Miss Information

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Can I break up with a guy because I don't like the way he smells?

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Dear Miss Info,

I met this guy, and we instantly hit it off. We're attracted to each other, we enjoy each other's company, we're interested in what each other has to say, we can talk for hours, blah blah blah. Everything seemed extremely promising — and still does, to some degree.

To my dismay, when we started becoming physical I discovered that his smell and taste are pretty repugnant to me. Not that he has bad hygiene — he doesn't — just his natural body chemistry is unpleasant to me. This has always been an important part of the equation to me. When I'm with someone who I feel super-compatible with, they smell and taste good to me, even when they're sweaty and stinky. This preference of mine has even been reinforced by articles I've read about biocompatibility, and how humans (and other animals, for that matter) select mates that have complementary body chemistry.

What should I do? On one hand, his smell and taste are pretty major turn-offs. But on the other hand, it seems like such a shallow and awful reason to break up with someone who is otherwise right up my alley. And if I do break it off, how on earth can I tell him that it's because I think he smells bad? That just seems all-around awful. Help?

— Pepe Le Pew

Dear Pepe Le Pew,

We are all slaves to our mammalian impulses, and no amount of monocle-wearing will change that. I know you know this, based off your phrase "humans and other animals." But I want to take it one step further: the more we as a species rely on our intelligence, the more (most of us) ignore our physicalities.

Your body has plenty to say, but it is also all too easy to ignore — like a toddler pulling on the hem of your sweater while you're trying to buy groceries, and dammit, Walter, can't you see mama is busy? Physical reactions like this are inconvenient and frustrating, but should be respected. Your body, after all, is in this too.

In this case, Pepe, you can hit it off when fully clothed, but that attraction comes unglued in the bedroom. If you're trying to strongarm yourself into enjoying sexual encounters, stop. Your brain can't and shouldn't override your body. 

Of course, it is hard to to take this theory into practice. For starters, definitely do not tell him his smell is a problem. It will create insecurity in him about something that a) is not wrong with him and b) he can't change. But if you find that your physical interactions are really distracting and non-enjoyable for you, that's not a "shallow" reason to break up with someone. That's chemistry, and it is a harsh mistress.

If you decide you need to break it off, be clear and confident about your decision before you bring it to him. A halfhearted or ambivalent split just prolongs the experience and creates more pain than a clean break.

I also want to call attention, Pepe, to how often you use the phrase "to me." His smell is repugnant… to you. It's unpleasant… to you. Your thinking here is spot-on: it's not a fault of this guy's, but rather some breakdown between your intellectual and physical attraction. This doesn't make you shallow or awful, and it doesn't make him somehow at fault. It's an "x-factor" thing. The chemistry between you two might not work, but that doesn't mean either of you is doing something wrong.


Dear Miss Information,

I turn to you because, alas, even Cosmo let me down on this one, and I don't think Miss Manners has a cyber-sex advice offering. At forty-seven, I think of myself as a sexually confident, liberated, single woman. About three weeks ago, I cybered with a non-local guy I met on a dating site. It was really hot. Twice. I haven't heard from him and let it go — it was an interesting experience but not really sustainable.

Another guy, a local, and I, have what seems like the beginning of a relationship. We've had actual sex three times and it's been great. He's on the road a lot professionally, and I'm okay with that as long as he makes some effort to spend time with me. But recently, I've felt like this was slipping into a cyber-only situation, or more cyber than actual/physical. Today, we were both webcamming and when he was finished, he did the webcam equivalent of hanging up on me.

I probably wouldn't have been bothered so much, had I not just had a similar experience with guy #1. Okay, so spooning is not possible in this realm, and I get that men process sex differently, but I'm not a call girl. I'm not sure I'm okay with this — is cyber-sex the new normal or a way to avoid actual intimacy? 

— Tired of Typing

Dear Tired of Typing,

Webcam sex in itself is neither good nor bad; it is just a human reaction to new technology. Hell, one of the first things ever printed on the Gutenberg printing press was pornography. It's almost cute how predictable we are: we get new technology, and we can't wait to smut it up.

Webcams are really just an extension of their owners. An asshole in possession of a webcam will use it like an asshole, while a saint will use his accordingly. So, your guy hanging up on you raises more questions about him than it does about the medium. In the interest of giving him the benefit of the doubt, you're right that no etiquette yet exists for sex online. If you think the problem might be a miscommunication of goals, bring it up: "Hey, videochatting with you is really hot, but I need something after, or else it feels dirty, and not the good kind." He should respect that and change his behavior. If he doesn't, then that's a red flag.

The technology itself is neutral, but how we interact with it is what matters. If you are using it strictly for pleasure — as it seems both you and the first, long-distance guy were doing — then it is, as you say, "a way to avoid intimacy" while getting a quick, orgasmic fix. But if it's in the context of a broader relationship, it could help you stay in touch when travel intervenes. From that perspective, it could even strengthen intimacy. 

In short, ToT, I don't think the issue here is so much about webcams as it is about two very different situations. The first you describe is a quick one-night stand, high on sex and low on stakes. It came and went and nobody got hurt. The second one, though, is more "relationship" territory, and with that comes different expectations. Just as no boyfriend should throw a $10 on your nightstand and tell you to buy yourself breakfast, no boyfriend should simply hang up after webcam sex. You feeling mildly offended is completely valid. The best response is to discuss this with the guy, and bring humanity back to cybering.