Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Argument Hangover: My fiancé comes from the home of an alcoholic parent and an absentee parent. As a result, he is incredibly uncomfortable around alcohol. I come from a family where wine is drunk nightly and alcohol isn't a big deal. When we first started dating, he would also drink wine or beer with me. However, now he very rarely drinks (maybe once a month and only if we are going out) and dislikes it when I do. I like to have wine usually on a nightly basis, but these days, it always becomes a big deal between us. He says that it is wrong for me to drink every night (two-to-three glasses of wine over a five-to-six hour period) and that I have a problem with alcohol. I do not feel this is the case, but sometimes won't enjoy a glass of wine just to avoid an argument with him. I also now think about alcohol much more than I ever have before, but is it because I have a drinking problem or just because of the issues it causes between us? I am getting sick of it being a huge issue but don't know how to defuse the situation besides giving into his demands and not drinking at all.
A: Whenever I'm asked to mediate alcohol questions I end up being denounced as a bluenose prohibitionist, so here goes! Of course you understand your fiancé's reaction to alcohol—it ruined his childhood. But he should understand that integrating wine as part of an enjoyable meal, as it sounds as if your family does, can be a barrier to alcoholism. If you are describing this convivial attitude toward alcohol, that is the opposite of the solo drunk drinking until blacking out. You are absolutely entitled to enjoy your wine as long as it's not interfering with your life or functioning, and his decision to abstain is his own. However, you've brought it up, and I think your drinking habits are at least worth thinking about. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking for a woman as no more than three drinks on a single day and no more than seven drinks a week. That is, there may be a day you have three glasses of wine, but that's not every day. You drink 14 to 21 glasses of wine a week. That may be fine, but I'm wondering if your boyfriend's move toward not drinking at all is in response to the place alcohol has in your evening. That is the discussion you two should be having, and it should be one you both conduct openly and without acrimony. The question is not whether your fiancé should be micromanaging your intake of microbrew—he shouldn't be—but whether he has a legitimate concern about your behavior regarding alcohol. Because you're checking in on yourself, I think you should skip the alcohol on one or two nights a week. Then on others, decide to have a glass or two, but not a third. Or cut yourself off after dinner. (When you start this, keep a notepad in a kitchen drawer and jot down each time you have a glass. This will help you track this.) If you realize any of this restriction makes you uncomfortable, then you need to do some self-examination. But that doesn't mean the answer is for your boyfriend to be your monitor. He needs to know that being hypervigilant about your alcohol intake just means he's recapitulating the worst aspects of his childhood.
Dear Prudence: Horribly Neglected Pet
Q. Sister-in-Law: My sister-in-law recently had her second baby. (Her first, sadly, was stillborn.) After losing the first, she would cuss anyone, such as my husband and me, that had kids. We didn't deserve them in her opinion as she didn't have hers. Now that she has a child, she seems to expect us all to revolve our lives around her. My husband and I have gotten to the point where we have stopped going to his parents’ (his sister lives there with her boyfriend) because of how she acts. If we go over there, our 2-year-old is basically ignored because if either grandparent picks her up or pays attention to her, his sister will bring her baby in and say something like, "But the baby wants you to hold her." Worse, his sister told my husband that she gave their parents their first "biological" grandchild as my husband is adopted. She expects her mother to take care of her child whenever she wants, to the point where plans mom had made with my husband had to be canceled because sis-in-law wanted to go do something. This is really hurting and angering my husband to the point where he refuses to see them unless they come to our home. Is there a way of putting a stop to all this nonsense or does my husband have the right of it? Should we just stop going over completely?
A: Poor, poor baby. I hear such awful accounts from people who have grown up with whacked out, selfish, cruel mothers. This niece or nephew of yours is going to have a hard time making friends or having other family members in his or her life because of Mom. Having a stillborn child is a terrible blow, but that doesn't allow someone to behave monstrously to others. As for the "biological grandchild" comments, well, that makes me shudder. How sad that your in-laws are enabling this beastly woman. I like your solution of saying that the in-laws need to come to your house to see their grandchild. When they're there, your husband can calmly explain that his sister's insults and behavior make it impossible to visit their home. He can add that such behavior is going to hurt the child and he hopes his parents can begin to address this. Don't hold your breaths. But do hold firm to the fact that you won't be party to her ugliness.
Q. My Recovering Addict Brother and My Baby: My brother is a recovering addict; after eight years of fighting his addiction, he has been clean for 14 months. My husband has only recently met my brother as a clean, sober person. I am eight months pregnant with our first child. My husband told me, a week ago, that he is not comfortable with my brother being in our child's life until he has been sober for at least another year, maybe two. He also confessed that he will never be comfortable allowing my brother to watch our child. My brother did some awful things to my family and me during his addiction, so I can understand my husband's concerns. What bothers me is that he talked about his concerns to his own family before bringing them to me, that he has waited so long to tell me, and that he might never trust my brother. My brother's sobriety has transformed him into a new man, while I know sobriety is ongoing, my family and I have forgiven him and are focused on supporting him, not continuing to treat him as an addict. I want to respect my husband's concerns, but having my child not meet my brother for more than a year really upsets me. I don't know how to tell my brother how my husband feels, either.
