How do you know when someone is an alcoholic?
March 5, 2019 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Does he have a serious drinking problem? Or am I just looking for a valid excuse to end an “OK” relationship, or one that may just be convenient? And is an “OK”/convenient relationship at this stage of my life really such a bad thing?

Some background - I am in my mid-forties, and the mother of a soon to be teen, my whole heart and soul. Years ago I ended an on-again off-again relationship with my daughter’s father. He's a good guy and great dad but I was never in love with him. While I've somewhat worked through the guilt I've carried around from breaking up with him, I do still struggle with how I kept doubting my decision, and as a result I kept us in a painful cycle of ambivalence regarding our relationship. Although we never really got back together, we both seemed to refuse the concept of moving on. I relied on him emotionally and I think he let me in the hope that we would end up back together. I’m ashamed that I allowed this hurtful cycle to continue for years, all because I lacked confidence in my decision. I’m providing this background as I am now extremely ambivalent in my current relationship too. The same “too good to leave, too bad to stay” feelings are there. Being someone who has to work hard to manage anxiety and depression, I also fear I’m prone to self-sabotage, searching for the reasons why something good should end. I crave intimacy but I’m afraid I push it away at the same time. I honestly feel that I really don’t know how to trust my feelings and/or what my gut is telling me.

I've been dating my current boyfriend for just over a year. We've known each other since high school and we were always friendly, so our relationship felt easy from the start. He's in his early forties, never been married, is very social and has always had the reputation of being a big drinker. But so don't many of the people I used to hang around with in my hometown, and even some family members. Alcohol has always been a big part of my social life and those around me, my ex and his family included. Going out with friends always meant having drinks; family dinners and holidays always involve cocktails, and my parents have a couple drinks most nights before dinner. Most of my colleagues drink, and I like to have a few drinks. Quite honestly, going out to dinner to eat delicious food and drink wine may be one of my favorite activities after a long work week. So I guess I am comfortable dating a "drinker" because it just seems that I l always have, and everyone else around me seems to be a drinker too.

My boyfriend's mom died only a month before we started dating after a long battle with cancer. On our first date, he got very drunk. He talked a lot about his mom (they were best friends), and how much he was stressed about his dad's inability to cope with her death. At the end of the night he told me that he was an alcoholic (just like his dad) and that he had thought about “just ending it” before. He even told me he loved me. I sat there tearful with him, trying to comfort him. I justified his behavior by believing he was acting like anyone struggling immensely with a horrible loss would. So I continued dating him and tried to ease his anxieties and pain as best I could. He told me he didn’t mean a lot of what he said that night; he blamed his grief, and I chose to believe him.

My boyfriend can drink. A LOT. Light beer is "just like water" to him. It also seems to be like that for a lot of his friends and acquaintances. As I mentioned, I enjoy drinking too, but I have a shut off point, usually after two or three drinks. I don’t drink every day, and my health is very important to me. I am rarely hung over and I’ve left my partying days back in college. My boyfriend is not a mean drunk; (except for a few questionable texts I’ve received). He's mostly happy and very social until he's not; then he's an emotional sloppy mess. I am the only one fortunate to witness this mess, I believe. "I love you so much and would to anything for you, anything!" are his favorite things to say while drunk and crying, but when sober I really don't hear this much nor does he do much of “anything" for me. Not that he doesn’t have his strong points. He can be charming and he’s just very likeable. He has a ton of friends and comes from a nice family. He takes me out to dinner and refuses to let me pay; he includes me in the many social events he’s invited to and I’ve been introduced to many significant people I would never had the opportunity to meet without him. While I’m very close to my family, I don’t have any good friends. Social situations typically scare the shit out of me, yet when he’s by my side I’ve found that I actually enjoy them and the attention I get when I’m with him. He tells me I’m beautiful and that he loves me. However, in my day to day life, which occupies much more space than the one or two nights I see him, he’s not bringing much to the table. But I’m not necessarily giving off the impression that I want him to either. I’m doing very well professionally and while not perfect, I think I’ve done fairly well in building a good life for my daughter and me. I’m not finding myself wanting my two world’s to collide (as George Constanza might say). I keep my life with my daughter separate; he’s only hung out with her a handful of times. While I’ve always maintained that I wouldn’t move in with anyone or marry while my daughter was still growing up, I did briefly consider the possibility in the early days of this relationship. However, when my daughter and I showed up at his house the first day we were going to hang out for the first time just the three of us, he was completely hammered after he spent the afternoon at the golf club, slurring his words and acting like an idiot. Amazingly my daughter didn’t seem to notice, but I was so disappointed and disgusted. So, needless to say, we don’t plan things like that anymore and I’m back to compartmentalizing my life. Which does get tiring.

There are some nights when the drinking, although it’s always more than a few, hasn’t seemed too bad, but there have been more than a few where the first date scenario repeats itself. He does seem to check off all the boxes for someone with a drinking problem (well at least from what I’ve been reading about online) - he drinks everyday (he says he doesn’t but I don’t think I believe him); he gets antsy when he isn’t served immediately when out; his father is an alcoholic; he has an extremely anxious/nervous personality when not drinking; he finishes my drinks because he “hates to be wasteful”. I once found a beer can in his bathroom closet and I’ve woken up a couple time to empty wines bottles when I remember ending the night with them only missing a few glasses worth. And he has even told me he tried AA years ago, but that he wasn't like the other people there and didn’t belong there.

