Do I Give My Boyfriend A Mulligan For Flirting While Drunk?

man and woman talking at the bar
Mulligan or not acceptable? I read your blog daily, have sent it to numerous of my friends and even bought your online book. I have read tons of self help books and since reading yours, my dating life has changed drastically. I now feel in control of my own happiness and not the needy, clingy, over analyzer I use to be.

I’ve been dating this guy for a month and “mirroring” him, which has worked out great. Everything has been amazing so far! He takes me on real dates, follows up right away and is always consistent. For the first time in my life I have been able to just relax and let things flow with out putting a timeline on when things should happen according to me.

Anyways, he asked me to come out with him and all of his friends last night because everyone was in town for New Year’s. I was super excited and thought, “wow, he must really like me.” Dumb, right? Got to the bar with a few of my girlfriends and he was beyond drunk. I was my happy self, said hello, grabbed a drink and proceeded to chat with his friends. He hopped around from person to person and was quite close with all of the girls…. I assumed they were all old college friends. However, I was wrong. My girlfriend overheard the girl say she just met him last week at a bar down the road. He then started to chat a girl right near me and rub her back (quite sexually) right in front of me and my friend. I was beyond embarrassed and humiliated when my three girlfriends asked me “what is he doing?”

Why would he invite me there if he wasn’t going to talk to me and have other girls all over him/vice versa? When he realized I was upset, he came over to explain they were “just old friends.” I simply said it wasn’t cool, I didn’t understand why I was there and especially when I brought my friends to meet him. Let’s just say he called me “dramatic” and then another not very nice word through slurring. I asked my girlfriends if we could leave without making a scene. His friends kept telling me “oh, he’s just drunk and trying to show off…he really likes you… we have heard so much about you!” Now he is profusely apologizing, saying he was wasted. I use to have a drinking problem and it reminded me of something I would have done two years ago: wake up regretting what I did and realize I meant nothing by it other then my own personal “daddy” issues.

Desperately wishing the person I liked would understand, forgive me and hand me a mulligan because I didn’t mean it. Do I give a mulligan??? Or is this not acceptable??? There has to be a fine line between the two and right now its super blurry to me. Please help!


Dear Natalie,

This is a GREAT question, and you deserve a lot of credit for one thing: realizing that this reminded you of something you would have done two years ago and didn’t mean it.

…step out of your own shoes, put yourself in your partner’s shoes, and see if you can understand the logic behind his behavior.

Because truly, that is the essence of dating coaching — step out of your own shoes, put yourself in your partner’s shoes, and see if you can understand the logic behind his behavior. The people who are best in relationships are the ones who understand and forgive men for their transgressions. My wife — and her mulligan policy — is just the easiest example that I can use to illustrate this.

(By the way, my wife’s been very cool with all of the fat jokes I’ve been making at her expense in the past few weeks. Why? Because a) she knows I love her more than life itself, b) she has a great sense of humor and c) she’s 8 months pregnant and looks like she ate a volleyball. Why should she be insulted? She also hears every day that I think she’s beautiful and has a GREAT body for a pregnant woman. Moving on…)

As I pointed out in a recent blog post, when it comes to basic things like kindness, self-awareness, and avoiding dispiriting embarrassment, alcohol is usually going to be the culprit. From there, your dilemma becomes as clear as answering these two questions:

  • Is his drinking a problem that is indicative of a larger issue around alcohol, anger management or a loss of control?
  • Was this isolated incident that seems like an aberration from all the rest of his behavior?

I can’t claim to know your new guy’s state of mind. I can tell you, however, that ALL of us have done things while inebriated that we come to regret. And while it’s easy to make the case that booze only lets you do the things you really want to do — and acts as a truth lamp for inhibited people — it also has a tendency to bring out the worst in people.

ALL of us have done things while inebriated that we come to regret.

If you’re emotional, you’ll start crying when you’re drunk.

If you’re depressed, you’ll be more depressed when you’re drunk.

And, finally, if you’re a flirt, you’re insatiable when you’re drunk.

Literally, the last time I had a fistfight — 15 years ago — I got beat up for flirting with a woman too aggressively. Did it matter that I had 8 vodka tonics in the previous hour? Not to the guy who was punching me in the face. But the next day, when I went to work with a sore jaw (and literally NO memory of what happened the night before), and I learned what I did at my friend’s party, I was consumed with regret for weeks. I beat myself up emotionally. I apologized to everyone involved in the event. I quit drinking for 3 months. I tried to do my penance for one embarrassing moment that I couldn’t take back.

