Love and life projects
November 14, 2012 1:53 PM   Subscribe

How legitimate a dealbreaker is weed consumption in a relationship ? A down-to-earth relationship question.

Hello folks. I (woman, 27) have been dating a man (M, 29) for 5 months, everything went great from beginning to end, we pretty much hit it off the minute we started talking, and our relationship developped very naturally.

Right from the start, we decided not to commit to any future together, as he was applying for field works (part of him finishing his education in the biology field) that were probably going to have him stay in a third world country, or a natural reserve for many months, or more than a year... and he plans on starting a phd abroad or far from our city, as soon as this field work will be finished. I love the part of him which is passionate about environmental issues, and i didn't question his desire to follow his dream and build a career around it. We really have had wonderful times together, not only physically, but in many aspects. We had commited to enjoy the times we could share, and to be good to each other, as human beings more than merely in the couple-unit we were forming. We couldn't plan anything except for long term.
During our relationship, the only thing bugging me, which wasn't too noticeable even, was the joint he needed to smoke, before going to bed, as he sipped 2 cans of beer. it was his end of the day ritual. It did make me feel a little weird, but I thought we all have our ways to relax, and respected this aspect of his life. His general ay of interacting didnt seem altered by the alcohol and weed at all. This has been going on for years.

He left 2 months ago, we kept in touch, on an almost daily basis. I miss him a lot. I cried when he left, and am feeling generally secure and happy in my social / professional life, now. Let's say it, I am quite happy with the life I have. Now, M's mission ends up being much harder than he thought, he is almost all by himself in a very small research station (3 colleagues maximum) in an asian country, his supervisor went back to his home country, and M barely speaks the language. He he is now feeling lonely, questionning his future, things don't work too well, and he is relying on our contacts a lot. He is growing more and more attached as time passes, asking me to visit him, and being open about his desire for a future together, long-term. He tells me I am pretty much his only contact, by email and phone, at the moment.

I have a difficult time finding out & analyzing what I feel about the relationship as :
- the alcohol / weed thing comes back to my mind regularly. I feel so attached to this man, and find myself thinking "if only he had plans to smoke less, or if he stopped...", as if everything would have seemed easier if he didn't consume these things so often. He has expressed the desire to reduce it while we were together, but hasn't succeeded at it.
- when he comes back, there are chances he will be working in yet another country, or in a city mimimum 5 hours away from mine, and I just got a secure, full time job in my city, which I really hope to stay in for a long time. This will be the start of his career in research, many more field trips, and quite a few years until he will be settled professionally.
- I am really attached to him, and even if we hadn't been a couple, all I would be doing at the moment, as a friend, would be helping him out, sending him messages to cheer him up, etc. The last thing he needs from anyone, is doubts, and even less, from someone he feels that he loves.

Questions : Do you have any insight ? Is weed consumption a deal-breaker ? am I being picky when I feel bothered by it ? I can't help but feel anxious about it in the perspective of a settled relationship.

What would be the best thing to do, ethically ? I feel that being open about these doubts would be really selfish, at this point in his life. I wonder what the "right" thing looks like in terms of communication, direction to think. And generosity.

I can tell he is starting to feel I am slightly more distant than right when he left. He is being super sweet and caring, and almost apologizing for asking me to write him back. I feel his pain, not only in his work situation, general life questions, but also in the way this relationship can keep his spirits up. Thnak you for your thoughts :)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If it's a deal-breaker for you, it's a deal-breaker. You have a right to your own opinions and preferences, and potsmoking is certainly not so prevalent that this particular standard will seriously restrict your pool of potential mates.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:00 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

What you and I consider to be dealbreakers may be totally different. Some people don’t consider a joint a day to be a big deal and some people won’t put up with any drug use whatsoever. Both are 100% valid.

You don’t really explain why it bothers you so much. Are you not comfortable with pot smoking? Does his behavior change when he gets high? Spend some time thinking about why this is a dealbreaker for you and maybe that will help you out.
posted by Diskeater at 2:03 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

It is really fine to choose partners who don't use alcohol or marijuana regularly, if that makes you uncomfortable. There are lots of lovely people in the world who choose not to partake.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:04 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the weed/beer thing is a red herring. You had a great, mutually beneficial relationship with someone who wanted exactly what you wanted and with whom you shared lots of fun experiences. Now you are the sole social and cultural outlet for someone who is filled with regret about a major life decision and relying heavily on you emotionally ... and he isn't in your day-to-day life. It's ok for those changes to be the things you're responding negatively to. You may not love the weed/beer routine but it doesn't sound like that's the problem.

