Ask Sophie: My Boyfriend Doesn’t Like My Signature Scent
For almost two years now, I’ve worn Guerlain’s Mitsouko Eau de Parfum almost every day. I simply adore it. It’s my signature scent. I own a few other perfumes, but I keep coming back to this one.
I found Mitsouko my sophomore year of college. I was a weird kid, and for the longest time I didn’t know how to channel my weirdness. My favorite movie in middle school was the 1944 Arsenic and Old Lace. I auditioned for plays and never got roles. I did the Shakespeare monologue contest every year and never won. I tried hanging out with artsy types, theater people, but I was always just too quiet and restrained to fit in, too busy keeping my head down and feeling wildly out of place.
Mitsouko gave me something incredible. Suddenly I wasn’t a weird college student. I was a classy, sexy actress with a trans-Atlantic accent, someone who feels natural wearing jewelry and nice clothes and walking with her head held high. It was a steady drip of confident energy. Suddenly it was like being quiet was dignified instead of embarrassing, like I was in on a secret no one else knows.
Enter this guy — let’s call him Jay. We met through friends and have been together for four months. This is my first serious relationship and I really don’t want to mess anything up. He’s really sweet and I like him a lot, which is why this is bothering me so much.
Jay is not a fragrance guy. He owns one cologne and didn’t know what it was when I asked him. (It’s Sauvage.)
In all the time we’ve been together, my boyfriend has never once reacted positively to my fragrance of choice. If anything, he seems not to notice it. When I ask if he likes it, he gives a little shrug.
A shrug. A bodily expression of “meh.”
I had him smell a few other perfumes I own but he didn’t really seem to like any of them either. He just kind of nodded and said they were all fine. I feel like he’s probably just being polite.
In fact, the only time I really ever remember him reacting really positively to a fragrance is this one time we were talking down the street. The girl walking in front of us was wearing an ungodly amount of some sort of vanilla sugar body spray. When she was out of earshot I asked Jay what he was smiling about. He seemed caught off guard and just said something smelled really good. He never tells me I smell good.
I can’t stand vanilla sugar scents like that. They give me a headache and I just haven’t found one I’m impressed by. I like wearing weird things, bitter things, occasionally green things, and, most of all, Mitsouko.
Sugary vanilla body spray just isn’t… me. It doesn’t fit how I see myself or how I want to see myself. It just doesn’t feel natural to me.
The worst part is that I knew this would happen. It seems like every single guy only likes sweet, gourmand-y perfumes, and that hasn’t ever been my thing. It’s one of those things that always makes me feel that there’s no one out there who will be able to like everything about me. I don’t want little things like this to hold me back from finding love just because I’m particular.
Which brings me to my question for you: Could you recommend me some sweet vanilla or gourmand scents he might like on me and that I won’t find too obnoxious? I think it might actually be tonka bean that makes my head hurt a lot of the time, as well as sweet cupcake sorts of notes. Is there anything out there that’s sweet and vanilla-y that you think I could get used to?
Sweetless in Seattle
Yes, I absolutely could recommend you some high-quality scents that blend vanilla with green, woody, or bitter notes. You might even like some of them.
But I’m not going to do that here.
I’m heartbroken by the way you write about this thing you obviously derive great pleasure from in the past tense. Let’s talk about that.
You say your boyfriend doesn’t like your signature scent. You don’t say he has told you he absolutely abhors it, that he is allergic to it, that it fills him with a primal urge to scream, or that it reminds him of a particularly obnoxious older relative. In short, I don’t get the impression that he actively dislikes it. (If he does, he needs to communicate that to you clearly, and until he does, that is not your problem.)
Your boyfriend simply hasn’t expressed enthusiasm for your perfume choice.
To put it bluntly, you do not have to conform the way you smell to your boyfriend’s supposed tastes.
How many fragrances have you smelled that are not at all unpleasant to you, but that you wouldn’t go out of your way to compliment? Mitsouko is an exquisite composition, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you like it, and that the people closest to you don’t find it objectionable. Believe it or not, you’re allowed to enjoy something even if no one else around you seems to care.
Listen, I know it can hurt. When you want so badly for someone to like you, to find you endlessly pleasurable and full of twisty delights, even a stale, unenthusiastic “It’s good” feels like a knife, let alone downright disinterest.
If he hated it, after all, you’d feel mortified, but at least seen, real, present. You’d have to reckon with the place where this integral part of you and this man meet. Maybe you’d feel reassured with your own leap of devotion, abandoning this thing that has been precious in favor of something more — endless approval and affection.
Instead, you stand face to face with the worst thing your fountain of connection can offer you: indifference.
A side note: If he likes you and doesn’t absolutely detest Mitsouko, he is probably going to like it with time. Generally speaking, chypres are an acquired taste for anyone, especially in this era of near-ubiquitous sweet and fresh scents.
You’re likely going to witness a little something called the mere exposure effect. It’s why you adore fragrances you’ve worn for years more than something new you just smelled, and why you can’t stop singing radio pop in your car that you hated when it first came out.
Simply put, people will generally like something more the more they are exposed to it. Getting to smell a scent day after day, you learn to love it, because the familiarity is comforting.
