I love you...sober you
October 11, 2017 2:16 PM   Subscribe

My partner's personality changes for the worse when he drinks, even in small amounts. Not sure how to deal; looking for advice.

My partner of 3+ years is in his early 50s. He's loving, generous, funny, smart. He's also healthy and has a great career that he loves. We don't live together for logistical reasons but are committed and want to build a future together.

I drink only on social occasions or when I’m out for a meal. My partner likes to unwind with a couple glasses of wine 2-3 times a week at home. That is not an unreasonable desire…in and of itself, it shouldn't be a problem. But when my partner drinks, he changes for the worse - and it starts after only 2 drinks. So that means 2-3 times a week, I have to engage with a person who isn’t my normal boyfriend. He’s not awful, but he’s not the guy I fell in love with, either. The conversations are one-sided and tiring, and I end up feeling resentful.

The changes in his personality are small, probably imperceptible to an outsider, but definitely noticeable to me. After a couple drinks he starts to become a little more self-absorbed, slightly long-winded, more critical, and emotionally unaware. Like, if I’ve had a bad day and I call him, when he’s sober he’ll notice immediately and be supportive. Or he will remember an important thing that was supposed to happen that day and ask me about it. Just normal, good-partner stuff. But after even just a couple glasses of wine, that goes away. He will not be as empathetic or present as he is when sober.

But the problem is these are SMALL changes. He doesn't become an abusive jerk. He just becomes a less warm and slightly more annoying version of himself. 2-3 times a week.

So my question is – what’s reasonable to ask of him? I feel that in a long-term relationship, my partner should be emotionally available/attuned to me MOST nights. That when I reach out to him, I should be reasonably assured of getting the same person every time. Is my bar too high? I’ve talked to him about this a lot, focusing on his behavior, not the amount he drinks, because that’s what really matters. He doesn’t want to hurt me but also feels like I’m too sensitive to these small personality changes. Everyone changes a little when they drink, right? And he’s not getting drunk, just relaxing a bit. He feels that’s within his rights, and I agree. But what are my rights?

Things we’ve considered/tried:

- Him limiting his drinking. But because it affects him so easily, this means he has to stop after only 1 drink. He finds this idea silly/oppressive. It would feel the opposite of relaxing to him - it'd be more akin to dieting.
- Him letting me know up front that he’s had some alcohol, I guess so I can adjust my expectations. I find this tiresome, unfair, and bad for our dynamic. Neither of us wants me to be his keeper.
- Not interacting at all on those nights, which also feels unfair to me given that it happens at least couple times a week.

Any perspectives or suggestions would be welcomed.

Note – we are physically together about twice a week and this is a non-issue then – either he is not drinking or we are both drinking socially.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think your best best is to not interact after he's had more than one drink and let him decide if he'd rather drink more or keep talking to you that night. If he prefers his couple of drinks to more interaction with you, then I think you'll have both learned something important. You also say it's not a problem when you're drinking socially, if you wouldn't mind and you're not opposed you can take one of the 2-3 nights and have 2 drinks while you guys are talking to see if you all are more in sync. Of course don't do that if it's revolting to you, it just might help with some of the tension.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 2:27 PM on October 11 [9 favorites]

I am in an LDR, my boyfriend is a pot smoker and we have these conversations sometimes. Stoned Boyfriend is fine, but a little less of a good boyfriend and I usually wouldn't choose to be around him. We are both pretty nerdy and have a somewhat complicated calculus of how to make this work for us which might not work for everyone (something like only smoking every other day and on band practice nights and not after 9 pm and not when we're together unless we've talked about it).

The big deal is that both of us realize that rejiggering is something we do not because it's what we want exactly (I'd prefer he smoked less, he'd prefer he smoked more) but because we value the relationship and think we can make this work. We are not planning to live together, this is unlikely to need to change in the future. If it does, we'll talk about it. So figuring out what works for you is useful. My notes on what you've tried.

- Him limiting his drinking... He finds this idea silly/oppressive.

Those do not sound like the words of someone who respects your desire to not deal with tipsy rude boyfriend. How would he feel about having a few drinks over a longer period of time, or with a meal?

- Him letting me know up front that he’s had some alcohol,...Neither of us wants me to be his keeper.

To me this is the opposite of that. He is giving you full information, you can make a choice. I guess it depends if you feel comfortable being like "Oh you've been drinking, I guess I don't want to talk now" or if you feel that is him infringing on your potential together time?

