My Partner and I Were In A Throuple With Alcohol

"If I was being honest with myself, I knew the ugliness of my relationship."
The author isn't sure when his relationship began to sour.
The author isn't sure when his relationship began to sour.
Photo Courtesy Of Jamie Valentino

I cut my first date with Brandon short, rushing off to an editor’s birthday dinner and a New York Fashion Week after-party. So imagine my shock when I woke up in his bed, with no memory of how I’d gotten there. Feeling disoriented, I hastily made my exit.

I didn’t speak to Brandon for six months, until we ran into each other at a bar one Saturday in the neighborhood where we both lived. He said he hadn’t reached out because I had left his apartment like a hostage set free. I had to awkwardly explain that I couldn’t remember how I had ended up at his place after my eventful night.

When I unexpectedly ran into him again elsewhere the following evening, we accepted the nudge of coincidence and went to an intimate wine bar for a second date. I drank white wine and he preferred red, but we agreed it wasn’t a deal breaker.

For our third date, Brandon volunteered to help me move apartments, transferring my clothes and belongings via multiple Ubers. I had LASIK eye surgery scheduled the following week, and he offered to escort me to the doctor and home. I thought gifts were my love language, but he showed me acts of service also did the trick.

Brandon never asked me to be his boyfriend, but he had a knack for being there when I needed him. I quickly couldn’t imagine my life without him.

Although Brandon was 20 years older than me, we had so much fun together. Our dates mirrored the excitement of our initial encounter, akin to the thrill of reveling in that NYFW after-party. We undoubtedly enjoyed ourselves, but we never sobered up long enough to know if we really belonged together.

I don’t know when our relationship soured. Measuring our happiness and compatibility was difficult because all our interactions past 5 p.m. revolved around alcohol. A few drinks can magically turn strangers into best friends who, once sober, never speak again. Instead, I moved in with Brandon.

Our personalities clashed in little ways. Whenever we tried to pick a movie, we couldn’t agree on any genre besides horror. For whatever reason, we both found comfort in the predictability of oblivious protagonists meeting their doom. Every night, we rested on opposite sides of the couch with our wine glasses topped off with his favorite Merlot, trying to find a horror movie we hadn’t seen.

I had made it a rule not to drink at home, until I moved in with Brandon.

I first started getting drunk my freshman year of high school and as a result, I don’t remember certain milestones, like losing my virginity or prom. Approaching 25, I didn’t need to drink ― in fact, I’d regularly go weeks or a month sober just to solidify I wasn’t addicted. But I had experienced enough to know I didn’t have a healthy relationship with it. I knew it wasn’t a sustainable lifelong indulgence, yet I couldn’t commit to stopping forever.

Brandon’s job involved directing the legal department of a company with hundreds of thousands of employees and no shortage of lawsuits. My job became trying not to piss him off, which could happen if I left a cabinet open or failed to close the shower curtain.

I was no picnic myself. Alcohol influenced me to go out all the time and live as if I were still single, which in turn brought out the worst of Brandon’s anger. My job allowed me to disguise partying as networking, and I conflated drinking with my career.

One Thursday, I arrived at Brandon’s apartment ― our home became his during fights ― to find my clothes packed by the front door. I profusely apologized for staying out late, but argued that the 11 p.m. curfew he’d imposed upon me was absurd. Brandon screamed that it was 6 a.m.!

My press event did have an unexpected after-party, and a bunch of us then went to Le Bain, which was followed by a gathering at a penthouse of a renowned fashion designer, and then we rounded out the morning with breakfast. I was hungry!

During these moments, Brandon’s rage erupted like scorching lava. But time healed all wounds, and we moved on and forgot as swiftly as we popped open a bottle’s cork. That nightly bottle (or two) of wine had become the necessary third in our relationship. If we stopped drinking, we’d have nothing to bond us.

Brandon shrugged off my concerns that we drank too much, reasoning that Manhattan was an adult playground for eternal youth. He felt the only problems in our relationship came when I left the house without him. Brandon and I used alcohol to avoid the reality that we weren’t working. We became dependent on “cheers” as the glue that kept us together, in addition to the claws that ripped us apart. Repeat.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease that can start with a glass of wine every night, eventually turning into two, then three. One day you wake up and don’t know when your existence became intertwined with being a drinker. Likewise, I’d wake up on an empty bed (the couch also became Brandon’s during fights) and not know how we let our relationship get so bad.

The relationship dynamic between gay men can blur toxic behavior. After all, we grow up thinking societal rules don’t need to apply to us. The LGBTQ+ community is also riddled with substance abuse for so many reasons outside – and within ― our control. But if I was being honest with myself, I knew the ugliness of my relationship.

I had the awareness but lacked the willpower to leave or stop drinking. I also didn’t want to relinquish the financial security and emotional support Brandon brought into my life. I had always wanted to be in a committed relationship, and I was reluctant to accept that I had chosen wrong, needed to start over or was not ready to be a partner.

When we finally separated, Brandon’s friends assumed it was because I got drunk and let his cousin’s date briefly kiss me at his birthday party. My friends knew it was because Brandon got drunk and grabbed my neck the following day. We habitually built on each other’s mistakes, so neither side was ever alone in wrongness for long.

Rock bottom is not a destination but a feeling. We hammered our relationship so many times to the ground there was nothing left to destroy or passion to revive. The idealized version of us loomed over like a tired ghost begging for an exorcism.

But just like the many times I quit drinking after a bad hangover, I returned to him a few more times until it stuck. I struggled to let go of how wonderful Brandon seemed and how great our life looked most of the time.

After Brandon and I said goodbye for the final time, I didn’t just leave the relationship ― I departed the country, doing stints in Mexico and Europe. I had lost my sense of belonging, so I continued traveling, returning to New York whenever I got too homesick.

Even after 14 years of practice ― and mistakes ― I am still finding my way when it comes to alcohol. I falter on occasion. But unlike in the past, I’m consciously working every day toward becoming someone who can reliably say, “No, thanks.” I continue to discover that neither alcohol nor having a partner are necessary for my existence.

I celebrated my 28th birthday by throwing a private dinner party at an East Village restaurant, and the night ended with a friend making a champagne toast for me to “keep getting better each year.”

Today, I choose to do my best.

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Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

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