My boyfriend just came back from a semester abroad in Paris — and he came back a smoker. I am not a smoker. Never have been, never will be. I couldn’t smoke during high school as I was dancing professionally for an opera company, and by the time I got to college it just didn’t seem like a big deal anymore. Smoking has just never really been on my radar; I know it’s bad for you, obviously, but I don’t feel the need to go protest outside Phillip Morris.
I’ve never dated a smoker because I never liked a guy that did smoke. I am not sure if it’s because I don’t like smokers, or none of the guys I was into happened to smoke, or if there is any difference between the two. Maybe if they had smoked I wouldn’t have been attracted? Impossible to know. All of that has changed now. My boyfriend and I are living together for the first time…with my parents in an NYC apartment, so it was going to be an interesting summer no matter what. When I went to visit him in Paris he had started smoking, but only occasionally and he said it was just a Paris thing, he wouldn’t do it once he came home. He told me about the cultural significance, how it helped him make friends, and he only smoked one cigarette a few days a week anyway. No biggie.
I didn’t like it back then, but I was in Paris and I was in love. Think of every cliche of young love in the Parisian spring time. We probably made onlookers want to vomit quiche, but I was too happy to care. I didn’t want to rock the boat and ruin our Hollywood moment. At first I said that as long I didn’t see him smoking and he promised to quit before he came home, I could deal with it for the moment. I soon amended the rules to include not kissing until he brushed his teeth. Eventually he was smoking in front of me, but I told myself he was just living a Parisian fantasy. Now that he’s home, that excuse doesn’t work as well.
The question now is what do I do? I’ve realized that I would never start a relationship with a smoker. It’s a disgusting habit that kills you. I won’t bore you with the millions of ways smoking destroys your body, because you probably know them already. The point is, my boyfriend wasn’t a smoker when we started dating. Now he is. I was not prepared for this scenario. I know smokers are made, not born, but I never thought my boyfriend would become a smoker mid-relationship. I never imagined that a boyfriend would become a smoker in his mid-20′s. He doesn’t have the same excuse previous generations do; the cigarette companies lied so people truly didn’t know smoking was bad for them. Well, everyone knows now, which is why I just can’t comprehend why he would start.
Smoking doesn’t just effect the smoker. Anyone heard of second hand smoke? That’s not what actually really gets my fuming. What gets me is that this perfectly healthy man is destroying his body! Admittedly, I have a case of bitter lemons. I could legitimately pass my anger off on that the fact that if we make it through this he is shortening our time on the planet together (no rocking chair or early bird specials for him) or that I am not particularly looking forward to being at his bedside as he dies from lung cancer. These are all reasons I am upset, but I am also jealous.
Not about the smoking part. I maintain that is gross. My specific problem is that I envy his health. I have a serious auto-immune disease. I was even in remission for a few years. It doesn’t really matter so much now, since with a daily load of medicine that would knock out an elephant, I am fine. I come to work every day, run at nights, hangout with friends on the weekends, the usual. Most of the time I feel fine, and with selective memory it is easy to ignore the constant doctors appointments and blood tests. After some really rough years, my body is strong and I am stronger. But it is the memories of the pain, the hospital, the procedures, that makes his choice to smoke particularly offensive to me. My mom wisely pointed out that since the bad years were way before his time, he doesn’t understand why his choice to destroy his perfectly functioning body enrages me. But how do I tell him? How do you make someone understand an experience they have no experience with?
I was thinking about this situation all week, and an article in this morning’s New York Times made me confront him. I showed him the headline “Senate Approves Tight Regulation Over Cigarettes”, but that didn’t seem to faze him. Now I am stumped. It’s nothing so dramatic as he can’t live without cigarettes and I can’t live without him, but he doesn’t want to quit. Where does that leave me?