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Dear Miss Information,

My significant other of about a year and a half has recently started to complain about the way I smell. It started with complaints about my scarves, moved to coats and then whenever he came over, he would dump some of the more offending items in the dryer along with some of those stinky Bounce dryer sheets that I can't handle smelling myself. Of course, it didn't stop there. At one point during oral sex, I had myself strategically positioned in front of his face when he told me to go take a shower. This was after I had a bath, a wash-up, and a finger sniff test. I got up, got dressed, and left.

We did have a bit of a shift recently in a relationship where we started to talk more about long term goals. Otherwise, he has lately been super sweet and attentive. I'm thinking he subconsciously wants out. What do you think? — Smell Hell

Dear Smell Hell,

I'm not sure, and I won't be sure until they invent scratch-n-sniff email. The fact that you hate the smell of dryer sheets does give me pause. Are you one of those toothpaste and deodorant conspiracy theorists who dabs a little essential oil behind her ears and chews on a sprig of fennel after a long session of Bikram yoga? Then again, I had an ex-boyfriend who hated (hated!) the aroma of fresh baked goods and he had no issues as far as hygiene goes. Smell is one of the most subjective of the five senses. What smells lovely to one person is to another person god-awful.

There's also the fact that you actually get used to certain smells after a period of time, especially if you're getting constant exposure. Sciencey types call this olfactory fatigue and it's why people who live with multiple cats wonder why no one wants to come to dinner parties at their houses.

Is there anyone you can count on to give a honest, unvarnished opinion? A best friend? A sibling? If not, what about strangers? Go to a tiny bookshop or take a crowded bus and watch people's body language closely to see if you get any negativereactions. Kids, with their complete and utter lack of a filter, are excellent sources of information. Sadly, I can't recommend you go approaching tots on the street. That's a fast track to getting arrested. If you've got the insurance, seeing a doctor to rule out any odor-causing medical conditions is easier and more expedient.

I do think there may be some truth to your theory about your boyfriend trying to nit-pick his way out of the relationship, especially if he's the only one giving you complaints. People often become more critical when they're feeling threatened. These serious conversations are taking him out of his comfort zone and he could be questioning whether he wants to flee or stay. Instead of expressing those fears and anxieties, he goes for the easy jab.

You guys need to talk. Tell him all the Febrezing is hurting your feelings and making you wonder if he's committed to the relationship. He needs to open up about whether it's truly just a nasal issue, and if it is, be clear and realistic about his expectations. You can't ditch your whole wardrobe, but maybe you can get rid of a few of the more offensive items in question. Your letter doesn't say anything about this, but I'm guessing you maybe wear a lot of vintage? If so, cheap vodka in a spray bottle works wonders. On the clothes. Not you.

Readers, has a significant other ever made you paranoid about something related to your appearance? How did you deal with it?

Dear Miss. Information,

I just got out of a very shitty relationship with a coworker who didn't deserve my attention. He was a total flake and blew me off constantly. I broke up with him but I haven't been able to stop thinking about him until recently. Needless to say, it was a ridiculous waste of time.

So while I've been trying to keep things from being totally awkward at work, I've been on the prowl for someone better. Asking guys out is easy for me, I'm a real flirt and not afraid to make myself vulnerable. I've gotten a few dates but no one special.

However, one of my customers whom I have a huge crush on came into the store the other day and I asked him out. To my disappointment he said he would like to but is in a "complicated situation" right now but thinks I'm cute. I felt rejected, of course, but I'm not quite ready to give up. I have a good feeling that he likes me and I want to pursue him. Any suggestions on a tactic that won't make me look desperate for a boyfriend? — Woman Who Wants a Man But Pretends She Doesn't

Dear Woman Who Wants a Man,

I've got the perfect tactic:

Step 1: Find someone who's not this guy.

Step 2: Ask him out.

If you don't want to look desperate, don't pursue a person who's already turned you down. I don't care how cute he is. I don't care how cute he thinks you are. I don't care how half-assed his rejection sounded. No means no. Too bad there's no self-esteem equivalent of a rape whistle, because I'd be blowing on that son-of-a-Boehner really hard right about now.

Why? Because at a time when you should be taking care of yourself, you're putting yourself right back in the danger zone. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at the progression:

- Girl dates guy from work.

- Girl dumps guy because guy is emotionally unavailable.

- Girl asks out work regular.

- Work regular gives clear sign he's unable to provide proper emotional attention.

- Girl decides to go for it, anyway.

