For the first time since getting sober, I am in a serious relationship. Actually, it’s my first serious relationship in years, even before getting sober. Once sobriety became a priority in my life, I’ll admit that I started thinking about how much easier it would be if I dated someone who was also clean. We could go to meetings together, talk about sobriety, really understand each other. In reality, that was a bad idea. Alcoholics, myself included, are unpredictable, often impulsive, and have a lot of their own shit going on. Putting two people like that together is sometimes a recipe for disaster.
My boyfriend, who I have been dating for eight months, is not sober. But he is also not an alcoholic. He is a normie, someone who can sit down with a beer, drink it, and move on with his life instead of getting shit-faced. That is where we differ. I’ll admit, it hasn’t been easy at times. But all in all, his stable, calm demeanor balances my high-strung tendencies. Dating someone different than myself has been eye-opening. Being so close to someone who drinks like a normal person has taught me about him, but also about myself. Here’s what you should know when dating a normie.
1. Be upfront and honest right away. Sometimes people feel weird drinking around me, but on one of our first dates, I told my boyfriend I didn’t mind it. In a one-on-one setting, most people still don’t drink in front of me because they feel uncomfortable. But he didn’t. We were watching TV and he cracked open a bottle and I smiled, because unlike other people, he had believed me when I said it didn’t bother me. He didn’t ask for reassurance or tiptoe around it. He took what I said at face-value, and that set the tone for much of our relationship. If I had said I wasn’t okay with it, he either wouldn’t have done it, or would have anyway and that would have spoken volumes. Just be open about how you really feel about people drinking around you.
2. Try not to limit what they do. I often feel somewhat guilty if my boyfriend wants to go out and I don’t. Since getting sober, bars just aren’t what they used to be. I still go occasionally, but I have to be in the right mood to deal with the low lighting and loud atmosphere. So if he wants to go and I know that it will just irritate me, I encourage him to go without me. He shouldn’t suffer because of my life choices. He can go out, have a few beers with the guys, and I will still be there when he gets home. Space is even good sometimes.
3. Tell them when you are having off days. Typically, I couldn’t care less about my boyfriend having a beer or two, but some days it just irritates me because I want to be normal, or I’m just in a bad mood. In these instances, which aren’t often, I just tell him. Since he isn’t an alcoholic, he can deal with not having a beer. It’s not the end of the world for him. If he had a problem with me asking him not to drink in front of me, I think there would be a lot of underlying issues in the relationship.
4. Make sure that when you’re together, there is always something besides alcohol to drink. My boyfriend usually is good about this and has soda pop or Gatorade in the fridge. I don’t know if he does this on purpose or not, but either way I appreciate it. When I know we are having people over I am extra careful about making sure to have something on hand to drink. My go-to is Mountain Dew Kickstarts because they are energy drinks, they come in large cans, and they taste great. That way I don’t feel tempted at all and I don’t feel like an outcast.
5. Make sure they don’t leave you out. One of my biggest frustrations with sobriety is when people think I won’t want to go somewhere because there will be alcohol. This is so far from the truth, especially when you consider that there is alcohol most places that young adults frequent. Making sure my boyfriend knows to at least invite me to these types of places is important to me. If he didn’t, it would just result in hurt feelings and frustration. The people closest to you have to trust that you have enough of a handle on yourself to make your own choices when it comes to being around drinking.
6. Learn what kind of drunk they are. If you’re dating a normie, it’s somewhat unavoidable that at one point or another, they will be drunk around you. This is a good thing, actually. It allows you to understand what kind of drinker they are and determine if that is something you can tolerate in your life. In eight months, I’ve seen my boyfriend drunk once. It was more entertaining than anything, but it was also a little bit weird for me. I think he picked up on that because he hasn’t been drunk since. Intoxicated, yes. But not overly drunk.
7. If they don’t respect your choices, leave. Luckily, I haven’t had this issue, but if I did, I wouldn’t stick around. If I was dating a normie who didn’t think I actually had a drinking problem and pressured me to drink, it clearly wouldn’t be a good relationship. Your partner should respect your choices, even if they don’t necessarily understand them. Even better, they should respect and understand your choices.
8. Try to help them understand your past, especially if they didn’t know you then. I met my boyfriend when I was already sober, so he never knew how I was when I was drinking. I sometimes wonder if he thinks I’m overreacting by no longer drinking, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve done my best to make it clear why I stopped drinking. I’ve told him stories and showed him pictures of the person I was when using, and I think it’s become clear to him why I stopped. He’ll never really, truly grasp it, but then again no one will, with the exception of myself.
9. Practice respect. As with many things in life, it all comes down to respect in the end. As in any relationship, the two people must respect each other and the choices each makes if they want the relationship to continue to be successful.