How important is your sense of smell to you? And I'm not just talking about the way scent can bring the past full-bodied into the present, though that's something important too. What I mean is how much are you conscious of the way scent influences your relationships?
When you smell someone, do you feel like you’re bringing them inside you? Because you are. Tiny particles of them entering your body, nestling into you, flowing along your nervous system. Residing in you. Your nose is an organ, and scent strokes it.
Can you tell what kind of a day a person's had just by the way they smell? Can you smell the traces of fear, stress, excitement, happiness in the pieces of them that you're taking in?
For me, all the above applies. My sense of smell is very sensitive. When I get someone in my nose I am flooded with more information that I can process. It feels animalian. And sometimes it makes associating with people difficult. I get offended when people smell strong enough (of whatever scent – perfume, cologne, b.o.) that I can smell them from feet away. It’s like they’re walking around with their genitals exposed. I hold my breath when people walk by quickly enough to create a breeze – I just don’t want any information from them. It's just TMI and nothing to do about it.
But when I love someone, I need to smell them. I need to breathe them in. It’s like talking. I get so much information. No, talking isn’t the right metaphor. It’s like looking into your beloved’s eyes – vital for connection. I can smell Kristin’s day on her. I can smell when she’s sick even before she has symptoms. I swear, I can smell her emotions. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true. And I'm learning Julia's smells, too. I'm getting to where I can smell if Julia is getting sick, too, and if that sickness is viral or bacterial. I can smell the difference between a cold and a sinus infection.
And scent is one of the primary ways that my libido gets torched. I think it's interesting that before I met Kristin I dated only smokers. It's true, I just thought back, and everyone I dated was a smoker but for one. And I rarely got the hots for any of them. And the girl who wasn't a smoker, I was hung up on for years.
Here's something I did before I was conscious of how scent affects me: I was spending the weekend at her place. She lived 4 hours away and I would visit once a month or so. It was winter and she had an old heater that was on most of the time. I took the perfume oil I used to wear and I smeared it on the heater vents in her bedroom, in her living room. I wanted her to catch whiffs of me when I was gone and think about how I was missing from her home. A month later, she asked me to move in. And a week after that we were finished. But that's another story.
With a smoker, none of that extra information is present. It's all masked. It’s like looking in your lover’s eyes and finding them clouded with cataracts. And, having sex with someone who smokes is like having sex with someone who never takes off their dark sunglasses. At one point, this was what I wanted -- sex without intimacy, sex without really taking someone in. Sex without knowing. But now, for me, this is a radical disconnect that I can’t get over.
Not that the sexual part of this discussion is anything more than hypothetical at this moment in time. Kristin doesn't smoke. But I've got a friend who smokes, and I can only go so far in a friendship with her and no farther. She can't be one of my more intimate friends; she's not one I'll tell all my secrets and hopes and fears to, at least not in person. Because though I can smell her, I can't smell her. And there's that disconnect -- as if I've caught her in a lie of omission. And I want to tell her that my reticence does have to do with her smoking, but not from judgement on the habit, but from something more elemental, simple, primal, and inescapable as scent.
I was talking about this with another friend, a former smoker, who told me about how she was dumped by someone because she smoked. And that she felt that she was more than just a bad habit, and shouldn't be judged by it. And, while I agree with her that she (and every smoker) is more than just that one habit, I can't agree that the habit doesn't have severe consequences and effects on some people. I can't be intimate in a personal, physical (as in physically-present, not necessarily sexual) way with a smoker. And there's nothing I can do about it. It's like trying to be close to an invisible person. You never really know where they are.
So, what about you? What's your relationship to scent?