I went through something fairly traumatic myself this past summer, and on a night I felt he should have stayed by my side or at least had been available if I needed him, he got drunk and ended up sending me pretty horrible texts, calling me an "asshole” in response to me being upset. A couple months later I left his house because I was upset he had gotten so drunk, and he sent me another mean text telling me to go find someone who cares more about me and told me to go blow my ex. He was devastated by his words the next day in both instances, and he still continues to apologize for these things. He seems to realize that if anything like the above ever happens again it may end things, so he's been keeping things under control, for the most part. However, just last week he ended one night of heaving drinking by taking an anti-anxiety pill (which he first denied taking) which made him freak out in his sleep. He’s done this once before and he knows how much it scares me. I’ve confronted him both sober and not sober regarding things he’s said himself about his drinking or things he’s done, and his excuse varies from it’s because he's Irish and he’s just a big drinker; and/or he’s still grieving, and/or according to his therapist (who he went to see at my urging) he’s struggling with PTSD from growing up with a sick parent. It breaks my heart if the last two things are true, but I don't know what to believe anymore. I feel like I just don't trust him, even though I'm not completely sure he's really lying to me about anything. I find myself calling him at night just to see if he’s been drinking. Most nights he has. I feel terrible that I want to “catch him in the act”. I don’t feel like a good person for doing this, but I do it anyway.

I’m attracted to him, something I hadn’t really felt with my ex, and at times I’ve felt in love with him, experiencing that wonderful warm feeling of being with your most favorite person in the world. But since the incident this past summer, I don’t feel that very often, and I often find myself just feeling tired of his company and his troubles. At times it’s almost like I’m waiting for him to slip up, so I can have my “aha!” moment and have a good reason to end things. But for right now, I stay in the relationship because on some level it must work for me, and he is deep down a good person. I don’t have a lot of time to invest in someone else and at most I only have two nights without my daughter. And I know I am also not easy to deal with. I’m extremely introverted and I require a lot of alone time too. He seems completely understanding of this and seems content with our mainly once a week get-togethers. But then I often get the feeling I’m not being fair to him and he really does need more. Maybe he’d be better off with someone younger without children who can take care of him better, and I’ve vocalized this many times. However he maintains he’s happy with whatever I can offer him and he loves me. That’s something I should be grateful for, and we do share the same sense of humor and seem to understand one another. I would not have a social life without him. I also know he would never hurt my daughter. I often fear what else is out there in terms of other men and how scary it would be to bring a total stranger into my daughter’s life. (I’ve made the mistake of watching “Dirty John” – based on a true story). On the other hand, I do know I’m not head over heels in love with him and I often feel like something is just off. Ideally, I want that amazing relationship; a truly deeper connection. And even if I don’t give off the vibe of wanting to be taken care of, it would be nice to know that I have someone emotionally strong enough to have my back and to give me advice when necessary. Someone to challenge me and to put me in my place. Someone with whom I share more interests with, besides going out to eat and drinking. But at 45, I also realize the chances of finding someone who checks off all of the boxes is slim. Let’s be honest, it really is.

I know very well the hollow down to your core feeling of being all alone. I know the dread of walking into yet another company event without a guest. I’m all too familiar with the way it feels to be surrounded by the family you love and who loves you yet to still feel completely alone because you don’t have a partner in crime by your side. I really don’t think I can go back to that. And because I don’t believe it would be easy, or even possible to find another amazing man to love, I’m sticking to the gray area. Isn’t that what a lot of people do?

I’m not professionally qualified to diagnose someone with alcoholism, but he definitely drinks a lot, and it obviously bothers me. However, so don’t A LOT of other people I know. And there are many other people out there doing worse things. If he’s not around my daughter, and he’s filling a void in my life and I’m filling one in his, and I’m clear with him regarding the type of relationship we really have, do I need to be making it into such an issue? Or should I continue to press the issue with him and find out if he really is an alcoholic who needs more help than I would ever be able to provide him with?
I would be very appreciative of any advice, and I thank you for listening.
posted by Camrain to Human Relations (49 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I went through something fairly traumatic myself this past summer, and on a night I felt he should have stayed by my side or at least had been available if I needed him, he got drunk and ended up sending me pretty horrible texts, calling me an "asshole” in response to me being upset. A couple months later I left his house because I was upset he had gotten so drunk, and he sent me another mean text telling me to go find someone who cares more about me and told me to go blow my ex.
No no no no no no.

He's definitely an alcoholic and you should break up with him for your daughters sake. Someone like this is bad for both of your lives.
posted by bleep at 12:48 PM on March 5, 2019 [30 favorites]

On your first date he told you he was an alcoholic? Believe him.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2019 [51 favorites]

This made me think of something that I once heard (musician and self-described recovering alcoholic) Tommy Stinson say in an interview:

"If you've ever asked yourself if you have a problem with alcohol - well, you have a problem with alcohol."

It's easy to argue over the definitions of an alcoholic, but more importantly, it's possible to have alcohol cause regular and serious problems in your life without mapping neatly to any of them. Minimally, it sounds like he has a problem with alcohol.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:50 PM on March 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

I think if you enjoy spending time with him and you reconcile yourself to compartmentalizing your life then sure, keep spending time with him. But it does sound like he has major issues and I wouldn’t bother trying to tackle any of them with him.

You have bigger fish to fry raising a young woman to be independent and proud and confident.

I personally, if I were to start a relationship post children, would want this relationship to be pretty low key and fun and with a person who can take care of themselves emotionally and be able to just have fun together. Someone crying while drunk and sending annoying texts would not be what i had envisioned and would probably steer clear.

You should take some time to focus on yourself and what you really want and what kind of life you want to live. If someone doesn’t fit into that then be careful.
posted by catspajammies at 12:50 PM on March 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

He's a drunk. Sloppy drunk. Do not subject your daughter to this.
posted by crw at 12:52 PM on March 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

Q: How do you know when someone is an alcoholic?

A: When they get sloppy drunk on your first date and tell you.