- Not interacting at all on those nights, which also feels unfair to me given that it happens at least couple times a week.

What if you knew in advance which those nights were? Is three nights okay? Is four too many? If you had to place limits on this, could you?

The big deal, to me, is that you guys have preferences that are misaligned and this is not about negotiating drinking as much as mitigating a sort of behavior you don't like which you feel like you have to deal with more than you would prefer. Maybe you can start from there? Maybe there is another way to deal with the behavior? Be more active about pushing back when tipsy boyfriend gets long-winded? Only go out and drink with other people so you can have other people to talk with? Because realistically if he's arguing with you about his "right" to drink after you've told him you don't like him when he's been drinking, that's a (small) red flag to me. Not like "Oh he sucks" at all, people are welcome to make their choices, but it points to a possible variance in how much each of you may wish to make compromises for the other. I feel like there are paths through this but you both need to be clear on your priorities and he may be confused about his?
posted by jessamyn at 2:27 PM on October 11 [15 favorites]

You are being way too demanding. The traits you describe aren't just your husband when he is drinking, they are everyone when they're drinking. A couple of glasses of wine 2-3 times per week is nothing in the realm of problem drinking, and if you are expecting your partner to be 100% emotionally available to you 100% of the time, I think it's you that needs to reset your expectations here. Use your friends to vent to as well, and give your partner a break, for both of your sakes.
posted by ryanbryan at 2:35 PM on October 11 [44 favorites]

I dunno, this seems a lot more like "sometimes I just want to be alone to read the internet and listen to abrasive music while messily eating foods my partner dislikes", in that it's reasonable to want some non-on-call time to do things that your partner doesn't like.

Your partner sometimes wants to be able to unwind, not to drunkenness but to the point where he isn't fully emotionally available to you. This seems reasonable to me! No one should be required to be on the emotional-labor clock all the time. We should all be able to do things that mean that for short periods we're not required to be fully present for our partners.

My thought here is that this should be conceived as "my partner has a hobby I do not share", in that it should be scheduled so that it has as little impact on your mutual life as possible. Can it be that Mondays and Thursdays (or whatever) are "my partner and I chat on the phone when I get home, then I have a few drinks and unwind" nights for him? Or even "my partner and I don't chat on the phone unless there's something in particular to discuss" nights?

If your partner had an after-work soccer game followed by a pub night, you might not chat that night either.

I'm sort of with your partner on this one, in that I don't feel like he should always avoid getting very slightly tipsy so that he is maximally available to you - that seems like a very high standard for a partner and I would find it slightly exhausting.
posted by Frowner at 2:40 PM on October 11 [82 favorites]

You don't need his consent to do what feels right to you. If you don't like talking to him when he's drinking, don't talk to him when he's drinking. If you don't want to date someone who you don't like talking to 2 nights out of 7, then you move on. That's the mentally healthy approach to this IMO --- detach from trying to get him to do what you want, focus on accepting things as they are and deciding how you will react.

In his early 50s, it's not likely that he'll be changing this kind of habit soon. So this suggestion is practical and not a criticism of your preferences.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:47 PM on October 11 [16 favorites]

This is a hard situation and I feel for you. I am not your husband, but I'm probably a lot like him in some ways, particularly drinking... (I recently quit, so take my perspective with that grain of salt.)

One thing that's not totally clear is whether your relationship is good/OK when you are both drinking. You imply it at the end, but would this problem exist if you both only drank socially?

I think the fact that you have shared your concerns with him, and you've both discussed the situation rather honestly without any major fallout (i.e. you've remained intimate) seems like a good sign.

You're stuck at that stage where he hears you, and seems to understand and is actually empathetic, but doesn't agree on any need for change.

All I can say is you've got to find a solution together. It may be you accepting him being slightly less him 2 or 3 times a week. It may be him cutting back to 1 drink on those nights, or only drinking when you do, i.e. socially. But it has to be a joint solution, not a compromise for anyone (if that's possible.)

For me, the problem comes when I feel that someone is forcing me to accept their life decisions as mine. Any change has to come from him, and it has to become part of his identity.

I eventually found the strength to stop drinking in the fact that it's really just not very good for you.

he has to stop after only 1 drink. He finds this idea silly/oppressive

I'm not an expert in the least, but I also found this language a little striking. You may want to discuss that emotional response with him a little bit. It's not the only solution, but it's not a ridiculous suggestion to drink less so as to be less jerky.

