Is it OK to date a drinker?

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Is it OK to date a drinker?

May 24, 2010 |Candice Watters
Question

I have a really close male friend whom I think is thinking of asking me out. I'm not sure yet how I feel about that, though I do know that when I see him I just get this overwhelming feeling that I want to take care of him and enjoy his company; I know some of the sins he struggles with and I want to help him overcome them. This seems to be the right mindset to have as far as preparing to love someone in marriage.

As far as some of the sins he's been struggling with, one that concerns me the most is that he sometimes will go along with peer pressure too easily. Last year he was getting drunk when he was stressed or upset. Several of us confronted him about it, and he has asked older men from his congregation as well as some of his friends to hold him accountable.

I'm not sure if this is a big enough issue that I shouldn't date him. I've been trying to remind myself that he is still learning and growing, and I can't really compare him to older men I know — "faith for the man he'll become," right? I see a lot of potential and encouraging signs in him even if he does have a lot of growing up to do and a lot of sinful habits to overcome. He is taking the problem seriously and has made more mature friends.

As far as I know there's no alcoholism in his family. He seems to be doing better about drinking in moderation, so I'm hoping that that was just a phase that he's out of now, but it's hard to know for sure. But everything else about his character makes me believe that he has a good head on his shoulders; he really is a godly man who is fervent in prayer and reading the Word, and I have every indication that he's really trying to fight this tendency to cope with his problems through alcohol.

What would it mean for him to be "victorious" in overcoming this sin? He was never an alcoholic, and I personally don't have a problem with drinking in moderation. If he gets back to a point where he will only drink one or two beers, can this be considered acceptable? I don't really think it's reasonable for me to ask that he completely stop drinking, because I know a lot of the time when he visits with pastors and elders from his church they'll all drink a beer and talk theology.

I know that I don't want to marry a man with an alcohol problem — my friend's dad almost died from alcoholism, and I watched as that nearly destroyed her family. At the same time, I want to help him. I know that you should never date or marry someone thinking you can change them, but if he's already decided he wants to change, and is throwing himself wholeheartedly into serving his church and being really responsible and hardworking at his job, and is trying to avoid spending all his time with other single guys who are putting pressure on him to drink, wouldn't marriage and a family be one more positive step towards helping him mature and become more responsible?

Answer

Thank you for writing. It's a privilege to hear from readers like you who are facing potentially difficult situations and seeking help to try and avoid unnecessary trouble!

While Christians vary in their beliefs about the use or avoidance of alcohol, all agree that drinking to the point of getting drunk is a sin. As you suspect, this is serious behavior. Based on the details you've shared (both here and those I deleted for the sake of privacy), I'm concerned that he's exhibiting symptoms of being an alcoholic, or at the least, of having the potential of becoming one.

I would not advise you to move your relationship forward to dating until you are confident that's not the case. The fact that he presently only "seems to be doing better about drinking in moderation" sounds tenuous. Certainly not robust enough to trust that you could move toward marriage with no fear of him falling into this behavior again. It would be utterly tragic (dangerous, horrible, etc.) to be married to such a man.

Obviously, it's dangerous, horrible and more when someone already married discovers his or her spouse has developed any form of substance abuse. Such situations require intervention and help. Thankfully, you know about his failures in this area before making a life-long commitment and so you're in a position to think clearly before the emotions take over. I think it's utterly wise that you do so.

It's essential, if he does ask you to date him, and you're so inclined, to have this out in the open along with the oversight and input of godly elders, mentors, pastors, etc. Not that you need lots and lots of people in on the process, but a few who are very committed to your holiness and godliness, and his. It's not that this can't be overcome, but that this is not to be taken lightly. And overcoming will require an intense effort. But it will be worth it!

What would victory mean? It would mean never drinking in excess again. Ever. And it would mean getting to the place where he loves God more than alcohol - so much so that he'd be willing to never drink a drop again, if drinking in moderation were to pose the temptation of getting drunk. And it would mean having a plan for dealing with stress in a way that brings God glory, not shame.

A big part of his success will come down to his ability to choose his friends wisely. Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." What sort of friends does he have? If the foolish kind, is he able to make a break with them and move on? This is key. Is he willing and able to seek out, and attract, the sort of friendships that will spur him on in godliness (Hebrews 10:24-25)?

We all need to pray for discernment when deciding whom we will spend time with and grow in intimacy with, even when we're choosing from among fellow churchgoers. I found it troubling that he would feel pressured to drink by pastors and elders. Do they know about his past sin? If so, then they should be the first to willingly not drink when he is in the group. In such settings, he is the weaker brother, and to offer him beer as part of their theology meetings is to put a stumbling block in his way (1 Corinthians 8:9-10).

The tricky thing about all this is that while you'll likely have opportunities to encourage him toward godliness and possibly even mention specific areas of concern like his choice of friends (especially if he does ask you to start dating), the burden of this should not rest wholly, or even mostly, with you. Conviction is the Holy Spirit's job. Your primary role, at this point, is to pray for him and ask the Holy Spirit to do His work in your friend's heart and life. Then, as he is striving to change, he'll need to seek out one or more men whom he respects, who will be able to mentor him in his journey to spiritual maturity.

Such men, along with their wives, will be of great benefit to the two of you if you do start dating. Their counsel, as well as their willingness to vouch for his character and readiness for marriage — or not — will help you know if it's wise to move forward.

Wholehearted church service, hard work at work, and wise choices in friends are all good things that will help him. But alone, they are not enough to transform him. That's something only Christ can do. As I wrote a few weeks ago, forgiveness isn't a pass to keep on sinning. When Christ forgave sinners — and He did forgive grave sinners — His forgiveness was the door to freedom.

At this point I would advise you to wait before moving into a romantic relationship. He needs to do more than just say he wants to change. You're right that marriage and children provide a crucible that forges godly character. You even mentioned "Faith for the Man He'll Become." But the whole point of that article is helping women discern if a man is capable of becoming a godly husband. And the key trait is intentionality. Identifying areas where he's taking steps to grow into the job description of godly husband.

The author of that article, Carolyn McCulley, talks about a man who is

pursuing a trajectory of godliness that should prepare him for a fruitful future. This kind of intentionality is what young women should be looking for — the initial efforts that young men make as they respond to the requirements of masculine servant-leadership described in the Bible.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless (1 Timothy 3:1-10).

Based on what you've told me, I'd say it's too early to rule your friend out. But likewise, it's premature to rule him in. He needs more time to demonstrate not only a "want to," but an "able to."

If, in the near future, he asks you to start dating, you'll be in a great position to share your hopes for him, as well as to encourage him to pursue godliness along with the help of like-minded peer friendships and older mentors. Hopefully his desire to bond with you romantically will be another incentive God uses to motivate much needed change.

And in the meantime, you can be praying for him and for yourself, that God will give you the words to say when the time is right.

I am confident that as you seek God's will, both in prayer and in His Word, that He will guide you.

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2010 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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