Dear Carolyn: I've been in a serious relationship with someone pretty wonderful for the most part of a year. We're super compatible and it could be the real thing. But now something has come up that has made me question it.
I'm a recovering alcoholic, and got sober with the help of my family at a time when it threatened my life. It's been nearly nine years. She's been completely fine with it, thankfully.
My sobriety birthday is coming up. I have an Alcoholics Anonymous home group, though I'm not particularly active in it. Still, I have a lot of friends in the group, and I'm looking forward to my birthday meeting. I really want her to come with me, but she refuses. She doesn't think she'll be comfortable; brings up the image of the smoke-filled room with a bunch of Jesus (which my group is not); and is just not willing to budge.
The fact that she won't spend an hour on something this important to me has me wondering what other land mines we might find in our relationship. It doesn't feel as if it's enough to break up over, but it feels like a bad omen. If she was, say, a breast cancer survivor and wanted me to meet her support group, I'd do that in a heartbeat.
Do you think this could be a sign of bigger trouble ahead?
— Sober and Thankful
Sober and Thankful: I might be more concerned about it than you are.
There is the issue you identified perfectly, yes: This is clearly important to you, and she won’t give it an hour? Hm. I actually think this is potentially breakup-worthy, given how central recovery is to the life of any alcoholic and how central the support of loved ones is to any recovery. Don’t respond rashly, but don’t rule anything out, either.
On top of that significant issue, though, there’s also the issue of her refusal and her excuse-making in general, not to mention some ugly stereotyping of AA and its adherents, and that’s where your bigger challenges might lie.
“Refuses” is strong stuff. The right to refuse (anything, for any reason) is ours alone on principle but in practice is best reserved for actions that compromise integrity, break laws or harm others. And believe me, these categories leave a lot of room for personal discretion — the integrity one especially. You can defensibly refuse to do the dishes, for example, of a housemate who doesn’t pull his or her weight.
She has refused your invitation for reasons that are, respectively, the emotional equivalent of a hangnail and breezily insulting.
And that leaves you two possibilities that aren’t terribly promising. Either these are her actual reasons and she freely prioritizes her hangnail over your emotional core, or she has excellent reasons and can’t or won’t articulate them to you.
Or, of course, a third — that she just doesn’t grasp how high the stakes are for you and/or you just haven’t made them as clear as you’ve thought.
For your own peace of mind, try to find out which of these applies. Spell out your concerns and ask for a reckoning: Is there more to this that she isn’t saying out loud? It’ll speak volumes how, in this context, she chooses to speak for herself.