "square", or having your life turn in to something you don't like. Plus, he is bringing out in you things that you don't like. You've been drinking more, even though you don't want to (your words).

End the relationship and go find someone who shares your opinions on dogs.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:10 AM on September 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

This man sounds like an alcoholic, and you sound like you're trying to rationalize his behavior into being something it isn't.
posted by ellF at 4:22 AM on September 24, 2012

People seem to be using the term "alcoholic" pretty freely, I think this is frequently a puritanical label for "someone who drinks more than I do". Young men drink, can drink lots, but it doesn't mean they are dependant, though this guy might be.

Anyway, it is a basic incompatibility, he likes doing it and probably won't change just for you. If you can't take him as he is then find someone better suited to your habits.
posted by epo at 4:38 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well as I don't know him or you or what his hard lines are on this, so I'm not going to make a conclusive guess about him being an alcoholic or otherwise.

He currently drinks a lot. Your life would be a lot easier if he drank a lot less.

"I don't find you as attractive when you drink"
"You can't show up drunk to a 7:30 date, that is abnormal and worries me"
"I don't want you to be drunk this often"
"I want you to reconsider how much you drink"

Pick one of those and say it to him. See what happens.

As a drinker and at times heavy drinker, it is not a big deal edit how much I drink. I've gone months or years drinking very little. It has a lot to do with social patterns and how my work life is structured. I have a baby now, and a 8-6 type job so I drink very little. The point is it's not Important to me, never has been. It was fun and felt good, but in great new tv-show way. Not like a sex, food, sleep can't live without it kind of way.
My point is you might be valuing his drinking more than he does.

I don't want to be the kind of person who makes rules... because then I feel like a total square/buzzkill

Yeah don't worry about mysterious "other" people. They will never like you because they don't exist. To avoid this judgement you are drinking when you don't want to. That seems less good.
posted by French Fry at 5:01 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with some here that you need to be VERY CLEAR in what you want and need if you aim to get just that. You need to say, flat out, "I will not abide you drunk on a dinner date so if you drinking before meeting me is that important, it's just a disconnect we have in our lifestyle choices and maybe we shouldn't see each other..."

I dated this guy. Beer was like water to him and though I love a good buzz on a Sunday (but I hate that damn song), it just got to be too much. I asked for a month long break and during that break I asked him to examine his relationship with alcohol. If it was more important and at the end of the month, he still didn't see the problem I was seeing then we would split. If he realized it was an issue, I'd stick around and we'd deal with it in a grown up and appropriate manner that was healthiest.

It worked. He quit drinking so much. I was happier. But all my prodding and mentioning did absolutely no good until I sat him down, looked him in the eye lovingly, and was very clear. I did my very best to not phrase it as an ultimatum because truly, I didn't feel like I was giving one, and he heard me. I suggest being incredibly clear about what you need and find okay...
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:12 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

This isn't low level, it's a deal breaker.

Going from the twenties, Woo! Hoo! phase, to your thirties is when you frame your relationship to mind-altering substances for the rest of your life.

Most of us fall into a "social cocktail" area, where we drink occasionally, but never to excess and certainly not to be drunk. Others, look at every day off as a reason to start drinking and to stay drunk. To each his own.

I don't love hanging out with drunks. I just don't. I have friends who are heavy drinkers and while they are lovely people, I don't enjoy them drunk. It's problematic.

I cannot conceive of a relationship where this inequity will work out. One person is always the grown-up and it gets old. You can't have a conversation because the drunk person will be shouting, spouting nonsense and won't give you a chance to give your opinion. Even if you do have a chance, they aren't listening.

You're right at that age where you realize that some of your best friends just aren't that interesting to you anymore. It's a melancholy time.

As for being a buzzkill, think about it in reverse, your friends are ruining your evening of bracing conversation with their stupid "drunk-talk" (sweet, sweet, drunk-talk.)

I went through this and it's hard. Hang in there though, you'll find the folks who are like you, who enjoy quiet evenings, good conversation and the occasional cocktail.

