My boyfriend occasionally takes drugs. Is it unreasonable to end our relationship because of it?

This isn’t a problem of what is and isn’t reasonable, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith, it’s a preference and you’re entitled to it

My boyfriend (29) of one and a half years is a wonderful, sweet soul and we have many shared values. I could see myself growing old with him. He occasionally does drugs (cocaine and ecstasy) with his former uni friends. I’ve never even smoked a cigarette and knowing he occasionally does drugs makes me uncomfortable. Even if it’s only at parties every few months, I worry about him having a bad batch and dying. It also feels very immoral due to all the human trafficking in the supply chain. It feels like a deal-breaker issue.

I’ve asked if he’d stop using drugs for the sake of our relationship. He said he would if he had children but would likely try them again once the kids are older. I’ve even tried to flag the dangers of bad batches and he’s pointed to the statistics that he’s more likely to be injured horse riding or doing extreme sports. He also feels like I’m imposing my views on to him and asked why I haven’t taken a strong view on him drinking at the weekends.

As coarse as it sounds I’d be more comfortable knowing he died paragliding than because of a bad batch of MDMA. Because of his profession, I didn’t ask about drug use early on as I assumed people of a certain profession wouldn’t do recreational drugs. Am I imposing my own views and being unreasonable if I end our relationship because of his drug use?

Eleanor says: I think this may be a situation where the currency of reasonableness will only purchase so much.

I hear the rational grounds for this preference of yours, particularly the risk of overdose, I truly do. I don’t like to write a great deal about my own life here but believe me that I know how frightening this can be. This is why there are testing kits and wonderful resources to make sure that people who intend to use drugs recreationally are better able to keep themselves educated and safe.

However – and I hope you’ll forgive me saying so – it’s difficult to think that concerns about ethics and the possibility of overdose exhaust what’s troubling you here. You also mention you’d be “more comfortable” if he died paragliding (even though he’d be equally dead) and that you’d thought he wouldn’t do drugs as a member of “a certain profession”. In a world where he only did ethically lab-made drugs, in regulated quantities so he’d always be safe, would you then be comfortable?

There are some clues in your letter that the answer might be no, and that these reasons aren’t the only things you’re uncomfortable about. Ludwig Wittgenstein said that after we exhaust justification there’s a point where we can say nothing else; we simply hit bedrock and have to say “my spade is turned”. It sounds to me like being uncomfortable with drugs might be a bedrock issue for you.

And that’s an OK place to turn your spade. You don’t have to show your working for every feeling; you especially don’t need to make an argument that’s persuasive specifically to him. When others don’t share our strongest preferences, we often alchemise them into objective moral arguments. “I just like reality TV” becomes “you’re snobby for not wanting to watch this with me”; “I just don’t really like staying out late” becomes “some of us have to be up in the morning”. Because these things feel important to us, we can act as though ours is the only reasonable preference, especially when the legitimacy of that preference feels under threat.

In fact, though, you are allowed to have things that are just bedrock preferences. You don’t have to like drugs, or be OK with a partner who does. You’re allowed to want a relationship without this asymmetry. There will be big parts of his social life and emotional experience you’re not a part of, and mornings after can be supremely dull, even upsetting, for the sober half of a couple.

But it might help to litigate this as a matter of strong preference, instead of an argument with a set of reasonable premises and a conclusion that others should accept. There might turn out to be One True Moral Answer about drugs, but the chances that either of you or your boyfriend have found it are slim.

What you have here may just be a matter of preference, but you can treat your preferences as decisive reasons for you to act. Just don’t expect they’ll be decisive for others.


Ask us a question

Do you have a conflict, crossroads or dilemma you need help with? Eleanor Gordon-Smith will help you think through life’s questions and puzzles, big and small. Questions can be anonymous.

  • If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here


Eleanor Gordon-Smith

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
My boyfriend is addicted to his phone. Should I use spy software to be sure he’s cheating? | Leading questions
You don’t need to make yourself dishonest to prove someone else is – wanting to leave is reason enough

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

03, Nov, 2022 @11:23 PM

Article image
Our long-term relationship is stale. Is this something that happens to everyone? | Leading questions
It doesn’t matter what is normal, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith, you have to decide what you want for yourself

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

01, Dec, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
I am kinky but my partner is not. Should I end our secure, loving relationship? | Leading questions
Every relationship involves sacrifices, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith. But yours might not be as fulfilling as you think – for either party

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

22, Jun, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
I am in a long-term relationship with a partner I admire, but don’t love. Do I end it?
It’s natural to feel reluctant about hurting someone, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith, but staying hurts them more

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

23, Sep, 2022 @12:53 AM

Article image
My new lover takes my breath away. However, I feel a sense of dread. How do I stop this?
It is hard to loosen the tentacles that dread wraps around the mind, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith, the goal is to live on despite them

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

13, Oct, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
My boyfriend’s aggressive dog has stalled our plans to move in together. How can we move forwards? | Leading questions
You can learn a lot about someone from how they treat animals, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith. In this situation that cuts two ways

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

08, Jun, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
In a season of weddings and baby showers, what can single people do to celebrate their lives?
Do you want a ritual defined by the absence of settling down, asks advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith, or just one without its trappings?

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

13, Oct, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
I’m a little over 50 and in a long-term situationship. How might I change the situation? Or leave? | Leading questions
It can be difficult to realise when to give up hope in a relationship, but at a certain point you might have to, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

23, Mar, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
I’m 24 and my life was pretty sorted out, until I fell deeply in love with a man of 51 | Leading questions
Staying with this man will mean bracing for uncomfortable questions, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith. But it’s what you feel, not what others think, that really matters

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

02, Jun, 2021 @5:30 PM

Article image
My partner snores and won’t do anything about it. Help! | Leading questions
It will be hard to change his behaviour alone, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith. But stand your ground – even if sleep-deprived

Eleanor Gordon-Smith

29, Sep, 2022 @5:30 PM