By Baila Sebrow

Question

I am a single 27-year-old woman. On shidduch résumés and shadchan applications, I always put down that I am modern Orthodox machmir. I think I might be a little more to the right of that because of the school I went to and where my parents daven, but I was scared to write yeshivish, which is usually the next option, because I didn’t want such a guy.

I ended up going out with that type of guy as a favor to my aunt and uncle. It turned out that we were so alike. We have so much fun together and are perfect for each other. That was such a surprise to me, and even to my parents. Anyway, we want to get engaged, but he has a habit that I know he does not want to give up. He smokes cigarettes, and I can’t stand the way he smells because of it.

I spoke to my friends about it, and they told me to break up with him, because only an OTD (off the derech) guy smokes nowadays. I wonder if that’s why we get along so well. I’m not OTD, but I always leaned a little more to the modern side than my family.

I talked to him about quitting smoking, but he says that all yeshiva guys smoke and that’s how it has always been, going way back — even in Europe. He offered me a cigarette once and I tried it, so I get why he likes it so much.

I don’t know what to do. I can’t stand a smoker, even though he tells me that he won’t smoke in the house when we get married. But his clothing smells really bad. My parents are now against him because they don’t want me to be exposed to secondhand smoke. They don’t believe that he will not smoke in the house when I’m there. They also found out that he doesn’t get along with his parents and fights with them. So while we are talking about getting engaged, my parents are planning for us to break up. But I don’t want to break up with him! The last few times, we dated without my parents’ knowledge. I am scared that I will never find anyone else again.

Response

Let me make something very clear. Smoking cigarettes is dangerous. Telling you that everyone does it, and that yeshiva guys have done so since the beginning of time, is this guy’s way of deflecting from his habit. I am not a physician, so I am not qualified to lecture you on the health risks associated with smoking other than to tell you what you must already know — that not only is smoking dangerous to him and to you, but it has the potential to destroy the health of an unborn child.

This guy is right that people have smoked cigarettes since way back when, but that was because back then it was not yet known how damaging it is to one’s health. At present, we know the risks caused by smoking, as well as the long-term effects that result from that habit. Those who do so anyway are careless about their health and the health of those around them.

I get why you feel so drawn to this guy despite the fact that he smokes and that you’re turned off by the smell of cigarettes on him. You were initially dating guys a bit more modern on paper who you assumed would be more compatible with you than guys to the right. It was not until your aunt and uncle introduced you to this guy that you found something in him unlike the others you dated. And that was probably because hashkafically you understand each other better, but also because he has that dangerous element to his persona. Some women find that appealing. I believe that he has the type of personality that can be captivating for somebody who comes from a yeshivish background but has a curiosity about the other side. It is possible that is the reason you became attracted to him from the beginning.

Adding to that, he is also different than anybody else you know. The careless risk-taking kinds of guys are sometimes referred to as “bad boys.” And good girls are often intrigued by such types. He is different from the rest, and you enjoy being with him because he knows how to have a good time.

But here is what does not sit right with me. It is bad enough that he smokes and has no desire to try to stop. But why did he offer you a cigarette? What was he hoping to accomplish? Is he looking for a wife or a smoking buddy? It is not true that all yeshiva guys smoke, and he might have said that to convince you how normal it is amongst his circle of friends. But to get you into the habit too is irresponsible of him. Did you share that with your parents or anyone else? This guy sees that you come across as a clean-cut young lady, and that could have attracted you to him, too. But what decent young man would have the audacity to corrupt someone to his ways? Surely you must know that this is not right.

It is interesting that your friends view those who smoke cigarettes as OTD (off the derech). Years ago, when smoking was a common practice in society, it was considered an elegant thing to do. People of wealth would showcase expensive ashtrays and smoking cases, but that has come to end. Those of yeshivish and other circles do it to unwind and relax, but the percentage of smokers has been drastically reduced, and young people who start smoking are viewed by their peers as rebellious and unwilling to follow other protocols.

We also have another issue. What do you mean when you say that your parents found out that he does not get along with his parents? They heard that he fights with them? What does he fight with them about? This guy is an adult. If he gets into arguments with his parents, that indicates other problems, too. If his poor relationship with his parents has become public knowledge, then you can expect that there is a level of disrespect towards them. And if he disrespects his parents, how will he treat his wife? It’s important that you find out more in order to make an educated decision.

So where do you go from here? You insist that you don’t want to break up with him, yet you cannot tolerate the smell on his clothing. I hope you realize that the smell will become even more potent to you when you live with him as his wife.

Dating him behind your parents’ back will only bring you grief. No young man or woman has ever been happy doing that. If you do continue to date this guy, your feelings for him will only grow that much stronger, and, ironically, that will happen specifically because you know that your parents are against him. The danger in such circumstances is that even if you eventually pick up on things that bother you more, you will still feel inclined to continue the relationship because you will likely feel awkward admitting that your parents are correct, and you will end up ignoring serious matters.

Here is what I will advise you. Tell him that you are still looking forward to sharing a life with him, but you are worried about his health, as well as yours, and that you are willing to help him beat the habit of smoking. If he agrees, great. However, from what you are telling me about him, I doubt that his initial reaction will be to acquiesce to your suggestion. At that point, I recommend that you cool it a bit with him.

If he is not yet aware that your parents are against him, now is the time to share that with him. Additionally, you must ask him about the issues he is having with his parents and tell him that he must work everything out prior to your engagement. If he cares about you as much as you care about him, he will make the effort to change his ways.

You need to be prepared that whatever ultimatum you give him will not necessarily cause him to change. On the contrary, I suspect he will say whatever he needs to say in order to convince you to overlook everything, insisting that somehow the strength of your relationship will make it all work out. Do not buy into any of it. That only works in the movies. In real life, big issues become even bigger after marriage. Furthermore, if he does use similar lines with you, realize that this is a demonstration of a much larger picture where his character and personality are concerned. You have to make him realize that if he wants to have a relationship with you, then you will expect him to show some effort on his part.

I am hoping that whatever he chooses to do, you will remain steadfast in doing what is ultimately healthy for you. If it comes to the point that you may break up with him, please do not concern yourself about finding somebody else who is compatible. You can be secure in the knowledge that you know how to have a relationship with another person, and you are an easygoing type of young lady. That should give you the confidence to start all over if necessary.

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com.

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