My thought here is that this should be conceived as "my partner has a hobby I do not share"

A pub night after a soccer game is a lot different than drinking alone as a hobby. Believe me, I've done both. A LOT.

I also just want to add that I used to only drink socially, then was a 1-2 drinks a night for 1-2 days a week drinker, then stopped a bit (kids), then became a 2-3 drinks a night for 2-3 days a week drinker (kids!), then became a 2-3 drinks a night every day drinker. It's been 36 days since my last drink and I think about it a lot. Just my2c. It is obvious to say, but alcohol is very addictive.

Best of luck. I hope you find a mutual solution.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:50 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

My SO also gets more debate-y when he drinks, and lapses into this very dichotomous thinking. It's annoying! But sometimes he wants to unwind and that's also totally fine.

So our deal is I do my own things those evenings, and he limits them to 1-2 nights a week max, and other things happening take precedence (like social events). I am clear on just saying "whoa, let's talk about that later" if something does go off-track. But he has those few beers, when he wants too, and if he really want to play drunk forensics I will totally indulge him. The key for us is to make a reasonable but adjustable plan with super clear communication on the topic.

The other key is that he recognizes the trait, puts our relationship first, and knows he can just say "tonight I want a gin & tonic and argue politics on the internet" and I give him the space. Just like he gives me the space to ignore him and read for five hours even if he really wants to share his funny work story, y'know?

IF he couldn't have a calm conversation or put the relationship first, then we're flag territory. And sure, you can't expect him to be 100% perfect attention all the time, but it is also TOTALLY reasonable for you to want *most* nights with him to go smoothly and happily and in this case that also means soberly.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 2:54 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]

I get an email from the Gottman Institute every so often about partnership stuff, and the recent "You Don't Need to Solve Your Problems" one stuck with me:
As Psychologist Dan Wile says, "When choosing a long-term partner... you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you'll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years."

You don't need to solve all of your problems. You just need to manage them.

Keep working on them together. Seek to understand each other’s positions, dreams, and values.
If everything else in the relationship is good/great and you don't get the sense that his drinking is harmful in a bigger way (his health, his employment, etc.), maybe just consider this a difference you can ignore. "Ah, partner's had a drink. I'll call my friend instead." Something like that. Put it in perspective not as an unbridgeable problem, but as an annoyance you can live with. Only you can say whether you can live with it. But this advice has really helped me a lot with my partner. Dealing with flaw x or y? I've taken it off my to-do list.
posted by witchen at 3:11 PM on October 11 [41 favorites]

So, I think it's fine if this is a really strong preference of yours and a dealbreaker for you -- you have that right in any relationship. And, there could be reasons why alcohol/drinking is more triggering/problematic for some people than others.

That said, I mostly come down on the side of people saying that it's not reasonable to expect your partner to be 100% emotionally available to you all the time. My husband and I are married/live together, and while neither of us drinks much, each of us still has evenings when we have other activities/are in a terrible mood/really need some alone time/are distracted by a big work thing/whatever the case may be. Certainly I know I am not perfectly present every moment with my husband, and neither is he, despite us overall having a great relationship. I feel like we'd both feel fairly stifled and miserable if we had to constantly be in full on 100% supportive of our partner and emotionally available every single evening. And if you're honest, are you really present for every single moment with your partner -- do you really never have nights when you keep checking your phone for texts or forget an important thing or didn't get enough sleep so you're exhausted and spacey? I mean, maybe so! But I think most people don't operate that way.

It seems like since you guys don't live together, perhaps a reasonable compromise would be that a few nights a week, you guys chat/hang out earlier in the evening, before dinner or whenever he is having a couple of drinks to unwind. Then you still get that connecting time, but he also gets his unwinding time afterward. Or, if he wants to have happy hour-time drinks with coworkers, perhaps plan a late-night chat for that evening (I presume two drinks isn't making him drunk enough that's he still affected 2-3 hours later). Or maybe you guys sometimes meet up for lunch if that works with your work locations/schedules. Basically, come up with ways that you guys can still connect regularly, but your partner doesn't feel he can't also have a few hours a few times a week that are "him" time rather than "couple" time.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:29 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Try going to an Al-Anon meeting, because your life is being affected by someone else's drinking. That's the only criteria -- full stop. It doesn't matter whether other people think you're right or wrong to be reacting this way, including your boyfriend. But going to a few meetings might help you gain perspective, in the company of other people whose lives have been affected by someone else's alcohol use.

