I’ve been separated from my husband for almost 25 years and have two children. He was a serial womanizer. Our end came when he got his last girlfriend pregnant.
I moved forward and concentrated on my career. I work in a university and my work entails attending a lot of conferences here and abroad. I’ve had my share of invitations to dinners in these meets. Some I yes to, others I avoid politely.
There was someone I was so attracted to one time. He had a Ph.D and spoke very well in his lecture. When we were seated next to each other at lunch and he invited me for drinks later, I didn’t think twice.
But when we met up at the bar and he started talking animatedly so close to my face, I just froze. I got a whiff of his bad breath and it smelled of rot. My reflex made me get up fast, feign sickness, and leave. My reaction probably disoriented him because I’d become this strange person suddenly.
My olfactory nerves are so sensitive, it disgusts me when I smell badly laundered clothes, cheap perfume and just bad body odor. I expected a lot from him because he was truly good-looking and intelligent. He should have taken care of his hygiene before he began plotting his Lothario act.
I couldn’t tell him the truth, so I just turned my back and waved him goodbye forever.
How can one be honest about something so personal without sounding rude or nasty?—N.N.
Clearly, you know you’re not the only one confronted with this distressing, oft-occurring scenario. People who have this problem are clearly unaware themselves.
Years ago, there was a commercial that asked, “Is it you they’re talking about?” Even the closest friend or relative wouldn’t know how to handle this.
But they have to be made aware they have a problem. If you have an officemate (be it a boss or a fellow employee) and you’d want him to know about his bodily smell, send a text (buy another SIM card) explaining the problem.
Or, be direct by buying him a bottle of deodorant, a bar of bath soap, or a tube of toothpaste (whichever applies). Put them inside a small brown bag with the name of the recipient. Write him a short note and leave it on his office chair. That should send a clear message and not leave any doubt about his problem.
The person, if sensitive enough, should put two and two together and probably be even be grateful for all the trouble you’ve gone through.
We are all cowards in this regard—scared of hurting the feelings of anybody, especially in matters of personal hygiene. But in avoiding it, we are doing a greater disservice to ourselves. There are, as they say, a million ways of skinning a cat.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.