Love and Smoke

So I am really in love for the first time in a while. He’s a radical activist. He’s Mennonite. He’s brilliant. He would probably read and write on this blog if he was from the USA. But there is a big problem, he smokes tobacco (a lot). Or is that not a problem? I need your help, my radical friends…to help me think through the issues of smoking and tobacco usage. I can only really take love advice seriously from people who are in the movement for positive social change…people who understand a deep commitment to values that call us to put our “personal” love lives in perspective with the greater struggle of promotion of love and justice all over the world. I listen to others who I feel are be people of integrity on all levels of life.

What follows is what I think about smoking/what I’m struggling with/the questions I have. Please, if you have any wisdom to share…SHARE IT. As a feminist I am willing to put this out in the public because I do believe the personal is political. And I know that the relationships that individuals have also effect the collective.

I realized again that I’m a “God-geek” when I wanted to know something marriage a few weeks ago and so I looked at C. Arnold Snyder’s chapter titled “Anabaptist Marriage” in Anabaptist History and Theology textbook. My point was to see how these young activists handled marriage in the context of an intense social movement. (It didn’t really help all that much, but I did learn that some women appreciated the relative freedom of the Anabaptist movement to leave abusive and restrictive spousal relationships and that sometimes a married couple referred to each other as “wedded brother” or “wedded sister,” their primary identification was still with the community and with the movement.)

I accept him, as he is, with all his good and bad. But when it comes to having to make a choice about who I want to share intimate spaces with and surround myself with…who I would want to spend the rest of my life with and commit my most broken and beautiful self to, I want it to be a person or people who in all ways strive for and live into health, healing, and wholeness for all of their days…in all ways.

Our bodies are God’s temples. Isn’t smoking/drinking/not exercising etc. a destruction of that temple? As young Anabaptist radicals we both work to protect the bodies of others…advocate for their safe passage between tanks and fences…stop war…How could someone willfully destroy that which is of God when they spend a lot of time trying to build up more of God in the world.

It feels like a contradiction to work in solidarity with others for a better life, but then whittle away at your own life…and if healthcare in your country is socialized, how selfish is it to use up resources that could go to someone else? Those resources could go to someone less wealthy, and someone who didn’t consciously and repeatedly inflict sickness upon themselves.

Or what about the issues with the tobacco companies? Or the land that is being used to grow tobacco for export crop instead of food for residents?

What is it that smoking gives people? Is it not possible that this feeling can be obtained through some other form? Exercise trains the mind and body to respond in the best way possible in a given situation. To calm down…to think creatively…to work as a team…Do I have the right as a potential partner to hold my potential partner to the highest standard? (Or at least the standard that I hold myself to?)

He sometimes reminds me that people have the right to kill themselves. Yes, in secular society, I would agree that you have the right to kill yourself, but I would argue that as a Christian, you do not have that right. Especially if one is committed to nonviolence (he’s a pacifist…doing excellent intellectual work to support radical nonviolent faith-based action in the world). But then, why do violence to one’s self? Smoking is SO well documented to hurt so much of the body…not to mention it puts out 2nd hand smoke and makes stuff smell bad.

If you treat your own body badly, why should I trust you to treat mine well? (Even though he says he will)

Marriage and long term partnerships include compromise. If I am going to give up some of my bad habits then the other person should do the same, right? If we’re not in this together in our struggles and joys and sacrifices (for the benefit of the beloved) then, even though it looks so possible and beautiful, we shouldn’t pursue it.

Help, my YAR friends! Am I off my rocker? Am I being to rough or judgmental? This stuff is hard. I am totally willing to change my views…I just need to be convinced and nuanced. I know I do. For example, since I am really putting myself out there at this point, I might as well say that I think coffee is cheating one’s health too (in addition to the complication of the blood-soaked politics) . It does your body’s work of waking you up for you…often masking unhealthy life rhythms of incorrect rest/busyness ratios…and sometimes creating a dependency/addiction.

Comments (17)

  1. David

    Congratulations on being in love. I hope it all works out for you.

    I am a non-smoking son of parents who both did. My dad started young; my mom started after 15 years of marriage and a stressful job.

    My thoughts are:

    1) You have given us several reasons why you don’t smoke – why does he? Have you asked?
    2) I’m not sure we are on stable ground arguing against any sin like “smoking/drinking/not exercising” as being against God’s temple. The proper question is one of moderation versus excess. Jesus turned water to wine, and there are several sins we can be (are, in my case) guilty of.

    I hope everything works out.

    Matthew 7:1
    1 Corinthians 13:5-7
    2 Corinthians 6:14a

  2. Skylark

    It feels good, don’t it? That elated-almost-to-the-point-of-combustion feeling, the near-irritation that everything else in your life is a distraction from the relationship.

    But since you asked for honesty: Do not, I repeat, DO. NOT. overlook anything you believe to be a warning sign. The mere fact you thought it important enough to post on here says something huge.

    For me, I could argue both sides of the ethics and personal freedom aspects of smoking. It would come down to that frankly, I find it gross. I suppose a cigarette twice a year wouldn’t be a big deal, especially if my SO didn’t expect any mouth-to-mouth contact until there was zero smell or taste or residue or anything like that. But every day? Several times a day? No thanks.

