Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I am dating a very newly recovering alcoholic; he’s been sober five months. We have known each other for almost two years and share many friends, most of whom knew him when he was still married and witnessed the toll his addiction took on his past relationship. He and I met post-divorce, but I am acquainted with his ex through mutual friends.
We have taken our relationship very slow over the past five months. We first became physically intimate the day before he had an incident that would result in his becoming sober. I have not pressured him to make any commitment other than to sobriety. As a result, we recently dropped the “L” bombs and are in a committed, healthy relationship!
Here’s the problem: Our closest friends can’t seem to be happy for us! My best friend explicitly told me our relationship makes her “anxious.” His best friend is constantly trying to tell me I need to be harder on him about this or that.
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How do I get our friends to (1) stop comparing me to his ex-wife; and (2) stop acting like at any moment he is going to go on a drunken rampage and ruin my life? He is in therapy and I am not blind to the possibility of a relapse, but is it too much to ask that people see him for the kindhearted, loving, strong man he is for me, and stop making everything about his alcoholism?
— All They See Is the Alcoholic
DEAR ALL THEY SEE IS THE ALCOHOLIC: I see the alcoholic, too — but I also see a cute-ism (“L bombs”), a dash of codependency (the “kindhearted, loving, strong man he is for me,” emphasis mine), and a predominant interest in the way you appear to others.
Would you please, please please, for you, go to Al-Anon? It’s not your job to change the way people look at or think of your new love. Al-Anon would be an appropriate tutorial not just in recognizing that boundary, but also in preparing yourself for the possible challenges in sharing your life with an addict. Many have been down your path and have wisdom to share.
And while it is, again, not your job to serve as your boyfriend’s publicist, it would probably help settle your friends’ nerves — and dispose them more kindly toward your relationship — if they knew you were taking seriously the challenge of dating a man in recovery. As in, go-to-a-meeting seriously.
Your closest friends’ opinions are theirs to have, period. But it sounds from your own description as if they came to these opinions through the hard experience of watching him self-destruct. That suggests they’re not just being busybody downers, and you take their insights lightly at your peril. Don’t kid yourself, either, that you and your boyfriend can erase everyone’s doubts just by showing how much you lerve, loave and luff each other.
What will create a strong relationship is your boyfriend’s continued health and your continued strength and happiness. Work on those. Allow people to see, too, that neither you nor he nor your relationship is 100 percent perfect; needing to put on a good show for others really greases that downslope to cover-ups and denial. Nurture intimacy and honesty, and let appearances take care of themselves.