(possible) smoker roommate
February 11, 2012 2:39 PM   Subscribe

One of my roommates thinks the other has started smoking in our non-smoking apartment. How do I handle this in the least dramatic way possible?

My roommates and I are women in our twenties, all attending graduate school full-time. I've been in the apartment the longest, one of them (let's call her X) has been here two years, and the third (Y) moved in last year.

Recently, Y told me she has smelt smoke from X's room. This by itself was surprising, since I've lived with X for all this time without pegging her a smoker. But I tend to be a bit oblivious about this stuff, and I've also been away a lot, so it's possible Y is right. What made me really uncomfortable is that Y told me this right outside X's room while she was inside. She definitely heard us, and I really hate talking about someone behind their back, especially when they're right there!

I don't know Y very well, but the smoking issue seems to bother her a lot. In any case, we're violating our lease by smoking inside, so if it's happening, it needs to stop. Y is also a lot cleaner and a bit more socially open than X, who tends to blow off her cleaning duties, leaves dishes out, and mostly recluses herself in her room with the door shut. (She's quite sweet when she does come out, though.)

Since I'm not the one who suspects X of smoking, I want to stay out of it and let Y talk to her. How do I tell Y that? Or should I get involved somehow? Should I say anything to X about how we were talking about her, given that she surely heard? I'm pretty non-confrontational, but I prefer to hash out problems directly rather than weaseling behind someone's back, so this is an uneasy situation for me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If Y brings it up again, say "Huh? I dunno, ask X about it." And leave it at that, unless you actually see X smoking or have a reason to bring it up unrelated to Y's suspicions.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:41 PM on February 11, 2012 [15 favorites]

To X: "Y thinks you're smoking in your room for some reason, you should clear that up with her"
To Y: "If you think X is smoking, you should be talking to her not me"

Then forget about it. If X really is smoking often enough that it would become an issue with your landlord, you will notice it. Cigarette smoke stinks if you're not used to it in your house.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 2:50 PM on February 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

Totally agreed that you would probably smell it if she were smoking. I'm a nonsmoker who has lived with smokers, and I can smell when they're doing it even if they're outside on the back deck and I'm inside with all the doors and windows shut. I don't think I have a freakishly good sense of smell, it's just a really strong and pervasive smell.

That whole "we're talking about you behind your back, in your earshot" is such a classic Mean Girl passive-aggressive bullying technique. It makes me kind of doubt Y. Like if Y had come to you in a normal way with concerns about X's smoking that would be different. The fact that she's using passive-aggressive bullying techniques on X makes me think something is going on that's not just about the smoking.

Maybe Y is put off by X being an introvert and this is her way of poking at her. A weird way of trying to draw her out, get her into a confrontation, I don't know. I don't think it really matters though as long as you don't get drawn into it. I think you are totally right in saying something like, "Oh? Have you asked her? No? Why not?"
posted by cairdeas at 3:03 PM on February 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

If I were you, I wouldn't go to X unless you smell smoke. Either Y wants you to back her up should she confront X or she was hoping you would take it upon yourself to confront X, either way you have no evidence of anything. If Y brings it up again say "I haven't smelled anything but if you're concerned you should speak to X." And don't worry about the fact that X might have heard anything. What she heard was Y saying something about her, you can't control what Y says.
posted by Partario at 3:04 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I wouldn't go to X unless you smell smoke.

I meant to say in my other comment that normally I wouldn't suggest bringing it up with X. But if you think she heard you and Y talking about it then the classy thing to do is to give X the heads up about what's going on. If you don't talk to her about it she might think that you and Y are teaming up against her and you should do everything you can to diffuse the drama.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 3:17 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would just tell "Y" that you haven't noticed anything but if she's really concerned she might want to knock on "X" door and ask if they've been smoking inside.

The only way you need to become involved is if X *is* smoking indoors and refuses to respect the lease agreement, because at that point it becomes your problem as well.
posted by myShanon at 3:19 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Y might have smelled smoke from a neighbor's house or someone else's back porch. I agree with above posters that there is very little possibility that you wouldn't have also noticed it if it were noticeable outside the bedroom, even if you're not home a lot.