Do you see the flaw in this pattern? How you're essentially turning around and making the same mistake twice in a row? Even if you could win him over, why would you want a guy who's fresh out of some bullshit? No one's free from issues or neuroses, but use those bad-ass flirting skills of yours to go after a fresh new guy with the tags still on, not some cut-rate Romeo off the damaged rack.

There's nothing wrong with wanting a man. Or woman. Or gender-transcending hybrid. It's habitually wanting people who aren't good for you that's the problem.

Readers, what's one romantic mistake you've made again and again? How did you hop off the pink plaid banana seat of the cuckoo cycle?

Email erin@nerve.com. Letters may be edited for length, content and clarity.

Commentarium (30 Comments)

Mar 29 10 - 12:12am
Jay

Could the "chemistry" between you two have changed? People's smell can change over time. I had a LTR and she always used to smell great to me. One day I realized she didn't anymore, but always smelled slightly unappealing to me. I didn't leave her over that, though the relationship later ended anyway. Some people studying this have said that when your partner stops smelling good to you, the relationship inevitably ends.

Mar 29 10 - 12:34am
anathema

I am super sensitive to smell, and smell is a major turn-on in my relationship . . . if I am in love (or in lust) with someone, I love the smell of their sweat, even when they're kinda funky. However--I also can always smell weird changes in their body chemistry. Like, if they're getting the flu, are drinking too much coffee, or whatever. Sometimes things make your sweat smelly icky. Think about whether anything in your life has changed recently--high stress? major dietary change? drinking booze or coffee? recreational or medicinal drugs? All can affect your body scent even when you're totally shiny clean.

Mar 29 10 - 3:14am
h

I'm sensitive to smell as well, and I think her boyfriend is crazy and trying to gaslight her. There's nothing worse than psychological torture--of which this behavior is a prime example. She should get the hell out, and fast.

As for the second letter, some people are just gluttons for punishment. Or dumb. Or both.

Mar 29 10 - 4:18am
Josi

Re the first letter - your boyfriends behaviour sounds really quite cruel. Subconscious or not it is not okay. I would head for the hills personally, but if not you at least need to talk to him and tell him exactly how crap his behaviour is making you feel. It is really shitty.

Mar 29 10 - 4:23am
Bart

The girl needs to dump the dude. I can't imagine ever being enough of a dick to be about to go down on a girl and then ask her to take a shower. That's some serious bullshit. And throwing her shit in the dryer with drying sheets? Dude has some fucking issues. He's either a prissy manipulative piece of shit, closet gay, a control freak or some combination thereof.

If she keeps dating him and somehow smells up to his standards he'll find other shit to bitch about and other ways to control her.

Mar 29 10 - 9:02am
Fla

If this guy has only just become sensitive to her (and other) smells perhaps he has something more sinister brewing in his skull than a plan to ditch the relationship.

Mar 29 10 - 11:09am
Nicole

@ letter 1: I had a boyfriend like that in high school. He would make these sniper comments about my smell, like a high school d-bag. But we were together for a while, and it was a control tactic. It was a way to chip away at my self-esteem. I'm now 30, and it took me a long while to a) realize that he even did it, and it wasn't just me and my scary vagina and b) to get out the mild neurosis that I developed over my scary vagina. He's picking on you in a really mean way. Dump him. Trust me, you smell fine, and there are plenty of people who'd probably love to spend an afternoon with their face in your lap.

Mar 29 10 - 4:44pm
Eric

Dryer sheets aren't necessary if you used a sufficient load size setting, not overloaded the washer, and used a good free and clear detergent. If the clothes do smell, drier sheets are not the most efficient way to remedy the situation.

Mar 29 10 - 6:13pm
Grace

I HATE the smell of Bounce, and every other fake scent. Makes me sneeze. And, c'mon, he doesn't even like the smell of her blanket now? Either he has some serious medical issue - I mean, he liked her smell before. Me thinks there IS something stinky going on here, but it is happening inside the BF's head. Plus he seems like a bit of a jerk who is doing a number on her self-esteem and body image. Run girlfriend, run.

Mar 29 10 - 10:01pm
Mil

For Smell Hell:

Is it possible your S.O. is depressed? My exbf started taking issue with how I smelled towards the end of our relationship. That didn't seem to be much of an issue compared to the depression he developed right after. I read soon after the end that serious depression can have a strange effect on the olfactory senses. Go figure, right? But it's worth a look into.

Also, is it possible you are sick? I developed kidney stones during all of this going on as well, it could have been a shift in my body chemistry that triggered his bad reaction. I suggest a check up for both you and your S.O. no matter your insurance status.

Right now I'm in a relationship with a guy that has told me that I smell good consistantly for several months. Also go figure.