Being open about your doubts not only isn't selfish, it's the only fair thing to do.
posted by headnsouth at 2:05 PM on November 14, 2012 [18 favorites]

it sounds to me like you're kind of getting cold feet because this has turned into a long-distance thing, and maybe you have some reservations about the guy, the weed, etc.. i don't think you're going to be able to come up with an answer using ethics as a reference point - one could easily argue that *not* being open about these doubts would be really selfish, if your feelings have changed. also, a lot of people would say that withdrawing from your partner by becoming intoxicated is "unethical" or wrong, too. it sounds like you need to examine your feelings and go directly with your gut - i don't think you can get there indirectly.
posted by facetious at 2:06 PM on November 14, 2012

The weed thing is entirely up to you. If you could order up a man to specs, would "doesn't smoke weed" be on the list or not? It would be on mine.

This guy sounds like a typical stoner to me. He bit off more than he could chew, didn't really understand what he was undertaking and is now pushing your emotional buttons.

There were a lot of reasons you didn't want a relationship with this dude. The weed was part of it, but there were other reasons too.

It seems heartless to cut him off all alone in Asia somewhere, but this isn't working for you now and you don't owe him anything.

Tell him to start a blog and find some pen pals and wish him well in his endeavors.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:14 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, weed consumption is a valid deal breaker. Don't let other people tell you it's not.

Regardless of the weed factor, this guy just doesn't seem like a good fit all around. Let the relationship go.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:20 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

1) If his current, habitual use of substances is a dealbreaker for you, then consider the deal broken.
2) You do not owe anyone a relationship, no matter how much you like them, no matter how much they need you.
3) The only justification you need for not wanting to be in a relationship with someone is that you don't want to be in a relationship with that person.
4) Maybe you are being picky, maybe you aren't. It doesn't really matter because it is ABSOLUTELY FINE to be picky about who you are involved with, because you do not owe anyone a relationship.
5) "He would be so great if he stopped doing [x thing that he does every day]" is not a good reason to have a relationship. People basically come with a giant AS-IS tag on them.

Your question sounds to me like you feel that he is not the person you want to be with long term, for several reasons that include the pot use but also include things like "he wants to live all over the place for years, and I want to stay in my stable job in a city I enjoy."

You can be super attached to a person and still not want to be in a relationship with that person. You can even love a person dearly and wholeheartedly and know 100% that a romantic relationship would be wrong for both of you.

I, as an internet stranger, can't magically see the truth of your relationship, but I can suggest that you do some introspection and sort out how you feel and what you want with this guy, and then use your words to communicate with him honestly. Don't make yourself the sacrifice to his current loneliness - it might seem like the easiest and kindest thing to do in the short term but in the end it will lead to more problems.

Good luck! And remember, you do not owe anyone a relationship with you.
posted by oblique red at 2:21 PM on November 14, 2012 [11 favorites]

Reiterating that if the weed feels to you like a dealbreaker, then it definitely can be, and you don't need to apologize about it or explain it to anyone. Anything can be a dealbreaker - it could have been the two beers instead.

Apart from that, I think it is really the distance that is going to drive a wedge between you, even if you didn't think the weed was important enough. Especially if you want to get married sometime in the next 5-10 years and start a family, you should find someone that has similar life goals. He has not even started a Ph.D - and that's a process that could take 4-7 years with very bad pay and constant moving, based on what you have said about his field of interest.

It sucks, but I think you should have a pretty honest and clarifying discussion about a possible mismatch between your long term goals. I know how hard it is when you find someone that seems really compatible, but if your lives are going in totally different directions, it often will not work out, despite what romantic movies would have us believe.

And, for what it's worth, I think that his general lack of direction could very possibly have to do with a "lost academic" type of personality, and have nothing to do with pot. I know many people in academia and otherwise that smoke in a similar way (when they go to sleep) and somehow happen to get Ph.Ds, good jobs in technology, have families etc... And other people who have never smoked in their life that cannot handle such things. He is not necessarily a "typical stoner."
posted by permiechickie at 2:21 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The weed thing makes you uncomfortable; you can ask him (when he gets home!) if he will stop smoking. I stopped for the duration of a relationship when it made my boyfriend uncomfortable. If he can't/won't stop, that says a lot about him, his character, and your compatibility.

