Can I Stage an Intervention for a Near-Stranger’s Alcoholism?
Posted January 12, 2018 4:58 p.m. EST
Q: My sister-in-law is friends with a woman I see socially about three times a year. She is a high-functioning alcoholic: She doesn’t drink during the day but becomes a slurry obnoxious mess at parties. I avoid her, and eventually her husband steps in. But recently, my teenage stepdaughter witnessed her “drunk show” and helped the woman’s daughter through tears of anger and shame. Now I feel complicit. My sister-in-law won’t intervene. So, I would like to tell this woman she needs help. Can you suggest a diplomatic approach? — Anonymous
A: Remember that ancient party trick Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Its premise: Any two people, but particularly actors, are separated by fewer than six others who link them. It was utterly charming until its ubiquity made it insufferable. But if Six Degrees proved what a small, small world we inhabit, it never argued that folks at the far poles of separation should intervene in our most personal problems.
I admire your helping impulse. But you are a near-stranger, not complicit. You see this woman about three times a year and avoid her when you do. You have no idea what goes on during the other 362 evenings (or any of the days). Denial is common among people with substance problems. Many report that when they do seek help, it is thanks to the intervention of loved ones — not in-laws of uninterested pals.
You aren’t the right messenger, but you still have an opportunity: You (and your spouse) should speak with your stepdaughter about what may have been an upsetting experience at the party. Praise her for her kindness to the woman’s daughter; sketch out the limits of helpfulness (for example, no getting into cars); and answer her questions. The most valuable dialogue to begin is with someone close to you.
Q: My boyfriend’s niece is getting married in Colorado. His brother suggested a pre-wedding trip and invited us along. After the wedding, this brother wants his wife and me to leave, so that the brothers and their sister can have some time alone. (The brother’s wife has no problem with this.) The siblings live in different states, so I get that time together is precious. But being asked to leave early rubs me the wrong way. I would never ask this of anyone. Is the brother being rude, or am I too sensitive? — I.W.
A: Unless you have an abstract interest in rudeness, you’re asking the wrong questions. Who cares what the brother wants? Focus your attention on your boyfriend — whom you love, presumably. If he wants a few days alone with his siblings after the two of you enjoy a high-altitude minibreak, I would go along with him.
Staying connected with siblings in middle age, especially when we’re spread out or after the organizing parent dies, is no mean feat. Strictly speaking, this “sibling time” can include significant others, but if your beau wants a solo experience, this time, what’s the harm? Don’t make this about you. They may have issues to discuss. So, ask your boyfriend what he wants and see if you can give it to him.
Aspiring Hair Model
Q: I am 57. I’ve been going to the same hairstylist for years. She posts pictures of her clients’ cuts and colors on her Instagram. All types of people are on her feed. But I have never been photographed for it, which is hurtful to me. If you are taking one client’s picture, shouldn’t you take all of them? And my hair looks great! How can I say something? — Karen
A: We increase the odds of getting what we want by asking for it. And when what we want is as paltry as what you want, why spend a lot of time agonizing about it? (You led with your age, as if you suspected that was the issue. But then you eased the concern by saying she puts “all types of people” on her feed, including 57-year-olds with great hair, one imagines.)
The next time you’re in for a cut or color, tell your stylist: “My lustrous mane looks magnificent today, doesn’t it? Please take out your camera and put me on that Instagram feed.” She is a service provider, Karen.
Remember the College Dropout?
I recently fielded a question from a concerned father whose son, seemingly happy in his first semester at college, came home for Christmas to announce that he was dropping out. He wouldn’t explain why. I advised patience and respect for the young man’s privacy, as well as more productive avenues of conversation.
Then came a tidal wave of letters from readers, many worried about possible sexual assault or the onset of mental illness. (The father’s letter suggested neither, but I appreciate the vigilance.) So, I followed up with Dad and can happily report back: To deflect from anticipated poor grades, the result of excessive good times, Sonny concocted a dropping-out story, which he recanted promptly when his grades came back better than expected. Sly fox!