I’ve been dating a really great man for about six months. I really like him and so far, there are no red flags. He’s kind, funny, smart, good-looking, sexy, creative, and ambitious but … he smokes. With the exception of the occasional cigarette after drinking, I don’t smoke. His smoking doesn’t bother me for all the reasons that it might bother other people—lingering smell, smoke in my hair, and bad breath, to name a few. I just really like him and I want him to be alive and in my life for a long time. I don’t want to be the nagging girlfriend who asks him to quit smoking; but I do wish he would stop because I’m afraid he’s taking years off his life. How can I get him to quit without damaging our relationship and possibly having him come to resent me for asking him to give up something he enjoys so much? —AG, Denver, Colorado
The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown
This situation reminds me a little of those men who buy motorcycles before they meet their wife. When they get married, their new wives make them give up the motorcycles because they insist that they’re too dangerous a toy for a family man to have. The men grumble, but eventually they give in and give up, because they understand the obvious dangers of speeding down the 405 in open air when you’ve got an eight-month-old. Smokers, on the other hand, read something like this and are probably incredulous that I’d compare a deadly, gas-powered motor vehicle to their harmless little stick of tobacco. But the dangers are equal—in fact, the many cigarette-related dangers are probably greater than the dangers associated with riding a motorcycle. But I digress.
It’s not an unreasonable desire—wanting someone you love to remain in your life. I understand that you don’t want to be the nagging girlfriend, but since you think this relationship is going somewhere, I think you’re going to have to suck it up and be the communicating girlfriend. So here’s my crazy idea and advice: just tell him it’s bothering you and why. If your relationship is strong (it sounds like it is) and if he’s the amazing man you describe, he’ll at least listen. At the very least, your concerns will be on the table. Besides telling him, why don’t you also suggest a new, healthy activity that you two can do together? Yoga will help him focus on his breathing, which may also help him realize he’s actually having a hard time breathing and give him a nudge in the quitting direction.
If he doesn’t take any action after you try both of those things, the ball’s in your court to decide if you can suck up living with and worrying about a smoker for the rest of your life. As Kevin Bacon might’ve said if presented with this situation in Footloose, there’s a time for motorcycle-riding and there’s a time to dance, there’s a time to smoke and a time to grow up. It’s time to let him know that his habit bothers you (in as un-nagging way as possible) and it’s time for him to take responsibility for his health and his life now that he has this amazing woman named AG in it. Listen to Kevin. He’s a wise man.
The straight man’s perspective: Chris Kennedy
Dear Mr. The One for AG, she has turned on the no smoking sign and asks that you refrain from smoking for the remainder of the relationship.
Well, AG, you can’t really make Mr. The One quit, but you have every right to ask him to—clearly and sincerely. No need to filter your thoughts or blow smoke about your feelings on your disapproval of his smoking. By the way, how can you not be grossed out by the lingering smell, bad breath, and smoke in your hair? In your “future of the relationship” talk, I’m assuming you brought up your displeasure with his smoking in the kind, caring way you phrased it in your question. You aren’t trying to ask him to give up something he enjoys to be controlling, but to simply prolong the life you envision spending together.
I’m also assuming his response is that he enjoys it and isn’t ready to give it up. He may also have brought up that you smoke a bit too and he’d have a point. You need to put your money—not any cigarettes—where your mouth is. No more cigarettes “occasionally after you drink” for you. You’ve got your match and I don’t hear you saying that his quitting smoking is contingent upon the two of you spending your life together. You’re right not to want to nag him to death (literally) about it. He knows where you stand and it will be up to him. Word is it’s difficult for many to stop smoking and it won’t happen immediately. This will be an issue you’ll have to work on in your years together, and hopefully there will be many of those years. Let him know you’ll be there persistently supporting him in his efforts to snuff out this unhealthy habit.
Until then, you will just have to suck it up until he realizes giving up the cancer sticks is for his and your own well-being. Maybe then he can leave the cigarettes in ashes for good.
The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox
Here’s the deal AG, it does bother you or you wouldn’t feel compelled to reach out to the 4-Way. In a former life, I was in a similar situation. I met a guy who I thought was perfect for me in every way. The only thing that really ruffled my feathers was the fact that he smoked. Naturally, he concealed this fact as long as possible until I caught him. He knew it bothered me because whether he was drinking or not, I always made it a point to bring it up to him. It never went well.
If you want to take it a step further in your quest for encouragement, why don’t you stop all together? See how it feels. If you’re thinking, “I could never do that,” then you’ll know how it feels to him, only amplify that feeling since he smokes all the time. (I assume you’re sober at least in the mornings.) I could tell you to go out and get the patch or take him to The Bodies Exhibition that’s making its way across the globe to show him what his lungs look like right about now. But the truth is, until he sees you sacrifice your occasional cig that you’re having in front of him, he’s never going to take you seriously when you ask him to quit cold turkey. I’m not saying it’s your fault that he smokes, I’m merely suggesting you understand his situation through a sacrifice and set an example along the way. If he’s The One, it’s all going to work out no matter what. You take the good, the bad, and the ugly and realize you cannot control love.
The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer
AG, I know the marriage vows say, “’til death do us part,” but my guess is you weren’t expecting him to make a conscience choice to bring death into his life faster then nature intended it. When someone is a habitual smoker, the “honey you’re taking years off your life” argument goes up in smoke. That’s because he isn’t smoking in order to shorten his life; he’s smoking because he’s addicted. You can nag all you want, but most likely he won’t stop.
I’m curious, would you lay down an ultimatum to him? Either he gets some professional help to help him stop smoking or the wedding is off? That may get his attention, but you would have to be able to follow it through, and my guess is that you aren’t going to let THE ONE get away that easily. And even if he does quit now, odds are he will start up again. So if you can deal with the lingering smell and all the other joys of living with a smoker, good for you. I know that I can’t.
Where you do have some “breathing room” with him is in discussing where he can and cannot smoke: in the home, car, and in other shared spaces. Also lay down the law about how important it is not to smoke at all around children or you if/when you become pregnant. In this case, I guess you just have to “love the smoker, not the smoke.”