Having actually been both parties in your scenario, my advice is to try and separate as cordially as possible, but definitely end it. Your daughter should not be around this, at all.
posted by theseventhstranger at 12:56 PM on March 5, 2019 [18 favorites]

“ I would not have a social life without him.”

Did you bury the lede here? Deep down are you more attached to the social life? Are you with him because you don’t have anything better to do? Are you actually using him in order to ease boredom and avoid loneliness? If so, STOP, that’s not fair to him either- even if he is a sloppy drunk, he’s still a person.

“ I often fear what else is out there in terms of other men and how scary it would be to bring a total stranger into my daughter’s life.”

Do not introduce anyone to your daughter in any version of the foreseeable future.

It IS possible to date a low key guy and have nice food and sex and chats without being introduced to your daughter.
posted by catspajammies at 12:58 PM on March 5, 2019 [9 favorites]

yep, he already answered the question for you. your description of his behaviors leaves little room for doubt.
posted by supermedusa at 1:01 PM on March 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you can compartmentalize and want to do so, you can maybe keep having fun with this guy. But if you want a different monogamous relationship I don’t think you should let your thing with this guy stop you from pursuing something healthier and more fulfilling.

Tbh you maintaining this relationship which you seem to see pretty clearly might be your way of making sure you don’t fall for someone for real. I don’t know if that’s terrible given your daughter’s age and your current needs. Again, if you’re looking for something richer and more fulfilling, this will stand in the way. If you’re not, you’re not.

And yes, you need to make sure your daughter isn’t having to deal with this guy. He sounds scary to me, honestly. Someone drunk and calling me an asshole via text is That’s pretty bad. I can only explain it if you’re really only interested in a guy who you know you can get rid of without feeling too bad about it. Because yikes.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:02 PM on March 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

...he was completely hammered after he spent the afternoon at the golf club, slurring his words and acting like an idiot. Amazingly my daughter didn’t seem to notice...

You know your daughter, and were there, and I don't and wasn't, but I would absolutely not be confident that your daughter didn't notice. Just because a kid (or adult) doesn't react to someone's behaviour doesn't mean that they don't notice, it often means they don't know how to react.
posted by ITheCosmos at 1:02 PM on March 5, 2019 [38 favorites]

I mean he’d never hurt your daughter but being slurring drunk around her is hurtful. It’s scary and not okay. I hope you’re not putting them in the same room regularly. What you do when you’re not with your daughter is one thing. It’s entirely another to play family with this guy. I think you know that.

And definitely don’t try to help him. That’s his problem. Let him deal with it.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:05 PM on March 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Speaking from my experience as the child of an alcoholic, don’t subject your daughter to this experience.
posted by hazel79 at 1:10 PM on March 5, 2019 [16 favorites]

Better alone than tied to an aging alcoholic who won't get treatment. There's really no limit to the potential degradation. The vomit, the smell, the filthy house, the insults, the scaring your daughter, the missed appointments, the social humiliation, the 3 AM DUI arrest phone calls, the you want thirty years of this, progressively worse? No. You don't deserve it, either.
posted by praemunire at 1:11 PM on March 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

When I was a kid, the thing I hated more than anything was interacting with drunk people. I’m still not terribly fond of it! But as a kid I also couldn’t say anything because these were my mom’s friends (or whomever) and I had to treat them with respect regardless of what they were doing or saying. So I pretended like I didn’t notice the smell, the slurring, the weird movements, the volatility.None of them hurt me or did anything more inappropriate than just be weird drunk dudes but that was more than enough. Have you asked your daughter what she thinks about how he is while he’s drunk and given a chance to be honest?
posted by griphus at 1:15 PM on March 5, 2019 [9 favorites]

Well, here's the thing. Your chance of finding an emotionally healthy, satisfying relationship with an emotionally healthy person are slim if you continue to be involved with your boyfriend. I'm about to recommend a book I mention all the time: Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment.

Are you familiar at all with attachment theory? It could be that you have an avoidant attachment style: you want and crave intimacy but you're also scared of it. Being involved with someone who is an alcoholic, who isn't healthy, is a way to keep you safe, because you know, deep down, that this isn't going to be a real, mutual, healthy relationship. He can't do that because alcohol is his primary partner right now. Compartmentalizing is another classic sign of an avoidant attachment style. So is having a checklist so precise that no one will ever match it. (Though it's okay to have one as a general comparative.)

And it also sounds like your boyfriend might have an anxious attachment style. Saying you love someone at the end of a first date is actually an example in the book of anxious attachment! I don't know how attachment theory interacts with alcoholism, but the mean texts could be a form of protest behavior: he's hurt and acting out in an attempt to re-establish closeness.

Here's the thing: folks with anxious and avoidant styles are magnets to each other. The avoidant person needs the anxious person's constant efforts in order to stay involved; the anxious person is totally hooked on the avoidant person's intermittent reinforcement. So what feels like love and passion is an attachment crisis.

So, yeah, of course this relationship is a mess and you should end it. He needs to get healthy. And you need to figure out what you really want and work on your own stuff. Are you spending time in therapy trying to understand why you're staying with this man? Why are you thinking specifically about whether to diagnose him as an alcoholic? He obviously has a problematic relationship with booze, and you know that.

I'm 45 and I have not given up on the idea of finding a fantastic mate and partner. I've been dating for about a year and a half and have met some truly lovely men. There are a lot of people who figure out a lot of stuff in their 40s that they didn't know when they were younger. So don't assume that someone our options are worse or lesser at this age. That's just another excuse to keep you in an unhealthy relationship.

Good luck to you.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:17 PM on March 5, 2019 [27 favorites]

I went through something fairly traumatic myself this past summer, and on a night I felt he should have stayed by my side or at least had been available if I needed him, he got drunk and ended up sending me pretty horrible texts, calling me an "asshole” in response to me being upset. A couple months later I left his house because I was upset he had gotten so drunk, and he sent me another mean text telling me to go find someone who cares more about me and told me to go blow my ex.