    It’d be the same if I were considering an alcoholic who smelled like BO and booze on a regular basis. Or (EWYUCKNASTYGROSS) ate animal flesh. The less it happens, the less it’s an issue, but at some point there’s a line I just can’t cross.

    Oh, and by the way, I don’t use coffee to “do my body’s work of waking me up.” That’s what alarm clocks are for. :-P

  3. Ryan

    I read this blog but very rarely comment. I grew up in the Mennonite church and I’m still very much committed to Anabaptist ideals. I’ve been married to a non-Mennonite for 6 years and I have two wonderful children. I hope this helps but my following thoughts in context, yet you still don’t know me so feel free to take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

    I believe that that you have it backwords. You state: “Marriage and long term partnerships include compromise. If I am going to give up some of my bad habits then the other person should do the same, right?” If you love him and want a long term relationship the compromise is that you accept him for who he is today. You allow him to be himself and not what you want him to be. In return, he is gracious with your faults.

    It seems to me with something like smoking (and many other things in life) it is important to allow him to make the decision to stop instead of forcing him to doing so or else. If he quits only because you want him to it will likely lead to resentment and relapse.

    I promise you there will be a million things that drive you crazy about the person you marry, but we don’t do our selves any favors getting caught in the trees when we should be basking in the glory of the forrest. The real question is do you love him enough to accept him faults/beauty and all?

  4. vera

    This takes me back… I married a man who smoked, and there were other warning signs I ignored. A big mistake. I cracked down about him smoking at home or in the car. So I never had second hand smoke. But still…

    If I were to do it again, I would say, here are a few things you’ve got to do, if you want us to have a future. And quitting smoking would be first on the list. I would offer to be open to his “list” as well regarding me.

    Like David says… spiritually it’s about moderation. Problem is, very few people use tobacco in moderation (a cigg here and there, like seldom) because it is so addictive. Worse than heroin, I have heard. My husband was also brilliant, but the smoking betrayed a certain & profound underlying stupidity about down-to-earth things, as well as a self-destructive tendency. I was with him many many years, and that’s my best take on it. AND and besides, it’s gross. That’s the bottom line! :-)

  5. lukelm

    Here are a couple thoughts on marriage and a couple thoughts on smoking:

    1) The long-term commitment thing is kind of funny. In the initial motions toward the possibility of long-term marriage commitment, it pays to be very very cautious and very picky. You need to know & trust your very deep senses about how fundamentally good and kind and trustworthy the other person is. (Hormones/pheromomes do everything they can to interfere with this, by the way! Of course, hormones and pheromomes are fantastic things in their own way.) However, once you HAVE committed your life to another person, then the game changes – you take them all in, bad and good, and have to give them lots and lots of time and space to be exactly themselves, and try to continually make your love as unconditional as possible, even if the issue surrounds something like smoking. If you want them to change in some way, be incredibly gentle, and realize that it will probably take several years or even a couple decades of unconditional love before they might want to change.

    2.) The fundamentally important issue probably isn’t the smoking vs no smoking, but rather how you two communicate about it now. Is it something you’ve been able to talk openly about, communicate well, recognize that you both have different viewpoints, even laugh about? Those are all good signs that you’ll make a good team together. On the other hand, does the tension over the issue result in snide comments, unrelieved frustration, feelings of separation? Those are signs of bad communication – and not being able to communicate well over an issue like this can be a warning sign that in the future you both will continually resort to those relationship-killing modes.

    3.) If it is something you can communicate well about, but he decides not to quit, you can probably just work out a practical solution. No smoking in shared living spaces, shared cars, etc.

    4.) Yes, smoking is pretty much the worse thing you can do for your health habit-wise, but if he quits by his mid-30’s, he probably shouldn’t have many long-term effects.

  6. SteveK

    Smoking is no sin. The whole “body is the temple” thing is referring to I cor 6, where Paul is speaking about engaging in prostitution, not eating meat or anything else that might be “bad” for you. The “body” he is concerned about is the church, the “body of Christ” and engaging with a prostitute is making an idolator one with Christ. Nothing to do with smoking.

    I am deeply concerned about our society’s sudden prejudice against smokers. A lot of people picked up smoking young (especially in non-Western countries, where smoking is the norm), and once it has begun, it is difficult to stop. Make that, nigh-on impossible. I have spoken to heroin users and they have told me that quitting heroin is difficult (and painful), but quitting tobacco is the worst. I give a lot of grace to those trying to quit tobacco use.

    I agree with Luke that HOW you communicate your concerns is the most important thing in your relationship. If you are concerned, you need to say so– which I suppose you have. And he has tried to rebuff you. Perhaps he’s not able to hear you now. Perhaps he thinks your concerns are ridiculous– I had a conversation with a Bangladeshi friend and I was telling him that most Americans don’t smoke. He straight didn’t believe me. So there could be a cultural disconnect with this subject. Whatever the case, it is his choice, just like it is your choice to remain with him or not.

