Men are not Mangoes I wish I could say I’ll know my match when I smell him, but choosing a life partner isn’t as easy as picking the perfect peach. Selecting produce is purely sensual. Look, feel and especially aroma determine what ingredients come home with me. One quick sniff of a basket of strawberries, visually perfect in their plump redness, reveals peak ripeness, just prior to, or regrettably past. Onions and garlic held with even pressure communicate freshness, their papery skins smooth and fragile around firm, sharp-smelling flesh. I trust my nose. It’s never wrong. But it knows only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to men and sometimes – for me and for them – it’s TMI. I can taste the difference between pitted and whole dates and olives, the former carrying a bitter tang of machine oil and metal. Hastily washed glassware retains the flavor of what came before. “Someone drank a beer out of this water glass,” I once observed out loud to a date at a bustling burger joint. He tilted his to his nose, holding my gaze, extrapolating. My ex-husband marveled at my ability to rattle off the herbs and spices in meals enjoyed at restaurants and friend’s houses, publicly praising my olfactory sensitivity. As if performing a parlor trick he’d say: “This tastes amazing! What’s in it?” And before the host could respond, “Diane, can you tell?” I could. Distrusting his own sense of smell, he’d sometimes ask me to verify if this or that was still good. I once made the mistake of quickly approaching proffered milk carton, getting my nose right in there. Oh putrid assault! I gagged, acid rising and burning my throat, threatening to invite my breakfast along for the ride. His queries, I learned, were best investigated from safe distance. One morning, waking in our marital bed, I caught a strange scent lurking under familiar whiffs of deodorant, shampoo, warm skin and… was that perfume? I’d several times suspected my ex of cheating. Signs I interpreted as harbingers of infidelity, he dismissed as innocent coincidence and irrational accusation. Repeated phone calls ending as soon as I answered were wrong numbers, oddly clustered. Strands of hair found in our bed, not mine for length or color must have been transferred via platonic hug with a friend. Unfamiliar panties mixed up in my laundry probably belonged to a neighbor who accidentally left them in our building’s communal washer. “What about the perfume?” I asked, both of us aware I didn’t use it. “Paranoid hypersensitivity.” My sense of smell, held in such high regard at dinner parties, was wrong about him. Self-doubt crept in, settling in my stomach alongside the ache of emotional distance, a long-time resident. Never had I felt so lonely as I did with my husband. I attended weddings and events without my plus one; provided excuses for why he couldn’t see my family on holidays; and jokingly fended off co-worker assertions that he was either imaginary or invisible since they’d never met him. I kept weekends open in hopes he’d want to do something together, only to flee our apartment when he opted for online gaming, closing our front door on expletive-laced commando chatter exploding from his cramped office. All wasn’t bad, of course. From the outside, we looked like an ideal couple. Our best selves around others, we were genuinely happy together in the warm glow of dinner parties with friends. Topics of conversation shifted away from “us” and our daily existence. We mingled, appreciatively observing each other from across the room, and affectionately reunited, buoyed by the experience. That night we’d fall asleep, entwined. I’d take in his familiar scent – riding radiated warmth, constant under shifting waves of soap and sweat – and smile contentedly. Party afterglows were sadly short-lived, extinguished by our dogged commitment to individual freedom. Distance was a tiny seed sown the day we moved in together. Fed, for years, a slow drip diet of misunderstanding and hurt, it sprouted and grew. We lacked ability to navigate life as a team. Each of us focused on our unmet needs, we couldn’t fathom the other’s perspective or pain. When we tried, our communication skills fell woefully short of the task, serving as trigger rather than bridge. Not wanting to fail at marriage, we sought counseling, equitably divided household chores, and signed up for swing dance and ceramics classes, placing hope in new hobbies. Following his family to Oregon, we bought a farm and started a family, expecting a fresh start. Instead, exhausted from diminished sleep and increased responsibilities, we further depleted our reserves of compassion and care. Toward the end it was my olfactory sense that again stepped in, letting me know our union had definitively soured. Our son was a little over a year old and sleeping in his own bed. No longer hostage to milk production and night feeding, my brain and body were beginning to return to me. Desire flickering after a long hiatus, I woke before dawn and turned to my husband. He lay on his back, one hand on his chest, his form barely visible, breathing deeply. Should I wake him? I moved closer. Brushing my nose lightly against his shoulder, I recoiled as if thrown by electric shock. His scent, slightly sharp, was wholly unknown. It was like having a stranger in my bed. My heart raced, mind reeling. This year marks our tenth since divorce. Looking back via the clear lenses of time and compassion, I understand our pain was equal, each of us desperately trying to find a way out, to cope. Perhaps his mistress all those years was online gaming. In the end, she became a real, live female co-worker. Choices made from a place of suffering carry a particular tang, smacking of distress, their aroma expressed in sweat. Emotional stress suggests cat urine, whereas perspiration from satisfying or familiar physical challenge mimics freshly sharpened pencils. I’ve learned to recognize these cues in others and myself, saving big decisions for my return to equilibrium. Dating, I’ve noticed how much fragrance influences my first impressions. Aftershave clings to surrounding air and masks too much. Men wearing cologne are like bright orange bags of clementines: their initial presentation full of promise while veiling full comprehension of quality. Perfumed laundry detergent is similar, awash in fruity, floral or woodsy fragrances masking true state of clean. I prefer the naked scent of basic hygiene and life lived, hold the Hugo Boss. Other smells reveal habits or health. Rivaling aftershave for clingy, cigarette smoke makes no effort to appeal. Acrid and tarry it seeps into skin, hair, clothing and upholstery, conjuring images of dirty ashtrays and stained teeth. Postnasal drip and yesterday’s spirits on breath are confusingly similar. More information is needed to confirm allergies or heavy consumption. I appreciate my nose and all it has to tell me, but men are not mangoes, knowingly chosen from compiled Bumble or Hinge selection. What I wish to discover is revealed only after dates stop trying so hard. I want to see how he navigates challenge, treats others and makes me feel. Just as time is an ingredient in cooking, it and shared experiences are required to sense the flavor of life with someone new – to discover if we’re compatible ingredients to a delectable ever after. (Sniff)
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
Diane Choplin creates as she lives – senses fully firing and tuned to the delectable nature of genuine connection. Her essays have appeared in Iris and The Oregonian with a forthcoming feature in Beyond the Margins. When not tapping away on a keyboard worn nearly blank with use, Diane raises pastured lamb and eggs in Southern Oregon where she lives with her tween son, impeccably behaved border collie, and regally stubborn guard llama.