Make mine a dark and stormy. But just one.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:48 AM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I wish this wasn't anonymous, otherwise I'd MeMail or email you. I have nothing to add to what others have said: seems like an alcoholic, this can be a major incompatibility issue if he is not willing to curb his drinking. The fact of the matter is, you should be in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, and he should be on his best behavior, not showing up to dinner drunk.

I have experience with dating alcoholics. I dated a guy for 18 months, we came to an unspoken agreement that binge drinking was an activity for him and his friends, not me. The consequence of this was that after 18 months, our relationship had gone nowhere. Telling him that I didn't want to be around him when he was drinking simply meant that he never saw me, not that he curbed his alcohol use. When we broke up, I wasn't even a bit sad, because even after 18 months, I barely knew the guy.

I then dated another heavy drinker for six months. I liked him and didn't want to repeat Experience A again, so I tried to be his drinking buddy as some twisted bonding experience. It was miserable. I was drunk and hungover after every date, I was not functioning at work. Alcoholics easily drag you down if you don't have boundaries. I tried setting boundaries, letting him know I wasn't comfortable drinking so much, crashing on people's couches, and he saw me as a buzzkill and dumped me.

So, I think this is an issue. Even if he's not an alcoholic, he's a heavy drinker and you are not. Talk to him about it, and see where it goes from there. If he can't stop drinking, it is better to know now.

Good luck.
posted by peacrow at 6:22 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not to pile on, but in the vicinity of the 30s (presuming you're of similar ages) 2-4 nights a week of getting "pretty drunk" is yes, a drinking problem (or at a bare minimum, problem drinking - the distinction in my mind being how much you resist the idea of it being a problem and how difficult you find it to stop).

He doesn't seem to have an alcohol problem, from what I can tell; we often have non-drinking dates.

The idea that if you don't drink every day, or if you are able to not drink at will on individual occasions, then you don't have a problem with alcohol, isn't accurate. If he doesn't start to moderate his behavior in response to your expressing that you find his presence less pleasant with drunk, that means he is unwilling or unable (without significant personal transformation) to moderate his behavior. Either one is a significant problem in your relationship. Asking him to not drink or drink very moderately (no more than one or two) when he is going to be spending time with you is not square, it's totally reasonable. I suspect you're going to have more trouble with this than you ever want to hear about but you shouldn't let it go. If a person insisted on showing up for a date fresh from the pig farm without taking a shower or smoking in your non-smoking home without permission nobody would suggest you find some "elegant" way to negotiate it other than telling them to stop.
posted by nanojath at 7:42 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

He doesn't have a drinking problem--he's fine with it.

You have a problem with his drinking. This sounds like substance abuse--binge drinking. Asking him to moderate his drinking sounds at first like a good idea. But if you think about it, how much detail ought you need to apply? Can he have two glasses of wine per week? Three? Is is okay for him to spend four days a week drunk, so long as he doesn't come around you?

In truth, it's not up to you to tell him how to behave, either in your presence or out of it. But you certainly have a duty to let him know what behavior you find tolerable.

This is not a low-level issue. Simply calling him an alcoholic won't cover the ground. The issue is whether he's willing to quit being drunk in your presence. Your dilemma is what to do next time he shows up drunk. How many times should you ask him to not do that? In my experience, once is enough: after that you become an accomplice.

Peripherally: he spends four out of seven days drunk? Really? I'm amazed that he's lasted this long with you. I would get tired of having to tell my friends that, well, he's not like that around me.
posted by mule98J at 9:05 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Story time. I've been in your shoes, as well, and this:
I've brought the subject up, and he says he's not worried about it -- he's into the idea of drinking less, and he likes that he drinks less when he's around me.
is important. There's this idea with some people who drink/party a lot that someday they'll be in a relationship with someone who inspires them to drink/party less and settle down. (To my understanding "inspires" = "is so wonderful that the other person spontaneously wishes to change their behavior" or "is so wonderful that when they issue an ultimatum about behavior they don't like the other person willingly goes along with it".)