I stopped reading after this paragraph. This behavior is completely unacceptable from a romantic partner, and it doesn't matter if he was drunk or sober when he did it. His apology is meaningless unless he takes active steps to make sure it never happens again--yet it seems like the same patterns are still in place.

Your staying in this relationship will damage your daughter. Especially at her age. She is absorbing so much, and filing it away as reference material for her own future relationships. My mom dated someone verbally abusive when I was in middle school/high school and I still feel the effects. It damaged our relationship, too, as mother and daughter, to watch her choose him over and over and over again.

I think the alcoholism is a red herring, to be honest. He just sounds like a jerk. And if you're already feeling so-so about it...just go ahead and break it off. You'll find someone better.
posted by witchen at 1:27 PM on March 5, 2019 [15 favorites]

“Is my boyfriend an alcoholic?” The problem with the question is that the term ‘alcoholic’ is poorly defined. Is he physically dependent in such a way that he would he have withdrawal symptoms if he stopped drinking? Probably not. Does he continue to drink in a way that has negative consequences in spite of such consequences? Sounds kinda like it.

Clinically, the word ‘alcoholic’ isn’t really defined anymore. It’s alcohol use disorder and it is graded as mild, moderate or severe. Severe alcohol use disorder includes physical dependency, withdrawal symptoms, etc. Mild/moderate disorder carries less risk, but the risks your boyfriends consumption carries are real. He’s risking accidental injury and long term health consequences. But here’s the thing: it’s a risk. It may never happen. It may happen tomorrow. He’s also risking progressing of the disorder to the severe, dependent disorder.

How comfortable are you with that risk? That’s the question. And only you can answer.
posted by u2604ab at 1:38 PM on March 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

When you write this much about your partner's drinking, does it really matter whether an outside observer considers him an alcoholic or not? This is not working for you. I know it's hard to leave someone you care about because they can be great when they aren't doing the thing that bothers you, the thing you think they should stop - but you know he isn't going to stop. He's never going to be like you want him to be.
posted by something something at 1:45 PM on March 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

You don't need an excuse to end any relationship. Period.

I don't know if your boyfriend is an alcoholic.

I do know that you write a lot of things that sound like he's not really there for you, doesn't really do anything for you, etc. while you expend a lot of energy dealing with his big emotions. Which, I don't know, maybe it would work for some couples? But it sounds like it's not working for you.

You can 100% dump this dude whether he is an alcoholic or not.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 1:55 PM on March 5, 2019 [15 favorites]

I'm not one to jump on the therapy train as quickly as others, but this wall of text you've given us screams "I need someone to talk to!".

This is an unhealthy relationship. You're staying in it because you don't think you deserve better. And you don't think you can find anything better.

Well, you won't find someone better until you love yourself more. That sounds so cheesy, but it's true. It sounds like you've got a lot of guilt over your separation to your kid's father. You need to learn how to let that go, and know that you're doing the best you can do.

To answer your question: If you have a problem with his alcohol use, then that's a fine reason to drop him. It doesn't matter if he's an 'alcoholic'. He could have 1 drink per week, and if that were too much for you, it's ok for that to be too much for you. Put yourself and your daughter first.

Get some therapy, somehow, someway. You need to drop this dead weight of a boyfriend, and move on with your life.

And yes, your daughter knows he was sloppy drunk on their first visit*, or that something wasn't right. She just doesn't have the words to explain it, or know what to do with that information.

*He acted this way the very first time he was supposed to meet your daughter. Shame on him. There are MANY other men out there who will treat you and her better.
posted by hydra77 at 2:03 PM on March 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

If someone says they are an alcoholic, believe them. Unfortunately, there is not test like for Cancer or Diabetes for this. This is something a person has to kind of come to a realization for themselves. Medically, like u2604ab said,

"It’s alcohol use disorder and it is graded as mild, moderate or severe. Severe alcohol use disorder includes physical dependency, withdrawal symptoms, etc. Mild/moderate disorder carries less risk, but the risks your boyfriends consumption carries are real."

But that is the medical aspect of this. In a day-to-day sense; an Alcoholic relates to alcohol differently. The description you give of him: drinking every day; getting antsy when not served promptly; drinking light beers like water etc. are very relatable aspects to me. He needs to get help; but only he can decide that for himself. You need to look after yourself first.

If possible go to an Al Anon meeting; if you are not against the AA culture; and see if you can relate to others who are also dealing with similar stuff.

I thought I would chime in as I have been sober for more than five years using the AA program.
posted by indianbadger1 at 2:08 PM on March 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Jesus. Yes he's an alcoholic. Yes he's a dick when he's drunk. Yes your teenage daughter noticed he was drunk. Yes you should go to al-anon. Yes you should dump him. And no, I didn't get more than halfway through the question.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:10 PM on March 5, 2019 [16 favorites]

Clinically, the word ‘alcoholic’ isn’t really defined anymore.

Around the time I quit drinking, I got kind of obsessed with finding what the "real" definition of alcoholism was (for me, eventually, a breakthrough was that I found I could simply define myself as someone who really needed to quit drinking, but that's another story). The closest thing I found (although I do not know if it counts as 'clinical') was from the AMA:

....a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.
posted by thelonius at 2:12 PM on March 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I grew up around drunks. We kids notice. Drunks generally vastly overestimate their ability to act sober.

Drunks are hard to read. Somewhat unpredictable. The ones I knew were generally but not always quiet.

I'm not going to say that the damage is incalculable. To some extent I feel like we are more robust, learning how to navigate others' intoxication.