Caveat: every meeting is different. If you don't like one, try another. There are women's-only meetings, if that's of interest. You don't need to speak up, you don't need to have any particular belief system. Just go, listen, and see if you get any ideas or perspective about your situation.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:43 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]

I don't think someone has to be an alcoholic or a "problem drinker" for their drinking to be a problem for you.

Personally, I hate being around people who have had even one drink. In my opinion, people who have been drinking are weird and unsettling to be around.

That's my thing and because of it I would not date anyone who drinks alcohol on anything close to a regular basis, or even who has a worldview that normalizes regular drinking, nor do I voluntarily engage with folks when they drink. That's my choice and I am entitled to it, but it's really all I can do; I cannot control other people's drinking. I think the solution of your partner warning you that they have been drinking so you can decide if you want to deal with them is fair and reasonable.

I think resources intended for the partners of people with an alcohol dependency (e.g. Alanon) would be useful for you. The personality changes that alcohol causes are real and distressing, even if other people want to wave them away or belittle you for being disturbed by them. Again, your partner doesn't have to be "an alcoholic" for those tools to be useful for you. It's true that everyone is cranky or disengaged at times but it isn't true that everyone has a specific, controllable trigger for that behaviour that they knowingly and voluntarily engage in on a regular basis.

You might also want to read "This Naked Mind" which will offer some insight about why this kind of behaviour is normalised in our society and why you are likely to experience a lot of pushback for having qualms about it. The book is intended for people who want help controlling their alcohol intake but it is a very insightful look at drinking in general.
posted by windykites at 4:04 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]

I feel for both of you, because I think I know what you're experiencing (although in my case it doesn't come from alcohol.) And yet of course he does have the right to relax and not do emotional labor when you guys are apart.

Could you try, rather than having him available for your call, having him call you before he sits down to have the drinks? Like, as a specific and necessary part of the ritual. Shoes off, pour wine, take it into living room, feet up, ok last thing to do before starting on this wine is to call partner, ask about her day, great, and now he can switch into selfish mode?

(and by the way: I am pretty sure most men are like this, when they drink moderately. Most people, even. Booze generally makes people talk, not listen.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:01 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Everyone changes a little when they drink, right?

yes, but many of us change for the better. like for example, when I have two or three glasses of wine I get more cheerful, less worried, more sympathetic, more emotionally expansive, more talkative and simultaneously more eager to listen because everything is more interesting and less irritating.

so on the one hand, being a very little bit drunk is no excuse if he's doing things that need excusing. he's not plastered; he's not out of his mind; it is not really a normal reaction to a few drinks to stop being interested in your partner's problems. if -- an important if -- you usually are interested when sober, and not faking it to be nice.

on the other hand, a lot of people would probably like me much better if I were slightly drunk all the time, but that is not by itself a reason to be in that state. it is good to drink because you enjoy it but bad to drink because it makes other people enjoy you. and liver functioning aside, I really think the same goes for not drinking.

the most likely thing is not that two drinks turns off his empathy glands, but that he chooses to have a few drinks on nights when he isn't really in the mood to have serious conversations with you. reversal of cause and effect. not necessarily to the point where he is deliberately getting drunk to give himself a reason not to pay attention to things he doesn't feel like talking about, but that's not impossible either. whether this is tolerable to you I don't know.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:28 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]

If it feels like work say goodbye and hang up. There’s no substitute for respecting your own wishes.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:00 PM on October 11 [7 favorites]

I think the question you have to ask yourself is less "is this reasonable?" and more "am I okay with this?"

The only person you can change is you -- you can ask him to change, but if he feels that he's being reasonable it's unlikely he'll want to change. In that case you can either accept it, or decide to move on.

My advice is not to stay in a situation where you resent the other person for not changing for you. I've been on both sides of that and it has always ended in unnecessary misery.
posted by Alterscape at 6:19 PM on October 11 [11 favorites]

Alterscape said it best, if this relationship doesn't work for you, leave it. To stay and be unhappy is not worth it and the relationship won't work.

I've been on both sides. Long-term habits won't change.

"I feel that in a long-term relationship, my partner should be emotionally available/attuned to me MOST nights. That when I reach out to him, I should be reasonably assured of getting the same person every time. Is my bar too high?"

