3 years


The Scent of a Man

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…and the secret of sniffing out Mr Right

What would you do with a T-shirt you’ve slept in for three nights? Throw it into the washpile, right? Elsewhere in the world, people are sealing them in plastic bags and freezing them—all in the hope of finding their happily-ever-after.

It all started when Judith Prays, a 25-year-old web developer, decided to put her eggs in the scientific basket. As relationship after relationship went south (and not in the good way) within weeks of dating, Judith was pleasantly surprised to find herself celebrating a second anniversary with a man she’d never have considered dating material. His most striking feature? The way he smelt. Judith admits that objectively, it wasn’t a scent she, or women she knows, would call attractive; and yet, for her, it worked like magic.

When Judith found herself back in the dating game, she decided to put her experience to good use. And so on a balmy New York evening, 40 of Judith’s friends lined up outside a bar carrying T-shirts they’d slept in for three nights in a row, and stored in freezers in Ziploc bags during the day to preserve their smells. The premise was simple: you smell the T-shirts stacked outside the bar, get yourself photographed with the ones you find appealing, and hope that their wearers would introduce themselves to you at some point in the night.

I’m not sure if sniffing around worn T-shirts is my idea of a precursor to a first date, but as I glanced at the ex’s perfume that is on my dressing table even eight months after saying goodbye, I knew that Judith was on to something…

We all know at least one couple that always earns quizzical looks. The perfectly ordinary friend and her extraordinarily handsome boyfriend. Or like Phoebe says in Friends, “You see these really beautiful women with these really nothing guys…” If we were to ask these couples what makes them tick, they’d make the expected noises about intelligence, wit, sense of humour, similar tastes, pretty faces and blah, blah, blah. But maybe there’s more to it than that.

Think about that perfect date that ended with a chaste goodnight kiss. We all have that friend who could have been ordered off a catalogue, they are that perfect for us, and yet the temperature needle points abysmally at zero. And we’ve all had that fling, the one we think about in the shower even years later… The Mr or Ms Wrong who made every nerve ending spark and crackle with sexual energy. Pheromones? I’m not inclined to dismiss the idea.

Scientifically, it makes sense. We’ve known for a while that we’re male magnets when we’re ovulating. But it works the other way too. The nose knows what’s right for you. There are armpits that gross you out and there are armpits you want to sink into, all you need is the right kind of androstadienone (a chemical in male sweat).

Sociologically, it makes even more sense. In a world where it’s easier to find the right job than the right person to go out with, pheromone parties could help ease the selection process. If you really think about it, it could be a fast-track way to meet like-minded people without the clutter of preconceived notions. I know I’ve friend-zoned a lot of potentially great partners because they didn’t quite fit the mental package I wanted to date. Most women I know would guiltily admit to doing the same. Men get one look, one drink and one joke before they’re neatly filed away as a ‘definite yes’, ‘absolute no-no’ or ‘only if I’m desperate’. If you’re hoping to impress a woman on a mission who also has a roadmap to achieve it, the chances of a second shot at a first impression is a bigger urban legend than Arjun Rampal’s third expression—it’s known to have happened in some dimension of the space-time continuum, but don’t hold your breath for a repeat performance. When I go back to the little black book of not-quites, I see a lot of names that could have replaced some of the debacles of my life. Maybe if I’d let biology instead of sociology pave the way, focused on how his neck smelt instead of the ugly gold chain on it (true story!), maybe things would’ve panned out differently. Maybe I’d be telling my daughter the story of how mummy and daddy smelt each other’s T-shirts, fell in love and lived happily ever after.

So the question remains, would I do it? I think I would. I’m guessing that anyone who smells like Tide, tobacco and Hugo Boss can’t be all that bad. See you at the party? Mine’s the white one with the giant Mickey Mouse on it!