I think though that it did make it harder for me to trust that the drunk, and the adults who put me in that environment really had my best interests in mind.
posted by kalessin at 2:14 PM on March 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I feel like you're carrying a lot of blame for the end of your relationship with your daughter's father. You also doubt whether your perception of your boyfriend's drinking is valid, because you grew up around drinkers and you enjoy drinking yourself. I would just caution you against believing the worst of yourself and the best of everybody else.

he has even told me he tried AA years ago, but that he wasn't like the other people there and didn’t belong there

Every alcoholic I know said the same thing. That doesn't make him special, and it's not a true statement.

At times it’s almost like I’m waiting for him to slip up, so I can have my “aha!” moment and have a good reason to end things.

Asking this question can be your "aha" moment. He's mean when he drinks, and he drinks more than you're comfortable with. You already have a good reason to end things.
posted by Nyrha at 2:29 PM on March 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

You deserve better. You owe him nothing. Maybe this can be a learning experience so that the next time someone tells you on a first date that they're an alcoholic and tells you they love you that you can see this for what it is: the beginning of Red Flag Time.

I don't think people like this always know when they're being manipulative, but the effect is the same whether it's conscious or not: if they get away with this once, the next time will be worse, and the next and the next the behavior will just escalate.

It's easy to get addicted to the drama if you're the kind of person (like me!) who will extend the benefit of the doubt over and over and over again. But when you free yourself, you'll realize how much energy it was taking out of you -- energy you should be expending on yourself and your daughter.

Best of luck. I hope asking this question was a turning point for you and you come back to give us an update in six months that your life is so much better now without him in it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:58 PM on March 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I know very well the hollow down to your core feeling of being all alone. I know the dread of walking into yet another company event without a guest. I’m all too familiar with the way it feels to be surrounded by the family you love and who loves you yet to still feel completely alone because you don’t have a partner in crime by your side. I really don’t think I can go back to that.

Dearest OP, guess what? A bunch of us single people live our lives day by day without feeling lesser-than because we are not partnered. We turn to friends, family, church members, fellow Al-Anon people (in my case), MeFites, and others for company. Sometimes we are sad, and sometimes we are lonely. Mostly, at least in my case, I'm just fine.

I left my husband in part because of his active drinking and my desire to give my daughter a better role model in life than a mom who stayed in a deeply unhealthy relationship. But I will be honest: Even if this guy wasn't drinking, it sounds unhealthy because it sounds like you think the absolutely worst thing in the world is to be alone with yourself.

Apologies if I am wrong about that. I used to be a bit like that. It took me lots of years of therapy and, eventually, Al-Anon and some other things before I understood what a wonderful person I am. I have fun alone as well as with others. Basically, I rock, I know that I rock, and I no longer hang out with people who are unable, for whatever reason, to appreciate my qualities. Life's too short to hang with people who are meh about me.

One of the most important skills for becoming a successful adult is learning to tolerate discomfort instead of running away from it. Whatever the discomfort (breaking up or getting together; going to something alone; going to something with someone who drinks too much, just whatever), it will not continue forever. The more often you practice facing the discomfort, the easier it becomes to remember that you can tolerate the discomfort, it will not last, and you will be okay.

At the moment I am single; maybe that will last forever, maybe not. I'm not much interested in living with anyone, but I am interested in companionship, sex, and body contact, and I am busy figuring out how to get the things I need to be happy. What do you need to be happy? What can you do on your own, with or without this guy, to have a better life for yourself as well as model healthy behavior for your kid?

BTW, I have no opinion if you should break up with this guy or not. I do strongly believe that you should cultivate your own talents, desires, goals, adventures, etc. to the absolute best of your ability. Because nothing is guaranteed. Partnered or not, we will all face aspects of life on our own; why not learn how to do that with excitement rather than dread? It's not easy, and I'm not pretending it is. But learning to thrive in your own company is a worthwhile goal and super fun when you get there.

Do consider attending Al-Anon meetings to get some clarity around your feelings. I am not religious nor spiritual but because reality is my higher power, I just let the God talk stuff wash over me. (Note: Your friend may be right about AA: It is not an evidence-based treatment, and many people do not get help at AA. But plenty of people do. Either way, that's up to him.)

In fact, his drinking is not actually your problem unless you let it be. Al-Anon can help you focus on your own self-care and mind your own business while staying out of his. One of the big lessons of Al-Anon is to always make a Plan B if you are partnered with/seeing/buddies with an alcoholic. People who drink too much are not dependable. Moreover, that's nothing personal. It may feel personal–it always did to me– but it actually has nothing to do with you at all. It's just the reality of hanging out with drinkers. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 3:12 PM on March 5, 2019 [13 favorites]

I'm not a parent, so take this with a grain of salt, but I would be extremely uncomfortable allowing someone with this sort of relationship to alcohol around my preteen child. At that age, she really needs to see adults model responsible alcohol use (which it sounds like you and the other adults in her life are doing!), not slurring and emotionally incontinent. She and her peers are going to start using alcohol sooner than you think and if you do break up with this guy, an honest conversation with her about why is probably the best gift you can give her right now.
posted by basalganglia at 3:35 PM on March 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think that you sound like a smart person. I'll bet he's pretty smart too. Smart people do just fine at destroying themselves. Has he expressed any interest in drinking less than the amount he is drinking right now? It must have come up, since he has expressed horror at his behavior while blacked out. Maybe you haven't had a straightforward conversation about it because you have a casual sort of relationship. It sounds like you're holding him at arm's length so far, and that both of you are fine with that.

I'm asking this because unlike a lot of people, I do believe--hell, I know--that people can and do change meaningfully for one another. But they really have to care, they have to be smart, and they have to be lucky. Sometimes people just need encouragement, and to see that somebody else thinks they're worthy of love. And sometimes they need a drill sergeant to tell them to get their shit together and mean it.