What I really want to touch on is his fieldwork. If he is pursuing a PhD in a specialization that requires fieldwork, this will be your life together. It puts a lot of strain on relationships, but many couples are able to thrive. Especially if the other partner has a career and active social life. If he's talking long term now, really examine if you can handle your partner being nomadic for the next several decades.

And please. As someone who has been in a remarkably similar fieldwork position as your boyfriend (isolated, didn't speak the language) this situation is incredibly hard, mentally. If you absolutely have to deal with these issues before he is back in your country, try to do it in person if you can afford it.
posted by peacrow at 2:22 PM on November 14, 2012

It's not your job to keep someone's spirits up, you're not a resource.

The weed and alcohol consumption you describe would be a deal breaker for me, it's fine if it is for you and it's fine it it isn't. You don't have to conduct your relationship by the imagined standard of the average person - conduct it in a way that's ethical but about making yourself as happy as possible.

It seems so clear this isn't going to work. Dude is kind of sad and unstable, probably self medicating, more to the point, he'll be on the road for years to come. You seem to be making yourself very available to someone who's very much unavailable in several ways. It kind of just sounds like you don't have the heart or the courage to cut it off, but from my perspective you probably should - it's not going anywhere fun.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:23 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

You seem to be taking on an awful lot of responsibility for keeping his spirits up/ keep him happy. That seems a little unhealthy. Especially is since, when faced with prioritising his education / career over your relationship he didn't choose the relationship (which is normal in a relationship that was only three months but still... It lets you know his priorities). It may just come down to timing, the most perfect person in the world for you can't work if they come at the wrong time.

As to the pot; I have no idea why you feel it is a deal breaker, do you? Not that it isn't valid, but if you know WHY it upsets you (stinky breath, expense, inane conversation, feeling excluded) then you can address that with him.
posted by saucysault at 2:26 PM on November 14, 2012

The answer to "is [insert thing here] a legitimate deal breaker?" is basically always yes. By which I mean, if something bothers you enough that it will interfere with your ability to be in a relationship with someone, thats a valid dealbreaker and it doesn't matter whether other people would agree or not. Doesn't matter if that is weed, playing too many video games, watching sports too much, driving too fast, whatever.

I also think that being open about doubts/fears in a relationship is almost always the right thing to do. Don't make other people's decisions for them, or protect them from something that will almost certainly affect them in time. The more information everyone has, the better both of you can make the right decisions for yourselves.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just pointing out: while I agree it is NOT the OP's job to be his lifeline, there is a possibility this is more than homesickness or being blue. I developed an anxiety disorder akin to PTSD due to social isolation I experienced doing fieldwork.
posted by peacrow at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2012

This guy sounds like a typical stoner to me. He bit off more than he could chew, didn't really understand what he was undertaking and is now pushing your emotional buttons.

This sounds overly harsh to me. He doesn't sound like a typical stoner; he has goals and a plan and so far is trying earnestly to accomplish them. Moving to a foreign country where you don't speak the language and don't have decent social contact with others is extremely hard. No one can anticipate how they'll feel in a situation until they're in it.

He's reaching out to you more than he should and more than he would if he had better/any social connections. And that's not really fair to you. You aren't a life raft but I would cut him some slack. Hopefully, he'll adjust or make other plans.

I would remain friends but I would communicate that you're going to continue to live your life and make your own plans that don't take him into consideration. And if pot smoking and a couple of beers is a deal breaker for you, that's fine but I don't think it's fair to ask him to stop. You're individuals with different ways of chilling and that's OK, even if it makes you incompatible.

Be a friend but not a life raft and keep on living your life as you've been doing.
posted by shoesietart at 2:39 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

Just from the other side - this guy has my exact evening routine, a couple of beers and a joint. I'd probably like to know if it was an issue with my SO. I'd be pretty annoyed if I was open about that from the beginning, she acted like it was fine, then months later told me it was a dealbreaker.
posted by mannequito at 4:29 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

find myself thinking "if only he had plans to smoke less, or if he stopped...", as if everything would have seemed easier if he didn't consume these things so often. He has expressed the desire to reduce it while we were together, but hasn't succeeded at it.

Are you expecting him to change? Because that's not a thing people reliably do. Doesn't sound like he will. Because this isn't a hard change to make for someone who wants to make it.

There is a reason they are called "dealbreakers" and not "horrible moral failings no one should do ever"

Because a deal is two people agreeing to terms. A dealbreaker is something that cannot, will not, does not fit in one party's required terms.

