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July 5, 1999   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

I'm 35, live in a small town, way behind the times (under 1000 poulation). Anyway, I have been with the same man for 10 years, 3 dating, 3 living together and 4 married. he is a high-functioning alcoholic, so he has a good job, makes good money, but is unreliable as hell. He is also 17 years older than me. About 6 months ago his alcoholism began showing in various physical forms and his being drunk became more and more obvious. The example he was setting for my son was just not acceptable. So I gave him the ultimatum: "quit and get help, or find another place to live." He left.

I still love him very deeply, and certainly there is a bit of Mommy in me, a part that feels like I still want to take care of him, but I am squelching this feeling nicely. After 3 days, he got his own place, 1 mile from mine, he does his own chores, takes care of himself, pays his bills. But we were both miserable!!!! It was so sad and painful running into him or driving by him on the road. Both of us were so sad!

After a few months of complete separation, we started talking, at first about things we had to clear up, legal stuff, but then eventually we started to see each other now and then, first business, then socially. Now we see each other every week, sometimes go away for the weekends when the boy is not around. We seem to get along better than EVER.

So here is my question Breakup Girl, am I wasting myself here? Is it OK to keep seeing him casually as we are now and continue to look for someone else, someone reliable, someone for the long haul? I would, naturally, tell him when this happens. The problem is, I don't want to lose him altogether for someone who may not work out for the long haul.

You see, as I said, it is a very, very small town. Everyone knows everyone and everything. Just having someone for dinner is news. People see you with someone new, or talking to a local single man and it is all over the town! Lots of gossip and speculation, you get the picture. But, as I was saying, if I see him socially, my husband, and if I am still keeping my eyes and ears open for a good one (reconciliation is not possible as he is not willing to quit drinking), then, let's say I find someone I might be interested in. If anyone in town ever so much as thought this, thought I was having someone over for dinner say, they would tell my husband and he would be so jealous and angry and hurt that he would drink himself into a coma (maybe) and probably convince himself of all kinds of bad things and never speak to me again! This I don't want.

So tell me, Oh, great advisor, how do I have my cake and eat it too? How do I keep my husband in my life, and still have a life? This man has been a part of my life for almost 1/3 of it. He is the single largest influence on me, ever, and I just can't imagine life without him, but he has made it clear he could not ever handle my dating someone else and remain close to me. So tell me, is it foolish to see him socially? Do I have to make a clean break? Should I keep doing what I'm doing? Help me!

-- Emily

Dear Emily,

But wait, wouldn't it be worse -- gossip-wise, ex-husband-wise, and your-own-confusion-wise -- if you started seeing someone else while you two were painting the small town red? Of course he's been a massive influence; of course you can't imagine life without him; of course you get sad when you see him on Main Street (quit complaining, New Yorkers, about trying to dodge your ex). To the degree that you want him around -- in sober moments -- to be a Present Dad, by all means. But you're hardly responsible for what his willful drinking drives him to. All of which is to say: Emily? This cake you want? Stale. Easy for me to say, I know. But. You and the boy take a breather as best you can; then fix some dinner and say "let's give them something to talk about" to someone you'd want them to talk about.

Breakup Girl



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