Q: Hey Meredith,
I love my boyfriend but I don't know if we are compatible. We're in our mid-late 20s, each other's first serious relationship, and he means so much to me and takes such good care of me. He's sweet and cuddly and funny. We've been together a year and a half, part of which we were long distance. However, I can't figure out if there are real problems or if I have found someone awesome who loves me like crazy who I need to accept as is.
Specifically, I am not sure about his drinking. I don't think I drink much -- maybe a glass of wine at dinner on a weekend or a beer or two at a party tops. He's a big sports-watching, likes-to-have-a-drink-or-two-to-relax at night kind of guy. At a social event he'll drink a lot -- I've seen him binge drink in a social setting two or three times. Also, I recently saw a half empty bottle of vodka in his cabinet and it freaked me out because I think that's a lot to drink. I don't think he's had it for more than two to three weeks and he's the only one who could have consumed it. Based on his family history and things he's told me about himself and his past, I think he has addictive tendencies, though I don't think he's an alcoholic now.
I know that I have addictive tendencies myself, and I have family members with alcoholism. I am careful never to have more than a glass once in a while because I know my limits and I'm not going to tempt fate. I've also talked to professionals about these issues. I do not want an alcoholic in my life, or as my partner. My boyfriend and I have talked about my concerns and he reassures me that he is in control of his drinking. I believe him and I'm sure he could let it go if he needed to, but he doesn't. I have doubts, but I don't think it's my place and I don't want to nag him to stop drinking either.
There's added pressure to figure this out because we're both about to finish grad school and we'll need to figure out where we're going next career-wise and location-wise. We're at a point in our relationship where he wants to think about maybe moving in together and to think about marriage. I feel like it's rushed and that I still need to take care of my career and explore and live in new places. (I've told him as much.) We're on separate pages.
Are these drinking behaviors a "guy" thing? Am I being oversensitive about his drinking? Does it matter? Will it matter in the future? Are we just not compatible?
– Lost in Lynn
A: I can't tell you whether he has an alcohol problem, LIL. What I can tell you is that his habits make you uncomfortable, and beyond that, you're not even sure if you want a serious commitment with him right now. You don't feel safe in this relationship and you'd rather prioritize yourself anyway.
So do this: Tell him where you stand. Instead of asking him whether he's in control of his drinking, be specific about what you can live with. Are you comfortable keeping alcohol in the house? What are your rules for the future? Will you want a partner who only drinks on weekends?
Also tell him how the next few years of your life look in your mind. Do you plan to move around? Will you be working 70 hours a week at a new job? Find out whether your vision looks anything like his. The more specific you are about what you want, the easier it will be to figure out whether he should join you.
The bottom line is that alcohol, in relationships, is as important as money or sex. It can be a catalyst for big problems so you have to make sure you share a philosophy about it as a couple.
I also recommend continuing your therapy. You have alcoholism in your family and seem to be confused about your own boundaries. It's always best to talk to a professional about that stuff. It's a conversation you should continue as you get older.
Readers? Is this a relationship worth saving? What about the good stuff? How do you know whether someone has crossed a line with alcohol? Could his habits be related to age and school? Should she see how this feels after graduation? Help.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a new novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith here and on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.