My boyfriend stinks

My heart would like to remember him sweetly, but my nose won't forget.

Published November 10, 2005 1:00PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

For almost six months I have been in a relationship with a wonderful man. We understand each other, we really like each other, the sex is great, and lately we have been talking about living together.

But I stayed at his place last week and for some reason he stopped washing. He has never been too keen on water before, but he did shower once a day; now it has been every two days, only because I insisted, and even then not so thoroughly. Could this be his normal behavior, and now that this relationship is not that "special" anymore he is going back to his old habits? Is he by any chance, consciously or subconsciously, trying to push me away? Or is he just a pig?

I really don't know how to tell him that his poor personal hygiene disgusts me; I used to imagine him in my bed every night we were apart. Now I can't even think of that without finding the idea repulsive.

I don't want to humiliate him, but he is humiliating himself this way.

Apart from this, everything is just ginger. But I really don't feel attracted to him unless he showers. And I can't do it for him, can I?

What should I do? This letter might sound like a joke, but it's not; I can't even talk to him over the phone because I remember ... well, my nose remembers ... and I can't think of anything else! This is so painful and I don't know how to sort it out.


Dear Girlfriend,

I don't really know how to sort it out either, except to say that sometimes the things we think we cannot say to another person actually are not that big a deal to the other person, especially if you say it in the right way. Say it in a lighthearted, friendly way. You might just say, Hey, take a shower.

You don't have to attach a lot of significance to it. Just tell him to take a shower and see what he does. Maybe he will just sniff his pits and go take a shower. After he takes a shower, reward him.

If you have to tell him to take a shower every day for a while, that's OK. Even twice a day is OK. Just think: If this works, you can have a nice-smelling man whenever you want. Don't assume that telling him once or twice will do the trick. You may have to keep telling him every day for a while, maybe a few weeks. Eventually, it should become apparent to him that you expect him to take a shower. Maybe he might start surprising you. When you show up maybe he will already be in the shower, or will have already showered.

If he says, Why do you want me to take a shower, tell him you like the way he smells after he takes a shower. If he says, Do I stink, I think you should go ahead and tell him, Yes, you stink. I figure if he is terribly sensitive about that, he wouldn't ask about it, right? Or, if you think that is too harsh, if you're uncomfortable telling your boyfriend that he stinks, just tell him that you want him to take a shower because you like the way he smells after he takes one. And if he presses you, well, it's up to you. You could stick to your story and keep telling him that he just smells better after he takes a shower and you like him to smell good, or eventually you might break down and just say, Yes, you stink.

I don't think the stakes are that high. Try to keep this in mind: He is different from you. If he really cared that much about how he smelled, he would take showers more frequently. So it probably is not a big deal to him if he smells bad, and he likely won't be too insulted if you tell him to take a shower.

And if you worry that this reflects on how he feels about you, well, it probably does, in a way. Not so much that he completely takes you for granted as that he is trying to be himself around you. I doubt that he is trying to get rid of you. It is possible he was on his best behavior in the beginning and is now reverting a little. Most men are on their best behavior at first. His reverting doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't like you anymore; it may just mean that he is feeling more comfortable around you. Maybe you don't want him to be that comfortable. You can tell him some of the things that you want him to do and see what he says.

Maybe you will end up talking about it and learn something about him.

The main thing, I think, is to not take it too seriously. Try to have a sense of humor about it. Admittedly, that may be hard, because the nose is a very powerful instrument, and the signals it sends to the brain can have immediate and sometimes long-lasting effect. As you say, your nose remembers!

So just tell him to take a shower, and keep telling him until he starts doing it on his own without your prodding. If all goes well, eventually your nose will forget.

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