I guess this works for some people (at least the movies make it sound like it does), but I eventually realized that I couldn't ignore his degree of drinking so I wouldn't be The Nag and simultaneously be The One To Change For. Things devolved to the point where everything I said or did was perceived as a judgment on his alcohol use whether or not that was my intention. (It usually wasn't, consciously - I had bought into the idea of thinking he'd want to change for me if I didn't push.)

The last time I spoke to him he was in a new relationship with someone who had "made him cut back" so he had decided she was The One. I wished him luck and (because I was still buying into the trope) wondered for a long time why I hadn't been worth changing for. OP, you deserve better than this.

tl;dr: "I'm an extrovert and he's an introvert" is a social incompatibility for which couples can devise elegant work-arounds. This is not a social incompatibility, it is a significant issue, and you need to decide when you've had enough.

And for the love of Maude, please don't let this man drive you anywhere, even if he seems sober - with those drinking habits he's probably drunk long before anyone else can tell.
posted by camyram at 9:16 AM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Quick extra point:

I believe strongly that relationships should bring out the best in both partners. They should make you feel your best and the relationship should make you feel more comfortable to "be yourself" than ever before. I've been in crap relationships where I was conceding on things because, well, a person who feels the same way about these core things doesn't exist. Deep down, at the time, I think I knew all of the things I gave in on were deal breakers for me. I knew I wanted a drug free partner. I knew I wanted a partner able to hold an intellectual conversation. I knew I wanted a partner who didn't think throwing entire bags of garbage out the window while I drove down the highway was okay. (Seriously, one of them did that.) I knew what I wanted/needed from a partner for me to be truly happy, but I convinced myself that a person who didn't have at least a couple of those "low level" things didn't exist. One of those guys was even about to propose and I was prepared to say yes until it hit my that any life I shared with him would never be a life I wanted for myself, never be a life I'd want to raise children in, and I would never be happy.

I have since found a partner with whom I click with on every level. I feel totally free to be myself, and that is something I have never experienced before. It is so weird, but when it is right it feels really really different. Looking back I cannot BELIEVE the level of bullshit I put up with in past partners, nor can I believe the level to which I was prepared to settle because I thought that was how relationships were supposed to be.

A healthy relationship isn't supposed to be like what you're describing.

You shouldn't have to feel anxiety and doubt over whether your boyfriend is going to show up to your date sober, or if he is going to be sloppy drunk yet again. You shouldn't have to worry that being with him is creating behaviours in you that you aren't happy with. You shouldn't have to worry about his lifestyle and choices and how they are impacting you NOW, and how they would impact you in the future. You shouldn't have to fear how he would behave should you ever have a family together.

When you think about the future with someone, you need to consider them AS THEY ARE, not as you think they could be, or as they hope to be. We can all hope to change for the better, but that is risky business. You need to just count the eggs that have hatched, so to speak.

If you can look at your life with him, as it is right now, and say "yeah, I could keep living this way for the rest of my life", then go to 'er. If, however, you can't, and the idea of him always drinking to excess they way he does gives you anxiety (let alone it ever getting worse, which it could) , then you need to step away.

Just trust me.
This relationship you're in isn't right for you.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:35 AM on September 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I don't think people can label someone alcoholic over the internet. My husband does things that rub me wrong and I think the key to adult relationships is being honest and being able to communicate. You said you had a conversation but he wasn't worried. I think you need to be more clear about your thoughts and feelings about this and how much it bothers you. If he cares about you, and it really is not a big deal, he should be willing to compromise with you and you should be able to work out something that is agreeable to you both. You should be able to communicate and have him hear you and come to an arrangement that is acceptable to you both.
posted by heatherly at 11:06 AM on September 24, 2012

You should have a conversation with him soon, when he is sober. A "hey, can I talk to you about something?" kind of talk. Bring up the fact that it has felt like you are both speaking different languages when he has been drinking. Let him know that you feel embarrassed when he gets loud and sloppy. Admit that you've been trying to drink more to compensate, but that you don't want to keep doing that. I would then ask if this is something he can temper when he is around you, because you do not want to continue hanging out if he is drunk.

