How can I keep this friendship, and should I even try?
October 24, 2012 3:07 PM   Subscribe

What to do about a close friend who seems to have become an alcoholic--and cemented his new status of "repeatedly gets so drunk he black-outs" in my mind by telling me details of his sexual fantasies involving myself and his wife (my former best friend)? Bonus features: super long background story!

I know this might seem really simple, but it's been a month since the latest incident and the apology email he sent, and I still don't know what to do. My profuse apologies for the length.

Ellen and I were best friends for 8 years but she is ridiculously bad about staying friends with anyone non-local, so we drifted apart in college, then when she moved back into the area, we got close again, culminating when she asked me to be maid of honor for her otherwise-family-only wedding. I even had the privilege of signing her marriage license to Nate as a witness.

Nate's overall a great guy, seriously. When I met him, I told Ellen that he was perfect for her because "he's basically me, except a dude." In my MoH speech, I joked that Nate and I probably were meant to be better friends than Ellen and I ever were--one of those jokes that is especially funny-in-a-wincey-way in hindsight because it came true. Once Ellen and Nate moved to the coast three years ago, she lost touch, once again, being far more of an acquaintance than a close friend.

Nate, however, was seemingly adrift. He couldn't find a job, and because he was home all day for the first year after that move, and I'm still a student, we started talking regularly over IM and we've talked quite a lot over the last three years. If you had asked me 6 weeks ago, I would've called him one of my closest friends. He's a great listener, a laid-back guy, and he respects it when I call him on his shit, as well as being able to provide a perspective for me (sort of the "typical American dream" of getting married after college and getting ready to have kids) that most of my friends aren't living.

His drinking was a problem while he wasn't working, but he blamed it on not working, and from what I know, he did majorly cut down again once he got employment. Problem is, it crept back up. At the beginning of this year (at least a year since he started work) he told me that he was drinking 6+ beers every night, hiding the empties so that Ellen wouldn't see them, and much more than six beers when Ellen wasn't around.

I tried a few things to get him to see where his problem was heading, some of which were way dumber than others, including one night in April where he admitted (while drunk, of course) that he was attracted to me and we talked about it fairly openly. But, aside from his initial confession (which was pretty explicit, altho I never returned the sentiment), it was not in a sexual sense, more in a "what do you feel like you'd get from cheating on Ellen that you're missing right now" sense. I guess I was hoping that he'd take that idea of "whoa, I just contemplated cheating on my wife with the woman who was her MAID OF HONOR" as a rock bottom-type moment. (Spoiler: He didn't.)

I actually threw up because of the intense guilt I felt afterwards, so I explained, and he agreed, that talking about any attraction was a boundary line I could never feel OK crossing again. (I continue to feel super guilty about this-- I'm not entirely sure why, I didn't WANT him to be attracted to me, I haven't been flirting with him, I didn't agree to cheat with him in person or encourage his fantasies... so I don't know.)

I'd been single for a year and a half while all of this was going on, but about 6 weeks ago I started an exclusive relationship with a new guy, Justin, who I'm really excited about. (And continue to be! He's awesome :D) I told Nate about Justin pretty much immediately, earlier in the day of The Incident, and we talked about Justin for awhile, at least half an hour. Then I left to go do something else, and got back to my computer around 10pm Seattle time.

Nate was around again, and he started messaging me, complaining that he was really uncomfortable and he felt incredibly guilty. I was really worried because I thought maybe they'd had a fight, and asked him what was wrong. He said that Ellen was gone, that he was lonely, that she was never around. His messaging style was Very Obvious Drunk, and then he started talking about how he was lusting after me and he thought [x body part] of mine was my best quality, things like that.

When I told him that I thought he was UPSET, not horny, and that I didn't want to hear about that stuff, he ... attempted to change the subject by saying he wanted to have a threeway with Ellen and me and he knew I'd be into it...? Yeah, I got nothing.

So then I reminded him that I was in a relationship and that also this kind of stuff is Not Okay, he ... congratulated me on my new relationship, like we hadn't spent half an hour earlier that day (when he wasn't drunk, granted) talking about it. That's when I got really fed up and blocked him, at which point he texted me repeatedly.

I ended up trying to call Ellen (who was "out with friends") because I felt like I needed to give her a heads-up that, hey, your husband is black-out drunk alone in your apartment, you might want to check up on that-- whereupon she said, after ten minutes, "I know, it's a problem" and nothing else. Direct quote, btw. So obviously it's not entirely smooth sailing and happy days for their relationship. (This was the first time he's talked to me and been so obviously drunk while alone--I'm in no way anyone's mother, certainly not Nate's, but the quantity of booze & hard liquor he'd told me he'd consumed was staggering and I was honestly worried about him, even though he'd really skeeved me out with the explicit I AM HORNY info, which is why I didn't block him as soon as he started with the sex stuff.)

