When a love interest undermines your sobriety, even if the intent is not malicious, it should be a warning sign to you.

“You go to too many meetings.”

Nicole and I had been dating for six weeks when she told me this.

At the time, I had nearly a year and a half sober. I had completed my ninth step work, and I was starting to sponsor newcomer guys. I was going to six meetings a week, taking Fridays off. Friday nights were great for date nights with Nicole, who from the beginning, had seemed to understand that my sobriety came first.

Emphasis on “seemed to.”

Nicole liked to go out a lot. That was fine; I was flexible. Except for the Monday night meeting where I had a secretary commitment, I could and would always rearrange my Twelve Step plans for Nicole. And then came the Saturday night where I’d been asked to be the first speaker at a huge meeting—and Nicole wanted me to come out to dinner and meet her friends.

I told my girlfriend I could meet them before the meeting or right after, but that this was too important a commitment to skip. That’s when she told me I went to too many meetings.

“It’s like a cult. I feel like I’m competing with a cult, and I don’t like it.”

I called up a friend I made during recovery, asked him to speak in my place, and I went out with Nicole and her friends. Afterwards, we went to a bar. Nicole’s friend offered to buy a round for everyone, and I asked for a soda. When the friend raised her eyebrows, Nicole patted my arm. “He’s in a non-drinking phase. But he’ll come around.”

He’ll come around. It suddenly hit me that Nicole had no real concept of how the program worked, that I had a disease, that to drink or use again might mean death. She took my willingness to skip a meeting as a sign that I could be eased out of the program—and spend more time with her.

Nicole was not a bad person. She didn’t want me to relapse and die. She just had a hard time grasping the severity of the disease—and these are the most dangerous people for addicts early in their sobriety!

Many of us can stay away from the predatory and abusive types we might have dated before we came to the program. What we aren’t ready for are those partners who won’t take our program seriously, or assume we’re going through a phase. Sometimes, the most dangerous people are those who simply want more of our time than we can give without compromising our program.

After Nicole and I broke up—which we did—I learned to start every new relationship by saying “My sobriety is central to me. It comes first. I will do everything I can to make time for you, but not at the cost of my program.” Saying it early and clearly was key, repeating it if necessary was vital. And though it scared a few away, far more stayed.