    Even if he does quit, it takes, on average, ten times of a serious quitting before someone quits tobacco for good. Are you willing to live with a smoker? That’s the real question.

  7. jdaniel

    I agree with lukelm’s #1-3 regarding your relationship questions. I think these are excellent points. Number 2 is probably the most salient.

    At the risk of getting side-tracked, I do not fully endorse #4. Although lukelm is giving a very positive reason to quit smoking and is technically correct, I hope it is clear that there is no known “safe” dose of cigarette smoke. Quitting does allow your risk of many smoking related diseases to trend toward normal. Some risks are rapidly reduced within a year of cessation, but with others a return to normal could take a decade or more.

    Here’s a link to the CDC’s Smoking & Tobacco information:

  8. vera

    Sudden prejudice against smokers, Steve? Oh, could it be for the fact that for over hundred years smokers felt free to pollute/poison anyone’s air with impunity, anytime, anywhere?! :-) Finally, the rest of us got mad enough to build up political/cultural clout. About time we had some bias going the other way.

    Yes, nicotine is said to be the most addictive drug known. That’s why our “prejudice” is so important, to get people to understand how much this drug sucks, and they are much better off not to pick it up. Although, I must say, my mother was one of those people able to only light up once in a blue moon. Never home, and never as a habit. These folks are few and far between.

  9. Dan

    Dear Love and Smoke,

    You bring up some very good points. As we used to say in the ’60’s (1960) You are “right on” with your questions. (You identify yourself as a feminist. I wonder what that means in 2009….Another story for another day. Don’t panic, I had a crush on Gloria when I was in High School :-))

    Now to address the subject at hand.
    The best you will ever be is second to the addiction to nicotine. His first love is the drug.

    You will stop at inopportune times to buy it. You will wait while he steps outside for a “quick” smoke.

    You will share in this by the aroma that follows you wherever you go, finding butts in weird places, and ashes blown wherever the wind takes them. I would encourage you to speak with a few mates of smokers to get a firsthand perspective.

    I am not so sure that there is a “sudden prejudice against people who smoke.” There is however a growing awareness that drug addiction has a negative impact not only on the individual but on the whole of society. (This includes all recreational drugs legal or not. Alcohol being one of the most deceptive)

    Your relationship should not be one of, “I give this, so you give this.” Rather WE, God, you, and I own 100% of this relationship. How can WE make it better?

    Please do not hear me say that the relationship should not be. Rather hear me saying that one should proceed with caution and awareness.

    May God hold your hand.

  10. celeste

    I deeply love several smokers, including one who is trying to quit, and it has taken me years to accept what I now know to be true: Smokers can’t quit out of love for someone. They can’t quit because someone is heartbroken with or angry at them. (Similarly, I don’t think being angry at smokers is the best way to build support for anti-smoking legislation. Though I do support such legislation, that’s no reason to be ungracious.)

    I am also recently married, and agree with others who have counseled to decide if this is a deal breaker for you, ST. I would also say, though, that choosing a partner involves a certain amount of risk. People change, but you can’t make them. If you love everything else about him, maybe it’s worth the risk.

  11. Tim Baer

    I smoke. I wouldn’t marry me. Though a one night stand is in the works. I just gotta work on my pickup lines. I can be so picky about how I decide to start a relationship with myself. I need counseling.

  12. Joseph

    You mentioned your concern about coffee drinking; that’s a conversation I’d be interested in having. In the meantime, maybe the solution to your problem is fairly traded, de-nicotineated cigarettes.

  13. ST

    thank you all so much for your comments. they are extremely helpful in this discernment process. Currently, I am at a conference in Sweden… Meat Animal Meat great stuff, check out the website…but anyway, here they have something that is really intense here, they say it is worse than cigarettes…it is called snus which is tobacco in a small pouch that they put under their lip. it is outlawed in the usa and most of europe because it is so addictive. they carry it around in these little altoid-like metal containers. A lot of people feel depressed and isolated too. the church has some interesting work it can do here, many people interested in intentional communities. And one thing that they end up talking a lot about in intentional communities are what is going to be the policies or orientations around consumption of mind-altering/addictive substances.

  14. Tim Baer

    Snus was probably known as “snuff” a long ways back. People didn’t smoke tabacco for a long while, they put it under their lip. It was all the rage in Victorian times along with all that white male patriarchal stuff. Good times.

  15. Rev. James L. Mengel

    We’ve often heard the quote, “A person’s freedom ends at the tip of another person’s nose.” This was said to prevent any physical violence to the body of another person–nose, head, heart, whatever! Why then would we not say that one’s freedom does not allow him or her to inflict violence and trauma BEYOND the tip of the noses of others–to the inner nasal passages, the mouths, the sinuses, the throats, and finally the very lungs that keep us ALL alive? –jim

  16. ST

    good question. for a while i thought it has to do with people’s arrogance, and maybe…to be a bit freudian…people’s death drive. even activists sometimes have that.

  17. Tim Baer

    I guess the thing is is that short-term second hand smoke inhalation has no proven negative affects on a normal, healthy person.

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