“I am a divorced woman who was married for 25 years. For the past 13 months, I have been dating a man who is wonderful in many ways but still enjoys partying on a nightly basis. He gets high on weed a couple of evenings a week and also downs 24 to 48 ounces of wine as part of his typical routine. I have spoken to him a number of times about this because it seems like excessive behavior for a 54 year-old man, but he insists that he’s just having fun, that he has never missed work or gotten a DUI over it, and that his health is fine. He says, “I’m straight all day. Why should I have to be that way at night?” My instincts are telling me to run away even though I care deeply for him. Am I being too much of an alarmist?”
Marijuana and alcohol certainly have important places in our society, and I think either can be useful as part of the unwinding process, not to mention as social lubrication, a bonding ritual, or an important start, end, or accompaniment to a meal. But let’s look at two things that tell me that you’re not being an alarmist and need to dump this guy–and they have nothing to do with his age, although being 54 does add a little more pathos to his situation. First, if a standard glass of wine is about 5 oz., that means that your guy consumes 5-11 glasses of wine in an evening. At the low end, that’s an entire bottle; at the high end, call up Franzia because we’re reaching into box o’ wine territory. The movie Sideways showed us that just because wine is expensive and carries cachet doesn’t change the fact that someone who drinks massive amounts of it is an alcoholic who will probably destroy his life. It looks like he’s already beginning to push you away–blotting you out by getting blotto whenever he’s around you. Happy people who want to be real partners don’t do this. The brings me to my second point, which is that you’ve known this guy for just over a year. If he’s drunk and high most evenings and you both work during the day, that means that you’ve only seen and gotten to know him drunk or high. We might say that means you don’t know the real him, although that’s not necessarily true: he is a drunk and a pothead, and he is not interested in changing. If you yourself were a regular consumer of pot and alcohol and were comfortable with that, I’d be less concerned for you two as a couple: shared hobbies can help lovers bond. But at the very least, you’re uncomfortable with his drinking and smoking, and that means you’re uncomfortable with who he is, which will become irreconcilable pretty soon. Why does he need to be drunk or high all the time to be with you, even if you’re not participating or only participating reluctantly?
However you think you feel about him, you don’t really know him because you can’t really know somebody whose primary day-to-day activities involve being high and drunk, and you can’t not be high and drunk if you drink and smoke that much. Most of us have settled down from our wild ride by the time we’re in our thirties. Usually we find things that are more meaningful to us to fill the space that partying all the time (not some of the time) takes up, like career, family, creative pursuits, sports, and other passions. Like aging rock stars before them, some men hold onto the frat/party boy lifestyle for too many years out of the fear of settling down and losing their youth and virility, but it this is really an indication that they’re not ready for what comes next in the maturation process. We all know how the rock star story ends, and it’s not pretty. (Think Keith Richards’ face and lungs, Axl Rose’s isolation, and Jimi Hendrix drowning in his own vomit.) It’s not just that the alcohol and drugs are a problem but what they indicate: he unable to look clearly at who he is, unable to consider what he wants, and incapable of appreciating the present on its own. The fact that he can’t do this means that there is something in or about his life that’s intolerable without an assist from excessive drugs and alcohol. So, yes, he’s too old for this. You’ve already indicated to him that you’re concerned about his behavior, and he’s made it clear that he’s not interested in changing. If you want to give him one more chance, the only thing you can say is that he has to make a choice between his daily partying and being with you. If he refuses, then it’s time to move on. Should he clean up, you might be surprised by who he is when he’s not drunk or high. Beware that some people who have based their whole adult personas on drunk and high versions of themselves are not so interesting once they become sober.
You’re not alarmist. You are allowed to make a demand, as a Sally suggested, but be prepared for him to react badly. You know all those Judd Apatow movies in which the charming but immature twenty- or thirty-something guy frets about the choice between bromance, drugs, booze, hookups and domesticity? The real version of that can be much less charming but more juvenile, violent, and accusatory, and will often involve sulking comments like, “You’re just trying to be my mom,” or “You’re trying to make me old and dried up.” Also, the immature guys in those movies are 20 to 30 years younger than your man. David just asked if your guy has to stop boozing and puffing completely for him to be relationship-worthy. We’re not sure, but probably. We see a place for occasional heavy partying within a healthy relationship, but this man might not be capable of that. Alcoholics have a hard time doing what most normal people do: drinking and smoking regularly for a light buzz only and getting wasted on special occasions, though hopefully not special occasions like your wedding, anniversary, Christmas, or anywhere else where it’s going to disrupt your relationship. So yeah, alarm bells are ringing. End it.