That's it. You get to set those terms.
posted by French Fry at 4:49 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Weed consumption is a total deal breaker for me. Even though I think it should be legalized, I have had enough people in my life who smoked it, and have found that I am happier not having them in my life.
posted by 517 at 4:59 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

My reading of this question was "is his pot smoking a good excuse for breaking things off with my long distance boyfriend, who I know will be harder hit by the breakup than I will be?"

Answer: you can break up with anyone you aren't married to or co-parenting with at any time for any reason. You can especially break up with people whom you only have been dating for 5 months, two of which were long distance. Just don't expect him to like it. And if I'm right and the pot is really a red herring, then don't offer it as an excuse, because he'll probably promise anything to get you to not sever your relationship right now, because he is lonely and having a hard time, and then you'll be right back where you started.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:27 PM on November 14, 2012

I think you need to separate the support you give him while he is in a bad situation from your committment to the future of the relationship. Give him attention and emotional support now when he needs it, but make it clear that your behavior does not imply any promises or expectations about the future. I don't like the way he is using his current misfortune and your sympathy to change the terms of your relationship. Don't let him get away with that.
posted by conrad53 at 5:55 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Figure out why it's a dealbreaker for you. Anything you think is a dealbreaker is a dealbreaker, regardless of the opinions of other people.

Potential reasons it may be: secondhand smoke, legality, smell, how he acts when he's affected, cost, the fact that he's said he wants to reduce it and hasn't (probable addiction.)

After that, you tell him that it is a dealbreaker for you, and why, and compromise on it. That might mean he doesn't change, and the relationship's over.

Honestly, there's another larger problem here - your career and his career, and how they'll intersect. I'd think about whether this is a dealbreaker, too. Then again, I'm not willing to be a trailing spouse - you might be, or not.

You can still be friends, and hang out with each other!
posted by Ashlyth at 6:19 PM on November 14, 2012

I also disagree with the "typical stoner" description. This is minimal MJ use, probably designed that way, perhaps after different patterns of use in the past.

It is very telling that the OP raises the thought, "if only he had plans to smoke less." The only way this guy could smoke less is to stop completely.

I fully agree that the OP has to make her own decision. Each person does.
posted by megatherium at 7:02 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Personally, daily smoking or drinking would not be ok with me. I have no moral qualms about it, just want to live without it. But everyone has their lines. Don't feel wrong to have your own.
posted by ead at 7:42 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The deal breaker here is that he wants a very different life from you. You are settled into a particular place for the foreseeable future. He's going to be rambling about pursuing this professional aspirations. The pot isn't the deal breaker (though it might have been if you'd have continued in the same city).

Romantically, this guy's a dead end for you. You can be friends and keep in contact, but if you are interested in a romantic partner you should be looking for someone who's lifestyle is a better match to your own.
posted by 26.2 at 12:30 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is about the weed, at all. It didn't bother you this much you when you weren't long-distance and he was happy. I think what you're doing is zeroing in on something it's socially acceptable for you to dislike - the weed - and using it to get a load of AskMe responses telling you it's OK to break up with him because of the weed. I don't think you realise that that's what you're doing. But look upthread: it worked. FWIW I am really not that into drugs/booze (like, really, I can barely tolerate drunk or high people) and I think it would be deeply weird on your part to break up with him because of this pattern of use, which is minimal, takes place at bedtime so you don't even have to deal with him drunk or high, is very likely to abate as he gets older, and isn't affecting you at all at the moment because he isn't there. But that isn't why you would be breaking up with him, is it? It's because he has become much less fun to be in a relationship with. He's gone from being emotionally and physically present to fed-up and long distance. That puts any relationship under a lot of strain. It's even more difficult if you can't or won't acknowledge to yourself the strain it's putting you under.

I think you need to do some serious soul-searching here. Any long-term relationship is going to have times like this when the other person needs more support (maybe much more support) than they're able to give you. Is the fact that you're inclined to bail when this happens an indication of (a) your unrealistic expectations about the always-on, always-fun nature of long-term relationships, or (b) the fact that you weren't ready to be really serious about this guy in the first place? If you're going to be able to answer this question at all well, you need to be honest about what is happening here. And you need to answer the question really, really well: if you get it wrong either way you're going to end up in a world of pain and, just as importantly, probably break this guy, whom you have very warm and protective feelings towards.