Y needs to be (politely and firmly) called out for her poor way of handling this, regardless of the veracity of her suspicions. If she doesn't like X for some reason and this bad style of communication isn't nipped in the bud, you could find yourself in the center of future awkward situations.
posted by sundaydriver at 3:46 PM on February 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

Next time something like this happens just knock right on X's door and say "hey, Y wants to talk to you". Don't pretend like she can't hear you. It will bother the shit out of Y! Too bad for her!

I say go to X, apologize if she heard the convo, and clear the air.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:05 PM on February 11, 2012 [11 favorites]

My new downstairs neighbours smoke. My kitchen cupboards, and my bathroom, now smell of smoke. Just throwing this out as a datapoint regarding the existence of mysterious smoke smells that do not actually originate in my flat. (I'm assuming the bathroom is something to do with the ventilation, but have NO IDEA why the kitchen cupboards smell worse than the rest of the flat).
posted by Lebannen at 4:27 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just in terms of evidence, as others have pointed out, any kind of habitual smoking will result in all kinds of stinky 'ashtray' smells, in X's room, in her hair and on her clothes, on her breath, and so on. Also there may be butts etc. outside the window. Anyway if Y is more bothered, surely she should speak to X?
posted by carter at 4:46 PM on February 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

This isn't even your problem.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:17 PM on February 11, 2012

You could outright tell "Y" that the way she brought this possible non-issue to your attention was inappropriate, or you could just give her the polite cold shoulder from now on.

I would go with the second option and keep all of my dealings with "Y" very pleasant and ONLY about business from here on out.

She's shown you she's fine picking on someone in the group. Next time it could be you. Or she might continue to Mean Girl "X". Keep your distance, either way. Apologize to "X." Finish grad school.

Nthing everyone who says smoking indoors is VERY noticeable. "Y" is making this up. I don't know why, but none of the possible reasons I can think of make why look "Y" look good. Like, even if she legitimately smelled smoke from somewhere outside, jumping to conclusions about on "X" shows immaturity, malice, or both.

Politely avoid "Y" from now on. Business only.
posted by jbenben at 5:32 PM on February 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unless you smell the smoke and it's an issue, this is not your problem. If your flatmate smells smoke and it's an issue for her, it's her problem.
posted by goo at 6:10 PM on February 11, 2012

Possibly "X" had been spending some time in the presence of a smoker and her hair and clothes smelled of smoke and this could have caused "Y" to jump to conclusions. It's also possible that "Y" is passive-aggressive and objects very much to the relaxed housekeeping standards of "X'" and this smoking issue is just an opening salvo.

Don't let yourself be used as the go between. Also, maybe add that to the house rules.
posted by Anitanola at 7:09 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree they should handle it between them. But just keep one thing in mind - while it's true you can REALLY smell it if someone is full-on smoking inside, a common smoker thing to do in buildings where you're not supposed to smoke is hang your upper body out the window and smoke out into the air like that. It is much less noticeable but there's still a faint smoke smell. Long ago I was guilty of this -- especially in winter, or at night when you've already undressed and don't want to go downstairs and outside again -- so I know it happens a lot.

Definitely not saying this is happening, just noting that there are ways it can happen without creating the really strong smoke smell, just a vague hint that's hard to tell from just smelling like a smoker.

Anyway, let the two of them handle it directly.
posted by Miko at 7:34 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Y is probably just smelling it on X's clothes. Y is either sensitive or has not been exposed to smoke much before.

Anyway, unless you smell it, this is not your problem. Next time Y brings it up, tell her you can't smell it, and she should talk to X if she is concerned. Then don't give it a second thought.

I would keep my eye on Y, though, she sounds like a potential hazard down the road.
posted by spaltavian at 12:50 AM on February 12, 2012

Sounds like Y is trying to drag you into some us-against-you thing. I'd have immediately asked, "What did X say when you asked her? Do you have any evidence of that, or do you just kind of imagine you smell smoke?"

I'd mention it to X next time I saw her in a non-accusing, FYI kind of way. Hey, X. Y thinks you're smoking in your room. If you are, that's not allowed, so quit it. If you're not, then Y is a crazy person. Drop subject;

(There's either something to the idea, though, or else X is kind of cowardly in this case. If I overheard someone accusing me right outside my door of smoking, I'd be all "I can hear you, you know. I'm not smoking in the house, kthanxbye!)
posted by ctmf at 12:03 PM on February 12, 2012

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