When do I tell someone I just started dating that I am in AA?
August 4, 2014 11:03 AM   Subscribe

I just started dating someone new and I'm not sure how/when to best disclose information about my history in AA and recovery from alcoholism. Normally I'm okay with having this conversation after getting to know someone over a few months, but I'm uncertain as to whether or not I should tell her sooner considering that alcoholism in her family has come up as a topic of conversation.

I just started dating someone new and there is a lot of great chemistry between us. We have been on three dates. On our most recent date I told her, "I don't drink anymore, I feel better when I don't." This didn't phase her in the least. Later in our conversation, unrelated to this, she told me about someone in her family she is very close to who has been struggling to stay sober, working an AA program, and experiencing some significant health problems. When I am getting to know someone new I usually like to wait a while (sometimes several months) before I go into details about my experience drinking, getting sober, and the support I get from AA. It's very personal and I never know how people might react. However, given her recent experience with alcoholism and the family connection to AA, I am wondering if it makes sense to tell her now (on our fourth date). It feels weird that we're having conversations about AA and that she doesn't know about my experience. My AA friends are unanimously telling me that I should disclose this information to her ASAP -- both because it is the most honest thing to do (and it would be weird when it comes up later) and because my experience may be able to be helpful to her. I'm nervous about this. My gut tells me that we should get to know each other better first. For what it's worth, I have been sober for a while, I am solid in my recovery, and most aspects of my life are in very good shape. I have a good feeling about this one and I am very interested in pursuing a partnership (but don't want to risk scaring her away before we even get off the ground).Should I disclose that I am an alcoholic in recovery now or should I wait until we know each other better?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tell her right away that you are in recovery.

I usually like to wait a while (sometimes several months) before I go into details about my experience drinking, getting sober, and the support I get from AA.

Wait a few months (or at least until you are no longer counting dates) before you go into details.
posted by headnsouth at 11:06 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

If someone in her family is struggling to stay sober, hearing that you're in recovery will probably be very helpful to her, giving her hope that the program can and does work for many people.

I'm also of the general opinion that if you feel like you're keeping an uncomfortable secret, it's time to speak up.
posted by something something at 11:10 AM on August 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'd mention it and mention that it's usually something you're private about early in in a relationship (to avoid the "Why didn't you tell me!" potential) and give her time for questions. What are your concerns about telling her? That by saying that you don't drink anymore you may not have been fully honest? I wouldn't worry too much about it. I'm a very mild drinker now but I've had problems in the past. I mention it when it comes up. Unless people are specifically pre-screening for "no one with past alcohol/drug problems" (some people do, most do not) I think bringing it up now seems relevant and appropriate. I'd say something like

"I am actually sober through the help of AA. I don't usually talk about it this early in a relationship but since it's relevant to the situation your relative is in, I wanted to let you know. I am happy to answer any questions you might have though I prefer to keep the negative details of my time drinking to a minimum." (if true)

People will sometimes have a "How does this affect ME?" response and I think it's worth a brief note if there's anything you'd expect from her because of your recovery process but otherwise I think this is normal for people to hear and you could be helpful to her to be a second point of information on AA if you wish to be.
posted by jessamyn at 11:11 AM on August 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

I would be willing to bet she might already suspect you are in recovery.

(I have some alcoholics and recovered alcoholics among my friends and family too.)

I think telling her more explicitly that you are in AA is a good idea since it will make you feel less like you are keeping a secret. But you can wait to go into details later.
posted by pantarei70 at 11:12 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Tell her now. Look, if she's scared off by you being in recovery, then she's not someone who can be a strong friend to you in the long run. I suspect, though, she will understand and it won't be a big deal as long as you're honest.

Details are up to you. If she asks and you feel comfortable telling her, then do it.
posted by inturnaround at 11:26 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Saying something like "I don't drink anymore, I feel better when I don't" has likely already tipped her off that you, at the very least, have some issues with alcohol. In particular, if she has experiences with alcoholism in her family, I imagine she's more attuned to these types of things than your average person. Also, given that she has experiences with family members in AA, I imagine that she will be less quick to judge than some others might.