Speaking as a guy in his 50's, yes that bar is too high. Most of us guys weren't trained to do emotions nor recognize emotional content in a situation/relationship unless the emotions were really, really evident. Think flashing blue lights and sirens sounding and the streets filling in panic, because that is what it takes for most guys my age to recognize that something is wrong.

We don't do "emotions." We get confused by them and miss a lot of cues that women give out.

In the relationship I valued, I went through a lot of personal counseling to learn to recognize and respond to female emotions.

As guys of a certain age and cultural upbringing, our emotional responses to a woman talking about problems are, at base level:

"That sucks. Next topic, please, because I can't process anything deeper."

"Here, let me solve that problem for you."

We males in our 50's are not trained to be emotionally available/attuned in the way that women are. And even less so when buzzed.

You are going to get the unpredictability. If it doesn't work and you can't find ways to withdraw or hang up or express why it doesn't work and how he could do better, leave.
posted by ITravelMontana at 6:54 PM on October 11

"...is this truly a reasonable expectation? I'm honestly asking."

I'm married and live with my spouse and I'm only OK being 75% available for is our elementary school age son (thank god he's in elementary school.)

I think you should cultivate other evening activities besides talking on the phone to your BF. I would not be able to sustain going to work all day for 3 years and then be on the phone most nights. That's like 85% of his waking life devoted to being "on" with other people. It's not sustainable. Really, it's too much.
posted by jbenben at 6:57 PM on October 11 [13 favorites]

By my math, 2-3 nights per week means he's "not himself" 30-40% of the time.

I'm a little confused by this. How is 2 glasses of wine putting this guy out of commission/not himself for the entire evening 2-3 nights per week? I mean, I'm a lightweight, and two non-liquor drinks would make me buzzed for...2 hours-ish? Can't you guys have your phone conversation either before or after that window? 4-6 hours a week of not being emotionally available to your partner does not seem crazy to me, and it's certainly not "30-40% of the time".

Or, if he's significantly more impaired than this, is it possible he's not being honest about the amount he's drinking?
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:32 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]

I don't think its an unreasonable expectation (as a 40 yo married guy). I do think you won't find it with everyone, so if its very important to you it might be a dealbreaker in this relationship.

I expect a high level of availability, and have had mismatches in past relationships which led to their end (which was the right thing to do).

Even when my wife and I are an ocean apart, we're fairly available and talk at least an hour a day, and anytime we need each other we'd be on the phone in minutes. I would have trouble being with someone who put themselves in a state where that couldn't happen.

So basically I'd say --- many people will find it unreasonable. Some men will not only find it reasonable but desirable. As others have said, no one will be 100% perfect --- so you have to kind of rank your preferences. If this is a key issue for you, it is something you should maybe keep looking for in someone else.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:34 PM on October 11 [7 favorites]

My suggestion is that you try out having him tell you at the beginning of a phone call if he has been drinking. You are not his keeper, he has a free choice to drink or not drink as it suits him. You then know what you are getting into and can either engage in conversation or let him know that you will call him later/another time (no blaming, try to be a neutral as you can - he already knows your preference.)

View this as an experiment. Right now, he may be grudging any changes as something you are forcing on him. After a few weeks, he may miss the frequency the conversations or may decide he doesn't want to let you down and so cut back or he may figure out a way to talk to you before or long after drinking when he sober - anything that is his idea because he wants more connection. Or maybe you realize this isn't such a deal breaker for you - sober is better but buzzed isn't so bad when you know it is your choice to talk or not talk. Or you may realize this relationship just doesn't have enough give in it, it doesn't work for you and you guys need to have to have one of those tough conversations.

As people said above, it is not about right or wrong but about how well you can accommodate each others needs and, if you can't find a middle ground and live with the problem then you know you found a deal breaker - for you.
posted by metahawk at 7:54 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

Your updates make me think that the problem really isn't the drinking. The problem is that several (now, most?) days a week, every week, you do not feel loved, supported, and engaged with by your partner in the way you want to feel loved, supported, and engaged with in a romantic relationship. I do think that the solution for most of us here would be to leave this kind of relationship. It isn't making you happy. Your partner sounds like they're telling you that they're giving you the best that they can give you.

But then I wondered: What your partner's version of this question look like?

Would it look something like this?