A: There is a compromise here. Since your brother has had more than a year of being clean, that should entitle him to visit the baby. For your husband's sake—since he is probably always going to have a rocky relationship with your brother—those visits should be with a family group. That way your husband can relax because there will be many eyes on your brother. As for the rest, I think you need to back off. Your husband is entitled to talk out difficult things concerning your family with his closest confidants. It's fair for him to get a read from others on his inclinations and hear theirs out before he presents his hoped-for restrictions regarding your brother. You have come to me, after all, to figure out how to come back at your husband with a counterproposal! As for your brother watching your child, you and your husband are getting way ahead of where you need to be on this. Your child isn't even born yet, so you just don't need to worry about parceling out the baby-sitting duties at this moment. It may be that the violations done by your brother were so disturbing that while your husband is happy to see your brother remaking himself, he just can't go so far as to trust your brother to be alone with your child. That might be a fair assessment until there is a long history of your brother staying clean. In another example, it could be that a beloved parent is just too infirm or dingy to care for a grandchild solo, but that doesn't mean that person is cut out of the grandchild's life. I'm hoping that if you can concede to your husband on the baby-sitting issue, he will understand that part of your brother's recovery is being welcomed back to the family and society, and he will give ground on the visiting question. And here's hoping your brother is able to stay on this new path, which will be full of profound rewards for himself and those who love him.
Q. Affairs: Are we really meant to be monogamous? I guess I'm wondering how to stem the tide of attraction to someone who is in a marriage. It's a mutual attraction and I guess maybe I'm trying to justify it. But what happens when you meet someone who is a great match, but is already involved?
A: Oh, "in a marriage" is such a temporary state, and if you glance at evolutionary-psychology literature, that's a clear mandate that we're not meant to be monogamous, so of course you have to go for it. It's good to keep in mind when you try to bust up this marriage that you already know that tons of people can be great matches. That means when this one burns out, there always another attractive married person who's going to come along.
Q. Re: Wine every night: I also came from a wine-every-night family, and carried that habit with enthusiasm into my adult life. Until I realized I couldn't remember the last day I hadn't had wine at night. So I gave it up for a month, and realized my dependence/habit when it was hard for me not to drink it. Now I try to only drink one or two nights a week, and not to carry it into drinks while watching TV after dinner, etc. Prudie didn't say it, but three glasses a night is a lot of wine, and it's worth cutting back for a lot of reasons, not least because your drinking is hurting your relationship with someone you care about. And, when you do cut down, you will likely lose weight because you're dropping a ton of empty calories. I'm happy every day for breaking the habit before it was more than a habit.
A: Exactly. Thanks for the words of wisdom.
Q. Recovering Alcoholic Wants to Start Drinking Again: My husband of 30 years was an alcoholic in his younger days and early in our marriage. He quit over 25 years ago and I believe if he hadn't, we wouldn't have stayed married. About a year ago, he tried non-alcoholic beer and seems to enjoy that. Now he's talking about trying real beer, just at home, to see if he can just have one or two. He drives for a living and is adamant he wouldn't jeopardize his job (he would be fired if he got an DUI even when not on the job). He feels he's older and wiser now and would be able to drink responsibly. Well, it scares the daylights out of me that I would have to live through again what we went through back then. He was one of those that never knew when to quit for the night. He'd buy a case of beer when the bar closed in order to continue. He also would be as sick as a dog the next day. I've told him how I feel, so he hasn't taken that step, but I know if I said, sure, give it a try, he would.
A: Today's theme: the Days of Wine and Roses. Your husband is in real danger of losing his sobriety, his livelihood, and you. He's older, but no wiser. One beer is going to turn into 12, and down the drain goes his life. However he got sober, AA or some other program, he needs to return pronto for a tune-up. You cannot be your husband's superego. He has to recognize the delusions he's engaging in and the potential consequences. Tell him you'll accompany him to an AA meeting if that's what it takes for him to recognize that he's one beer away from disaster—and if he starts drinking, you're leaving.
Q. But what happens when you meet someone who is a great match, but is already involved?: You go away and look for someone who's a great match but is available.
Q. Online Dating: My fiancé and I met on match.com. What's a good response to people who are put off by the way we met? About half the people who hear embrace that internet dating is becoming a more common route to couples finding each other. The other half say things such as, "Oh, I didn't realize you could meet a legitimate person on websites like that." Any suggestions?
A: Just shake your head somberly and say, "You're right. You can't."
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