Good luck!

Mar 29 10 - 10:16pm
Mil

Oh, and if he isn't depressed and you are both healthy... he's being a jerk and needs to be dumped.

Mar 29 10 - 11:51pm
jeff

He might have a brain tumour, or as someone else mentioned, is depressed/psychological disorder. Most likely he's a douche, but apparently weird olfactory sensations are a common symptom of neurological issues.

Mar 30 10 - 9:22am
kp

I grew up showering every other day - that's just how it was in my house. I never thought twice about it - I didn't smell and no one I was around told me I did either. Then I met who is now my husband. He didn't think I stunk necessarily, but preferred what he called a "sweeter vagina." We talked about it and it was no big deal. I shower every day now (most of the time with my sexy man) and things are fine. The way in which the boyfriend is treating the subject is more suspect than the stink (or non-stink. who even knows?) itself. Anybody who would rather toss their significant others possessions around while yelling about stink or would interrupt sex to demean someone about their smell is not worth the effort you're putting into worrying about it, He's a douchebag and his attitude is what really stinks.

Mar 30 10 - 1:59pm
McKingford

#2: One of the most exciting things in life is discovering that someone is attracted to you. That being the case, if the guy turned her down, he is *entirely* not interested in her.

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Mar 31 10 - 1:44am
tosnoid

Smell Hell's pal may not be the snarky troublemaker people're making him out to be. I had the occasion once to be intimate with a woman who went through a complete aromatic change. For nearly a year, she was totally normal. She got a different job, and acquired an aroma that wasn't strong (you couldn't spot it unless you were within hugging distance) but close enough, it caught in my throat -- not a basic body smell, but a musty, sort of wet-dog thing.

I used to meet her at the door, undress her, and take her to the shower. When she was completely scrubbed down, I'd dry her off and wrap her up in a thick bathrobe. Fortunately, she liked the attention, and put up with it -- the thing was, by the next morning, the aroma was back. She went back to grad school, and the aroma never returned.

Mar 31 10 - 7:20am
se

I think Smell Hell's boyfriend's mind is playing with him. Things are getting serious and some part of him is trying to convince himself he is making a horrible mistake. It is about this time that everyone else not only smells a lot better, but looks a lot more appealing as well. He will either face it and overcome it, or he is just not ready for the big leagues - perhaps just with you, but possibly with anyone.

Mar 31 10 - 8:30am
DUMP HIM

@ Smell Hell:
It really doesn't matter what his motivation is. It doesn't matter if he's overly sensitive to your scent (good, bad or otherwise) or if he's just being an immature cock. Dump him. Fast. Do you really want to spend any more time with him barking orders at you to take a shower, or tossing your clothes and sheets into the wash every day?

Mar 31 10 - 1:45pm
bugz

i think smell is one of the unconscious ways we seek mates. much like most people choose cologne/perfumes that simply accentuate their pre-existing scent.

in other words, someone COULD use their partner's smell 'against them' but it could also be true that changes in the relationship are showing up in their body scents.

Apr 01 10 - 6:20pm
Che

Dryer sheets, laundry detergent, candles, some soaps - all give me horrid migraines. Some people have a strong sense of smell, so not liking dryer sheets doesn't mean you're a dirty hippie (no offense to dirty hippies). I'm a clean person, I just have to use unscented or lightly scented products... my poor GF asks why we have to use baby-soap scented detergent, but really, the left-over scent of regular detergent on clean clothes is enough to cause a migraine if I sweat or get them wet at all (it releases the smell more). Be nice!

On the other hand... sure, your smell changes. I second that I can smell a difference when my partner is sick or stressed. I notice a certain smell about both of us when we're feeling particularly good in our relationship. But boyfriend sounds like an ass if he tells you to shower in the middle of oral sex - I would NEVER do that! I do ask my GF to shower before if I know we're going to have oral, and would welcome the request if she asked me to do the same. But if it happens spontaneously, or if something is a little off down there and things taste different, you suck it up and deal!

On a related note, the opening scene of "Away We Go" is hilarious, and makes cunnilingus taste comments more humorous forever.

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Apr 05 10 - 6:50am
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I had a bf in college who would make snide remarks about my appearance. He noticed every flaw, dimple, sag, bag, or roll that I never knew existed and it took me years to realize how damaging his comments were to my self esteem and helped fuel a lot of anxiety and neurotic behaviors later. In the end he cheated on me and came crawling back, but it was doomed. I guess he was getting revenge on his insecure plastic surgery loving ex who had cheated on him. Find someone who appreciates you now. We all get old and funky in the end and life is too short!

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