I'm not sure exactly where I fall on the tell her now/tell her later spectrum, but I think I would definitely tell her sooner than you normally would tell someone in this circumstance. The fact that it didn't faze her when you told her you don't drink is a good sign, I think.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I am not sure why you wouldn't tell her now. She was perfectly ok with you telling her you do not drink because you feel better that way. She told you she has a relative in AA. This is the perfect time to find out where she stands on this. Knowing this could help her with her relative and can help develop trust and intimacy in your relationship. Not telling will bother you and will have a negative affect on the budding relationship. Hiding a secret is debilitating.
posted by 724A at 11:29 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

posted by Flood at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think that the next time this topic comes up, you should tell her. Don't think of it as potentially scaring her off. Think of it as doing yourself a favor by avoiding building a relationship with a person for whom your recovery would be dealbreaker.
posted by sm1tten at 11:39 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you should tell her now.

Always be upfront about who you are, in all things. There is nothing more frustrating that realizing you did not know the real person from the start.

There are things that will seem odd, and if you explain this now, she will understand. If you wait, she may suspect and later think you were keeping it from her deliberately; at this point she will know all those signs.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 11:44 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for now. Don't make a big deal about it. Bring it up if she mentions the family member again, or wait for a lull in the conversation: "So, here's a thing. I'm in recovery and [everything else you want to say about it]."

The saying "You can't say the wrong thing to the right person" might be useful here. If she likes you, she likes you; if she's going to love you, she needs to know you. And vice-versa. Open the door for honesty!
posted by magdalemon at 11:51 AM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would want to know now -- simply because I would like to be helpful to a new partner in supporting their recovery. Going through AA is a brave, mature, and positive thing to do for yourself and your loved ones, and I admire you all the more for it.
posted by mochapickle at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My husband told me this about himself on our very first date, which was also the first time I met him. Side benefit: I was totally impressed with him for doing the hard work of getting sober and also wowed by his honesty.

Tell now, not later. Part of staying sober is the honesty and disclosure, is it not?

I'd also ask yourself why you are hesitating to tell her. Seriously. As you know, addiction loves secrecy.
posted by bearwife at 12:16 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

She opened the door for the conversation by speaking openly about her relative. At this point, you really do need to walk through that door, and tell her a bit about yourself, otherwise you will be dissembling and it will be awkward or worse if you don't.

Her talking about a relative with a drinking problem and health problems on a third date is actually kind of an eyebrow-raiser to me, so I don't think you would be the one who is crossing any lines prematurely by talking about your stuff on a fourth date. I'd be mindful though of not getting triangulated with her and her relative if she sees you as an "expert" or something on recovery. Not sure what AA's practices are there, but my instinct as someone who no longer drinks (no AA though) would be to stay waaaaaaay away from her relative's issues, and not try to get in there and help, and be clear with her about boundaries so it doesn't get slippery.
posted by nacho fries at 12:18 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm in recovery, too, and I had a lot of concerns about disclosing this in my most recent relationship. I think a lot of it was internalized guilt/embarrassment about my own recovery/bad choices in the past. Most people really respect for folks with trouble with drinking finding sobriety and making better choices.

For what it's worth: I disclosed to my (not in recovery) boyfriend that I didn't drink anymore on my first date, and I that I was working a program on date 3. He's been nothing but supportive. I think at this point (especially if you're in your late twenties or older) most people know someone in recovery and how powerful and transformative it is. Having the honest conversation now will make it less awkward in the future.
posted by superlibby at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Now. I've had guys tell me this on the first date. No big deal.
posted by homodachi at 12:54 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Based on what you've told her, she probably has some idea already. As Lawrence Block wrote in one of the Matt Scudder books: "people don’t generally decide to quit drinking because they’ve been hurting their sides laughing all the time."
posted by neat graffitist at 1:06 PM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Another vote for telling now and for thinking of this as a continuum. You don't have to list out all your low points on date four, in fact I strongly recommend sticking to the broad statements that others have suggested - You are in AA, maybe how long you have been in recovery, and that's about it. She may ask questions, but you don't need to interpret solicitous interest as MUST TELL ALL. I would also recommend deciding ahead of time what you want to disclose so that you don't flounder in the moment. In other words share what makes you feel comfortable, not what I'm recommending, but your level of comfort.
posted by dawg-proud at 1:09 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If telling her changes things, there was nothing there to change. One of the greatest things about sobriety is that it allows us to be the same person all the way through--no more shame about who we are. She has practically asked the question so waiting any longer with this particular person would amount to dissembling. This is about 'intuitively knowing how to handle situations that used to baffle you.' Listen to your program on this one.
posted by Anitanola at 1:12 PM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm just going to echo the fantastic advice you've already been given.