"I have a great partner that I don't live with but who I love. We're committed to one another and to building a future together. But my partner doesn't like it when I have a couple glasses of wine, which I do a couple evenings every week. On these evenings, I can get carried away and talk too much about myself. I don't take as much time as I should to ask my partner about their day or talk to them enough about what's going on in their life. I can be critical and negative about things, too. My partner says I'm not "present" when I've had a couple of drinks, and my partner "resents" our conversations afterwards. My partner says that these conversations make them feel like they don't even know me. That I'm not the person they fell in love with. My partner also thinks this happens other times during the week: when I'm working, tired, or need alone time. Help? How can I make this right?"

What advice would you give in response to this answer. I think that would be helpful for finding a way forward and for thinking very concretely about what you can ask your partner to try.

(But if your advice would look like this, then yes -- your expectations would be unreasonable: "First of all, don't ever have more than one drink unless you two are together in person because you're apparently not very mindful about your partner's needs when you've had more than one drink unless actually in your partner's physical presence. Secondly, you need to carve out a couple of hours at least 5 or six nights a week to be really "present" for your partner. This means you should prioritize empathizing with your partner's feelings when you talk to your partner. Also, you should always keep your partner's schedule/events foremost in your mind and be sure to ask about them before your partner begins discussing them. And when you have conversations with your partner, you need to monitor yourself to make sure that you aren't being too long-winded or too critical. Once or twice a week, maybe, it's okay for you to be self absorbed. But the rest of the time, you should really watch out for that because your partner resents it and it makes them tired, disappointed, and not in love with you.")
posted by pinkacademic at 7:57 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

I think your relationship sounds untenable because you are equating "not him at his best" with "not the person I fell in love with". It just sounds like your bar might be too high for this particular person; that your level of acceptable "availability" may not be one that he can match. You say that you don't expect him to be available to you 100% of the time, but it really does sound like you want him to be "on" pretty much every time you need him to be. I personally would not find this reasonable.
posted by sm1tten at 9:01 PM on October 11 [14 favorites]

This is a tough question. I can see both sides of the "is this too much to ask?" question. I don't have too much to add. But I did want to defend this:
- he has to stop after only 1 drink. He finds this idea silly/oppressive

It's silly because the whole point is to relax, enjoy oneself, do something a bit indulgent, and stop worrying. It kind of goes against the entire point / vibe. Plus, having some strict "only 1" thing would prompt some inner rebellion from me. This is also why I don't diet: the stricter the rules, the more I rebel. It might be a personality thing?

For context, I don't drink at all right now, but there have been times when I drank at the level he does.

As someone who doesn't drink now, I think it's easy for people who don't spend time sober around drinkers to underestimate just how annoying that can be after a couple drinks. (Not everyone gets annoying, but overall and on average, yeah.)

I think you'd be more comfortable in a relationship with someone who shared your views. But maybe you guys can get there, IDK.

And right now, it seems like you guys are trapped in this conversational dynamic where you're asking for things and having to defend them as reasonable. Somehow that needs to shift. Maybe by you just setting boundaries ("hey it seems like you've been drinking, I'll catch up with you later"). Or maybe by him finding (how?) some empathy for your position and wanting to address this in a way that works for you.

I hope you find a way through all this, sorry you're dealing with it.
posted by salvia at 9:27 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this helps, but my husband is this way. Get a few drinks in him and he's not unbearable, but his usual slightly above-average argumentativeness gets cranked up, and he tends to interpret the things around him less charitably than he does when he's sober. I can usually see it coming a long way off because there's stages. At first he's cheerful and relaxed, then he's a little maudlin, and usually it's shortly after that that something sets him off and he becomes someone I don't really want to hang out with.

On these occasions, I just monitor things and stop spending time with him when I see the last stage is likely up soon. In my life, this usually means saying goodnight and going to bed ahead of him, or if I'm not especially tired, going into the bedroom to read a book or something.

In your life this may represent itself differently, but I've found just removing myself from the situation when he acts in a way I don't appreciate is the most effective solution.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 3:30 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Normal is whatever is normal for you. I think we're fixating on numbers, which are debatable, when this is about whether it's working for you, which none of us can say. If you don't really enjoy the relationship so much of the time, then that's a really reasonable complaint.

I haven't heard you say he needs to be totally on 100% of the time, I hear you saying that your time with him is limited and you want that time to be dependably nice instead of unpredictably unpleasant.

