Given those two facts, her loveliness and her affinity for alcohol, I was not too alarmed at the start of our relationship. She was hilarious, she was highly functional, and she was a physical homage to fitness and pleasure. To say we started in the bedroom would be to miss the fact that we’d known each other for several years before we go together. But we revved up the bedroom as soon as we cleared the initial dating hurdles. And quicker than my mind or heart had a chance to register any alarm at the wine charm that formed a good part of her evening, I was in love. Or whatever you call it at the early stages of a relationship when you’re crazy about someone and overlook the red flags.
Her Drinking, My Problem
The first time I put her to bed in a slurry state was in week three. I sat down on her couch and contemplated my predicament.
- I could not be with an alcoholic
- I didn’t know what high-functioning alcoholism looked like
- She was so amazing in her beauty, fitness, and humor
- Maybe she was just tired
- Maybe I should run for the hills
- I didn’t want to be alone
- I was into the sex, really into it
Later that week I talked to my therapist. He introduced me to the concept of “harm reduction.” Maybe she did like to drink a bit too much. Was it harming anyone? Was my reaction to her drinking my problem or hers? What would constitute a problem? Did I have to make a decision right at this moment, either way?
I stayed in the relationship. I fell further in love with this amazing woman. And in some moments of revery, I tried to join her in the hazy evening glow of pinots or margaritas. But it wasn’t ever going to be my thing. And it was definitely her thing. Still, I was open to the relationship, to staying curious about whether the drinking was an issue or just an issue for me. Well, I learned, those are the same thing. If it’s an issue for one of you it’s an issue. But that awareness would come later on.
Jumping Into the Heart of Love
And then we were in New York City, and we were talking about marriage, and we bought (she bought) rings for us at Tiffany’s. And in a matter of months, I had exactly what I thought I wanted. A Relationship with a capital “r” and an energetic and enthusiastic partner. And a hopefulness about all that was ahead for us. We got engaged, we walked 12-mile-days around the city, and we committed to better or worse, in theory. We didn’t set a date, but we set our intentions. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” she said. I agreed.
But Not All That Glitters is Gold
And life roared on. I passed through a few jobs. She sold a house and moved in with me. Then bought a house for us and my two kids. And within a year we seemed to be well on our way towards the marriage we had both hoped for in previous attempts. I was writing my TV pilot. She was getting promoted at work and we were traveling around the world together, in a fantastic runway towards our eventual marriage. It was awesome.
Then my wheels came off. Right at a peak moment, as we were traveling to England for my band to play The Cavern Club, I slipped into a deep depression. The job I had fired me unceremoniously the day before we left. My TV pilot was not getting the traction I needed to keep striving forward. And some sort of freefall hit me.
Looking back I can now see how the alcohol issue was causing me some concerns. I had begun writing The Third Glass series of posts here. (How ironic that she knew about and even encouraged my posts about her drinking, and yet…) But it was not her drinking that took me down. Often my depressions come after some major financial setback. (Divorce, job loss, ex-wife filing against me with the AG’s office) Somehow, in my mind, my prospects for employment were damaged, my belief in my own creative prowess (writing and music) was waining, and my relationship had a serious flaw.
We stumbled along together, but the issues only compounded.
“How can you be sad, you’ve got me?” she asked.
“It doesn’t work that way,” I tried to explain. But it’s hard to explain hopelessness at the existential level to someone who thrives on positive momentum.
Making Critical Choices
I don’t think she is to blame for not recognizing that her drinking was hurting me. Her drinking was not the principal reason I was depressed. But there were choices being made, on both our parts, that were not towards a more healthy relationship. I was holding on for dear life. She was tolerating me, hoping I would pull out of it.
In the end, she was making a choice to turn towards the fog of drinking each night, rather than sit in the bummed out relationship with me. It’s hard to know why anyone develops a nightly drinking habit. Are they self-medicating some depression of their own that they are unable to attack head-on? Are they simply escaping the everyday grind of life? In our case, was she checking out of the damaged relationship and into her own oblivion? I don’t know. And I can’t begin to unravel it for her.
What I do know is that in the end, when I called to let her know I was heading off to a second date with a new woman I was interested in, she pleaded for about thirty seconds. She would quit drinking. She didn’t want it to just end. But over the course of the two years, we were together we never addressed her drinking directly. We talked about it. We talked around it. I wrote about it. And perhaps I did not do enough to demand she change her intake to be more present with me. But again, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business how to manage the other person. I made my desires known, she continued to drink. I tried to drink with her from time to time. But it was not my daily go-to activity.
The Close of Business Between Us
It was heartbreaking, stumbling through a relationship as it’s coming apart. I could not pull up out of my depression. She could not figure out what she was getting from me in such a depressed state. And she chose her single-and-traveling lifestyle over being with me. But at that moment, in the end, I still loved her, still wished it had worked out for us. I still felt the dream we had written for our future. But somewhere along the path, we both turned away from the relationship and towards our previous dysfunctions. I was sad. She was drinking. And we were going out separate ways.
As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.
Get the complete single dad story with John’s new book: Single Dad Seeks (available in all formats)
More posts from The Third Glass series:
- The Trouble with Alcohol: She Likes To Drink, I Don’t
- The Third Glass is an Anti-Aphrodisiac for Me
- Drinking Fuzzy Navels and Spending Time Together Doing Nothing
- Drinking Is Not the Problem: It’s the Emotional Exit that Wrecks Relationships
- Why Adding Cocktails to Your Emotional Mix Might Not Be Working
- If Drinking is An Issue In Your Relationship: Check-in w/ Yourself