I'm in recovery as well and I disclose as soon as it feels appropriate (i.e. a good while before anything becomes serious)

This is one of those things you feel out as you go, and if I were in your shoes my intuition would be screaming to disclose.

Just mind your boundaries when you tell her. With her having a family member in recovery and those mentioned health problems, you'll want to mind getting too close to that stuff unless you know this relationship is going to develop into something more significant.

You'll be fine, and she'll be fine with you.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 1:39 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Three potential unpleasant scenarios seem at play here:

#1: She's not cool with your being in AA. Like everyone says, this seems unlikely.

# 2: You two have long conversations about AA, and when she finds out you were part of this organization all along, it feels like a weird betrayal, as if you'd been given advice by someone you later discovered to have a conflict of interest, or something. Like everyone says, this seems a lot more likely.

#3: You disclose faster and with more details than you're comfortable with, and you have a horribly uncomfortable conversation, in which both of you are uncomfortable with how uncomfortable the conversation feels, and strangely enough you two find each other avoiding each other's company.

To me, although apparently not to everyone else, Scenario #3's probability seems high enough to make your gut feeling non-pathological. However, there are a couple ways you can hopefully avoid Scenario #2 AND Scenario #3:

(a) Just tell her you're in AA, and that you're telling her this because it seems weird not to, because of the nature of your conversations. If she invites detail, politely tell her that you don't usually share those details with people right away.

(b) Keep dropping beads, as we in the gay community used to say:

I told her, "I don't drink anymore, I feel better when I don't." This didn't phase her in the least. Later in our conversation, unrelated to this, she told me about someone in her family she is very close to who has been struggling to stay sober, working an AA program, and experiencing some significant health problems.

Maybe it wasn't actually unrelated: she picked up on that first bead, and was among other things signalling safe space (which is NOT the same thing as requesting disclosure). You in turn can disclose in a more casual manner, sprinkling your conversation with things like "Oh, I'm going to be in that neighborhood this evening for a meeting", at which point she can ask "Oh, what kind of meeting?" and if you were going to dissemble you would say "Oh, just a meeting", but what you're actually going to say is: "An AA meeting."
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:39 PM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

If your recovery is a fundamental part of who you are on a daily basis, especially if there are appointments which must be kept as part of this process, then you should tell her. If it's going to bother her it's going to bother her... but anything that's a fundamental part of who you are and what you're doing in your life should be expressed as soon as possible, especially one that may not be evident, will need to be brought up at some point.

It's not anything to be ashamed of. You don't need to shout it from the mountain tops, and there are many situations where it simply doesn't make sense to telegraph it, but for me personally, my experience has been that the sooner the better when it comes to the regular dating of a specific person.

Personal Anecdote:

I met a woman on-line who mentioned "law enforcement" (911 operator) in her profile. During our on-line communications and phone calls, I did not mention anything specific about myself with regards to sobriety.

I invited her out for coffee, and she agreed.

I showed up to the designated Starbucks, and we sat down and started talking. Eventually, the talk turned to silly things we had seen in our neighborhoods, and as part of this conversation, I mentioned that I lived in a certain community (unknown to me at the time, the complex was notorious to local law enforcement for relapse related crimes and other shenanigans). Without missing a beat she said:

"You're not one of those rehabbers are you?"

*Stunned silence*

"Umm... yeah... I actually kinda am."

We spend the next couple minutes staring at random things... our coffee, parked cars, other people, but mostly our shoes...

Gradually the conversation haltingly begins again (on a completely different topic, the weather I think...), but much awkwardness was left in the air.

The date ended 15 minutes later, and I called some friends on the way home venting about the "insensitive ass" I had went on a date with. I went to sleep mad, and woke up upset.