He sent me an apology dripping with apparent sincerity two days later, saying he's cut out drinking entirely until December and he realizes he has a problem, blah blah, all of that great stuff. That's great, and I'm really happy for him IF he manages to pull it off, but ... what the fuck, dude. You basically treated me like a sexual vending machine the last time we talked (bisexual woman = 3some apparently), completely disregarding the boundaries that I set as necessary for the friendship, and ... I have no idea where to go from here.

It's been over a month since he sent me that apology email, and while I miss him as a friend, I don't miss that asstastic douchebag of a drunk that thinks it's totally okay to basically textually assault me.

I'm worried that he'll keep drinking, but more than that, I'm worried that I'll get overinvolved again (because I'm the only friend he talks to about this shit! Maybe I have a DUTY to stay friends with him?) and worse than even that, what if I can't maintain the boundaries that make me feel OK with being friends with him? (That's my fault, right? Should I have just blocked him to begin with, back in April? Should I just never talk to him again? But I care about him!) What kind of boundaries SHOULD I be setting?! He's supposedly an adult; even if he's fucking shit up, I can't fix it for him, no matter how much I want all of my friends to be happy... right? I keep going back and forth on all of this.

For the love of a plate of beans, help me find some clarity here. (If for some masochistic reason you want even more details, alcoholic.overshare at gmail can hook you up.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No, you have no 'duty' to solve this problem. I would suggest that you bow out of your relationship with him, and perhaps with his wife, 100%.
posted by HuronBob at 3:17 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Nothing good can come of anything from you other than "beep-beep-beep back away", and whatever duty you have lies there. Your new boundary? Make Ellen the conduit for any contact with Nate for the foreseeable.
posted by holgate at 3:23 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe I have a DUTY to stay friends with him?

Nope. If I were you--myself being a person who has had family members with drinking problems that involved these sort of stupid TMI conversations--I'd sort of check yourself that you need to draw some much more "We are friends ONLY" lines with Bad Boundaries Nate in the future.

I don't think it's one of those "Oh you went too far for too long" situations but basically now that you know, if you see him getting that way in the future it's just insta-block and no more conversations unless he's sober. It sucks and people with out of control drinking problems really can be this sort of two-faced charming-then-creepy sort of people. So I'd just keep it to more short friendly conversations and a little less of the BFF stuff unless it's a little more clear that he's on the wagon.

You can't fix him AND you're not his partner so even if you thought you had some special mojo that might fix/help him (this is a very very common personality trait with people who get into these sorts of relationships over and over again) it's inappropriate for you to even be trying. Now that you know that in Nate's lizard brain you are not really just friends, it would be a good idea to be crystal clear about that in the future but also, realistically, know that if he's still a drunk, continuing to talk to him at all may mean more of this bullshit behavior. If it were me, I'd drop Ellen a note that you're available if she needs to talk and leave the drama behind and focus on your own nice new relationship.
posted by jessamyn at 3:24 PM on October 24, 2012 [18 favorites]

I don't see a need to continue talking to Nate on a regular basis. You are in a new relationship with a man you probably want to get to know better. Spend your time on that and don't worry too much about Nate and Ellen.

The fact that Nate is telling you that he is hiding booze from his wife is worrisome. Sure, it's completely natural for friends to confide in one another but his tone of "she's never around" and etc. is a bit much. He's telling you too much of his marital business.

He's got a substance abuse problem, he's hitting on you, and he's complaining about his wife, who is your friend too. Send Nate and Ellen holiday and birthday cards, the occasional email to both of them (Dear Ellen and Nate, Happy Thanksgiving!), and a heads up if you are in their town (if you feel like it).
posted by Fairchild at 3:31 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

You don't call attention to it especially in your post, but you do realize that him acting this way towards you on the same day you told him about a new relationship with a guy that wasn't him is a Big Red Flag, right? I feel like that may have been why that detail was added, but you didn't specifically say it.

Well, just in case you can't see the red flag through the drunken trees -- it's a BFD. I hate saying this because I am SO supportive of the idea that you can be friends with people you would fuck but don't that I want to cut somebody's drunken idiocy some slack.

But the timing on this latest particularly drunken meltdown is my biggest reason for why you should step away guilt-free; you're probably doing everybody a favor.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:39 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

i agree with Fairchild that him confiding in you things he keeps from his wife (who was one of your best friends!!) is totally out of bounds.

when a guy, no matter what level of friendship we're at, instant messages me to tell me that his wife is away, he's intoxicated, and he's horny, i end that friendship or at least significantly pull away. i'm bisexual and sexually open and so used to get a lot of drunk, horny friends putting their ill thought out fantasies on me. since i started following my rule, that basically never happens anymore.
posted by nadawi at 3:41 PM on October 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

I think you're doing absolutely the right thing in not talking to him.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:45 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he is really an alcoholic, by the way, quitting "until December" is meaningless and will not help him. It may actually hurt him; he'll reason that he's proved he can control his drinking, and dive back in.
posted by thelonius at 3:56 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

He's probably an alcoholic! Either that or he's a jerk! (Similar thing.)