So while there’s no defending the guy who drunkenly hit on other women on the very night he invited you to join him for New Years, it is entirely possible that his behavior was out of character and that, given the opportunity to redeem himself, he does just that.

Kudos to you for understanding when to give a guy a mulligan and for having the power to walk away from this situation if he ever pulls that crap again.

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  1. 1
    Ronnie Ann Ryan - The Dating Coach

    While agree with Evan that you should get kudos for steppnig outside yourelf to look at your guy’s behavior, as a dating coach myself, I also want to suggest some parameters.

    Should you give him a mulligan does depends on:
    -If his drinking behavior was out of the ordinary
    -If his flirting behvior was not his normal way
    -If he’s needed muliagans for other dates or behaviors
    -If you find yourself making excuses for him on a regular basis.

    If your beau was just over the top once, and has never done this before – well a mulligan could be OK.

    But if this becomes any sort of pattern, if you see him drink too much often, flirt with other women in your presence, or treat you in a manner undercutting your self esteem, think hard and long before you give him an easy pass on bad behavior. Once could happen to anyone. Twice and that’s a big red flag and worth strongly reconsidering his viability as a partner.

    I believe in giving people a chance, absolutely. But I am a strong proponent for passing up a relationship early on  that shows  signs of lacking respect.

  2. 2

    Evan is spot on with this one.   Alcohol can make people very stupid if one over imbibes.   He has at least taken the first step of expressing remorse, and I’m guessing he has also made attempts to repair the damage.   What you now have to watch for is he putting action behind the apologies?   If the same situation happens again, then you have a pattern of behavior on your hands and should probably think twice before moving forward.   I would also say that boys stick together.   They were being apologists for him, and his friends probably know him well.   I would think they would have told you to bail if they didn’t genuinely wish the best for the two of you.   Just my 2 cents’.

  3. 3

    Some one (Winston Churchill?) once said:

    “The first time  is happenstance, second time is coincidence, but a third time is enemy action”

    Sounds like this was the “first time”, so a mulligan was the right way to go. But if he does it again  (a less than savory behavior pattern emerges) then  I would head for the door.

    1. 3.1

      Robin, #4: The quotation is this:
      “Mr. Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance, Twice is coincidence, Three times is enemy action.'” (Auric Goldfinger to James Bond) Words by Ian Fleming. It’s also been attributed to Churchill, Julius Caesar and Star Trek Romulans. But it appears to have originated with Mr. Fleming. 🙂

      I gave a guy a mulligan for that behavior. I think it had more to do with his ego than the alcohol (the alcohol gave him an excuse.) In my situation, none of the girls reciprocated his interest and in fact looked quite uncomfortable with his unwanted advances. (He was maybe a 6 in looks, if you want to put a number on it. Or a 5. He thought his British accent made him seem much more charming than he came across as.) I was in my 20’s so I didn’t dump him as soon as I should have. (Ironically, other guys were pursuing me through no effort on my part. He was desperate for more attention and couldn’t get it, and I was disinterested in other suitors but had no shortage of them. Isn’t that always the way of things?)

      I hope that Natalie will check in and let us know what happened!

  4. 4

    Ronnie Ann Ryan (#1): You’re basically rephrasing what Evan states at the end of the post. Basically, if the behavior is out of character and he redeems himself, keep him. If he does it again, walk away. Evan never said to keep a guy who repeatedly disrespects you…

  5. 5

    Let’s see: He invites you to a bar to meet his friends. He also invites a girl he met the week  before. Right in front of you he strokes another woman’s back in a sexual way, while not giving you much in the way of attention while you’re there. If he’s that drunk why isn’t he stroking your back?   Why isn’t he all over you?  And when he notices you are upset he makes it your problem and becomes verbally abusive.

    You’ve had your own problem with alcohol so you know how this kind of thing goes. How he behaved was  the BIG RED FLAG Natalie. One you may have ignored before perhaps? I don’t think this behavior in a r’ship this new is mulligan worthy – you’ll likely see some kind of alcoholic repeat in the not too distant future.

    Since it’s been 6 weeks since you wrote about this what has happened since?

    1. 5.1

      You’re so right Selena. We forget the facts. You helped me realize something about my boyfriend too. Thank you.

  6. 6

    Natalie, thanks for the new term.   You learn something new every day.