His response here will be pretty valuable, and really could go in a number of directions - gaslighting you into believing you're exaggerating everything, denying there is a problem, thanking you for bringing it to his attention, getting angry... who knows. But I think it is important for you to bring it up now, because it's a big deal and it won't go away.

If, after you bring it up, he promises to change but does not, stick to your guns. Don't be scared to cut the date short. Be flabbergasted that he showed up to a date drunk, remind him of what you told him, and leave.

This method may mean that you lose a boyfriend. It's good to know now, though.
posted by amicamentis at 11:30 AM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I will never date anyone who gets drunk more than once in a blue moon, because I don't drink and it's no fun being on a different level of consciousness from your SO half the time. Beyond that, my dad was an alcoholic and I find it nerve-wracking and disturbing to be in the presence of any kind of heavy drinker.

Basically if I get to the point of wondering "does this person have a drinking problem?" I already know it won't work out. Not because I'm capable or entitled to make that kind of judgement, or because it's about approval or disapproval, it's just that I don't need to be wondering about stuff like that. I'm an adult, and while it's impossible to shape a life with no problems, at least I have some power to sidestep the problems I know I can't live with.

What others said about boundaries != rules. He can do what he wants (well unless he's an alcoholic, in which case he can do what alcohol wants, but that's not for the Internet to say) and you can also do what you want. He can turn up to a date drunk, if he wants, and you can end the date when he turns up drunk, if you want.
posted by tel3path at 12:51 PM on September 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Unfortunately, this is probably going to become more and more difficult. You will advance as a couple, yet the alcohol abuse will continue. I agree with everyone who talks about boundaries - take some time to think about what is acceptable behavior for you and the relationship you're looking for, and communicate this to him. "I don't want to be in a relationship with someone who drinks 4 times a week" "I don't want to be around you when you've been drinking" "I don't enjoy your company when you are drinking and I will no longer spend time with you if you've been drinking" etc.

Be very clear about what you want, and follow through with your words. The more firm you are now, the sooner one of you will make a change - either he will do something about the alcohol abuse, or you will feel certain about ending the relationship.
posted by Locochona at 2:28 PM on September 25, 2012

Argh, I feel like I am going to give you one more iteration of the sort of answer you were not looking for. But in case you are finding this at all helpful:

I am a very occasional, light drinker who had a long relationship with someone who drank a lot. In the beginning, he was having a few drinks most nights. In the end, he was getting very drunk every single night. To be completely honest, the drinking itself didn't bother me, even at the end when it was so much. It is a fluke of my personal likes and dislikes that I felt that way. Here are my thoughts.

In my mind I never tried to decide whether he was an alcoholic or not, but one thing was very clear, that he liked drinking A LOT. So I think that is relevant for you. Say your guy is not an alcoholic, and his drinking isn't screwing up his life, but he just REALLY likes drinking. How does that actually change things in reality? Think of your favorite activities that you LOVE and look forward to all day. Say it is something that you have loved and looked forward to every day since you were a teenager. How would it go if someone started asking you to cut way back on that activity?

I also totally didn't mind hanging out with him and his friends while they had some drinks, and I totally didn't mind being the one to drive. But what happened was that his friends started getting older and slowing down. And then he had to get this whole circle of NEW friends whose lives were basically centered around drinking, doing drugs, partying all night and going to festivals. And like, I do not mind spending a dinner with a bunch of people drinking more than I am and driving home afterwards. But I do mind when it is 5 am and I have to work the next day, the bass is blaring in my living room and there a bunch of guys I don't know barging into my room to do coke in my bathroom. But he (the guy I was dating) LOVED living like that. And the new friends treated me like I was a freak because I needed and wanted to sleep and work, rather than stay up all night partying with them. So, just saying - if he really loves drinking and partying, I think it is more likely to get worse than it now, rather than getting better.
posted by cairdeas at 6:31 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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