I knew Ian was a smoker long before we even started seeing each other. Going to a small college with only so many students, the smokers stand out. You smell it in the air when you walk by. Sometimes you hold your breath or cough. To any non-smoker, the odor is offensive and disgusting. We associate smoking with something that old people do. My grandparents smoked and so do many of our generation’s parents. With the knowledge we now have about the harm it causes to our health, why would anyone start?
I cannot count the number of times I have asked Ian why in the world he would take up smoking. His answer is always the same: he is the product of his environment. He was raised by a single mother (a smoker) and all four of his older brothers started smoking around the age of eighteen. Ian would get so upset when his mother and brothers would smoke. He used to steal lighters and hide them away–you can’t take cigarettes without getting blamed, but you can definitely “misplace” lighters. Despite all of this, the culture of smoking was contagious. One day, when he was feeling particularly stressed during his senior year of high school, he picked one up and that was it. He has now been smoking for nearly five years.
According to my parents and several other well-meaning “friends”, I should put a stop to this. I have been told countless times that I am responsible for getting him to quit. At first, I thought they were right and that this was possible.
I’ve tried badgering him. I’ve stolen his lighters. I’ve taken to hiding his cigarettes when I am drunk. I have asked him to cut down. I have monitored how many cigarettes he has smoked in a day. I have done everything I can possibly think of.
Except for one thing.
I am always told to do it. I am always told it would work. I refuse.
I will not give him an ultimatum. I will not say to him “Give up smoking, or I will leave you.” Just the thought of this is horrible to me. The idea that I should leave him unless he makes this change is unfair. I could stay with him and help him follow through his plan to quit which is mainly based on his plans to move out of his mother’s house and get away from that environment. Or, I could throw away the relationship we have built for the last two years and threaten to leave on this condition which will not only hurt him, but hurt me as well. Even if it were to work, is giving an ultimatum any way to have a healthy relationship?
Some may disagree, but it all boils down to this: Why am I the one being held responsible for making him quit? At first, the question was “How?”, but I have realized that the real question is “Why?”. Why am I expected to fix the problem? I was not the one that caused it and while I certainly do not encourage or condone the habit, is it mine to break? This is not the first time something like this has come up for me or for anyone else. In fact, it is a problem in our society. Too often women are expected to fix the problems of the men in their life.
I was reminded of this recently when Mac Miller passed away and Ariana Grande ended up disabling her Instagram comments due to trolls blaming her for his death. This is any woman’s personal nightmare. While she is thinking “what could I have done differently?” and “is it my fault?” awful people sit behind their screens blaming her for every factor leading to his death. She is not responsible for him taking drugs. She is not responsible for his addiction. And even if she broke his heart, she is not responsible for his unhealthy ways of dealing with that.
Am I responsible for Ian’s smoking? Is there anything I can do? If he develops cancer or emphysema or heart disease and dies, is that my fault? A stupid 18 year-old boy made this horrible life decision, so why is the 23 year-old woman in charge of fixing it?