Help! My Fiance Thinks I Have Horrible Body Odor. Should We Break Up?

Advice on manners and morals.
March 1 2012 6:15 AM

Smell Ya Later!

Should I break up with my fiance because he thinks I have horrible body odor?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
Last night, a bit too much wine prompted my fiance to tell me a secret he's been keeping for years: He thinks I smell bad. And that's why our sex life has been on the decline. I know I do sweat more than some people, but I shower daily and always use deodorant. I can't figure out if I am actually as bad as he says or if he just thinks I'm stinky because he is lucky enough to have totally odorless sweat. I am seriously considering calling off the wedding because of this. I just can't imagine that our marriage would last if he's repulsed by me. Am I overreacting, or do I need to leave him?

—No B.O.

Dear No,
At least you have the answer as to why his ardor swells every time he gets a sinus infection. Of course it’s a terrible blow to have your fiance reveal that he thinks you smell like goat stew that’s been left in the sun. But consider this another way: He must really love you if you’ve been together for years and he’s asked you to marry him despite experiencing a slight gagging sensation when you’re close. You acknowledge that you know you sweat more than the average person. So you might possibly have a condition called hyperhidrosis. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments, from industrial strength deodorant to Botox, which can help tame the sweat. You might also suffer from bromhidrosis, or excessive and offensive body odor. Here’s a primer on it and some steps you can take to try to address it, starting with eliminating certain food from your diet, such as garlic, peppers, and fish. Although your boyfriend demonstrates the truth of the adage in vino veritas, you might also see if alcohol is a trigger for your less pleasant aromas. Certainly you need to see a doctor about this—it’s possible you have another underlying medical condition. Make sure you find a physician who takes this seriously and is willing to work with you to get you smelling fresher than a can of Febreze. If you feel your fiance told you in a cruel or malicious way, or you think he is establishing the groundwork for breaking up with you, then you need to engage in a frank discussion about where your romance is headed. But if he needed some liquid courage to blurt out that you two have a problem, then acknowledge that this must have been as difficult for him to say as it was for you to hear. Say his honesty makes you appreciate the truth of Shakespeare’s sonnet 94: “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Flirting Husband

Dear Prudence,
My wife's younger sister recently got a job with a housecleaning company that pays decent wages and offers benefits. This is the first stable job she's had in almost two years due to a severe substance abuse problem. While she was in trouble, we took in her young son, who was in a bad situation. We love him dearly and practically consider him our child, and our daughter considers him a brother. My nephew now spends one to two days a week with his mother. Because of concerns about her relapsing, unbeknownst to her we closely monitor her social networking sites—she’s never shy about broadcasting her activities. She recently started a blog on which she has been posting derogatory comments about her clients and photos of their homes. Now she is adding personal information, such as their addresses and alarm codes. My wife is sure that if we tell her to quit the blog, she'll just shut us out. If we contact her employer anonymously, she’ll probably be fired and potentially slip back into drugs and alcohol. What do we do?

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—The Housekeeper Blogged It

Dear Blogged,
This sounds like a modern-dress version of Downton Abbey, with your sister-in-law as an updated version of the malicious maid O’Brien. The first thing you and your wife need to do is consult a family law attorney. Given the globally poor judgment of your sister-in-law, you must give serious consideration to seeking to make the boy you “practically consider” to be your son your actual son. I don’t know if your sister-in-law is just a spiteful and silly person, or if she is posting the information about her clients because she’s part of a criminal gang that is leaving a trail of electronic breadcrumbs for the cops. But you’re wise to be concerned that her cleaning days and clean and sober days might be brief. Check with the lawyer about making an electronic file of screen captures of her activities as back up for a potential legal battle. A lawyer should also be able to give you advice on whether to inform your sister-in-law about what you’re seeing, or inform on her. However, I predict the temptation to pocket valuables and clean out medicine cabinets will likely in short order render her work as a housekeeper kaput.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My son recently hosted a post-performance cast party for an exuberant group of high-school singers and actors. We live in the woods, and about 25 of them, ages 15 to 18, were snowed in and spent the night. This group often has mixed-gender sleepovers. They pulled blankets and pillows from the basement closet and made little nests for themselves. They were terrific guests and left the house in great condition. When I went to shake out the comforters, an empty condom wrapper fell out. My first reaction, after “whoooaa,” was that I was glad the romantic pair protected themselves. My question now is, do I keep my knowledge about this little bit of nocturnal activity to myself? Or do I have an obligation to say anything to anybody: my son, husband, the theater director, the other parents?

—Clean Up Surprise

Dear Clean,
There you were, saying goodnight to these darling budding thespians, snug as little bunnies in their nests. Little did you realize they’d be humping like rabbits, too. You have to wonder if at 4 a.m. while everyone was pretending to sleep they were actually all watching Ethan and Marissa go at it. You don’t need my advice about telling your husband. Finding an empty condom wrapper in the basement after the high-school cast party would have me laughing with my husband immediately. Then the thought would dawn on us, “Ah, did our daughter have anything to do with this?” That leads me to think this is a good opening for you, as casually as you can, to tell your son what you found and ask him if he’s sexually active. If he is, tell him it’s great he’s using protection but you’d like to discuss it. After he dismisses you with a nauseated groan, I think you will have done your due diligence. It would be a poor idea to send a mass email to the parents with the subject line, “Empty condom wrapper found.” The theater teacher handed the kids over to you, so you are not obligated to tell him or her about the little drama that took place after the curtain went down.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Several months ago, a dear friend said that he was applying to graduate school in my field and that he was interested in several top schools. I offered to help by looking over his essays. Shortly after beginning to work with him I realized that he had zero chance of admission. He has limited related work experience, his undergraduate grades were low, and his test scores terrible. I convinced him to apply to some less exclusive schools, so the number of essays ballooned. I’ve been shocked at their poor quality, and I’ve been walking him through rewriting every line. The time I’ve spent is overwhelming, and we’re not done. Do I have to keep putting all this effort in, since I said I would? He's unrealistically optimistic, but should I prepare him more for the inevitable rejections? I’m feeling resentful, but I don’t want to damage my friendship.

—No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Dear Deed,
You are not doing your friend any favors by being nursemaid for applications to programs he’s unlikely to be accepted to, or that he’ll fail if he does get in. Friends tell friends if they have overwhelming body odor (see letter No. 1) and friends tell friends if they are wasting their time—and yours!—on unproductive plans. Until you got a look at your friend’s writing and academic performance, it sounds like you thought he was a bright and capable person. It’s possible he has an undiagnosed learning disability that he’s been covering up most of his life. (Getting a friend to write his essays is a clue.) You would be doing him a service by telling him the work you’ve done together makes you realize this graduate program is going to be way too big a stretch. Tell him that you think he should get an evaluation from a learning specialist because you think there may be something that’s held back his academic performance. If that ruins your friendship, then that’s a better outcome than your sitting in class taking notes for him.

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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