The following evening, it was suggested that I do a bit of work to rid myself of my resentment, and just call her to thank her for the date and perhaps see if there was an explanation for her comment which might make me feel better (since it was bothering me so much.)

Turns out, it was meant to be an off-color joke, and my response stunned her as much as her comment stunned me.

She felt terribly about saying it, and thought that I was surely not going to contact her again, especially given the awkward way the date ended... Which I assuredly hadn't planned on, and was only following a suggestion from a sober support.

Funnily enough, we've been married for nearly 3 years now.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:41 PM on August 4, 2014 [26 favorites]

While Debaser626's story has a happy plot twist, I do think it's worth mentally preparing yourself for her to be not-OK with all or part of your situation, just for your own self-protection. Not everyone IRL is as accepting as folks in Metafilter; and there are people who will applaud you for your lifestyle change, yet not want to engage you in an intimate relationship. That is their right.

I think keeping both feet firmly planted in the reality of non-drinking life vs. being overly idealistic is a good practice. Part of that reality is that some folks we wish would be willing to be our allies (or more) are going to opt out.

I wanted to comment on one other thing not specific to this woman you are dating:

Normally I'm okay with having this conversation after getting to know someone over a few months, but I'm uncertain as to whether or not I should tell her sooner considering that alcoholism in her family has come up as a topic of conversation.

I strongly feel that as a general practice, if you are pursuing someone with romantic intent, waiting a few months isn't fair to the other person. They might develop an attachment to you during that time that would make it difficult for them to make a clear-headed choice. If I were being courted by someone, and they didn't let me know this very early in the process, I would be very perturbed, even though non-drinking isn't a deal-breaker for me. Having someone decide on my behalf when I am "ready" to hear difficult information is 100% a dealbreaker. It removes my agency to make healthy decisions for myself in a timely way. One of those decisions might be that I'm not wanting to date someone who has a specific approach to not-drinking that may be at odds with my own. (Not all people who don't drink are OK with AA -- I know quite a few who fall into that category. Whether we think that is fair-minded or not, it exists.)
posted by nacho fries at 2:02 PM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you tell her when she asks. Otherwise, hell yeah, listen to your intuition. Maybe AA is important to you but not part of how you want to immediately present yourself to another human being. I think that is perfectly OK and does not cast dark suspicions in my mind on the validity of your recovery (as if another person could ever know this). I think the "bead" idea sounds good to me. I wouldn't lie but I also wouldn't dump it in someone's lap, nor would I appreciate it being done to me. I think saying what you have said so far is honest and real and I would appreciate the chance to ask you questions about it, and to tell you about myself in the process.
posted by macinchik at 2:25 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I hate to counsel anybody to go against their gut feeling in interpersonal stuff. That said, does your gut feel like it's the *wrong* time, or just scared as hell?

If it's just scared, I'd go against that feeling. Get it out, get it over.

I don't think it's a big deal if you wait a bit until it feels more comfortable, though, as long as that doesn't turn into weeks and months. "I don't drink anymore, I feel better when I don't" is clear enough and up front enough for early dates, and IMO pretty close to an acknowledgement already. I suspect this is the remark that prompted your date to tell you about her relative.

I would say this: when you tell her, try not to do a huge unload about it. Just tell her and let her take the lead on how much you go into it. If you guys get off the ground there will be plenty of time to tell all.

I think this is not as big of a deal as it feels like to you. I bet she has a pretty good idea of where you're coming from. I think the biggest reason to say something soon is so you can stop fretting about it.
posted by mattu at 2:42 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a daughter of an alcoholic I'm not sure that people are always 'cool' with it or that it is totally reasonable to expect them to be - maybe they are trying to break away from a taught tendancy in themself to care give or rescue. This does not have to mean they think any less of you - it is a big and brave thing to begin recovery but I pesonally have pulled away prior because I'd want more chance of being someone who can be there for me (more than I have been accustomed to). I have to say I found it incredibly difficult to do this.. as it felt very natural to strongly gravitate to this person, but you will find that the partners of alcoholics /recovering drinkers often have partners who had an alcoholic parent - it's patterns playing out.

