Miss Information: Is It Wrong to Break Up With a Guy Because I Don’t Like the Way He Smells?
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.
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