Ask Lynn-She Can’t Stand His Smoking

He can’t quit…but she’s ready to walk. Can this relationship be salvaged?

By Lynn Harris

ear Lynn,
I have a boyfriend of about three months. The problem: He’s a smoker, which I absolutely hate. When we got together, he promised me that he would quit to be with me, and here we are—he still smokes and has no intention of stopping. I can’t marry him,
I feel that if he wanted to quit badly enough, he’d do it.
can’t have his children, and can’t really have a life with him if he smokes. It goes against my own morals and principles; it’s dirty and disgusting and so unhealthy. If I try to approach the subject now, all we do is fight. He argues that I should love him for him and accept him as a smoker and not try to change him. Out of all the things he could be, a cheater, and alcoholic, he feels that this is petty. He likes it, and he says it’s hard to stop, I feel that if he wanted to quit badly enough, he’d do it. But to me, it’s so much more than just the smoking now, it’s that he can’t live up to his word to me. I do love him, and I don’t want to live alone forever, but this is a huge issue for me. How can I convince him how important this is… or is he right, am I being petty?
- Lost in the Fog

Dear Lost,
No one can make the case that smoking is healthy, or that it in any way enhances the experience of kissing. Or that it’s inexpensive. There aren’t even movie stars out there making it look “cool” anymore. (Netflix a copy of Now, Voyager to see how it used to be.) And there’s also, yes, the matter of secondhand smoke. So really, your Marlboro Man has no excuse.

Except this: It’s really, really, really hard to quit smoking. Physiologically so. Like, beyond being “stubborn.” People try — and fail — to quit their whole lives. Or people don’t even try, because it’s just too hard. (This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try; I’m just saying there are a million reasons, many of them chemical, why they don’t.)

But he promised, you say. Yes, he did. And really, he probably shouldn’t have. You know what, though? I’ll bet he said it because he didn’t want to lose you.

Also, let me gently add that it’s a bit inconsistent for you to complain about his not keeping his word. In a broad sense, you have not honored your own. After all, if smoking is that much against your
There will always be something about any partner that you want them to change.
principles, you could have made a perfectly valid choice not to date him in the first place. And yet, here you are.

What else? You have informed him of your position and your preference for a smoke-free relationship. That’s good. And in an ideal world, it would be incentive enough to quit on a dime. But (a) as explained above, it’s not that easy when it comes to smoking, and, more importantly, (b) there will always be something about any partner that you want them to change and yet they do not—even if they “should” want to do it for “you.” If it weren’t smoking, it’d be something else. I guarantee. Relationships should come with this warning on the package.

So, Lost, seems to me you are left with a choice. You can either stay with him – butts and all – or you can leave. If you stay, you can probably find some wiggle room: No smoking in your house, say, or without inhaling a liter of Listerine. And if you leave? It wouldn’t be “petty.” You said this was a major moral issue for you; you’d be sticking to your principles. You’d be leaving because you realize it’s not lame to admit you can’t change someone. It’s actually respectful to everyone involved.

It’s up to you, Lost. Take a deep breath into your lungs and follow your heart.

Lynn Harris ( is co-creator, with Chris Kalb (, of the award-winning website — you can visit BG's blog to discuss this letter! A longtime journalist, Lynn has written about dating, gender, and culture high and low for Glamour, Marie Claire, The New York Times,,, and many others. She is currently the communications strategist for Breakthrough, a transnational organization that creates pop culture to promote human rights. Submit your own dating questions for Ask Lynn via Your question may be answered in a future column.
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