Dear Queer Abby,
The apartment that I live in is a duplex. I moved in four years ago, a month before my neighbor who lives in the other side of the duplex. My neighbor is a good friend of mine and we look out for each other — for example, sending a text when the power is out or asking for pet sitting when one of us is out of town.
He also smokes cigarettes, mostly first thing in the morning and also when I’m heading to sleep.
My window fan blows the smoke into my bedroom and I both hate the smell and am quite allergic to it. I want it to stop but don’t want to make things awkward with my friend. If he smoked on the back porch, the smoke would blow into a roommate’s bedroom, meaning he’d have to go smoke in his car or somewhere else.
Do I bring up the situation to him or wait until winter when I can close my windows again?
I can’t think of a clever sign-off but live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Dear Grand Rapids,
Cough cough cough cough.
I am waving away a cloud of cigarette smoke to tell you this:
There is no shame in having needs, and speaking your desires is not an accusation.
Your very good friend may not realize, when he is smoking, it is blowing directly into your allergic face. Especially if you haven’t complained before.
I say do it. Say the thing.
He doesn’t want to hurt you. Give him the opportunity to get all the facts, and then respond as a thoughtful, considerate person.
Your communication doesn’t need to be processy, or whiny, or loaded.
Remember – the more you justify a boundary, the weaker it gets.
You can just say, the next time you see them and you are feeling mellow and right with the world (dear lord, please don’t do this via text. Text message is the passive-aggressive roommate note of the 2000s):
“Hey, I am realizing that I am allergic to cigarette smoke. When you smoke outside, it blows directly into my window.”
Then LET IT HANG. Let it sit there. Don’t start tap-dancing away from your needs or making suggestions for your friend.
See what your friend has to say.
The end of your talk is some version of: “I need to ask you to stop smoking outside of my window.”
Before your talk, in your mind, make a self-care 2nd option in case your neighbor says a firm no. What do you need to do to maintain your own comfort and lung capacity? Close your window? Change the fan direction? Call the landlord? Find new friends? Leave town until winter?
Even though you know him as a friend, his response is just information. It’s nothing personal.
How other people treat you reveals more about them than it does about you, so if he turns into a raging nicotine worshiping monster in this moment, I promise he would have been that way anyway, not because you expressed a desire to breathe.
And if you need to, I’d be happy to FaceTime with him on your behalf.