Dear Miriam | Perfume Poses Pungent Problem

woman pinching her nose at a cafe
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Dear Miriam,

I just started dating someone I really like. There’s one problem, though, which is that when we go out, she wears a perfume that I really don’t like. Is there any way I can ask her not to wear it?


Awkward Aroma

Dear Awkward,

I’m so glad you’ve found someone whose company you are enjoying! Much dating advice has been written about how you can’t change a person and instead have to accept them for who they are (or stop dating them), but I think you still have a chance. Your maybe-girlfriend’s choice of scent likely doesn’t say anything fundamental about her character, but how you approach this, and how she responds, will probably say a lot about who you are and how you might function as a couple moving forward.

For one thing, the continued presence of a pandemic mindset, and the accompanying outdoor eating and drinking options, means that you can probably do a lot of your dating in the fresh air. Hopefully the breeze will dampen the strength of her perfume at least a little, so you can enjoy the conversation and the company without being distracted by the smell. I’m not suggesting that you maintain your entire relationship outdoors, but some more dates might give you a better perspective on her communication style and how to approach a potentially intrusive request.

One kind of approach would be to tell her that you’re sensitive to smells, and would she consider not wearing perfume around you. It’s not really a lie, since you’re definitely sensitive to this smell, but this tactic would mean that you probably shouldn’t wear anything scented either, so as to be consistent, and that you’re closing off the possibility of her choosing another perfume that does work for you. I don’t think this is great for long-term dating success, but it may help you in the short term.

Another option is more straightforward honesty. “I really like you and spending time with you, and this makes me so uncomfortable to say, but I want to be honest and let you know that I don’t enjoy the fragrance you’re wearing. Is it possible that you could not wear it next time we go out?” It’s a bold statement, and she might be offended, but it’s possible you could soften the blow by offering to go fragrance shopping together, or by sharing with her some scents that you do enjoy. It’s also possible that she won’t care that much at all and will appreciate your candor — but you won’t know until you try.

If you can’t stomach either of these ideas and, even after spending more time together, you don’t have a better way to share your feelings, you may need to tell her that you don’t think you’re a good match. If you can’t speak honestly at this point in the relationship about a relatively minor issue, there’s not much hope that you’ll be able to communicate well later on if things were to get more serious and you were to need to talk about bigger picture issues.

You might be thinking, “Breaking up over perfume? Really?” but most interactions in the early stages of a relationship can be seen as a test case for compatibility, and whether it’s the surface issue of smell or the deeper issue of communication, take those interactions seriously, for both of your sakes. But I’m rooting for you, and honesty, so good luck!

Be well,



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