He's definitely an alcoholic. That part where you drink so much every day that you run out of the good brain chemicals and end the day weeping and catastrophizing... Yeah, that sucks to do and it sucks to be around when somebody else is doing it. Speaking only for myself, I feel like during that time that I was drinking that heavily, I had a warped view of what was good and bad in my life. Not only because every day felt like nothing but a lot of bullshit until I could start drinking, but because the things that you think about and say to others are self-reinforcing in a way. When you spend all that time being chemically unhappy about things, and talking about your life as if it's broken and you're broken because that's what you're feeling in the moment, you can even trick your sober self into believing all that--that you should be unhappy. Even when things are... not that bad.

I think that both of you can keep working on yourselves and become happier and healthier people, if you want to. Sometimes people can help each other do that. It's pretty great when that happens. It does sound like you two are complementary in some ways. And old friends can make wonderful partners; that's a good solid basis for a relationship. But one way or another, he's gotta get himself out of this hole.
posted by heatvision at 3:39 PM on March 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

He's not a good life partner, but I don't exactly get the impression you're looking for a life partner. If you are generally happy with the relationship, then keep at it. If you're only asking this question because you feel a social pressure to have certain expectations of a relationship, then forget about them and do what feels best. There's nothing wrong with settling for convenience if it's not hurting you.

If you're instead asking this because you want something different, then yes, you need to figure out whether you'd rather settle for this or look for something else. If you need to be monogamous to stay with him (I always recommend against monogamy but I understand it's very popular) then you need to ponder the possibility of being without a romantic partner, possibly indefinitely. I absolutely recognize how much that sucks; even though I'm someone who loves to spend 90% of my life alone, not having someone to spend that other 10% with me feels terrible. I get the sense though that a large part of your needs might be met by better social connections in general, not necessarily a romantic partner. Have you tried to get closer to people you click with? Found an activity to do with your daughter that could lead to you both meeting new people? Deepened your relationships with your favorite family members?
posted by metasarah at 3:57 PM on March 5, 2019

He is an alcoholic, as am I. I quite drinking about three months ago and was surprised when my girlfriend told me she could see a big difference in me. Aren't I the same guy I was when I drank? To her, my jokes were less biting and sharp now and she hadn't told me at the time, but she felt like she walked on eggshells to avoid making me emotionally upset.

This guy is in pain. And the alcohol masks or kills the pain, momentarily, and that is hard to give up. He WILL hide the amount he drinks. He WILL lie to make it look like less of a problem because he is embarrassed about losing control.

My real advice would be to make sobriety a condition of continued relationship. Either you mean enough for him to try continuously to get better (which might include relapses, but should also include honesty and repentance if a relapse occurs) or the alcohol is more important to him. That's something he will have to realize like I did.
posted by tacodave at 4:08 PM on March 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think the issue isn’t whether he is or isn’t an official alcoholic according to the accepted definition, but that his alcohol consumption causes problems for you.

Just because you have your shit together doesn’t mean you need to provide companionship to a guy who doesn’t bring anything to the table besides his 12-pack. You’re not in love with him, something about the relationship feels off, you’ve had more than one occasion already where he’s shown up drunk when you needed him to be sober. And worse, he’s been mean to you while he’s drunk.

And this has all been within the first year of dating? Girl, you should’ve dumped him the first time you were like “I’m dealing with something traumatic right now” and he was shitfaced and said you were an asshole. A partner is supposed to be there to support you when you’re going through stuff, not add to your stuff by being a shithead. This guy is not a partner to you and you deserve better. It doesn’t matter why he drinks too much. It’s his problem. You do not need this guy around. Your daughter 1000x does not need your drunk asshole boyfriend to be a father figure in HER life. “I know he would never hurt her” SO?! That is the bare minimum of common decency, to see a person and not hurt them.

Dump this loser already. You don’t even like him that much.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:26 PM on March 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

It actually doesn't matter whether he's an alcoholic or not. The bigger idea is that his alcohol use affects you. Which means...CONGRATS: You have qualified to attend Al-Anon!!! Find a meeting near you. Go to it. When they ask who's a newcomer, raise your hand. If you don't like that meeting, find another. They're all different. There are women's only meetings, morning meetings, meetings near your work or your house. Go. Learn. This will help you figure out what to do next.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:54 PM on March 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

I would think carefully about the kind of relationship you're modeling for your daughter. Would you want her to be dating this dude? No, right? Then why are you?
posted by Countess Sandwich at 5:55 PM on March 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

"how do you know when someone is an alcoholic"

"At the end of the night he told me that he was an alcoholic "

when he tells you he's an alcoholic, that's when you know he's an alcoholic. are you seriously asking the question?

he doesn't sound all that bad as a guy to drink with once or twice a week as long as you're careful never to let him around your daughter again or rely on him for anything but buying you dinner. I mean, he doesn't sound very dangerous compared to some active alcoholics, though that does not mean he is actually a good person for you to be around. but this very long question is really peculiar. he knows he's an alcoholic and he has both told you and shown you. he does not seem to need or want help from you.

I often fear what else is out there in terms of other men and how scary it would be to bring a total stranger into my daughter’s life.

especially if you don't trust your judgment of men, it would be a bad idea to bring a strange man into her life. and since she's already a teenager, you don't have to. you can keep dating men you're attracted to until you find one who isn't a raging alcoholic, if that matters to you, and when you do, you do not have to bring him into your daughter's life while she is still living with you.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:59 PM on March 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

sorry, edit window closed -- you said almost a teen, not already a teen. still, though.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:11 PM on March 5, 2019

I was going to do this whole thing where I quoted parts of your post back to you, weaving a strong, fervent case of DTMFA all over the place. But I got completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of DTMFA moments. So I'll simplify things for you.