    201 up, 15 down

    buy mulligan mugs, tshirts and magnets
    A Mulligan, in a game, happens when a player gets a second chance to perform a certain move or action; usually due to lack of skill or bitter luck. A “Do-Over”. Like getting an “Extra Play” in pinball due to sinking the ball before obtaining an arbitrary amount of points.

  7. 7

    If this was a one-time thing, then how did he meet that girl in a bar the week before? To me, that’s twice already.

  8. 8

    Whether Natalie gives him the heave-ho now or later, I’m pretty sure she WILL be giving him the heave-ho.  There are not many things I have zero tolerance for, but  the  guy who is already drunk upon my arrival is one of them.   And  then  he proceeds to  humiliate me  and  twists it around so it’s my problem?  I’m  hung up, I’m a snob, I’m NO FUN?    No thanks.  And I know this is not exclusively a male problem, but to me it’s irrelevant if he’s  sooooo sorry the next day — most  people with a drinking problem are.   Every time. But so what? The mulligan is something you reserve for when  the decent man you’ve known for  quite a while  gets drunk at his brother’s wedding and acts like a dumb ass.  For me, this guy’s behavior would not only be a red flag, it would be a giant neon  green light signaling me to get  outta Dodge. Do not pass Go.  Lordy, I hope I’m wrong, but my gut feeling is that Natalie will be in  this situation again with this guy. If so, hopefully she stays true to herself and doesn’t cave into his rationalizations, apologies, and other distortions of the real problem — his drinking problem.  

  9. 9

    Maybe she is mirror-ing him too well. He doesn’t know how she feels about him and just trying to blow her cover  by  making her jealous.

  10. 10

    I was expecting “Mulligan” to refer to something immature, vicious and cruel.   Something junior high boys might do.

  11. 11

    I am a stick in the mud since I don’t think drinking excuses anything. That is just his real character coming out from the social conditioning. I was raised in a family where both parents were alcoholics, and I never ever will accept behaviour like that.
    Why would I want a man like that?
    Who met an other woman a week ago, and now is all over her when he is drunk?
    That is where his true interest lies, and our Natalie is just a sure thing whom he keeps while he tries to get the other girl.
    Sure, his interests might change, if he falls for her… People do fall in love. But the real question for me is that would I want a man who drinks too much, and then blames me for his bad behaviour.
    That is a pattern of behaviour people seldom grow out of.
    Sorry, plenty of men under that rock where he slithered from.. but so there is “plenty of fish” online too.
    As I don’t drink myself, or very seldom, and I know I don’t like drunks.. what do I need a drunk for? Since I lose respect for a person who can’t keep his act together.  I don’t care for man’s potential.. I don’t see that it is my job to change him..
    I either accept him as he is, or I don’t.. and in my books.. a man who drinks and then abuses me after he has wronged me – he is out. Even if he was really smoking hot, I have a thing called self esteem, and sense of self preservation.

  12. 12

    This guy is immature and abusive, and drinking is no excuse.  He couldn’t even maintain good behavior for more than a month. He invites Natalie out, is already stinking drunk by the time she gets there, humiliates her by flirting with other girls in front of her, and then swears at her when she gets upset? Of course, abusers are always sorry after the fact. Natalie can give him another chance if she likes, but I’ll bet this isn’t an isolated incident. Plus, if she already has had a problem with alcohol, this man is an even worse prospect for her.

  13. 13

    The more I think about this scenario, the more I think the harderline stance is more appropriate.   I think that this has already broken bad.

  14. 14
    Kat Wilder

    Since he invited you to meet him and his friends, this was not a “date,” so I don’t have any problem that he was chatting and flirting with other women (she was chatting with others, too). It seemed like a casual get together.
    And, you are dating for a month – not a very long time – with no mention about being exclusive or commitment or even that it’s a relationship. Right now, you are both learning about each other … and you’ve learned a lot.
    A guy who gets that drunk is, well, someone to be very, very careful with.
    Give him a mulligan? Sure, I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. But I would certainly explore his relationship with booze and any family alcoholism. From experience I know that if you partner with an alcoholic, it doesn’t get better.

  15. 15

    His mistake is that he invited her to the gathering in the first place. It’s pretty obvious he’s social and there’s evidence he flirts with chicks outside of their relationship. This type of situation actually happens to me every so often in my relationships, because flirting is natural to me. I have to be careful not too get too drunk or else I’ll loose control.
    My recommendation is that she do the EXACT SAME THING and flirt with a bunch of dudes next time they’re out and emasculate the guy. That should settle the score and they can move forward from there, provided the connection is worth salvaging.