So he's plotting escape fantasies and looking for hostages to take along the way.

I bet your old pal could use some support with her drunk of a husband. (Spoiler: it's not going to get prettier immediately, even if this half-hearted "not drinking till December" thing goes as well as it could.)

Meanwhile, why don't you talk to him *not* in the wee hours of the evening and *not* when he's drinking. When *you* want to. He could also use some help figuring out why he's trying to blow up his life. But if you *don't* want to, then don't! And that's a consequence of his drinking, for him to consider.

The point being: do what *you* want to do. What makes you happy, and what feels right. You're the one whose feelings matter.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:02 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The problem isn't that he got drunk and hit on you in a really skeezy way that shows disrespect to his wife - the problem is that he kept on doing it after you specifically asked him to stop. That kind of trait is the hallmark of a "Nice Guy", whom we all know are the scum of the earth.

Actually wait - I was wrong, the first thing was a problem also. So basically this friend is one huge problem, but fortunately the solution is to tell him that he disrespected you twice, which is one time more than you allow, and sever contact. I can't see the loss of an alcoholic perv as a huge blow that it'll be hard for you to get over. Besides, you can always reestablish ties a few years later if he does somehow legitimately clean up his act.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:04 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm the only friend he talks to about this shit! Maybe I have a DUTY to stay friends with him?

Ah yes, the tar pit of the vulnerable-yet-creepy. I think we've all cut a creepy person way too much slack because they seriously seemed to need help, specifically from us.

What this usually really turns out to be is the creep manipulating us by dropping enough LOOK I AM VULNERABLE hints that we feel too much guilt to disengage.

You don't know how much booze he had on any given occasion; you know how much he *told* you he'd had, which was enough to force you to worry about him while affording him a diminished-responsibility clause for the advances he was making to you. Which you couldn't disengage from, because he'd made you worry about him.

You were right to cut contact. It's the only way to end this kind of manipulation. His problems are his to solve.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:12 PM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Forgive me for being an asshole, but this story went from repeated blackouts, to 6 beers a night to I'm being emotionally supportive behind the back of and to the husband of my former best friend. That doesn't add up.

This guy isn't an alcoholic, he's a cheater and he's trying to bring you in as an accomplice. (Pallas Athena, just said that, I guess, in different words.)

Dump, drop, unfriend this guy. He's trouble.
posted by snsranch at 4:26 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have no duty to be his friend. Maybe, maybe losing access to you, which his behavior has more than earned at this point, will change his perspective on his drinking. Maybe not. But you have no responsibility to remain friends with someone who is disrespectful of your boundaries.
posted by EvaDestruction at 4:28 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You cant fix him. I find myself saying this often, sadly. Nor is it your duty/karma/obligation/moral duty/good Religious Person Job to try. You cant fix him.

Now is the time you set boundaries, and enforce them. No creepy sexting is obviously #1, though I'd say no drunk talking at all is more important. If you even want to stay in contact with him, he's going to have to respect at BARE minimum #1.

What you do about Ellen.... well, she seems to be aware shes got a problem man on her hands; you warned her. Duty done. Drop it like a hot, hot potato.
posted by Jacen at 4:48 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nate is both a drunk and a kinda creepy jerk. He's not a creepy jerk because of the booze, though: the alcohol merely removes any filters that might've kept him from TELLING you things like his icky little fantasies.

You've tried telling him your boundaries, and he just keeps blowing through them; now you need to just cut him off entirely: no more IMing, no emails or phone calls, nothing. You do NOT have any kind of 'duty' to Nate; it's not your job to try to save him from himself. You don't have any duty to Ellen, either, maid of honor or not. (Plus it's really, really likely that she already knows Nate's an alcoholic: do you REALLY think he can hide that kind of every-night-drunkeness from the person he shares a home with? His breath, his behavior, his spending habits.... yeah, Ellen already knows.)

None of this has any bearing on your sexuality, or whether or not you yourself are in a relationship: Nate would behave just as badly no matter what your circumstances were.
posted by easily confused at 5:06 PM on October 24, 2012

I explained, and he agreed, that talking about any attraction was a boundary line I could never feel OK crossing again. (I continue to feel super guilty about this-- I'm not entirely sure why, I didn't WANT him to be attracted to me, I haven't been flirting with him, I didn't agree to cheat with him in person or encourage his fantasies... so I don't know.)

It makes sense. You know Ellen would feel hurt, betrayed, and/or humiliated if she knew about this conversation, and now it's a secret that you keep from her. Moreover, it's not a secret you randomly stumbled upon: You had some agency in this. Now, it's not your fault that he initiated an inappropriate conversation with you...but given the circumstances you describe, yeah, it's not irrational to feel guilt. Most people would.

