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Carolyn Hax: Let recovering alcoholic make his own decisions

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: I’m throwing a large party this weekend and know, based upon the bar I’m setting out and the guests I’ve invited, there will be a lot of drinking. I haven’t invited my sister and her new husband because he is a recovering alcoholic. Is this the right decision to shield them from a party they may not feel comfortable at, or should I invite them and let them decide? I don’t want to make them feel left out but I also want the rest of my guests to have a great time. – Rager

I’m more worried about your friends who can be counted on to get wasted than I am about your brother-in-law.

But since you asked: Excluding people is generally not a good way to show love and respect. Tell your sister about the party and its expected rage level, and say they’re welcome if they’d like to come and you understand completely if they’d rather skip it. Ultimately, adults have to say no to their own downfalls.

It’s also helpful, though, for all of us to live in a supportive family and community – and good for you for wanting to be part of one for your brother-in-law, even though my saying that requires me to pretend you didn’t imply that you’re more concerned about his being a buzzkill for your drinking buddies than about his well-being.

Ways to be supportive include not pushing against his resolve (“C’mon, just one drink” = no), not fussing over him (“This is my brother-in-law – he doesn’t drink” = no), having non-alcohol available, and not tiptoeing around him as if he’ll shatter on sight of a beer. Be inclusive and follow his lead.

Dear Carolyn: So my wife died a few years ago, and I have a new girlfriend. She’s been divorced for some years, and objects to the presence of various photos and other reminders of my wife around. She asks if I would like it if she had photos and reminders of her ex-husband around her house.

I say death and divorce are very different and can’t be compared, but she’s pretty adamant that I put these keepsakes out of sight.

I’m ready to do that for her comfort, but I still don’t think it’s a fair comparison. Any thoughts? – Losing a Spouse

Death and divorce are very different, yes – for the people who experience those losses. That’s why a widower will display photos of his late wife while a divorcee is unlikely to deck the halls with mementos of her ex-husband.

But when you’re the one dating this person, there’s not much difference. No matter how the couple parted, it’s going to be at least mildly awkward to nurture a new love under the steady photographic gaze of an old one.

I certainly wouldn’t ask a widower I was dating to stash all images of his beloved late wife; pasts don’t go away just because you can’t see them. But if they were everywhere I might speak up.

Whether or not your girlfriend’s objection is valid – hard to say without seeing your walls – her question is: How would you feel if she lived amid “photos and reminders” of another man? She’s asking you to consider how she feels. I kindly suggest that you do.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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