Dear 4 Way,
I’ve been seeing a new guy for some time now. We have a lot of fun together and I’m really liking him. My issue seems petty but it keeps bugging me and I’m not sure how to address it. His natural body odor bothers me. It’s distracting when we’re close and seriously stopping me from wanting to nuzzle his neck when we hug or anything. Could we just be pheremonally incompatible or is there a gentle way to handle this?—RC, Tampa, Florida
The straight man’s perspective: Chris Kennedy
I’d like to start by giving you two compliments. 1. It’s good you’re looking for a solution to a problem in your relationship. 2. You’ve created a whole new term for a reason to break up—“Pheremonally incompatible?” I admit this is not a common problem for me as I date women and women don’t tend to stink as much as we men can.
Actually, I did date a woman briefly who had a body odor I wasn’t particularly fond of. She was European, a bit clingy, and didn’t wear deodorant on a regular basis. Not a great combination in my book. Anyway, back to you.
If you care, you must dare, I say. You absolutely tell him, but in roundabout ways: Baby, have you been working out? Did you just get in a fight with a skunk? Baby, when I think of you, I think of a dumpster in a crowded back alley in the middle of summer. Not really. I would recommend a subtle, proactive, positive approach. Buy him gifts—some cologne, soap, or maybe even some deodorant that you really enjoy the smell of. Tell him that it’d really turn you on if he used them. If he resists and doesn’t take the hint, then tell him directly that he has to do this or you just can’t see being intimate with him any longer. Smell is a legitimate sense of attraction. If that sounds superficial to any of your friends, tell them to lower their noses and really think about what they would do in your predicament.
So go do some shopping, your nose will know which products to buy for him. I’m guessing your nose will probably pick out some body spray and some good soap.
The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer
The nose knows, RC. Our sense of smell is potent. It is a primal way all animals, including humans, make sense of their world. My cat doesn’t care what you look like or how you act, but she bases her decision to spend time with you exclusively on your scent. It’s interesting to note that the longer we’re together (ten years now), the more she wants to spend time really smelling my hands and face. I know, I know, I spend an inordinate amount of time with my cat, and need to meet and smell more humans. I’m working on it.
RC, I’m going to assume the fun you say you have with this guy includes being intimate with him. Is it fun to kiss him, sit next to him in a movie theater, or hold hands? Or do most of your fun times take place outside of what many communication experts call the “intimate zone”—less than an arm’s length from the body? I spend lots of time with teachers and folks that I work with, but usually our physical closeness does not fall within that intimate zone. So unless they have on a strong perfume or cologne, I don’t use my nose to judge the quality of our connection. You, my dear, are in the intimate zone with this guy and I say, if it doesn’t smell right, then it isn’t. I suppose you could get really nosey about it and inquire about his diet and see if altering that may change his scent, but that takes time and a huge life change on his part. Short of taking a shower together and rubbing each other down with some good smelling soap, for me, a stinky connection makes no sense.
The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox
Well Tampa, last time I checked, you aren’t exactly living in a place where deodorant is optional due to climate control so I think you’re justified to have a chat with your little Buccaneer.
Personally I’ve never understood bad hygiene. It’s not only a lack of self-respect but also a smelly slap to all who stand downwind of the inconsideration. From those people at the gym who conveniently forget the deodorant while they’re on the treadmill for thirty minutes to the greaseball who forgets to wash his hair or thinks he can just brush his teeth when he gets to work, it’s just bad form and uncalled for.
Here’s my question for you: is this stench a new thing or has it always been there? You say you’ve been seeing him for some time. Have you been smelling him for a while too or is this a new development? If so, just ask him what the hell the deal is with his funky freshness and tell him to hit the showers. If you’re shy about it, tune into a Pepe Le Peu rerun and casually remind him of the reason poor Pepe always had the ladies squirming out of his arms. Look, I could take the high road here and tell you to go out, get him a nice cologne, and compliment him over and over on how great he smells when he wears it and maybe he’ll take the hint. Bullshit. If that works, he’ll just mask the stench and you’ll wind up with stink water on your hands. Tell him to bathe and act like an adult already. You’re not his mom and he’s not Matthew McConaughey, who revealed that he likes to “smell like a man” so he often avoids wearing deodorant. Your guy needs to buck up or you’re out of there.
The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown
There’s a big difference between natural body odor and just plain ole stank. Why don’t you invite him to join you for a sexy little shower? Get him all soapy in his hard-to-reach places and also take advantage of some physical closeness where his offending body odor is masked by Irish Spring. Once your shower is over, you’ll get to see what his “reset” smell is and you can determine if what you’ve been smelling is the “I just ran six miles after a hard day at the construction site” naturally stinky man smell, or if it’s the “I always smell this way so you’re gonna have to suck it up or bolt” bad pheromone smell.
If you determine the odor can be washed away, I think you can talk to him about it playfully: “Baby, you smell so manly, I think we might need a team shower!” But if you discover it’s a pheromone thing, I hate to say it, RC, I think you’re doomed—unless you’re willing to stay with a smelly dude for eternity. You can’t tell him about it because he can’t do anything to change his tainted pheromones—he’s stuck with them. Bringing it up might make you feel better but it’ll make him feel like shit, so I say don’t do it.
For the record, you’re not being petty. Smell is a huge part of attraction, and if you’re with someone whose smell prohibits you from getting physically closer, that’s probably going to prohibit you from getting emotionally closer too. I’m not sure how it can work. You need to think hard about what you can live with—or what will eventually set off your gag reflex daily—and make a decision. If it were me, I’d say so long to Funky McFunkerson.