Other people have addressed the larger parts of your question to say basically what I would. Although I would reiterate that "I've stopped drinking until ____" is a common line from people who have unhealthy relationships with alcohol. For some reason they always say it that way, "I have stopped until...", and never "I am stopping until..." Like they are claiming credit-in-advance for the accomplishment and what they really want is a pat on the back for its own sake. Every time I've heard someone say that, and I have heard it several times, it has been utter bullshit. By contrast I have also known several alcoholics who truly recovered, which is a really impressive accomplishment, and none of them ever used the word "until."
posted by cribcage at 6:01 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can't fix this, and it's not your duty to fix this. He'll find someone else to talk to about it.

If you really, really want to keep the friendship open, here's a way to maintain your boundaries. If he's drunk, don't talk to him.

SoberNate: "Hey, what's up?"
OP: "Not much, how's it going?"
etc - fine conversation can be had.

DrunkNate: "Heeeyyyyy baaabbbeeee"
OP: "I'm not going to talk to you when you're drunk. Bye."

It seems harsh, but that's what a boundary needs to look like when you're dealing with someone who has issues respecting boundaries. Clear. Concise.

You may also be interested in what I wrote here about boundaries:
posted by RogueTech at 6:31 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd been single for a year and a half while all of this was going on, but about 6 weeks ago I started an exclusive relationship with a new guy, Justin, who I'm really excited about. (And continue to be! He's awesome :D) I told Nate about Justin pretty much immediately, earlier in the day of The Incident, and we talked about Justin for awhile, at least half an hour.

What does Justin think about all this?

If someone I was dating was spending a lot of time talking to the spouse of a friend, and that they were drunk-dialing (or messaging) them about their body parts, I'd be thinking twice about the whole thing.
posted by BibiRose at 6:32 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Rule to live by: If your friends husband tells you he's attracted to you, you are no longer his friend. Period. He is not treating you with respect like a friend should.

I'm the only friend he talks to about this shit! Maybe I have a DUTY to stay friends with him?

Would you feel safe alone with this guy while he's drunk? Would you trust him to respect you? Is he really your friend at all?
posted by fshgrl at 6:38 PM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry to say it but your friend has been bodysnatched by, as wolfdreams put it, an alcoholic perv.

I disagree that this won't be a huge loss to you. It is a huge loss. You had a friend, now you have an alcoholic perv. Sorry to have to say it, but that's basically what he's being right now.

I also think it's worth noting that he may be lying about how drunk he is so as to excuse his continuing to perve over you. Which doesn't mean he isn't an alcoholic anyway, in fact you should assume that he is. But if he weren't - how low do you have to sink if you think that pretending to have a serious addiction will bring you some kind of advantage?

Something very important about active alcoholics - it doesn't matter all that much whether they're drunk at any given moment. Their minds are affected *all the time*. In fact they're worse when they *haven't* had a drink. You have to treat an alcoholic as if they're drunk *all the time* because until they get a good stretch of sobriety behind them, they might as well be drunk all the time.

Another thing, the first rule of dealing with alcoholics, is don't deal with it. You have to give back the problem. You cannot do anything for him, and you must not neglect your duty of care towards yourself when he behaves badly towards you.

Next time he says anything to you, no matter how innocuous, you say "I told you to cut this out. Don't talk to me again until you can show me your one-year sobriety chip," and then block him. Don't get sucked into any arguments or discussions, because you've had plenty of those already and they only make it worse. If he tries to contact you before one year is up, you ignore/delete without reading, because he can't possibly have his year's sobriety chip yet. (No, no whining about how AA is for religious sissies can be tolerated. No drunk wants to go to any meeting that involves getting sober, so religion is really the least of their worries.)

I realize that with every fibre of your being, you will not want to do this, but if you don't, I think that what will happen next is that Mrs Perve will name you as co-respondent in their divorce. So, it will help to have IM recorded proof that you told him to quit perving on you.

Finally I really am sorry, once again, to be so harsh with you. Maybe after he gets sober Nate will be the guy you used to know, and you can reconnect then.
posted by tel3path at 7:12 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have a duty, to yourself and to your friend, to cut this guy off. He's got you tangled in this sense of responsibility for his disease. And, frankly, I think that the inappropriate conversation was partially engineered to create a secret to divide you from your friend. It may even be a subtle move to isolate your friend. It's not that I think he's done it deliberately, but I think that deeply dysfunctional people manipulate others as routinely as they breathe -- they think it's normal human interaction.

Friends fantasize about friends all the time. But most of us have the good sense to shut the hell up about it.
posted by endless_forms at 7:49 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think it's pretty simple - don't talk to him anymore at all. I agree with others that he's not such a good friend to you. His wife knows he has a problem, so you don't even have to alert her or anyone else to this known problem. Just let him go entirely and continue your friendship with the Mrs. -- you know, your real friend here, the one with whom you had a real in-person friendship, the one who doesn't perve on you and bring you into the alcoholic drama -- as much as you feel comfortable. If it were me, I'd give the pair wide berth, though.
posted by stowaway at 8:25 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Call me old school, but up until the drunken sex messaging, you were essentially providing some of the same emotional support and intimate friendship a wife is supposed to provide (and vice versa). While you may have been clueless, your friend was definitely engaged in an emotional affair with you, and, in light of the brief text you had from his actual wife, he wasn't being honest with you at all about why he continued to connect with you - you likely provided an emotional lifeline that he did not have at home.

