'My Husband or My Habit?': A Smoker's Dilemma
Once, he'd found her smoking sexy. But the day after the wedding, he demanded she quit. Or else.
“Mind if I smoke?” I asked Aaron on our first date.
“The first woman I ever slept with was a smoker, so I associate cigarettes with sex,” he said, sparking a match.
Good answer. It made me picture him in bed with a bohemian nymphet.
I was a 29-year-old broke, feminist poet sleeping alone in a Manhattan studio apartment. He was a six foot four, burly, shaggy-haired charmer in a cramped one-bedroom walkup. I dug that he was an aspiring TV comedy writer who’d escaped his conservative hometown in Westchester, NY, the way I’d fled my traditional Jewish family in West Bloomfield, Michigan. But I didn’t dig his proclamation that he wasn’t into partying.
“He doesn’t smoke, toke,or drink,” I complained to my shrink.
“You’re listing his assets now, right?” she asked.
Aaron’s straight, smoke-free mantra seemed a liability. By my Sweet Sixteen, I’d lost it to my first love in the backseat of his silver Camaro, tipsy on rum and Tab, singing along to a bootleg Blood on the Tracks. Post –grad school, my boyfriend and I smoked Newports—and ganja—on the beach in Negril, Jamaica. I saw myself as a rebellious counterculture femme fatale, an urban Marlboro Woman—though my brand was More Menthol Lights.
Still, Aaron was smart, sweet and accepted that I was a chain-smoking night owl who never cooked, wore pastels or left the apartment in the morning. We both knew Gregory Corso’s long poem “Marriage” by heart. Uh oh, I thought. This could get serious.
And it did. During our six-year off-and-on romance, he gallantly lit my cigarettes and joints for me, bought me vodka and Diet Cokes, never showed me nicotine-will-kill-you articles or relayed stories of addicted relatives dying of bad livers or lung cancer. He said that my habits were my own business.
The day after we moved in together, he looked at me and said, “Now you have to quit smoking and partying.”
“Very funny.” I laughed nervously.
But he wasn't joking.
“You have to take me the way I am, like you promised before the rabbi and God," I said.
“Our vows didn’t really say that,” he said.
“’In sickness and in health,’” I said.
“Not the same as ‘drunk, stoned and in a cloud of smoke,’” he said.
“You knew I was a chimney and never once complained,” I screamed.
“We weren’t living together then.”
“On our first date I asked if you mind my smoking. If you’d said yes, I wouldn’t have gone out with you.”
“That’s why I waited,” he said. “But now you need to quit.”
I felt betrayed and shell-shocked. Can your mate demand that you stop being self-destructive? Was that why married couples lived longer, or why half ended up divorcing? I could understand my friend Andrew ordering his wife into rehab after she drove their daughter to school buzzed on cocaine. But I was highly functioning, damaging mostly myself and my lungs (secondhand smoke had not yet become a big health issue). Aaron was ordering me to stop personal rituals he’d implied turned him on during our courtship. Then, the minute we’d smashed the glass on the floor and said, “Mazel tov,” he morphed into the Party Police.
I was an urban career woman, not a little wifey desperate to please my man. I couldn’t write straight without a cigarette. Did he expect me to quit working or to walk outside whenever I craved a smoke? I tried cutting down on cigarettes, smoking when he wasn’t around, exhaling out the open window, using a fan.
My resentment grew.
I’d avoided matrimony for years, afraid it would cramp my artistic style. I was right! Now I was stuck cohabitating with an amateur narcotics agent monitoring what I smoked and drank, making me feel paranoid and claustrophobic. I wanted to walk out of the marriage altogether. But we’d just pooled every cent we had in the bank and could borrow from both of our clans to buy our apartment. I couldn’t afford to move out again. Plus I deeply loved him.
Meanwhile, Aaron was a hypocrite with horrible habits. His food staples were pizza, shrimp dumplings and General Tso’s chicken. He snored like a foghorn, never exercised and hoarded stacks of baseball cards, comics and paperback thrillers everywhere.
“When you get rid of all your crazy compulsions, we’ll talk,” I said.
“I want you to be healthy and live longer,” he said.