This is especially true in your case, as your scent is associated with someone your boyfriend cares about: you.
He may not care for Mitsouko now, but if you keep wearing it he’ll likely get progressively more fond of it, because it’s you.
Yes, it’s you. All the confident and sexy things you feel when you smell Mitsouko come from within yourself. They are with you always, regardless of your fragrance, but this one makes it easy for you to bring them out. Enjoy that. One of the greatest things about fragrance is its impact on our self-perception.
Pop open the hood on that dignified, graceful Mitsouko persona and take a look at what’s underneath. When you go outside without it, I promise you that all those put-together, dignified, beautiful things are still entirely within you. They are there for you to access any time you like. Fragrance is just an evocative sensual shortcut to parts of you that were there all along.
And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying an olfactory shortcut to confidence and poise. You’ve found a perfume that feels like it was made for you, so wear it.
It doesn’t matter that your boyfriend doesn’t love it. You’re not actually required to tweak your desires to match what you think a partner would like to see.
What’s more, trying to do so just doesn’t work. If I handed you a list of great vanillas and sent you on your way, you’d wade through sample after sample, wasting time and money comparing things you don’t like, trying to figure out some way to choose one when nothing stands out to you about any of them. You’d pick one and wear it with diffidence, the falsity hurting almost more than the aromachemicals themselves. Your idea of who you are would crack with each time your boyfriend smelled it and smiled.
Perhaps worst of all would be the wave of bitterness and resentment following you around like a cloud of cloying, headachey sweet perfume. With each breath and each saccharine pang to the temple, you’d be reminded that you didn’t want this, that someone here has betrayed you. Looking around for a scapegoat, you might well settle on your boyfriend. After all, he wanted this. He made this happen.
But he didn’t. Doing any of that would be your own choice and your own responsibility. And, speaking from experience, I don’t recommend it.
You see, you don’t have to search for ways to tolerate things you find unpleasant just because your partner seems to like them.
Read that line again.
Does that feel uncomfortable to think about?
I’m guessing you want to be everything for this man. You want to cover all your bases, as if by tailoring yourself to his pleasure in every conceivable way you can keep him from ever finding a reason to leave you. You want to provide everything he could ever dream of wanting, and in that grand scheme, changing this thing about yourself feels like a small sacrifice.
The road to self-abandonment is paved with a thousand such self-betrayals.
It’s fine to explore and expand your tastes inspired by what your partner wants or likes if that choice is based on good information and if it’s fun for you. The moment you find yourself trying to find the least painful way to do something you dislike just because your boyfriend might like it, you need to stop and reflect.
Your boyfriend doesn’t really care about fragrance. Based on a single experience and a sweeping generalization, you have concluded he likes sweet vanilla scents, a category of perfumes you dislike. You find them cloying, headachey, and dull. Most of all, they don’t match the august trans-Atlantic self-image you’ve been lovingly crafting for yourself for years. Maybe someday this will change, but right now, they’re just not you.
And you hate yourself for it.
You say you don’t believe there’s anyone out there who will like everything about you. I’m here to tell you that you’re absolutely right. You are your own person. No one else out there is going to feel excited by every single thing you like or do. That’s a great and liberating thing. You are never going to have someone following you around finding everything about you endlessly fascinating and cool, so you’d better start doing it for yourself.
You say you’re scared you won’t find love because you’re too particular. It’s okay to be particular. In fact, it’s great. Embrace your particularity. You know what you like. For many people, that’s the hardest part. Now give it to yourself and seek it out in the world around you.
You know you like black and white movies and chypres and drama and art. Perhaps you feel that you don’t deserve those things. Your willingness to keep pursuing the things you want and enjoy and avoiding those you don’t is so fragile that even a middling opinion about your perfume of choice sends you into a tailspin.
To fully embrace your desire, you must be present with the enormity of your shame. Sit with how it feels to really, fully want something that will inevitably make someone else cringe. Think of auditioning for a play, the way people throw themselves into spontaneous performances that are vulnerable, embarrassing, and frenetically genuine.
Holding yourself back isn’t how you get the thing you’re after. You need to live it whole-heartedly and unapologetically. You need to stare into the face of how potentially shameful and humiliated you feel about being a lifelong weirdo, a theater kid that didn’t get roles, a lover of old-fashioned and stuffy things.
And you need to go forth and do it anyway, to keep wearing and being and doing all the things that make you feel like you’re in the right place and being here isn’t a mistake. Because if you let all those things go, what will you have left?
Getting to know someone intimately means letting them into your own embarrassing and vulnerable world. That’s a terrifying thing. You have to acknowledge that the two of you won’t want all of the exact same things and you have to be able to stand resolutely in your desires anyway. You have to give up your habit of perpetually running ahead, trying to unfurl a red carpet of convenience and conformity before your partner as you jump and trip trying to keep your balance.
You need to be just as you are.
So, my dear Sweetless, keep wearing your beloved Mitsouko, and anything else you like. And stop asking your boyfriend what he thinks. If he hasn’t told you, he probably doesn’t care one way or another.