Tag Archives: is she an alcoholic

Drinking Fuzzy Navels and Spending Time Together Doing Nothing


A drink together says, “I’m with you. I am here. We have time.”

As you eventually become an adult, there are opportunities for self-regulation that begin to define you. For example, if food is your thing, you might give in frequently to the call of a Big Mac and fries. And for some folks the casual drink is the indulgence that gives them a warm fuzzy feeling. But again, as we evolve as adults we begin to look beyond the buzz and towards other objectives.

I’ve been learning a lot about my relationship to alcohol in the last six months, as I’ve been dating, and now living with, a woman who likes to drink. And  am exploring and dissecting why *any drink* at a certain time of day feels to me like an escape, a withdrawal of some kind. Is it? Is it just me and my projections? Do I set myself above the drinkers because I abstain most of the time?

Today, I don’t plan out my day by deciding if and when I’m going to have ice cream. I don’t think that much about it.

The other day, I got a chance to understand a bit of my own motivation in not drinking. My sweetie was excited about a new bottle of perseco (Italian sparkling wine) and I have to admit it looked delicious. It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday. She casually poured two glasses and offered me one.

I didn’t mean to, but in some way I shamed her. I giggled and said, “No thank you honey. I don’t want that.” I was not trying to be mean, but the giggle was an indication that something else, my own issues, was in play. In some ways I thought she was adorable with her two flutes of champagne, and in some other region of my brain my reaction was, “What? I’ve still got things to do, and goals to accomplish.” And in fact, I was at that moment contemplating a late afternoon cup of coffee. I was on my way up and somehow the offer of a cocktail felt like an invitation towards distraction, disconnection, debauchery. WAIT! What?

It wasn’t that I imagined my sweetheart was a drunk or lazy or something distasteful. But it did rub me the wrong way. It made me feel superior in my denial of the diversion. Again, I was not consciously telling her she was bad, but my giggle said something else, and I wanted to look at what this was.

I was saying, “Awww, you’re cute. Look at you with your mid-afternoon cocktail. Not for MEEEEE. I’ve got dreams to accomplish, songs to write, posts to publish. I’ve got aspirations and I’m going to fuel them with caffeine not alcohol.” WOO HOO! But the message was clear, even if unspoken. “I’m better than you for not drinking. I’m stronger, more creative, and obviously more in control of my hedonistic impulses.”

But I was telling myself a lie with this line of reasoning. I was trying to set myself above the person I loved. I was trying to prove my sobriety was a badge of honor.

POINT OF ORDER: Not drinking is not heroic or valiant. Not drinking is a choice.

Okay, when I started trying to look beneath my bravado and self-congratulatory shaming, I wanted to understand what the disconnect was for me as this beautiful and caring woman offered me an invitation to enjoy a tasty beverage with her.

Sometimes that is exactly what is called for in life and in a close relationship. Let go. Let yourself be intoxicated and alone with the mere presence of another person.

A few weeks ago, we were vacationing in New York City and we were spending our afternoons exploring the city on foot. And as we traipsed around the city, I noticed how my attitude about drinking together was different. In New York, “on vacation,” I allowed my own self-judging, self-regulating attitude to relax a bit. A cocktail in the afternoon on vacation might lead to lovemaking and a nap. DELICIOUS.

One evening as we were chilling in the hotel restaurant/bar I suggested tequila shots. (Tequila tends to have some kind of inhibition release for both of us, and it was Saturday night, and we were in New York City, on a vacation we’d planned for months.)

The tequila shots were delicious. And as I went back to get my truffle oil fries, I swung by the bar and got us another round. Something in me was enthusiastic about the alcohol and the warm rush of tequila fairies around my chest and neck.

Two things seem to be illuminated by these different situations and approaches to drinking with my sweet woman.

  1. For me alcohol is an occasional release, a flight into fuzzy navels and potential escape. As a joining activity, the flood of joy and warmth is as intoxicating as the alcohol itself.
  2. A drink together is a way of slowing the world down, letting go of dreams and expectations of the evening, or afternoon, and allowing the infusion of alcohol and proximity to draw you closer.

When I am still mapping out options and ideas for the evening or late afternoon, a drink is almost comical to me. It laughs at the poems and songs I want to write and says, “Ah, come sail away with me.”

Sometimes that is exactly what is called for in life and in a close relationship. Let go. Let yourself be intoxicated and alone with another person. And while a drink is not required for these feelings to be expressed, the liquid lubrication can often loosen expressions of both concern and adoration in a non-threatening way.

A drink together says, “I’m with you. I am here. We have time.”