So you need to re-evaluate the nature of your friendship, and determine if in fact you were really and truly friends at all. I think it was an unhealthy relationship from the perspective of your friend, and walking away at this point might be a good idea.

Your friend has a wife who is supposed to look for him and his alcoholism. You let her know. She let you know she knows. The only thing you can do is say goodbye, after first encouraging your friend to get some help.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:11 AM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

If anything, start positioning yourself to remain friends with the wife after their marriage finally breaks up. The 10+ year friendship with her (even if intermittent) is worth preserving.
posted by 99percentfake at 2:57 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Kind of a skew on the topic - a successful alcoholic is charming and manipulative. From your description this fits Nate pretty well. You can, as a friend, move Nate, but you will not change him. He needs to change on his own accord and having you around won't help him (or Ellen, for that matter). You have lots of reasons to leave these two alone while they grow up, the most important part is you have to look out for you . Your current relationship carries a lot more value than the personal history you've achieved with Nate and Ellen for the foreseeable future. Guilt really doesn't need to be invited to this party.
posted by ptm at 3:00 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I were the wife, I'd be EXTREMELY upset with you. You had an emotional affair with the husband, having the kind of emotional intimacy that he should have been having with his wife (as KokuRyu said). You should not be engaging with a married man in this way, at all. It's not good for you, and it's especially bad for his marriage.

Now that it's gone to a sexual level, it's even worse. I think you should tell his wife everything that has been happening, ask her forgiveness for being involved in this, and encourage them to get help. I bet she has no idea the extent of her husband's alcoholism and (attempted or real) cheating. I don't think you are the only person he is doing this with.

The reason she does not know this is that he is LYING to her. If she is your friend, you need to tell her everything you know so that she can figure out what to do in her marriage. That is the loving thing to do. That is the DUTY that you have. She will likely be very upset. This is actually a good thing. She should be upset. Her husband is lying to her and trying to cheat on her.

I feel very strongly that because it has gone this far, you not only need to walk away from the husband, but you need to make amends to the wife, by giving her the gift of knowledge she needs to make good decisions about her life.
posted by 3491again at 5:56 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I joked that Nate and I probably were meant to be better friends than Ellen and I ever were

This made me think of "mirroring" -- I only found good hits on it by searching on "psychopathic mirroring", and I don't mean to imply that Nate is a psychopath. But it's something to think about: link one, link two.
posted by endless_forms at 9:06 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey, I'm the anon behind the curtain. Why I didn't register a sockpuppet to POST THE DAMN THING, I don't know, I'm pleading momentary brain aneurysm because of drama overload.

First off, thank you all so much for wading through my epic post. I tried to trim it as much as possible, but there was so much stuff I felt it was necessary to include, namely the backstory about the MoH thing and my friendship with Ellen. (Plus, I guess I'm pretty longwinded anyway, erm, judging by this post and my response here. Oops?) I wanted to thank EVERYONE for their thoughtful and pretty uniformly nonjudgmental-of-me responses, and clear up some stuff.

I want to let everyone know: Yes, I know that nearly everyone told me the same thing, and YES, I am listening. I am NOT going to talk to Nate anytime soon. I may email him and tell him that IF he makes it to December, we can hypothetically talk then. However, abstaining from alcohol for at least 6 months (including the holiday season) would seem far more indicative of a true desire to stop a drinking problem, so ... yeah, I might go with asking to see his AA 1 year sober chip, which is a damn good idea, thanks tel3path!

Stuff to clear up:
The true level of Nate's drinking is unknown-- Nate said he was downing six beers a night back in January, but 2 things lead me to believe it had increased since then, which was the last time I point-blank asked him. 1) He was drunk more and more often this year if we IMed after 9pm his time, and 2) starting in June or July, if convo started after 9'o'clock (evidently his drunk time) had started, he would DEFINITELY be drunk AND it was 50/50 as to whether he would remember anything we talked about the next time we spoke. That's what I meant by repeated blackouts before the [more inside]. Before The Incident last month, he'd continued to be pretty normal while drunk, aside from, you know, not actually remembering anything we talked about half the time.

That night he said he'd had his normal _case of beer_ (I have no idea what this means, I'm not a beer drinker, 6-12 cans, I'm assuming) and followed it up with 5 or so shots, which is what triggered my nurse-instincts of "fucking hell, he's going to pass out and aspirate on his own vomit" and that's why I didn't immediately block him when he started the sex talk. He's blocked on IM now, and has been since that time. (I also told GoogleVoice to ignore any phone calls, but he hasn't called or texted, just the one emailed apology.)

