When I was in college, a classmate courted me ardently. He was tall, fair, good looking, intelligent, kind.
I was instantly attracted to him and the feeling was mutual. We were classmates in all subjects having the same major.
He began waiting for me after classes, then joining me for lunch, and bringing me back to the dorm after. He’d even accompany me to the library till it closed. He was just around me all the time. When he learned I loved jasmine, he scoured the gardens around his neighborhood the whole weekend and filled up a paper bag to bring to me the following Monday.
One time I said in passing that I liked men in denims—so he wore his, for seven days straight. I was his first love, he told me.
The only problem was, he smelled. Smell that seemed to come from an unwashed body and unwashed clothes. From the moment we started class in the morning till he brought me back to the dormitory in the evening, he smelled.
At first, I thought my olfactory nerves were just on overdrive and was finding fault in him. I ignored it for a while. But since we sat beside each other everyday, his smell just progressed and worsened. I had to start making excuses why I had to sit away from him.
Seeing how I avoided him, he just stopped trying by the end of the semester. He wrote notes asking what happened to our friendship. I didn’t know how to tell him to bathe, wash his clothes, or see a dentist. I was young and merely shut him out of my life.
That was years ago, and from friends I’d hear he had done very well. He went abroad for his MA and Ph.D, and had distinguished himself in an Ivy League school. He started a family and they lived comfortably in a grand house inside a gated community. He had achieved his dream of making a pile, and being an authority in his field.
When I went on a business trip to the United States a decade ago, he heard I was visiting his city and invited me to lunch. At the restaurant, we hugged and he gave me a peck on the cheek. Immediately, I was assaulted by the smell I avoided years ago. It was winter and I thought the cold weather will mask whatever smell he still carried. Nothing had changed.
For myself, I married the man I love and had one child. We live from paycheck to paycheck but I’ve had no regrets. Despite my very average life, I haven’t regretted passing up what could have been a much comfortable life with my college suitor. I don’t think his money and credentials could conceal his awful smell.
Recently, I was invited to a reunion and he had told a friend that he was hoping I’d be there. This friend who knew my problem encouraged me to attend and tell this college suitor, at last, why I dumped him. He said do it before we all kick the bucket.
There’s no question your college suitor loved you deeply.
Your paths merely diverged because of your very sensitive nose. The olfactory nerve is a powerful force and ally in the body. It’s what flags your taste buds to distinguish what’s good to eat or not; warns you of danger, like fire; makes you smile at the fragrance of flowers; brings warm memories of childhood foods, playmates in the playground, mother’s hugs; and keeps you at arm’s length from persons whose hygiene is not particularly stellar. You may have liked him very much, but your sensitivity to smell forbade you from taking another step with him.
Your letter exhumed a nagging thought on how you could have passed up this chance with a wonderful person by not telling him the truth. At that age, or any age for that matter, it’s understandable how difficult the problem of smell truly is in bringing it out into the open.
Had you been brave and honest, could you have changed him for the better, or would he have taken it as an insult? Could his feelings for you endured the humiliation and the brutality of being reprimanded of something so personal?
Now that he wants to see you again, would you have the courage to tell to his face the truth, as advised by your common friend? But why and for what purpose? Despite his smell, hasn’t he attained those distinguished letters after his name, as well as his enormous pile to prove his success? That small crink in his armor was obviously not a deterrent to his goals!
Simply be happy for him and what he has accomplished when you two meet again. Remember him as a man who loved you dearly once upon a time in your youth. Let that lovely thought be the only tiny grain in your memory when you think of him. Be glad. Not everyone could have been so loved.