The Opposite Sex 

A burning question—how do you love a smoker?

A burning question—how do you love a smoker?

Dear B&D,

I made a promise that I would never date another smoker—and yet one wakes up beside me every day. The last boyfriend I had wanted to quit, but he couldn’t go more than several hours without lighting up. My reminding eventually turned to nagging and a whole lot of resentment; eventually I just couldn’t fake any more excitement for watching another hour-long episode of “I’m going to quit this time,” and that led to a LOT of fighting. Now I find that this new guy is putting me in the same position, and I’m beginning to feel manipulated and very cranky. Shouldn’t I care about the way my boyfriend treats himself (and me too, since I inhale)? Or is it none of my business? I can’t play both sides, and yet that’s what these guys seem to want me to do.

—Coughhackwheeze

Ben: Let me first say on behalf of smokers all over the world: Go to hell, you whining maggot. Secondly, you self-centered pain the ass, what is more important in a relationship: the happiness of your partner or your security in his health? Should you be concerned with his health? Sure. If he’s sick! Otherwise, stop worrying yourself with it. There are a million things in this world that can be affecting his health negatively or positively.

Since the surgeon general’s warning back in the mid-’60s, a certain section of non-smokers have made it their mission to educate smokers on the particular evils of cigarettes. It’s been 30 years since then—don’t you think most smokers realize the health risks inherent in their chosen habit? Of course they do. They choose to smoke because they like it. It makes them happy. It makes them comfortable.

Here’s the real problem: Non-smokers can’t understand the joys of a good pack of butts. All they can think about is the smell and the dirty ashtray. They don’t know the slightly orgasmic feeling of a long drag on a Camel Light after a fulfilling meal. Or the delicate kick to your martini buzz that a smoke can provide. For some people, it’s just a natural part of their personality. Can anyone imagine Keith Richards without a cigarette dangling from his mouth?

Since non-smokers don’t know these finer pleasures, they can’t understand why smokers would choose to take the health risk. And that’s fine. If something isn’t your cup of tea, then don’t do it. But don’t assume that just because you don’t approve of something someone does, you should be able to change his ways to suit your ideals. Especially when he’s someone you love.

I’d like to use Leaving Las Vegas as an example. This 1995 film about the unconditional love between a lonely prostitute and a suicidal drunk is as real a love story as you can get. Despite the drunk’s unabashed self-destructive streak, the prostitute accepts and loves him until his inevitable demise. Now, that’s romance!

This is, of course, an extreme example. Few people could stand by and watch their partners willfully destroy themselves. And by no means should you. But your boyfriend is not a suicidal alcoholic—he’s just a smoker. As such, I’m sure he knows the possible consequences of his actions and is comfortable with the risks. If he chooses to quit, support him. Otherwise, leave him alone; it’s his life, not yours.

If you can’t handle the choices he’s made, or if you’re too shallow to deal with someone who “tastes like an ashtray,” then do him a favor and leave him. He deserves someone who loves him for who he is, not for who she wants him to be. In the meantime, smokers of the world, light one up on me and enjoy it. And maybe one day, instead of National Smoke Out Day, we’ll have National Freedom To Be Who We Are Without Judgment Day. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Danny: Being a non-smoker, my mind immediately starts spinning out of control with all the self-righteous things I could say about smoking and smokers. But would that really help you, Gentle Reader? I think not.

So on your behalf, I give this question more thought—even though it’s killing me not to be self-righteous. I would love to be able to tuck my hair behind my ear, roll my eyes, and tell you haughtily that smoking is vile and disgusting, that I would never date a smoker, and that if your boyfriend loves you enough, he’d quit if you asked him to.

But that’s just not the way it is. It’s hard to find someone you click with. The older you get, the more baggage you acquire, and the harder it becomes to find someone who’s willing to help you carry it around. If you can get past all the unbelievable mental torture of dating, and it seems like you’re both in it for the long haul, are you really willing to ditch it all because he smokes? You knew he smoked when you met him, right? And now you want him to quit and he wants to quit—but he just can’t.

I’m sure he really does want to. I know he would if he could. Nobody in his right mind would pick up a pack of anything that said, “Hey, you know what? We cause cancer. Horrible, black, rotting cancer. But go ahead and stick us in your mouth anyway. Because we know you can’t help yourself.”

Believe me, your boyfriend knows it’s wrong. He knows it’s gross. He knows it gets in your eyes and your clothes and that kissing him is like licking an ashtray. And certainly he’s aware that you inhale, and that no amount of polite blowing smoke in the other direction changes the fact that he’s a sending a little black tar your way. He can’t help it—the man is addicted.

Because I don’t smoke, I’m going to fall back on the only comparison in my life that comes close: cheese. I did some exercising today. I stretched, I ran, I stretched again. I left the YMCA flushed, fit, and minus a few hundred calories. Some fruit, a bowl of cereal, even a nice smoothie would have done me just fine for dinner. But what did I do? I came home and heated up leftover lasagna. Why? Because there was cheese in my house, and I had to have it—even as my tight-fitting jeans were begging me not to.

I’m not talking just one kind of cheese, mind you. I’m talking mozzarella, parmesan, and the big-cheese-daddy of them all—ricotta. I sat in my still-damp workout clothes and inhaled big old chunks of congealed whole milk. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. Because I could not help myself. I am addicted to cheese.

Which is to say: If someone I was dating asked me to give up cheese for the rest of my life, I’d want to—but I can’t honestly say I’d be able to. So be patient. I bet there are things you say you’re going to do that you don’t come through on either. Does he give you hell about your vices the way you do his?

Here’s what you do. Tell him you want him to quit. Tell him you’ll do whatever it takes to help him. Turn a deaf ear to his rantings during his nicotine fits. Use both hands and all your heart to hoist him up on the wagon. But here’s the hardest part: If you really love this guy, and you want to make it work, don’t look smug when he inevitably falls off.

Got a question for Danny and Ben? E-mail oppositesex@nashvillescene.com.

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