Orange is the Color
Scent is a mighty powerful sense. Years ago I dated a man that smelled divine. His scent, whatever combination of body odor, deodorant and greasy glandular secretions it was, aroused me and made me feel delightfully dizzy.
Years later, I married a man but didn’t feel as drawn to him. I didn’t like the way he smelled. According to Rachel Herz, the author of The Scent of Desire, one of the most common things women tell marriage counselors is, “I can’t stand his smell.”
Many researchers think scent could be the hidden cosmological constant in the sexual universe, the missing factor that explains whom we end up with. It may even explain why we feel chemistry with one person and not another.
In a sweaty t-shirt study conducted in the 90s by a Swiss biologist, women were given a variety of t-shirts worn by different men to test the role of body odor, or “major histocompatibility complex” (MHC) molecules in human mate selection. And recently, I decided to conduct my own study.
I asked a man whom I had never met but with whom I was falling in love to send me a sweaty t-shirt. Like most people, I felt in order to really get to know him, we needed to be in the same room, but since that wasn’t workable for a few months, a t-shirt would be the next best thing to burying my nose in his neck and inhaling his scent.
A few days later, I received an orange t-shirt in the mail. Boy, was I sorry! I never even got a chance to take it out of the ziplock bag before my entire house reeked of — god I don’t even know how to describe it! It was bad! On a scale of one to ten, with one being fresh baked bread and ten being a dead goat on a sweltering day, it was a solid ten out of ten. One of the worst things I’ve ever smelled!
I sat and stared at the revolting orange and almost cried, thinking, first, “Am I really falling in love with someone who wears orange in public?” and then, “Why does he smell like a baboon with personal hygiene issues?” How was I going to tell him I couldn’t stand his smell? How was I going to explain that I loved everything about him and was truly falling in love until I took a whiff of his scent?
I sat with the shirt every day for a week. I even took it to bed a few times to try to get used to it. I couldn’t. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I was miserable!
Desperate for a reason to believe we might still have a future, I asked for another sweaty t-shirt, and then another. Yes, they were both orange, and yes, they were each as bad as the first. By this time we had plans for our first face-to-face meeting, a two-week visit including a road trip, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t be in a car with him, let alone a bed.
We were to meet at a local restaurant, and I was nervous as hell. He arrived nicely dressed with no sign of anything orange, and then we had our first kiss. I buried my face into his neck and breathed in. I breathed out with a sigh of relief and felt delightfully dizzy. Not only did he not smell bad like the shirts, he smelled good! Better than good!
Despite all that science has to offer, there is something about falling in love, being in love and maintaining love that transcends all our attempts to understand. In the end, we love who we love, and the act of loving makes us who we are.
Oh, and those smelly shirts? It turns out that if you seal a really sweaty shirt in a plastic bag for the three or four days it takes to ship it cross country, it will probably turn rancid.