Dear Ms. Behavior:
My girlfriend, Julie, and I have become close with a couple, Greg and Steven, who have a penchant for heavy cologne. As a happy queer foursome, we hang out together, see movies, and dine out all the time.
For a while, Julie and I just joked and hinted about the whole perfume business, then finally, we came out, and asked them if they could please not bathe in a bottle of Polo on nights when they are going to see us. Julie is seriously allergic to fragrance, and I’m no big fan, either—it gives me an instant headache.
For a few dates, the boys were compliant, but lately, I’ve noticed that one of them (Greg) is sneaking it back in. I brought it up, and he said it must be his shampoo. But last night, we went to the movies, and I was choking again from his eau d’ whatever.
What can we do, because we still plan to spend time that involves being trapped in cars, restaurants, and movie theaters with them?
Some people are brainwashed into believing that they need to cover their naturally sweet and salty delicate body scents with a petroleum-based neurotoxin in order to smell appealing. Such fans of dramatic potions don’t understand that their bottled fragrance is literally sickening to some of their friends and acquaintances.
For those who don’t experience symptoms in the presence of odors, it may be difficult to understand how extreme the effect can be. Greg and Steven probably didn’t get it when you first told them that you couldn’t tolerate their cologne. They may have assumed that you just didn’t like the scent.
Short of hosing them down before you go out with them, you don’t have many options, other than trying one more time to let them know how you’re affected. Sit down with them, and let Julie tell them the gritty details of the symptoms she experiences when they wear their cologne. Symptoms may include migraine, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, and even anaphylaxis, according to Ms. Behavior’s quick search.
Let’s hope Greg and Steven will get it this time, and be willing to go out sans cologne. If not, it doesn’t bode well for the prospect of your friendship. Those who ultimately don’t believe an experience unless they’ve had it themselves are generally narcissists, lacking in empathy. If this is the case with Greg and Steven, you may need to find better-smelling (or at least more compassionate) friends.
© 2008 Meryl Cohen. Address questions and correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.