Dear Ms. Behavior:
My girlfriend Rachel and I have been arguing about a question pertaining to both social politeness and sex, and we’re hoping you can help us. We have been together for a few months, and things are pretty hot between us. We recently spent the weekend at my apartment and had sex about five times. (Yes, really.) At the end of the weekend, I remembered that my out-of-town visitors were about to arrive; I had nearly forgotten. In those last frenzied moments of preparation, I realized that I had not washed any sheets. Well, rather than go out and buy a new set of sheets (which I did not need), I decided to sleep on the couch and let them sleep on my bed, on the sheets that we had used over the weekend. Of course I shook them out really well, and aired them over the balcony for a few minutes. I figured my guests would never know the difference. (I smelled the sheets and could not smell anything.)
For some reason, Rachel got really annoyed about this. She said that I was a very bad hostess for allowing my guests to sleep on those sheets. Although she had gone home and had no way of knowing for sure, she felt certain that my guests would be overcome by our sexual scent and be traumatized for life. As it turned out, my guests did leave one day earlier than expected, for reasons that I believe are completely unrelated; however, Rachel is convinced they left because of the sheets.
Ms. Behavior, I am not sure what I could have done differently. I am a graduate student and could not afford new sheets, and had no time to do laundry. So winging it by attempting to air them out was the best I could do. Was this really so horrible? Am I the worst hostess in the world?
Also, do you think this will permanently damage my new relationship?
–The Hostess from Hell
Dear Hostess from Hell:
On the continuum of good hostess/bad hostess behavior, you are nowhere near as bad as, say, Jeffrey Dahmer, but not exactly as gracious as Martha Stewart, either. You focused much of your question on the issue of whether or not your guests would know that the sheets had been used. Proper etiquette, however, does not necessarily correspond to whether or not someone can detect that something is amiss. For example, if your restaurant server were to clear another patron’s dirty dishes, re-plate the half-eaten germ-covered salad and serve it to you, would your ignorance of this gross time-saving deed make it any less gross? Perhaps the salad situation seems worse because health regulations should apply, but what’s similar is the flouted expectation of being served something fresh and clean.
This incident doesn’t have to damage your relationship with Rachel; in fact, this argument could be a good model for how you work things out in the future, if you’re both able to discuss it openly and not angrily or judgmentally. Just remind yourself that the discussion is not about sex or sheets; it’s actually about listening to each others’ perspective with curiosity and interest.
Going back to the specifics, keep in mind that your inability to detect a scent may have been related to the fact that you had inhaled the scent all weekend. For future reference, once you’re spent a weekend rolling in someone else’s bodily fluids, you may have to irrigate your nostrils before attempting to evaluate any residual odor.
You didn’t say if your incoming overnight guests were heterosexuals, gay men, or lesbians, which might make a big difference in their response to the girl-scent sheets: If your guests were gay men, they could be traumatized by this exposure to girl scent, even if it is so unfamiliar as to be unrecognizable. This may manifest as Oedipal nightmares or Vagina Dentata issues, requiring either extra psychotherapy or manly camping sessions in the woods with bears (of whichever type are preferred).
If your guests were straight, you may want to check in with them in a few months; If it turns out that the female member of the couple happens to have come to the startling realization that she is a lesbian, you can take credit for her recruitment! Never underestimate the powerful effects of pheromones on women who are questioning their sexuality.
And if your guests were lesbians, Ms. Behavior would hope that you searched their overnight bags prior to their departure to make sure they had not taken the sheets with them.