You should include an assessment of your own level of maturity in this; it may be that you just aren't emotionally ready to be in a long-term relationship, and if that's the case you need to own it and admit to it as a failing. And for heaven's sake, if you break up with him, be honest about why. There's a special kind of gaslighting in pretending that you don't have a selfish or needy or whatever bone in your body, but are breaking up with someone because of their unacceptable behaviour, when actually it's because you, like your partner, are imperfect and impatient or were mistaken about the strength and resilience of your feelings.

The weed is a total red herring; it's exactly the kind of tiny irritating detail people fixate on when they are looking for reasons to get out of a relationship. It's not him, it's you.
posted by Acheman at 12:32 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Only you can determine what a deal breaker is as mentioned upthread multiple times over. While the cannabis use seems to be from your description a justification or a reason to end the relationalship, it comes across in your post that the distance, need from him and different directions are larger issues at play.
You really dont need one. You need to do what is best for you and your plans. Youve only been together 5 month, hardly a long time to feel guilty (not that you should) about ending something that just isnt working for you.
For what its worth I am a daily pot smoker and have always been up front about it. If it was an issue for a significant other it would be one for me as well. People change for themselves primarily, not others. So consider that if you think his usage would is an issue for you.
posted by handbanana at 8:21 AM on November 15, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
1) Thank you for making me think, each of you. I think we had left the idea of our long term life goals a little bit on the side, as his next plans were still blurry. We did have a hope that something would be possible, or could be made possible, once we'd know more.

2) To Acheman : On weed being a red herring. Let's say my general attitude towards it was deliberately careless, as I didn't want to express, or even feel anything that would bend owards being judgemental, regarding his consumption. I did have the feeling, during our entire relationship, that if we were to come to that point of planning something long term together, it wouldn't be possible in these conditions. I felt horrible about it, but told him I simply couldn't be okay, and wa s very sorry about it. So he has been aware of it, as soon as we started expressing feelings towards each other. It really mattered for both of us to be honest. As I couldn't imagine the man i would share my life with, rely on, and perhaps build a family with, be a regular pot smoker. It feels wrong to reject someone I care about, for this. hence the bottom of my question, which really has to do with weed. Another thing is, this has been going on for more than 10 years in his life. Also, while we were together, he got arrested and was kept in jail for a little less than 24 hours, as he was getting out of a bar, as the police found him too drunk to stay outside, and he had been provocative towards them.
...... So, it could be interpreted as a red herring. But i can only say that i made the effort not to think or care about it while we were together, most probably because we kew we couldn't plan long term, any soon, and that the true qualities he has, were more central to our daily routine, than this other part.

I feel that the idea of seing such habits take place daily in a very serious relationship, would simply make me very anxious. What I mind about his consumption, is the very idea of addiction. He cannot stop. it costs him money, and he has been in difficult places financially during his studies, but would still keep smoking and buying it, he has to downgrade his food budget because of it, to eating quite low quality food. Then, what it means for his lungs, as he smokes (tobacco) during daytime and I don't. Then, the smell...which is probably the least inconvenient compared to what it means for me, to share projects with someone who is addicted to it.

3) Sorry : what is a "lost academic type of personality" ?

4) I think you are all very right when you talk about life projects. I am starting to write these down in my journal, and they are already quite clear to me. I wish for an interesting life, yet a very stable one. Regarding my desire and maturity for a serious relationship... I am full on wanting to build this. With someone who will be happy to see me everyday, that i would be compatible with, and to keep going with all that we can share, long-term. This isn't (or i may not be conscious of it so far), me getting cold feet about a relationship that isn't as fun as it used to be. As I mentionned, be it as a girlfriend or a friend, I intend to help M out, to encourage him towards his goal, as I believe in what is dear to him. And I can see how our relationship is taking a turn, due to the distance, which raises questions in each of us. We had actually talked about how this year apart would help us see things more clearly in our lives, personal, and perhaps shared.

5 ) regarding the near future. I have to say that he is on the very opposite of my side of the world, literally, at the moment. We made the project that I'd go visit him during this year, when he left. I don't want to "waste his time" with my doubts, by entertaining his feelings. yet it feels so very unfair to keep going strong, when I am not sure for how long I will be able to do so.

Thank you, everyone. And sorry for this long long post.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:50 PM on November 15, 2012

« Older Goodbye to all that?   |   I know it isn't Thanksgiving yet, but it is also... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.