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.
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