For me, if that decision came on a daily basis… “Hm, is it beer-thirty yet?” I think I would constantly be trying to make a choice about “being creative” or “being buzzed.” I have taken a good portion of my life and growing up to get my impulsive nature under control. For example, ice cream might be my kryptonite, but I don’t have to eat it just because it’s in the fridge. Today, I don’t plan out my day by deciding if and when I’m going to have ice cream. I don’t think that much about it. (Disclosure: if there is some tasty ice cream in the fridge I may crave it at all times of the day, but I don’t act on those cravings.) If alcohol had the same craving for me, I’d have to work a lot harder not to have it around, and not to set my objectives and quitting time by when I could have my first cocktail.

[Something about this explanation still feels defensive and superior. I know there is work to be done for me.]

Step one is allowing my sweet woman to manage her own life, her own afternoons, and her own creative, loving, inspirational trajectory. And my goal is not to put expectations on her for what we are doing “later tonight” unless I explicitly make plans with her. Since we are together now, so often, it can be easy to just assume we will be connecting and snuggling every single evening, even when that isn’t feasible or desirable.

Still, there is something in me that feels a pinch of sadness when she waxes poetically about a new malbec in the middle of the afternoon. My options are to smile and say nothing. To offer up plans that might point us both in a different direction. Or, releasing my own self-judgement, and joining her in a celebration of a day well spent and “beer-thirty” and “let’s see where this night takes us, together, no matter what we do.”

It seems to me, some of my resistance (and even repulsion) to alcohol is it’s ability to blunt my senses, to make me a bit more relaxed than I am without it, and to signal an end to my productive, obsessive, always-on, creative narrator. When I was younger I never wanted to miss a detail. I’m still a bit obsessed by being clear-headed and creative at all times. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to illuminate some detail of my past or future live.

Currently my sweetheart and I sail along together. I am learning to say what I want, what my intention are for the afternoon (on a Saturday, for example) and thus set some expectations for her of how I would and would not like to interact. I can only assume that when I suggest drinks it lubricates a fond and familiar togetherness for both of us. I am learning to embrace this idea and indulgence of time and attention.

POINT OF ORDER: A cocktail together cordons off a bit of time where your focus can be exclusively on the other person and the joy at simply being together.

A drink together says, “I’m with you. I am here. We have time. Let’s set off into the sunset and see where this journey takes us.”

Setting aside time to be with another person is a special thing. Allowing that time to have no agenda and no expectations is yet another level of joy and togetherness. For me, a drink can enhance the joy or dull the prospects of the follow-on activity. The choice is more about perspective than what is right or wrong. Navigating a relationship is about expressing your desires and expectations and not letting unspoken agreements or disagreements cause resentment. Love is the number one thing. Time is the ingredient. Stirring in coffee or tequila can have a radically different effect on the course of the evening.

Do I always wish that she would go for a cup of coffee rather than a glass of wine? No. Do I always have some twinge of pain when she pours another glass of wine? No. Am I learning what my relationship to alcohol looks like? Yes. Do I have the answers? Hell no.

Onward and upward, together.

John McElhenney

back to Dating After Divorce

additional posts:

image: my sweetheart’s fingers, cc john mcelhenney 2015, creative commons usage

The Third Glass is an Anti-Aphrodisiac for Me


A wine rack does not an alcoholic make, a wine lover does not a problem reveal, drinking is not the devil’s work, prohibition has never solved anything.

I’ll admit, drinking from time to time is fun. Last night for example, we had a round of margaritas at a nice restaurant. And the happy hour appetizers made the accidental outing more like dinner than the spontaneous happy hour it actually was. And as I was the driver, I waved off the second round for me as I was nodding for my sweetheart to have another. It was a warm fuzzy of an evening at that point. All sparkle ponies and grinning selfies from the comfy couch.

We were both feeling fine when we left before the real dinner crowd arrived. We’d missed the major 5 o’clock traffic jam and arrived home in 20 minutes. In the kitchen we discussed what movie or show we were going to watch.

“Well, I think we’re going to need a short format show,” I said, as she poured a glass of wine. Sure there was a moment of disappointment as I acknowledged her eventual departure, but I was okay with the idea. I had things I could do after she fell asleep.

“I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”

And that’s really part of the deal. If the third glass becomes routine we will be spending a lot less quality time, lovey dovey time in bed, a lot less deep explorations of our thoughts, aspirations, and plans. When the third glass enters the equation I begin to clamp down on the inspired discussions about plans, hopes, and dreams. There’s some pause on my part, when the smooth and slippery tone enters her voice. It’s cute. I’m not angry about it. I just begin to plan what else I’m going to do after she falls asleep.

