Is Your Love Life Going Up In Smoke?

Are you a smoker who's struggling to find dates? Your habit could be the problem! Learn why lighting up could be hindering your search for love — and why quitting for someone else isn't always a good idea.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

f you think daters' attitudes toward smoking haven't changed much in the last few years, think again. In a recent poll, 58 percent of respondents said they absolutely would not consider dating a smoker — up a whopping 22 percent from when the same question was
On our second date, I saw one of those patches.
posed in 2004. On top of the 58 percent who said they absolutely would not date a smoker, an additional 22 percent of respondents reported that they "probably" would not date a smoker. This clear aversion to cigarettes means two things for smokers who are actively dating: 1) an increased challenge in finding a partner, and 2) a greater risk for conflict over smoking once they're in a committed relationship.

Yet, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control in 2009, approximately 20 percent of the adult American population still smoke. So even if you're not a smoker yourself, you have a good chance of meeting smokers in the dating world.

How smoking affects your online dating life
Because the stigma against smoking is so great and because many smokers perceive themselves to be on the verge of quitting, some smokers identify themselves as "nonsmokers" or "occasional smokers" in their online dating profiles, and while smoking is a definite deal-breaker for some nonsmokers, many have found themselves smitten by a smoker — despite their strong preference for a smoke-free partner.

Such was the case when then 39-year-old travel writer, Lisa Niver Rajna, met her future husband, George. "I was online and trying to date. I had in my brain that I personally never smoked, and so I had the expectation that I was going to date a nonsmoker," Niver Rajna says. "I definitely looked at smoking statuses, and I thought George's said that he was either a nonsmoker or an occasional smoker."

With a shared interest in world travel, George and Lisa really hit it off on their first date — but on their otherwise-great second date, new information came forward about George's smoking status. "On our second date, I saw one of those patches," Niver Rajna says. "It wasn't something we talked about, but I knew then that the smoking was more than occasional." But because the second date was a complete success in every other way, she turned to a friend for advice. "My friend told me that smoking is a 'deal-breaker,' but thank goodness I didn't listen! George quit smoking on his own and has been smoke-free almost three years. I would tell everyone who has 'deal-breakers' to reexamine them, because you might be throwing out the best match you could ever find."

But according to Lela Bryan, Founder and Chief Learning Officer at, smokers who are forthcoming about their smoking habit in their online dating profiles may find themselves contacted less frequently than their nonsmoking counterparts. "A lot of people want to quit smoking because they're getting back in the dating world," Bryan says, "and it was an issue in their other relationships… or they just want to have a wider scope of prospects."

Bryan recalls one client who came to her for help quitting smoking: an attractive, well-dressed 45-year-old woman who'd listed herself as a smoker on her online dating profile and had received very little interest. After she quit smoking and changed
Smoking becomes a major problem once people are in relationships.
her status to "nonsmoker," Bryan says, "She had more prospects in a day than she'd had before in a month. Not long after, she met the love of her life who said he wouldn't have approached her if she'd still had her status as a smoker."

Because a smoker's habit can cause power struggles within a relationship, Bryan strongly encourages smokers to do the work of quitting in preparation for entering the dating scene. "Ideally, you want to quit before you meet the person of your dreams," she says.

Should you quit for your relationship's sake?
"Smoking becomes a major problem once people are in relationships for both the smoker and the nonsmoker," Bryan explains. "The nonsmoker has the rosy idea early on that the smoker is going to quit for [him or her]. Later on, some of these nonsmokers become frustrated and give the smoker an ultimatum."

Hypnotherapist Eric Zeisler of Zeisler Hypnosis in New York City works with a number of smokers wishing to quit as well as nonsmokers hoping to support their partners while they're quitting. Zeisler emphasizes the importance of not creating a situation in which "the partner/spouse/potential suitor is seen as the 'enemy.' The person seeking treatment should want to quit for [his or her] own well-being. The hindrance [this person's] smoking is causing the relationship/potential relationship should be seen as a positive — the catalyst that will change [his or her] own life for the better, come what may in the relationship."

Bryan concurs, emphasizing that "if you quit for someone else, then you might want to go back to smoking to spite [that person] if you have a fight." Bryan and Zeisler both emphasize the importance of establishing positive means of support during the quitting process, minus the nagging.

"The key to successfully supporting a partner trying to break the habit," Zeisler explains, "is opening the lines of communication about the smoking rather than just saying, 'This is disgusting.' The truth is that the smoker usually wants to stop, but the negative messages from the partner are making the problem worse. When you have a partner who is supportive, it is easier for the smoker to move into the future without the habit."

Set respectful boundaries with your partner
When writer and former smoker Sanya Weathers met her husband at age 26, they managed to avoid the power struggles that often characterize smoker/nonsmoker romances. "We were very respectful of each other," Weathers explains. "He didn't hound or nag. I voluntarily made my apartment smoke-free. I went through truckloads of mints and really tried not to smoke around him. I was too addicted to not smoke on our dates, but I managed to cut it down to one every couple of hours. That's a lot of sacrifice for someone who smokes a pack a day. He never said one word of complaint, which paradoxically made me want to try harder to keep it away from him."

Weathers says that her husband never asked her to quit. "One time he mentioned that he'd always made smoking a deal-breaker for potential dates, but I was 'different.' I smoked through the first year of our relationship, and when I quit, he was hugely supportive. But quitting was my idea, same as the habit was. I absolutely did it for him, though. I wouldn't have quit if I hadn't wanted to make him happy and our home together a clean and healthy one."

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over and a regular contributor to Happen magazine.
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