If you want numbers: I broke up with someone who drank 3 beers 5 nights because when he drank 3 beers he was totally checked out during our limited tome together. I didn't like a relationship with someone who was totally checked out that frequently, even though 3 beers is not going to ring many alarms. I would have felt the same if it was 1 beer or pot or video games. This wasn't about down time, which everyone needs, this was about his choice to shut me out.

If you're not ready to call it off, try this: stop talking to him when he's been drinking. You don't like it so don't torture yourself or set him up to be resented. Don't call him, and tell him not to call you. Find something more rewarding to do. He can either adjust his calling times or his drinking. Or one or both of you can decide the relationship doesn't work.
posted by kapers at 8:03 AM on October 12 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of answers here that don't take alcoholism into consideration. I'm not saying your partner is or is not an alcoholic.

Do you have an alcoholic in your family? I did, and I realized many years ago that my response to a partner's drinking habits has a lot to do with that experience - hanging out with my partner when they were drunk (enough to change their personality, which is what you are describing) threw me into a rage. I spent some time in counseling, since the rage was a surprise and distressed me. Counseling meant I and at least one other person were treating my emotions as important information.

If you don't like how you are feeling, that is entirely real and valid. It may not be something this partner is willing to change, and as you can see from this thread there is a pretty wide range of "reasonable" responses to how you feel. Your partner might be being reasonable? I wouldn't like hearing they thought my response to drinking was "silly/oppressive."

Many people like drinking. Many people don't. I think the key is to figure out whether you want to be around it at all right now. I support you if you decide that you don't.

Negotiating what percent of the time you can expect your partner to be themselves sounds exhausting. I might take a break and see how you feel.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 8:19 AM on October 12 [2 favorites]

It seems like you want to regard the sober person as Your Boyfriend and the person after a couple drinks as Some Other Guy, but they are both your boyfriend. In vino veritas is a saying for a reason; the aspects of your boyfriend's personality that come out when he's drinking are a part of him -- just a part that he usually doesn't indulge.

I mean, suppose the alcohol wasn't involved at all, and just sometimes you called him, or he called you, and he was a little checked-out, and a little long-winded, and the conversation was kind of a slog and a bummer? Would you have broken up with him 2.5 years ago? Have you been this frustrated by this for 3 whole years, or has something else changed that suddenly makes it a bigger deal?

Framing it as "this is the whole truth of my partner and my relationship, am I ok with it" rather than "there is an invader who ruins my otherwise perfect relationship, how do I get the invader out" may help you move forward.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:21 AM on October 12 [8 favorites]

I think it's reasonable to have the same expectations of your partner (in terms of what you are putting into and getting out of the relationship) that you have of yourself. This will vary person to person but if there are things you need from a relationship that you readily provide, then no, that's not an unreasonable ask. If he doesn't have the same expectations, though, or isn't able to meet yours, then your needs are going to go unmet.

If you don't like interacting with him when he drinks, I think the only solution is to not call each other when he drinks. If that's not enough contact for you then I don't see how this relationship can meet your needs. If you lived together would you be able to deal with that?
posted by Polychrome at 12:03 PM on October 12 [2 favorites]

Is 2-3 times a week normal? That's really the heart of the issue.

My husband and I have drinking patterns (in amounts) similar to your husband, so that doesn't seem abnormal. We aren't as sensitive as he seems to be though, so that part doesn't strike me as normal. Is it maybe exacerbated by the conversations being on the phone? I personally just don't process well on the phone, so I could imagine even just a mild impairment could have a much bigger effect on my ability to be emotionally aware. Maybe FaceTime so he can get some visual feedback would help (if that's not already what you're doing).

I personally wouldn't like feeling like conversations are one sided work that often with my husband, sober or inebriated. And even on the rare occasions he's actually drunk and I'm sober, I always feel like he's thinking well of me and at least trying to be considerate.
posted by ghost phoneme at 3:45 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

I want to echo something said by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese because it's basically the first thing that came to mind: Your boyfriend is being himself 100% of the time. This is who he is. The "tipsy rude guy" who doesn't want to drink less or significantly change his behavior is your boyfriend. This is his normal and you have to do two things at this point, especially since he's in his 50s and you are three years in:

1) Assume he's never going to change
2) Give up all attempts to change him
3) Think long and hard about whether you want to keep sharing your life with him living exactly as he is living now

As to this comment: The traits you describe aren't just your husband when he is drinking, they are everyone when they're drinking.

