Introducing your new special someone to your family can be incredibly stressful. Not only do you want your family to like them but you also want all embarrassment from your family to hold off until you really have this person hooked. You end up refereeing conversations by intervening in awkward questions and cutting off sentences that are leading down troublesome paths. This is a normal part of life and a normal part of dating. Throw in a few alcoholic family members though and you have got yourself a cocktail for fun (pun intended)!
When my husband and I first started dating, I was at an advantage. He had known me for years. He had heard rumors, some true and some untrue, about my parent’s drinking and I had been open with him about their alcoholism. Dinner with the family shouldn’t be a big deal then right? There can’t be any real surprises. The skeletons are already out of the bag and sitting on the couch with us. Well, that’s where you’re wrong. Listening to stories about a family’s quirks is one thing, them experiencing it themselves is a whole different category of understanding. This is where I went wrong. I made the assumption that since he knew my family was already nuts, he could handle anything. No…no…no…that’s not how it works. I threw this poor guy into the lion’s den without realizing he would most likely need a ladder.
The first actual dinner I had with my family and my husband, then boyfriend, (let’s call him Alex) was relatively calm for my standards. It was pretty uncomfortable compared to his standards of normal. He adapted quickly in the months to come but I handled his reactions, more like his perspective, to things poorly.
It was a normal weekend night. My dad had been golfing and drinking all day. He came home pretty buzzed and was feeling jolly. He made some crude jokes and laughed very hard at them. He was a bit repetitive and loud as always. Pretty typical behavior for my dad. Nothing I really thought much of. My mom was sober this night and apparently open to sharing. I made the mistake of leaving Alex alone with her and she began sharing her journey to sobriety. I came out in the middle of the conversation pretty surprised to be hearing my mom sharing but I was glad she was being honest. Alex looked incredibly uncomfortable. Who could blame him? I felt terrible. I could tell my mom had been talking and he hadn’t been responding so I changed the subject.
Dinner went on and my mom made a great meal. The dog slobbered on Alex’s pants. He fake laughed at my dad’s jokes and we talked about Alex’s family. It could have been a lot worse of a night. I was pretty pleased with how things went. Alex and I had shared two different evenings however.
I apologized to Alex for my dad’s behavior. Alex shrugged and said my dad was funny and he didn’t see a problem with him. I was glad that Alex wasn’t a prude about my dad but just because my dad is a jolly guy when he has been drinking a lot doesn’t mean there “isn’t a problem with him”. I then apologized for my mom and that’s what he shared really bothered him. He was upset that I left him alone with her. He didn’t know what to say or what to do and this (unfairly) bothered me.
Here my dad is, drunk and being an ass, and Alex is fine with it. Then there’s my mom, sober but sharing something that made him “uncomfortable”, and that’s where the problem was? I was furious. My mom is almost always the worst one off in any situation. She is usually the drunker one and she is typically the one who has somehow made a mess but she didn’t do anything wrong this time. I blew up at Alex. I felt like he was minimizing my dad’s drinking problem because he’s a “fun, loving drunk” and he was being judgmental of my mom for being vulnerable. I made accusations of sexism and ignorance. You know, just your typical argument with a boyfriend.
This is why it wasn’t fair of me. Alex has probably been, no I know for a fact, he has been around drunk men before this dinner. Who hasn’t? Anyone can handle a few crude comments and a slurred vocabulary. That’s not an issue for most people. But opening up about an addiction? If you haven’t lived with it, studied it, or worked with it, you shouldn’t know how to respond. Alex was in unfamiliar territory and I expected him to know what to do. Just because I had told him about my family’s drinking didn’t make him qualified or prepared to talk with them about it.
I wanted to share this because it taught me a few big lessons.
One, we cannot judge people for not knowing how to handle something they’ve never dealt with before. I have always had issues with this and it keeps biting me in the ass. There is nothing wrong with someone being uncomfortable around your family sharing such personal things. It only becomes an issue if this person sticks around and can’t get used to it. Don’t be so harsh on first timers who are still learning the ropes.
Two, people get uncomfortable talking about addiction because we don’t talk about it enough. People NEED to talk about addiction. People need to talk about what it’s like to live with addiction, alcoholism, and substance use in their family. Why? Because who is going to reach out for help if they know people are going to be uncomfortable listening to them? The only way to break this stigma is to break the silence. There is nothing wrong with you if you were raised by an alcoholic. No one should judge you for that. After all, this is one of the biggest reasons I started this blog.
Three, don’t leave your significant others alone with family members the first time they meet them. This has nothing to do with substance use or addiction but is just good common sense. You never know what kind of situations they can get themselves into and you need to get to know them first before leaving them alone in the lion’s den.
I hope you are enjoying these posts! I love writing them. Next post will be about having to open up to Alex’s family about my own family. Please share this blog with friends if you think they could relate or subscribe if you’d like to read more in the future!