It might go your way and you clearly like her, just know too that there can be a lot of residue from an alcoholic family and some of us need to learn a different language. Not meaning to put a dampener on things, just another perspective. Keep your eye on soberity, as you must, however it pans out.
posted by tanktop at 3:04 PM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Dude woah. I read the first few responses and raced to the bottom to reply. You do not have to fall all over yourself to tell her you're an alcoholic. There is so not a rule about this, and 99% of people absolutely don't want to hear "your story" when you say you don't drink.

Having said that and speaking from experience here. I just want to say it is important to point out that you sound like a great guy and this girl sounds like a great match. It might not work out. But. If you told her casually that you don't drink and she didn't ask any follow-up questions or act uncomfortable, this is a great sign! Bad matches are overly inquisitive! If she knows about AA and feels comfortable talking to you about this, this is also an incredibly good sign!

There is no ASAP and you don't have to poll your friends or the internet for the answer. You are exactly in the right place. Operate from that standpoint. It's great being a little vulnerable. You don't know what she'll say. You may be of service in ways you don't understand by talking to her about your experience, gently and slowly. This could be the start of something great. There is no excuse to focus on failure when success is right in front of you.
posted by phaedon at 3:22 PM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

It seems weird not to disclose any kind of thing you do at least once a week to someone by date 4. Not that someone is owed these details, just it's weird to not mention something you spend a good deal of time doing. If someone was a gym rat for example and this hadn't come up in casual conversation, I'd probably wonder why.
posted by shownomercy at 6:03 PM on August 4, 2014

Do you have a sponsor? Have you discussed this issue with them? Their response will be useful input into the quandary that you are facing.

Judging by what I read in your question I feel that she will respond favorably to your disclosure. However, only you know the full extent of your conversations, how well you are matching at this point, and how to present this additional information about yourself. Talk to your sponsor, they know you better than any of us do.
posted by seawallrunner at 6:27 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

she told me about someone in her family she is very close to who has been struggling to stay sober, working an AA program...

My AA friends are unanimously telling me that I should disclose this information to her ASAP...

I see absolutely no reason to hold back from telling her, and every reason to tell her the next time it comes up.
posted by John Cohen at 9:44 PM on August 4, 2014

Both my parents are alcoholics and if she has family experience with it, then it's likely that it's crossed her mind already when you mentioned that you don't drink anymore, etc. She may have disclosed that about her family to make you feel more comfortable. I don't think telling someone that you're in recovery is some huge personal information item to unload on someone. You can be concise about it, and she might be grateful to know that and to have the opportunity to ask you about your comfort level if she wants to drink, or to decide if she wants to date someone who is in recovery.

If you launched into a detailed story of how you got sober, that might be too much in the early stages of dating. I just think it can be more like, "Here is something to know about where I am in my life right now."
posted by mermily at 10:20 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

It seems like the cat's about 99.9% out the bag, already. If this woman was experiencing some sort of visceral OMG-this-will-never-work reaction, you probably would have already sensed that. In fact, you make it clear that you sensed no such discomfort. And I'd posit that her later disclosure regarding her relative wasn't "unrelated," at all. Rather, she was probably pleased to know it was "safe" talk to you about it; people who directly struggle through addiction aren't the only ones who worry about the attached stigma.

You're at the point (several dates) where most people really start digging into what makes the other person tick. There wouldn't be anything inherently weird or overly dramatic about clarifying your status. I think you could simply ask her if she had any questions about your non-drinking statement of the other day. Casual-like. I know that I've had to reassure a handful of dates that my inability to drink safely didn't translate into added restrictions on their behavior (or a dreary future of being harshly judged), early on. She may well have questions along those lines, and talking that stuff out will just continue the trend of honesty that you've started to establish.

Is it possible that your worry about this thing (this scary disclosure that's effectively already happened) is really a stand-in for a larger fear? As an AA member, you're probably familiar with the concept of symptoms vs. causes, and maybe this deserves some closer examination. But in the meantime, the woman you like seems to like and trust you. I'd say, keep that going. Through luck and hard work, you're accomplishing something that eludes so many people; don't be ashamed of that. Be who you are.
posted by credible hulk at 10:22 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Now, especially because she has someone close to her who's working on recovery. Think of it in terms of the serenity prayer: you can't change or control how she'll react to it, all you can do is decide to be honest with her sooner rather than later.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:04 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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