This is bullshit for so many reasons. First of all, as noted above, some people become *more* pleasant when having one or two drinks. It is not at all my experience that everyone becomes some kind of emotionally unavailable jerk after 1-2 glasses of alcohol.

Which brings me to my second point: It's the fact that your partner becomes unpleasant after only 1-2 glasses which seems very odd. I agree with someone above who questioned your boyfriend's honesty about how much they are actually drinking. This is a red flag for me since you aren't actually present to see how much he's had -- and because you say this is not an issue when you're physically together. If he's acting like a "completely different person" and claiming that he's only had 1-2 glasses of alcohol, that's very odd to me.

As far as what's "normal", I would say that it is very abnormal for 1-2 drinks to completely "flip the switch" of most people's personalities. If you are experiencing him as a "different person" when he's not falling-down-drunk, that's weird.

Whether or not your partner is an alcoholic is a separate question from whether he has a drinking problem, which I think he does, based on your description. More specifically, your relationship has a "drinking problem" and it may not be solvable or manageable. If he is no longer is "normal" self after a X amount of drinks and he wants to have X amount of drinks 2-3 times a week even after you express your discomfort with his behavior/personality when he haves X amount of drinks then there is simply nothing you can do about this and you need to accept that this is the way he is and it is not your responsibility to change him or troubleshoot this.

To give you some context about what a "solveable" drinking issue within a relationship looks like.. When I met my partner, they liked having wine with dinner several times a week, which is normal in many cultures around the world. The wine didn't cause any behavioral problems on her part -- she was perfectly pleasant with or without the wine. However, their drinking was a lot more than my baseline alcohol intake (wine with dinner several times a month). I tried to drink wine with dinner more often to keep up with my partner but realized that I felt like shit and that drinking most nights wasn't good for my health. I talked about this with my partner, explained my health concerns and started drawing boundaries: if they wanted to have wine with most dinners, they would be drinking on their own some evenings. Over time, my partner began realizing that they didn't want wine with dinner so much that they wanted to drink alone -- and they also began to notice that they felt better when they consumed less alcohol. We both tried to find other, healthier ways to "unwind" and to relax that didn't require wine -- and we agreed to splurge on wine we really enjoy on the weekends rather than drink during the week. This works really well for us.

The reason this was "solveable" is that 1) my partner didn't actually become a different person when drinking, so they were reasonable whether they'd had wine or not 2) my partner was open to communicating about alcohol and health, even if we did have different preferences and had to keep talking about it and negotiating our boundaries over time 3) my partner took my concerns seriously even if initially they expressed resistance to changing 4) my partner has a lot of self awareness 5) my partner is mindful about healthy coping mechanisms vs unhealthy coping and once I brought up these issues, they wanted to make sure they weren't using alcohol in an unhealthy way 6) both of us really value our time together and want it to be high quality and enjoyable 7) We had a great couple's therapist who helped us talk about and troubleshoot conflict.

So to return to your boyfriend: If he had 1-2 glasses of alcohol a few nights a week and this caused *no* problems in your relationship, then it would not be a problem. The problem is not the amount he drinks (or says he drinks) per se, the problem is that this level of drinking causes him to behave differently in ways that create problems in your relationship and he doesn't want to change even after you discuss the problems that are occurring in your relationship.

You are not being too controlling or unreasonable. You are entitled to not like the guy your boyfriend becomes when he drinks -- but you also need to accept that this means you don't actually like your boyfriend. "The way he is when he drinks" is a recurrent pattern and part of who he is, period, and Tipsy-Boyfriend takes the joy out of being with Sober-Boyfriend because, as you stated, you never know when Tipsy is going to show up and you really don't like that guy. As a last ditch effort, you may want to see a couple's counselor. But otherwise, I think you should accept that this is who he is and find someone you're more compatible with.
posted by Gray Skies at 7:14 AM on October 13

my partner should be emotionally available/attuned to me MOST nights

Okay I missed this part of your post. This is definitely unreasonable. However, based on your updates, it seems like the issue isn't that your partner is "emotionally unavailable" 2-3 nights a week, it's that he annoys you and "acts like a different person" when he drinks those nights. I think in a long term relationship, you are going to want someone who doesn't reliably act like a different person in a way that annoys you 2-3 nights a week. Little annoyances will be there -- but "your behavior is so different that I can't stand being around you" is not something that's manageable in the long term.
posted by Gray Skies at 7:23 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]

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