Dear Prudence

Help! I Am Shocked at How Reckless My Friends Are.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

A graphic of two beer bottles, and a severely damaged car.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by yegor22/iStock/Getty Images Plus and obewon/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

My partner and I oppose drunk driving—we just don’t do it. But my partner has a friend who we often see leaving events where he has clearly had a few but chooses to drive anyway. Every time I see this happen, I step in (I offer a ride at first and then insist—but he always maintains he is good). I don’t think it’s a choice, but a moral obligation. My partner doesn’t back me up in the moment; he knows that his friend will just escalate and drive himself home anyway.

I understand that my partner has more to lose in these scenarios than I do (there are complicated politics with people who he works with also being present), but I find myself losing respect for my partner and for everyone (the party hosts, the colleagues, the friends) who sees this and lets it go on. Am I overreacting here? I’m in the severe minority, but to me this isn’t a gray area; if you’re having trouble walking, you’re not in a good condition to drive. How should we handle these situations in the future? What can we do when our rides are refused, but we still want to maintain a friendship?

—A Few Too Many

Dear A Few,

Well, you’re definitely in the right on the ethics: People should not drive drunk, because to do so puts other people’s lives at risk for absolutely no good reason. I think many people (stupidly) just don’t see a deadly accident as a real possibility as they are stumbling out of a bar.

That’s why @BRCTweets said, “I’d be the ‘difficult’ one. My older brother was killed by a drunk driver at 19, and no amount of letting it slide happens in my presence; I don’t care who hates me later. Yes, it’s extra to tell that story at a social event, but discomfort is fleeting. The grief is permanent.”

So being uncomfortably insistent is absolutely a reasonable choice—but I think if you were OK with it, you wouldn’t have asked for advice. When I asked for help with this on Twitter, I explained that I found this tricky because on the one hand, no reaction is too intense when someone is about to drive off and potentially kill someone, but on the other hand, few people really do that in real life. In other words, sticking to doing what’s right here doesn’t feel totally realistic—nor useful for maintaining a friendship or social “norms.”

As @ExhaustedFemme put it, “In some places, and within some groups, drunk driving is *extremely* normalized. No one talks about DD’s, + taking an UBER home is only half-expected. In rural places without UBER? You drive. Always. Am I saying it’s ok? God no. But your results may vary based on your location.”

For practical solutions, some people thought you should just go ahead and dial 911 every time your friend stumbles off toward his car.

I know calling the police is a fraught response in general, but possibly the correct response here? If he’s impaired to the point of not being able to walk, I don’t feel good about letting him go off and potentially kill himself or other people in the name of friendship. —@IsabelAphrael

I would call the police. Too many people (including children) die because of drunk driving. —@susanthesquark

This wouldn’t be a wrong thing to do, but if your goal is to keep people alive, we all know that bringing in the police doesn’t always pan out the way you might hope—especially if anyone in their path isn’t white. And then there’s the fact that a person who isn’t thinking rationally might not respond to a traffic stop by quickly pulling over and getting out his driver’s license and registration. He could easily take off and try to escape, causing an even more dangerous situation, and it might just introduce more trouble and conflict with him overall.

Several people suggested something I think might be the wisest choice: speaking to the friend while he’s sober.

Oof. One immediate thought is that having a serious convo with the driver about this should happen when he’s sober, not when he’s already wasted. —@ClaraTGreen

One problem seems to be trying to deal with it in the moment. The writer’s partner should talk to the friend in a lower-stakes and sober setting, and say that this is making him uncomfortable and concerned and he’s hoping that when they hang out, the friend can arrange for a ride —@JillFilipovic

Could the LW ask her partner to discuss this with the friend when the friend is sober BEFORE the next party? If the friends still denies help sober, there’s really not much that they can do beyond not attending events in the future. —@mboehm214

I think this is your best bet: Try to speak to him while he’s not drunk and come up with a go-to plan for him to get a ride home. You don’t need to shame or alienate him or anything—you can emphasize that this is a bigger issue for you than it is for most people, and ask if he’ll agree to carpool or hand over his keys to put your mind at ease.

If the friend refuses, maybe you don’t want to be in these situations with him anymore. After all, it doesn’t sound like you’re really enjoying yourself, and your relationship certainly doesn’t seem to be benefiting. As @redpenmamapgh put it, “This is one of those situations where the mantra ‘you cannot control what others do’ needs to be applied. The LW can speak with their partner about how it feels to not be backed up in the moment. Beyond that, the most this person can do is not attend these events.”

Finally, I thought @sesmith had a good idea about making an effort to address what might be the underlying issue here—your friend’s possible drinking problem: “Also, though, this sounds like a larger issue with this person’s relationship to alcohol that needs to be addressed. If there’s someone in the friend group who is in recovery and that person is willing, outreach from someone who has been there might be a really good idea.”

Even if you don’t have a friend in recovery, perhaps someone could float this issue of looking into whether he has a problem with alcohol. If you’re able to get him help with drinking less (or not at all), that might do more for his safety and the safety of others than you could do at any one party. Perhaps you could share this approach with your partner and hope to get his support. He might be more likely to sign on to a plan that’s made in advance and doesn’t have to be implemented in public. But remember, this is about you doing what you think is right, and you shouldn’t wait for him to agree before you act. Good luck!

Classic Prudie

My sister makes most of her money renting out her beach house during summer, when she usually stays with her boyfriend or our parents. This year, she got offered an indecent amount of money for the month of December and wants to spend two weeks with my family. She offered to pay her way, but the amount is less than three days of what she is renting her house for. My husband and I accepted her initial offer without looking at her actual finances. My husband caught a look at some of her emails while we were over at my parents, after my sister didn’t log out of her email. Now he is furious and wants to demand more money.