You are entirely within your rights to fuck up your life by staying with this drunk asshole until the day you die.

But teaching your daughter that this is the kind of asshole she should spend her life with is inexcusable.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 6:26 PM on March 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

I am speaking from a place of much experience with the damage alcoholism brings into lives and families, so please forgive any harshness in my response, which is not intentional, and not directed at you at all. This guy is definitely an alcoholic, as exhibited by both his admission of such, and his behavior. Believe me, there is nothing more lonely than a life with a "partner in crime" who is an alcoholic. This person will not go to work events with you; you will need to have handy excuses every time as to why they aren't there. They will not be by your side; they might be right on top of you but certainly never helpful in any hard times, or working with you as a partner, for their partner is alcohol.

Alcoholics, when not in recovery, need to be social in nature; otherwise nobody would spend any time with them whatsoever. They tend to like to describe this as having a "magnetic personality", or "being a charmer" or a "people person" but what it really means is that they get drunk and they talk for as long as they talk for, to anyone who will listen. Usually drunk people but unfortunately, sometimes normal people with empathy. Their petty drama easily fills any "void" a person may have, which is unfortunate, because it makes it a lot harder to realize just how much they are bringing you down when you're always putting out the (for now) minor fires. Believe me, this could escalate quickly into not even full time job territory, but 24/7 damage control territory, with any minor or major loss he may experience, or even nothing at all.

All this crap about his abusive upbringing, his dead mom/dad/brother/cousin, is just that-crap. Not that a dead mom/dad/brother/cousin is "crap" but in the context of his larger existence, it's just an excuse and a way to initiative deep, temporary bonds with anyone with any feeling or sympathy. An instant conversation and pity party starter, if you will.

I feel like the real question should be is this guy an abusive alcoholic, and the answer to that is ALSO YES. When you came into hard times he told you to blow your ex (really??) versus exhibit any of the sympathy/empathy you've been consistently practicing towards him since date one. Why would you even imagine a world in which you bring this more deeply into your work or family life?

Even if you were 25 it would be realistic to say nobody is going to tick all the boxes, but one box you don't want to tick on the man checklist is "abusive drunk". Please please please stop thinking this is about defining or not defining if this man is an alcoholic, for he clearly is, and admits to it, and start thinking about that void you feel, and better ways to fill it.
posted by love2potato at 6:58 PM on March 5, 2019 [13 favorites]

I'm not reading all of it, and (or because?) I've had this experience too. The question is...does the drinking ever come first? Over you, your feelings, your relationship, your activities, even your sex life? If the answer is yes, then you really need to know what you are signing yourself (and your daughter) up for. I suggest finding Al-Anon, those meetings are amazing- whether he is or is not an alcoholic- go to some meetings, you don't need to know the answer immediately.
posted by bquarters at 7:15 PM on March 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ok, I read the rest of it. Please go to Al-Anon meetings near you. I don't know where you live but they say to try at least 6 different ones before stopping, or attend whichever ones are available 6 times but please go.
posted by bquarters at 7:21 PM on March 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

He has a drinking problem and you have a bad case of small-town-itis. Yes there are limited men available when you're in your 40s and still live in the town where you graduated high school. Yes it will impact your social life to break up with him BUT you're actually at an age where a whole bunch of new dating opportunities are about to open up as middle aged couples reshuffle partners. You can definitely do better than this. Especially if you dump him now and avoid the social repercussions of whatever drunken antics he gets up to in the meantime.

Plus you have a daughter. You cannot trust a black out drinker around a teenage girl. I'm sorry, but you just can't. You need to break up with this guy for your daughters sake. You don't want anything to happen and even if it doesn't you don't want her going off to college thinking that kind of drinking and abusive behavior is normal.
posted by fshgrl at 7:42 PM on March 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

I haven't read all the responses so forgive me if this has already been covered.

Yes. He is an alcoholic.

Get yourself to an Alanon meeting. As the adult child of an alcoholic who has subsequently dated addicts in various degrees, alanon has been a lifesaver. The first meeting was scary, but the journey has been so incredibly worth it.

Good luck, and I wish you peace as you make your way through this.
posted by Sequined Ballet Flats at 4:57 AM on March 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, thank you all so much for your responses. Some of these comments have hit me hard and I have a lot to consider.

Most importantly what I want to be clear about is that my daughter has not spent a significant amount of time with this man at all, and other than that day at his house, she has not seen him drunk. We have met out for dinner maybe twice and he has been to a few family functions with her there. She knows he’s my boyfriend but really doesn’t know him or much about him or the details of our relationship. If we break up, which I now know is just a matter of when, she will not be phased. And I have no interest in introducing either him or anyone else more into our day to day lives while she is growing up. I don’t want nor do either of us need any man other than her father in her life as a role model. For years I stayed single to solely focus on raising her and advancing my career. Only in the past year did I start to feel really lonely and begin to date someone on the few nights my daughter was with her dad. While that incident at his house was extremely unfortunate I am otherwise confident that this relationship is not affecting her well being in anyway. I’m sorry if this is coming across as defensive, but when I feel my parenting is being questioned I am.

After reading some comments I came right out and asked her what she thought about that day and if she thought he was acting strange. She said no and I said it was ok if she thought he was and we could talk about it. I told her he may be drinking too much sometimes and because of that I will probably end the relationship. She just said “oh”. We’ve openly discussed alcohol use and drugs many times before; I feel I’m doing my best in this area but I will definitely talk about this issue further with my therapist.

