By Kelly Seal
In my early twenties, I figured that the guys I dated were works in progress, like me. Once we got jobs as marketing VPs and financial executives instead of waiters and assistants, grew up a little bit and became “real” adults, that all of our immature ramblings and bad decisions would be history. Something to laugh about.
But then I turned 30 and not much had changed, at least in the men I was dating. Many were holding on to those precious frat boy days, where they could drink all day and still party all night. Keggers were replaced with expensive wines and beers, and frat houses with downtown lofts, but the objective remained the same: drinking=social ease. Drinking=fun.
I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t partake. Drinking was a fun way to pass the time, and an even better way to flirt without any inhibitions. So, it was bound to happen that with one of my dates the whole drinking thing would turn ugly.
But the Derek I knew wasn’t the stereotypical angry drunk man – he was the opposite: calm, shy, and sweet. He held my hand and picked me up at my house for our dates. He brought me flowers and asked about my day, my thoughts, and what I wanted. He revealed his dreams and ambitions with me as we shared a bottle of wine.
And then he’d have a few more drinks, and our time together turned into a grand, angry inquisition. What did I really want? Why was I being so judgmental of him? (I’d once mentioned that he could lay off the after-dinner shots, leading him to rant for several minutes about how uptight I’d become.) Then he’d list my weaknesses, my failings.
It might be a stretch to call him an alcoholic, since he didn’t hide liquor bottles under the bed and he didn’t throw a shot in with his coffee in the morning. But all the emotional signs were there – he needed a drink to get over his shyness, to have a real conversation with me, with any woman. And then he’d have more drinks, thinking that would turn him into some kind of Casanova, but instead it just made him sullen, angry, and not unlike a petulant child.
I forgave him at first. I liked him. A lot. He seemed vulnerable underneath all that drinking bravado, and I thought I’d be the one to turn him around. To see him for the person he really was, aside from all those alcohol-induced slurs about my character, my intentions.
One night he came over, armed with copious amounts of booze gained from his new job – ironically – as a liquor distributor. He kissed me warmly, gathering me in his arms. I knew he was falling for me.
So I seized the moment and pressed him on his drinking. I wanted to know what he might be hiding from me. How much he actually drank when I wasn’t around. If he drank on the job. I knew from the way he looked at me, from the angry words that came out next, that maybe I’d gone too far.
“Do you think I’m a fucking alcoholic or something?” He spat the word out with such disdain it took me by surprise. In that moment, I felt what he felt. All of his fears and insecurities were wrapped up in this polished image he was trying to project – to me, and to other women before me. He had loved being in his twenties and surrounded by other guys who drank to mask their fears. But here he was, thirty-something, drunk and standing in front of me, being called on his shit. And he didn’t like it.
I stood silent, unable to look at him. He stormed out, devastated by my accusation. He chose not to fight anymore, but simply to end things as they were. And I watched him go.
A few years later, I ran into him again at the airport. He told me he was married and moving to Louisiana. I told him I was happy for him. He paused for a moment, wanting to say something else, but then picked up his bags, smiled at me, and hurried away.
I have no idea what he wanted to say to me then. But I hoped that on some level, we’d both grown up – that those frat boy days and the insecurities that went along with them were long gone. And even though I was still single, I was glad we both had moved on.