Justin (new boyfriend) thinks I should tell Nate to go to hell or just, you know, keep him blocked and ignore any other attempts to initiate contact. It would be really weird of him, I think, to be upset with me for being friends with someone who's become an alcoholic--I'm not sure where BibiRose got the idea that I was ever remotely accepting of Nate telling me about his fantasies, because that's not true, and I tried to shut him down immediately when he said those things. I can't control what Nate says to me, only my response to it. Plus, the first incident was way before I started dating Justin, and I honestly didn't think Nate would do it again. Anyway, Justin thinks I should either just never talk to Nate again, or say something along the lines of: too bad we can't be friends anymore, so sad you've become an alcoholic douchebag. I COMPLETELY agree in principle (that's what I'd tell someone else to do in this situation) but ... I'm still fucking conflicted, even though I know what I need to do now.

I don't want to drop him as a friend because I know what it's like to need help. I've done some truly shitty things in the past, and for the most part, my friends have truly forgiven me for the things I did that hurt them. Granted, my "reasons" may have been better (episodes of depression vs choosing to drink and act like an asshole) and I never fucking ignored a friend's boundaries (completely fucking ignored!) like he did to me, but... I keep coming back to the thought that I know what it's like to need your friends around you, to support you in a difficult time, and fuck, if they'd cut me off for every stupid thing I'd done (including the multiple times someone's had to call the police because I was suicidal), I wouldn't be here!

But ... you know, I read AskMeFi a lot, and there are always those posts where everyone who chimes in says pretty much exactly the same thing, and usually I'd think "dear god, I really hope the OP listens!" But it's killing me, because this is definitely a post where everyone's saying "he's an asshole, get away" and I'm standing here going "no, wait, seriously? That's my only option here?" However, I've put on my "attempting to be a mature adult" gear and have accepted that Nate is not the friend I thought I had, and that I need to get the fuck away, for at least six months to a year IF he stays sober, and possibly for good.

jessamyn, Fairchild, MCMikeNamara, RJReynolds, fshgrl, tel3path, KokuRyu, and 3491again -- I wanted to call out your responses as particularly helpful for making me think or making me feel better! Individual notes follow:

jessamyn, thank you for sharing how you deal with the alcoholics around you. I would guess that's not too much fun to talk about, and I appreciate it.

Fairchild, when I got to your recommendation of 'occasional emails and maybe a few cards' I just let out this huge sigh of relief. GOD, that's EXACTLY what I want at this point.

MCMikeNamara, I felt like the timing of this meltdown was off (which is probably why that detail didn't get deleted), but I wasn't sure if it was really a thing or just in my head. Plus, "the forest for the drunken trees" made me crack up.

RJReynolds, thank you for presenting an alternative to "get the fuck out of this friendship." When I first read the thread, I was really upset that everyone seemed to all have the same opinion, and it wasn't one I felt I could do, and then I got to your post, which started me thinking "oh, huh, I really am the one whose feelings I need to take care of, hm, maybe that's why everyone else wants me to ditch this sucker, but there's maybe more options than the nuclear one, OK." You gave me the ability to keep thinking about everyone else's "gtfo" and I wanted to say THANK YOU.

fshgrl, no, I absolutely would not feel safe around Nate in person if he was drunk, and that helped crystalize what I need to do.

tel3path, god, I'm so glad you understand that I'm mourning the friend I used to have, and not the jerk he's become. "You cannot do anything for him, and you must not neglect your duty of care towards yourself when he behaves badly towards you." That really helps me feel better about cutting him off. You were not overly harsh; don't worry!

KokuRyu, thank you for bringing up the possibility of an "emotional affair" in a nonjudgmental way. The truth is, I don't feel like I was encouraging him to have an emotional affair with me. (Maybe I am clueless, I don't know. I think someone who really is wouldn't know, though, so I probably am?) The thing is that I have other friends who are married, or in significant long term relationships, and I don't feel like I did anything with Nate that I wouldn't do with any of my friends, in relationships or not.
That having been said, I recognize in retrospect the fact that he was telling me big important things that he was ACTIVELY TRYING TO KEEP FROM his wife is EXTREMELY TROUBLING, and a huge red flag. I would never have encouraged this, but I kiiiiinda knew about it, in a "he told me he wasn't telling her some of this stuff" way. Why I didn't pick up on the fact that that meant he was keeping massive secrets FROM HIS WIFE sooner, I have no idea; my only idea is that I'm personally incapable of keeping my own "evil" secrets from a romantic partner for any longer than, oh, a day, so I tend to assume other people roll the same way (and all of my other friends do!), and I can only surmise that that assumption bit me in the ass here.

3491again, I respect where you're coming from. If I were Ellen in this situation, god, I would really want to know this kind of thing. Unfortunately, I know Ellen pretty damn well, and this would not be something she would react to by ever being grateful for the knowledge (even decades from now) or by getting counselling or even by being angry at her husband. She's a very much "Kill the messenger!" kind of person. Do I believe I have a duty to her to tell her? No. I wish I did, actually, because it would make me feel better to come clean about everything. Really, I feel like Nate has a duty to tell her, because he's the one who fucked up here.