The night before, as she put her empty wine glass on the kitchen table, saying, “Might leave this out for a bit more.” We smiled at each other as we did the dishes and generally cleaned up the kitchen together.

As we were down to the finishing bits I picked up the empty wine glass and said, “Would you like me to wash this?” I smiled. I was not being passive aggressive, she knew exactly what I was asking. She picked up the glass, smiled at me and proceeded to fill it with ice chips. Both options were still available to her. She poured the glass full of bubbly water. A new smile crossed her face. The smile that acknowledged that she would rather stay close, connected, and beside me for the night.

“Because I’m fine either way,” I said, before she had decided. “It’s just that if your going to have another one you’ll probably be pretty sleepy. Maybe we’ll skip the show all together.”

Her decision was towards me. Later in bed we talked a bit more about it.

“I hope my hint wasn’t to over the top or irritating to you,” I said.

“No, it’s good. I want to stay close. You’re a good influence on me.”

“I just don’t want you to miss a minute of this live between us. I’m so enthralled and in love that any distraction takes me away from being 100% aware and present for you.”

“I don’t want to miss any of you either.”

“So I didn’t hurt your feelings?” I asked, reaching out to take her hand. I wanted to get this moment crystal clear between us.

“Nope,” she said. “I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”

“Well, not all times,” I said. “It’s okay to imbibe a bit. It’s even okay to go for glass four and five if that’s what you want to do.”

“I like that you don’t really drink that much. It makes me more conscious of my drinking. And I know less is better for me, and better for us to stay close.”

The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face.

I took her in my arms and kissed her deeply. “There isn’t enough time in the rest of our days together for me to tell you and show you how much I love you. I’m going to express it as often as I can, and the more you receive the more we both grow.”

It’s hard, sometimes, being the light drinker. I occasionally feel sorry for myself, wishing I had an easier way to eliminate the drinks for the evening. It has crossed my mind at various times to make some demands, to set a challenge in place, but that’s also my child of an alcoholic talking, rather than a compassionate and loving partner.

Let me get this straight. She’s not an alcoholic. She likes to drink. Occasionally she likes to drink more than she likes to be with me. Together, when we are drinking, there’s a warm fuzzy glow. Most of the time, I turn back to water and clarity of purpose so I can get on with some of my aspirations. I’m not against letting one rip, but I don’t ever aspire to have a hangover. And that’s enough for me. A buzz is fun. Intoxication is not. For me.

The navigation and negotiation around drinking or not drinking is an on-going discussion in many relationships. Often it’s a struggle within an individual to make the choice away from that third glass. But my dry-drunk mentality is no healthier than the alcoholic’s. I am in my own fantasy/nightmare that has very little to do with her and her third or fourth glass.

Had I allowed the knee-jerk asshole to pass judgement on her and *any* drinking, I could’ve easily passed on the love of my life. I believe we have a lasting partnership. I also know we’ll have plenty future conversations about drinking, not drinking, wine or beer, or in my case, more often than not, bubbly water.

Our worlds have collided and in some ways merged. For the better. I’m enjoying a bit more downtime. She’s enjoying a bit more ON time as we head into the evening’s entertainment with clarity of focus and intention. And then we can reverse the mode as well. Alcohol is certainly not the only inebriant. Stress, lack of sleep, lack of healthy food, all produce altered states of mental health. Even a sleeping pill I love has the potential to give me a buzz rather than kicking off a good night’s sleep when I’ve had a bit too much afternoon coffee.

We are on this journey together. She is open to my questions and suggestions  and desire for her to be more present when we make love, for example. She is okay with dancing her dance and meeting me halfway in the discussion about what WE want. The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face. She confronted and accepted my depressive episode. She laughed and applauded my recent job loss from the mean dysfunctional corporate gig.

Here we are.

I may cross over to the realm of the third glass and beyond from time to time, when we don’t have to drive anywhere. But the choice to be come less conscious is conscious. Decide consciously when are about to fill up your third glass. Talk about the evening with your significant other. If your plans have different trajectories, don’t judge or complain about. Take responsibility to say what you want and what makes you happy. Every night is a new conversation. Less and less about alcohol.

We’re just beginning our journey together. I cannot assume my ideas are correct and her’s are flawed. She is not flawed or damaged. She is strong and leaning in to all the aspects of me. I am learning to let go of my own baggage and lean into her, and all her facets as well.

The journey is marvelous and it continues.

This post is a continuation of the Third Glass idea:
The Trouble with Alcohol: She Likes To Drink, I Don’t

Always Love,

John McElhenney

The “Third Glass” series:

back to Positive Divorce & Co-parenting

related posts:

image: cork’d in pictures, ben and kas askins, creative commons usage