  16. 16
    Karl R

    Natalie said: (original post)
    “He then started to chat a girl right near me and rub her back (quite sexually)”

    How does someone rub a back “quite sexually”? Anything I consider “quite sexual” would no longer be on the woman’s back. I suppose he could have run his hand up under  the girl’s  shirt, but that detail probably would have made it into  Natalie’s letter.

    My girlfriend and I are both involved in the dance community. Rubbing a friend’s/acquaintance’s back is rather normal behavior (off the dance floor). Neither of us feels “embarassed and humiliated” when we witness the other doing  it.

    NN said: (#13)
    “Why would I want a man like that? Who met an other woman a week ago, and now is all over her when he is drunk?”

    Based on Natalie’s description, it sounds like he was flirting with a woman he met a week ago, then later rubbing the back of a different woman he described as  “an old friend.”

    Zann said: (#10)
    “There are not many things I have zero tolerance for, but  the  guy who is already drunk upon my arrival is one of them.”

    There’s no mention of how long he was at the bar, with his friends, on or near New Years before she arrived.

    I routinely get together with friends around New Years (at the house of one of them). In 2009, I had the day off and had been there for hours before my girlfriend joined me. If I was sober when my girlfriend arrived, it was because I had enough time to sober up.

    Selena said: (#6)
    “He invites you to a bar to meet his friends. He also invites a girl he met the week  before.”

    In  my part of the country, bars aren’t invitation only. The girl might have showed up because she decided to go to the bar.

    How do we know that the boyfriend hadn’t met the girl at that same bar a week before?

    Goldie said: (#8)
    “If this was a one-time thing, then how did he meet that girl in a bar the week before?”

    In most healthy  relationships, meeting new people  when you go  a bar is not considered a problem. I meet new people in bars so often I don’t necessarily remember them the next time I meet them (though I’ll usually still remember them one week later).

    Ruby said: (#14)
    “Natalie can give him another chance if she likes, but I’ll bet this isn’t an isolated incident.”

    That’s a reasonably safe bet. I suspect that this guy behaves badly when he’s drunk, and that he gets drunk often enough for this behavior to be a recurring problem.

    Of course, it’s also a safe bet that any  date of mine doesn’t last past three months … because the vast majority of them don’t. Relationships don’t spring out of safe bets and likely outcomes.

    I’m with Evan. If  Natalie really likes the guy, take the chance that it was a one-time thing. If it’s not, she should dump him and move on.

    1. 16.1
      Mrs Happy

      Karl @16:
      I usually find your comments logical and helpful. I’m interested in the back rubbing experience you describe.
      I’ve never received a back rub from a woman, and must say that every single back rub I’ve ever received from a male (who wasn’t being paid to massage me) has been sensual, no matter whether done in public or private.
      I hope I’m not asking too private a question, and I’m assuming you are not gay: would you give a back rub off the dance floor, or the type you describe, to a man?

  17. 17

    Kat Wilder #16
    This may not have been a date in the technical sense, but the two have been dating, and this seemed like a chance to integrate his friends with hers. If her three girlfriends were all surprised, I don’t think she over-reacted.
    I don’t know how old this guy is, but he sounds extremely immature. Sure, people get drunk, but they don’t necessarily get mean and swear at their new girlfriend just because they’ve been drinking. I still say, in such a new relationship, the guy should have been on better behavior. His friends said he was “showing off”? Yes, but not in a good way!

  18. 18
    Jamie Beckman

    Level of drunkenness aside, I think there are two very telling parts to how the guy behaved, both of which indicate this woman should run for the hills. 1. He called her “dramatic.” That’s good foreshadowing about how he’ll address her concerns in the future: by brushing her off and making her seem like the crazy one. 2.) He called her another name after that, which is pretty unacceptable, especially when you’ve just started dating someone. I’ll give the guy a pass for the drunkenness — it was New Year’s, after all — but the rest of the stuff is a big, flashing red light.

  19. 19

    @Karl #18

    How do we know that the boyfriend hadn’t met the girl at the same bar the week before?”

    Because in paragraph 3 Natalie writes her friend overheard the girl say she just met him last week at a bar down the road.   That’s how.

    Reading comprehension for the win. 😉

  20. 20

    Ruby 14

    Plus, if she already has had a problem with alcohol, this man is an even worse prospect for her.

    Good point, the last place a recovering alcoholic needs to be is with someone who is an alcoholic, but who isn’t recovering.

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