Ask John: "Should I break up with the man I love because he’s an alcoholic?"
A woman wrote, and asked me to respond to, the question below. My response follows the question. *
I wanted to ask your opinion on being in a relationship with an alcoholic.
I fell in love with a man before realizing that’s what he is. Now, because of his drinking, I am about ready to move on. He is a good man: generous, kind, creative, industrious, open, encouraging, never critical or harsh to me. Except for his prodigious alcohol consumption, he also takes good care of himself.
For my sake, he periodically tries to cut down on his drinking, but it’s never too long before he’s drunk (though never sloppily so) all day and well into the night. Although he already has one DUI, he refuses to go to AA, claiming he doesn’t have a problem. Though I’d like to deepen our relationship by moving in with him (or marrying him, which is what he wants), my gut is telling me to just break it off with him. Your thoughts?
Binding your life to this man’s life would be like chaining an anvil to your leg and leaping off a boat: down you’d go, into the drink. For the object of your affection has, alas, already found his one true love, and she comes in a bottle. And there’s nothing you or anyone but he can ever do to alter his abiding, profound and tragic relationship with the mistress he finds so irresistibly intoxicating.
Sigh. What a drag, when someone you love is caught in the clutches of addiction. It’s so painful.
But you cannot let his pain become yours. If you marry this guy, one of two things is guaranteed to happen to you. You will either start drinking right along with him, or you will become his codependent — his enabler, his facilitator, his crutch.
Either way, you drown.
And either way, by the way, he floats. Not to in any way belittle or minimize the quality of the relationship you have with this man, but it’s not exactly a surprise that he’s eager to marry you. Every alcoholic is thrilled by the prospect of marrying a nonalcoholic. Because then they know they’ll have someone to take care of them, to keep their life in order and humming along, to tend to all those pesky responsibilities, obligations and chores that one finds so impossibly taxing when one is busy curling up inside a glass.
Mothering a man who can’t be a husband is no way to spend your life. Run away!
Except don’t, really. Do not make the mistake of feeling that you’re stuck between the two choices of marrying this man and removing him from your life. Don’t forget what’s behind door No. 3: Keeping him as a friend. Just because he isn’t marriage material doesn’t mean he’s not friend material. There’s no law that says you have to marry every man whose company you enjoy keeping, is there?
From "Ask John," the advice column I wrote for the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper (part of the USA Today Network) from October 2016 through January 2020.