To those questioning why I’m still asking if he’s an alcoholic even after he has told me himself, I guess I’m naive and when he’s sober and he tells me he’s not and that he only said that because he was sad and only drinking too much because he was grieving, I believed him. I do not have personal experience with either substance abuse or the grieving process. I also do not lie so I tend to think other people don’t either. That’s why when I begin to feel like someone’s being untruthful it’s so hard for me to understand, because I’m always honest.

catspajammies At this point in the relationship I am admittedly more likely attached to not so much the social life but to having someone there. Please know it was not my intention to use him in this way when we began dating. I was really into him and was hoping to build a stronger relationship. It wasn’t really until after a few months of his behavior and me feeling exhausted with trying to ease his anxieties, give him advice, etc. did I begin to see the relationship for what it is and I’ve somewhat already checked out emotionally.

bluedaisy I have read about attachment styles and the avoidant style you detail describes me to a T (although I have wonderful loving parents)! This is something to consider exploring more deeply in therapy as well. This idea really makes me sad.

Again, I thank you all for taking the time to read my rambling post and your advice. I realize now I did come here to ask for permission to leave this relationship even though emotionally I’ve left a while ago. I guess now the question is how to go about doing so, because I am worried about him and I know I will miss the relationship. And yes, I understand I said I will miss the relationship, and not him...

Thanks again.
posted by Camrain at 5:33 AM on March 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

As another single parent with a lot going on, you’re avoidant because it’s smart for a single woman, with a daughter and career to take care of, to avoid the stress, hassle, and risk that comes with a serious relationship with a man. It’s an extremely common approach for single mothers—date mostly for fun, stay off the relationship escalator, keep things casual and compartmentalized. So don’t pathologize your own adaptive behavior! You sound like a smart, thoughtful person. If and when you’re ready you’ll no doubt find a more appropriate partner. (Or just enjoy being alone.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:46 AM on March 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Netflix's new One Day at a Time is partly, in the most recent season, about being a single Mom, feeling lonely, and NOT getting together with the wrong guy.
posted by kalessin at 6:52 AM on March 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

bluedaisy I have read about attachment styles and the avoidant style you detail describes me to a T (although I have wonderful loving parents)! This is something to consider exploring more deeply in therapy as well. This idea really makes me sad.

Oh, now I just want to make us tea and sit on a couch and chat. I'm actually re-reading that book, Attached, right now, and it says that attachment styles aren't only determined by what happened to us as babies, by how we were parented. That's a big part, of course! It may be partly genetic (there's new research on this, apparently). But also! Here's what's super important: our attachment styles can be greatly influenced by romantic relationships in adulthood. You're still carrying guilt about your on-again, off-again relationship with your daughter's father, and how could that not be impacting your current relationship? The good news is that we can shift attachment styles.

I really want you to borrow/buy and read this book! It's a pretty easy read, and I think you'd recognize a lot of your relationship patterns in it. I also think it would alleviate some of your guilt, because you would understand that there were emotional forces happening that were bigger than you could be aware of.

Also, I don't think you should feel any guilt or responsibility about ending your relationship. Your boyfriend is an adult. Adults are allowed to end relationships. Your job isn't to take care of him; your job is to take care of you and your daughter. And you're not going to somehow make amends for mistakes in your earlier relationship with your kid's dad by sticking it out in this relationship.

Good luck. Here's your virtual cup of tea.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:35 AM on March 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hello - I just wanted to re-iterate what others/you seem to be thinking yourself OP.

If he's telling you an alcoholic he's probably got a problem with drink/is an alcoholic.

I'm a recovering alcoholic, I did a lot of the things he did (drunk a lot more when grieving, sent messages to partners when drunk). My text were generally driven by my anxious attachment, but the alcohol on top of it all made is so much worse. It's not all sorted now I'm sober but getting a lot of therapy and reading Attached (as others said) has helped massively.

Put the focus back on yourself, if he's doing things that are upsetting (the text messages and other things) you don't need or deserve it. If he's got PTSD that's also sad, but he'll need to get therapy and support, and probably sober up (that's one of the many reasons I stay sober). When he's sober he'll regret what he does/says to you when drinking but it's impossible to separate the good from the bad. At this moment, he is who he is.

You deserve to have a happy life with your daughter, from all you've said he's got issues.

Best wishes.
posted by blue_eyes at 1:11 PM on March 6, 2019

Thank you bluedaisy; I will check out that book! And thank you as well blue_eyes...I wish you the best too.
posted by Camrain at 3:57 PM on March 6, 2019

You sound very grounded, and I admire the vulnerability and self-awareness it took to write this AskMe, and hear this feedback so non-defensively. You also sound like an incredibly loving and excellent mother, indeed. Bears repeating that absolutely none of this is your fault. It’s never a survivor’s fault that the abuse of her is very slowly escalating over time, like that analogy of a frog in a gradually boiling pot of water. Definitely get yourself a safety plan in place when you break up with him (yes, for your safety, this can be done over text— domestic violence organizations can be helpful with this), ideally hold the breakup with a live local support person available for yourself, perhaps even a Mefite in your area. Do not hesitate to block him everywhere if/when he drunk dials you, shows up at your house, etc, and won’t let you go peacefully. Also known as “Hoovering” back into your life and it’s a thing.

From one protective, marriage-free parent in her 40s to another, I hear you that you’re an introvert dating in an extroverted world, and I relate. We both need to make more good platonic friends who have our backs (a tall order, no?) so that the men we date do not wind up gatekeeping our entire local social network, and thereby trapping us somewhat with a raised social price of us leaving a subtly/escalating abusive situation.

Lastly, despite the sexist messaging of our youth-obsessed culture, 45 is actually really young! Men who date women are quite plentiful out there in the world. Instead of catastrophizing about the imagined difficulties, it’s better to keep a mindset of abundance when you date. “Dick is plentiful” and all. Know your amazing worth, and be picky. Recommended reading: “How to Spot a Dangerous Man, before you get involved” by Sandra L. Brown, M.A. My best to you on the journey!
posted by edithkeeler at 4:37 AM on March 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

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