IF he does tell her, and she gets angry at me for trying to be there for a friend, I'll accept that as my due, but I'm not going to invite it by confessing that I most likely [was manipulated by her husband into being]/[was for whatever reason] way closer to him than was appropriate. I look back at my actions and I can't see that I really did anything wrong, besides getting too involved in something that's NOT my responsibility.

I can't see myself having the kind of emotional openness with Ellen that would let me tell her that her husband is trying to cheat on her, or that we had what other people would call an emotional affair and he confessed to being attracted to me--any of it, all of it, I have no idea how I'd even say it. (Plus, I tried to call her that night when he was blacked-out and I was super worried about him, and she wouldn't answer and I ended up having to tell her that over text. I'm guessing she's not going to be real receptive to anything else I want to say about him either.) Forcing an extremely emotional disclosure is really not a thing I'm willing to do for someone who, despite us once being close, is now a "former close friend demoted to acquaintance level." I have valid reasons for feeling this way about her that I'm not going to get into, but...

In retrospect, this all started because I allowed myself to get overinvolved, really, so I'm VERY hesitant to step back into the drama and tell her about this even though I completely agree with you that this is "a gift of knowledge she needs to make good decisions." I hate it, because I'm all about honesty in relationships as a general rule, and if I ever even talked to Ellen on ANY kind of regular basis*, I would have a different answer, but... no is my first reaction here. However, considering that I would really want to know, maybe I'll change my mind, I don't know. You make a lot of good points.

* Before this, we hadn't communicated in six months, before that, a year. Unfortunately, she's just incapable of keeping up with people who aren't local, as I know to my sorrow from trying to keep her as a friend when she went to college, plus the visit/aftermath-of-visit that I organized to see her in their new locale two years ago. (Nate was at a conference for most of my visit; we all went out for dinner once before he left, no weird behavior then.)

If anyone (especially 3491again!) would like to speak with me further, the throwaway email is alcoholicovershare at or you can now memail me, of course. Thanks so much, again. (I'll try and look for a AskMeFi update thread on MetaTalk a year or so from now and let you guys know what's going on at that time.)
posted by sock of overshare at 10:19 PM on October 25, 2012

I can't see myself having the kind of emotional openness with Ellen that would let me tell her that her husband is trying to cheat on her, or that we had what other people would call an emotional affair and he confessed to being attracted to me--any of it, all of it, I have no idea how I'd even say it.

How about just sending her email saying, "Hi, Ellen, I thought you should know that I've decided to cut off/seriously limit my contact with Nate. His alcohol use has made it impossible for me to continue our friendship on its previous terms. I care about you and wish you the very best."

You're not informing her that her husband has been secretly replaced with Folger's Crystals. You're updating her on something that pertains to you, instead of intruding on her and Nate's relationship.
posted by endless_forms at 7:46 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

endless_forms has a good script.

You really will be doing everyone a favor by backing out and completely blocking Nate. We aren't just saying that.

I don't want to drop him as a friend because I know what it's like to need help.

This jumped out at me. Has he asked you for help? Are you in ANY WAY qualified to be that help?

No matter what he tells you, you are NOT his last hope.

Trust me when I tell you that if you turn him into a project to fix, you will be dragged down into the tar pit. Then, when he burns through you, his wife, his jobs, etc and he really DOES need help, you will be too used up to be useful.

Stay away from the toxic. Keep yourself healthy. He'll come back someday as his own self.

I really do "get" the mourning, though. It really is like a bodysnatching, and bits of the old friend will surface just often enough to give you hope.

(There IS hope- but fixing him or even helping him is not in your power, even if he declares otherwise. Once he's clean and sober for a while, the real Nate will be back.)
posted by small_ruminant at 1:26 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

That night he said he'd had his normal _case of beer_ (I have no idea what this means, I'm not a beer drinker, 6-12 cans, I'm assuming) and followed it up with 5 or so shots

A "case" is a method of packaging, so it's variable how much beer is in a case, and it varies by region; but personally, in the Eastern US I've never heard "a case" of beer used to describe anything other that 24 cans.

24 12-oz cans at 5% alcohol is something like a pint of pure ethyl alcohol, or well more than a "fifth" of liquor (usually actually 750ml bottles.) Even downing a six-pack in a couple hours is defined as "binge drinking" by the US CDC. Even if you find the CDC conservative, if he's drinking 24 cans + 5 shots at a time, he's at 5 times that. Even if his case is only "six beers", he's at twice that. And it's called "binge" drinking because it's a problem when people do it occasionally.

That's the kind of alcohol consumption where his liver is taking on a massive load, and metabolizing all drugs at astonishing rates.

He's very sick, and his wife can't stop him from drinking, and neither can you.

