For our latest essay series, we are inviting men to share a story, an episode, or an experience that involves women and drinking. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.
by James Kullander
I’ve always liked a glass or two of wine or a cocktail in the evening and I’ve always liked the women in my life to like that, too. So it was out of character that, years ago, I married a woman who didn’t drink because she was allergic to alcohol. I thought having a wife who didn’t drink would keep my own drinking at bay. And, mirabile dictu, it worked.
For most of us, a cold gin and tonic on a hot summer evening or a bottle of wine anytime is better shared. Like falling in love, drinking is something you don’t really want to do alone. After we divorced I never steadily dated a woman who didn’t drink. I didn’t plan it that way. Nor did I plan the fights that happened as a result.
Try as we might to avoid it, we often find ourselves drawn almost unwillingly into all sorts of relationships that touch our sore spots. I’ve found that two common sort spots touched in most any intimate relationship are jealousy and authority. If you drink and have a tendency to be jealous, then when your partner appears to flirt with the wait staff during a lovely dinner out, a vicious fight on the drive home will likely leave you both feeling you’ve been thrown from the wreckage of some crash you’ll barely recall in the morning. If you drink and resent authority, God help your partner who tells you how to mince the garlic as you cook dinner together.
Sadly, looking back on my life the past several years, I can see that the women I’ve dated who have liked to drink the most are the ones with whom I have fought the most. Two come to mind.
With the first woman, we’d start to fight–in the middle of dinner and well into our second bottle of wine–over her being jealous of, say, an old girlfriend I’d mentioned talking to in town. I, not keen on being told what to do, would get up from the table, slam the door, and peel out in my car like some hoodlum in a James Dean movie. I’d see her stunned figure staring out the window at me as I sped away into the night and for a split second, I felt a softening within me, a sense of compassion or pity or sadness that would almost make me turn around, but I never did. Not until the next day. One day, I didn’t go back at all.
Another woman I dated for only a few months invited me to a party in a remote cabin with a half dozen other couples. It was a new crowd to me. Turned out she and her friends were a hard drinking bunch; there were bottles of scotch, tequila, vodka, Kahlua, gin, and cheap wine all stacked on the kitchen table like bowling pins after a first poorly aimed throw. I spent a small part of the evening talking to another woman because I found her interesting, and when I circled back to be with my girlfriend, she seemed distant and cool, not to mention barely coherent.
When we all paired off and stumbled to bed, my girlfriend scolded me in front of everyone to go sleep with the other woman since I seemed to be so smitten with her. I blanched. Reeling, I climbed into bed with my girlfriend, the two of us fully clothed, our backs to each other, the small space between us as fathomless as the light-years between the stars. All night long while she was passed out those existential questions that come up when we find ourselves hovering in a delirium between sleep and wakefulness haunted me: Who is this person in bed with me? Who am I? How the hell did I end up here?
The next day during our entire two-hour drive from the cabin to her home, we fought about the night before. “I have you,” I said. “I don’t want anyone else.” The effect of her alcohol-induced delusion had clouded her thinking so thickly that, even sober, if not a little hung over, there was nothing I could say to exonerate myself. It’s hell to be falsely accused of anything but perhaps I was a little too zealous in defending my innocence. Later that day sitting on the edge of her bed I finally said: “If you don’t tell me right now that you believe me, then I am packing up, getting in my car, driving home, and never coming back.” This was no idle threat; ours was a long-distance relationship and home for me was 1,500 miles and two-day drive away. I packed up, got in my car, drove home, and never went back.
“Drink made her contrary,” a live-in cook confesses about her long-dead sister in a John Cheever story I love, The Sorrows of Gin. “If I’d say the weather was fine, she’d tell me I was wrong. If I’d say it was raining, she’d say it was clearing. She’d correct me about everything I said, however small it was.”
When we drank, this is often how I felt with these two women.
Although I still have a weakness for a woman who purrs after the first sip of a full-bodied cabernet, or pinches a speck of lime pulp from her smiling lips as she compliments me on the gin and tonic I’ve just concocted, I have scratched a fondness for alcohol off the list of qualities I must have before committing to a second date. I’ve learned the hard way that I’m both happier and less argumentative when there isn’t a bottle of anything but water between a woman and me.
James Kullander lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, where he works as a writer, a program curriculum consultant for Omega Institute and other organizations, and an online program specialist. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including a personal essay, “Love’s Legacy Lost,” in the September 2009 issue of the Shambhala Sun and another personal essay, “My Marital Status,” published in The Sun magazine in December 2007. That essay is anthologized in The Best Buddhist Writing 2008 and The Mysterious Life of the Heart: Writing from The Sun about Passion, Longing, and Love. Some of his work in progress on a book about writing and meditation is available on his blog, writingandmediation.com, and on another blog, theleapintothevoid.wordpress.com.