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In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.
The bathroom was down the far end of the hallway opposite my bedroom, but I could still hear him dry heaving over the toilet. When he sauntered back to bed, sloppy and drunk and defiantly unashamed, I asked if he was ok.
“No, Oscar. I need to go to the hospital,” he responded in a slow, sardonic tone. He wobbled out of his clothes and slipped inside my sheets but kept his broad back towards me. I slept alone clinging only to the smell of barf and beer next to me. Everyone has those crazy nights once in a while when they drink too much, I told myself. Who was I to judge?
My personal love affair with drinking began when I was just 16, visiting relatives in Guadalajara, Mexico. In Tequila territory, the drinking age… depends. One night, my lawless cousins dragged me to a loud club styled after the city of New York, complete with a replica Statue of Liberty in the middle of the dance floor. We drank Bacardi until I walked right into a cement wall. I spent the rest of the night puking and the next day experimenting with my aunt’s famous hangover cures—a shower, coffee, lemon water, and sunglasses indoors. In Chicago while in college, I guzzled full bottles of gin spritzed with tonic on the train ride downtown. On momentous occasions, my vision would be totally blurred before I even stepped into the bar, and I knew that it would be a good night. When I first got to San Francisco, I drank every day, and my body—not just my head—began to ache in the aftershock.
Then one day, I stopped drinking so much. I stopped taking shots. I stopped blacking out. I stopped suffering from paralyzing hangovers. I even started seeing a man who, afraid of a relapsing meth addiction, had given up drinking all together.
At the beginning, dating someone who would rather spend his nights in watching Larry King than escorting me to the new hotspot in town was a relief from the party monster mentality I had adopted in college. But after missing out on happy hours and Sunday brunch mimosas, I realized that sober life was not for me, either. Even though I respected his decision and never attempted to curve his sobriety, I still felt guilty whenever I drank in front of him. And our sober sex was always as awkward as our first date.
When we broke up, I was happy to once again be able to fully appreciate the benefits of my favorite social lubricant: I rebounded with a drunk. Every time we’d go out together, we’d end the night collapsed. He’d have four, five, six shots of whatever liquor was around, then down an energy drink on the side. At his drunkest, he began sniping at my own personal habits. I gave strangers longing, lustful looks, he told me. I had this way of flirting without even realizing it, he said. Was I really prone to this type of indiscretions on the dance floor? I cried the night he confronted me in a crowded club. I wasn’t embarrassed for being scolded for imaginary, infuriating reasons—I felt ashamed at the realization that I had been flirting with bartenders, bouncers, acquaintances, people waiting in line next to me at the bar—even my boss!—all along.
From there, it was always easier to blame myself for his erratic outbursts. When he couldn’t stomach our fighting, he just walked out. I was fine with being left behind. In fact, I preferred it—it was at least better than him yelling at me in front of strangers, and just as bad as when he yelled at me in front of friends. Friends try to understand. Strangers can't help but judge.
The following morning, he always apologized by telling me he loved me to the point of temporary insanity. I forgave him, choosing to see jealousy as a sign of passion. I guess I preferred a temperamental, untrusting lover to an apathetic, boring one. Every time, his apology reaffirmed that what we had was worth fighting for.
But some mornings, he would not apologize. He began to get too distracted by the quivers and shakes that would overtake his entire body as he laid shirtless in bed, moaning and mumbling nonsense to himself. I began to get wise to the many secret spots in his apartment—big enough for bottles of vodka to hide. Out on a two-week-bender, he promised to swing by my place after each party to spend the night with me. But he never showed up, and he couldn’t tell me where he had spent the night because he didn’t remember.
“Nothing’s ever good enough for you!” he screamed at me in front of his roommate when I finally confronted him about it. Through all his unfounded accusations, his wayward logic, and his affinity for hoarding full bottles of vodka in his closet, it never occurred to me that maybe I was the one with the problem—an addiction to trying to fix an abusive relationship. “I can’t date someone like you,” was how he ended up breaking up with me. “I can’t date someone who’s practically sober.”
In moderation, alcohol is a one-of-a-kind social lubricant, making every party a bonding experience for those who imbibe. In excess, it destroys. But it is such a pervasive drug that anyone who abstains seems odd, and those who overindulge fade into the background of all the other drunk guys out on a Friday night. I finally found a place where I could push my limits without falling out of line. And it’s not extreme to want a mate who at least needs a mixer with every shot.
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