You cannot stop him from drinking.
You cannot stop him from drinking.
You cannot stop him from drinking.
And it is not your fault.
posted by endless_forms at 3:16 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

If he's letting drop that he's had a "case" of beer and that this is "normal", it could be true, but the question is why an alcoholic would tell you something that alcoholics *by definition* are highly motivated to conceal or gloss over.

I think it's because he wants to recruit you into the role of Rescuer, which you say you feel duty bound to try to play. This looks like another of those threads where everyone is yelling DTMFA because, like, they can't see shades of grey? They have lousy problem-solving skills so just ditch people instead of working with them?

No, it's because we've known alcoholics and we've known manipulators, and we know this guy is at least one of those two things, and we know that exercising what you think is your duty to try to help him may, in fact, harm him and will certainly bring disaster on you.

I think *you* might benefit from going to al-anon because they also know what it's like to be affected by someone else's drinking. The fact that Nate is just a friend and not your parent or SO, doesn't mean this isn't a crisis for you. So, why not ask for help from people who can give you the necessary support to support Nate? Which will probably mean setting very strict boundaries, but at least you'll have reason to believe it when you hear it from them.

But another reason to set boundaries isn't just to help Nate, it's to protect you from his unwanted advances and repeated ransacking of your emotions. It's one thing to forgive him, and another to acknowledge that you're in an unsafe situation - at a physical distance, but with great risk of emotional damage to you and Nate's wife, as well as the possible damage to your reputation if your attempts to be a supportive friend are misinterpreted and used to paint you black. You see how easily that can happen. Nate says something that crosses a line, because you're a good friend you have a discussion with him about why this crosses a line and why he would want to cross it, then Nate says another thing that crosses a line and you tell him to quit textually assaulting you. Then he does it again, apologises, and now it looks to some people like you're having an "emotional affair" with him. This is the IM equivalent of his taking you to a quiet spot at a party to talk through his troubles with you, then him grabbing you, you emerging with your clothes in disarray, and onlookers saying "well they did seem to be talking awfully intimately, then she went to that quiet spot with him, you don't do that if you are just friends."

It sucks but because of your trust and friendship, you got maneuvred into a compromising position and for the sake of everyone including yourself, you don't want to stay there. If you send Ellen the script that endless_forms suggested, you won't leave Ellen wondering if, on too of all her troubles, she's also been betrayed by a close friend. You explain to us at great length that you're not guilty of anything improper here, and I believe you, but you have to understand that this isn't something that requires yards of explanation and justification, because it's simple. Nate's drinking and inappropriate behaviour have escalated to a point where you can no longer remain in contact with him. That's the problem you have to address, and answering accusations of having nebulous "emotional affairs" is a distraction that only draws you into the territory of being responsible for Nate's behaviour again. You have to put Nate's responsibilities back on Nate's shoulders and stop letting him provoke you to scurry around figuring out what you can do for him.

Nate is absolutely manipulating you, whatever the reality of his situation or whatever he is trying to achieve by it. All your attempts to shut it down are not working. It is impossible for Nate to manipulate you if you're not in his life, and he can always come back in the future if he becomes willing and able to play fair. That is why people are telling you to cut off contact. It isn't because we're unempathic or unimaginative, it's that every detail of your situation is an arrow pointing to this one course of action as the only effective way to handle Nate.
posted by tel3path at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would also point out that you and Nate are already triangulated against Ellen, who you do not like and are, in reality, no longer friends with. I recommend looking back over your interactions with Nate from a forensic point of view, to see whether you got into this triangle naturally or as a result of someone's calculations.
posted by tel3path at 3:58 PM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I finally sent the email cutting off contact with Nate. I've obviously been thinking about this now for nearly two months and I finally decided I would just have to write something that explained how I felt and what boundaries I was setting, regardless of how I might anticipate he reacted to it, because I wanted to make my problem with his actions and his possible intent clear, and also set some very distinct limits (i.e. DTMFA!).

So, in the email, I stressed that his behavior was unacceptable, that it made me disturbed, troubled, and extremely wary of interacting with him in any form at all. I explicitly stated that I would not communicate with him in any way* until and unless he had proof that he had been completely sober for at least a year. I recommended that he attend some sort of rehabilitation or support group.

* With the small exception of one response and/or acknowledgment to my email. After which, although I didn't say this to him, he'll continue to be blocked on my cell phone and all emails from him will be re-directed to a specific folder and possibly also marked as read, depending on whether he keeps emailing me after this.

I also sent a brief note to his wife explaining that I'd cut off contact, basically using endless_forms's script but with more than enough changed that it isn't googleable, I hope!

Thanks, AskMeFites. I really don't think I could've done this, and definitely not this smoothly and with so much conviction, without all of your help. Looking back, it's amazing how much time and energy I was spending on all his drama; my life literally feels calmer now that I don't have to worry about him. I realize now I never really did have to, but sometimes we just get trapped there, you know? So, again, thanks.

And yeah, in a year or so I'll try to let y'all know whether he actually stayed sober or not.
posted by sock of overshare at 10:13 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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