The Nose KNOWS.

Yes, it does.

One of B’s many jokes about me is that I can smell things from a mile away. He loves to interrupt conversations with lines like “Quick, SuperNose, what are the people in the blue house one mile due north having for dinner tonight?”

My parents used to make similar observations when I was a kid. They would laugh when I mixed sensory information in my descriptions and told them that something smelled like the first day of school or cucumbers sometimes tasted like black crayons. The second type of description struck them as being especially odd because they knew I turned my nose up at kids who were known for eating their school supplies and that I wasn’t the type to go around tasting non-edible things. I later received my payback when, after we were married, B and I had a conversation about what we were like in elementary school. He got a dreamy look on his face and described how much he used to love the way paste tasted. “No, not glue!” he said,”Paste! It’s waaaay different!”

Smell is a dominant sense in my memories, so any retelling of an event usually requires at least one scent to describe it. When I remember elementary school I smell floor wax, construction paper, cafeteria food, and stale kid farts (which somehow seem to stick to walls). Although I can’t describe his appearance quite accurately anymore, the memory of my first boyfriend is a combination of burning motor oil, some kind of forest-y cologne that I’ve only ever smelled one other time, and the faint scent of the cigarettes he sometimes smoked. Each of the years I spent living on campus has a different set of smells, as does the building where I interviewed for a scholarship and later worked. I always smelled sweaty palms and pancake syrup when I walked into the conference room, and I bet it’ll still happen when I visit years from now.

So the strong sense of smell thing isn’t that strange, I know, but here’s where it turns kind of creepy. I can sometimes tell B’s moods and emotions, and I usually accurately predict when he is going to fall ill even before he starts feeling symptoms.

I didn’t even notice I was doing it, at first. Things like sinus infections and other icky illnesses will naturally send out a “sick” smell after they’ve manifested, and somewhere along the way these observations started to blend with the predictions I’d make based on how B started smelling a day or two before he came down with a serious bug or when his emotions were “off”. I’m not saying he suddenly manifested a noticeable odor, but that when I leaned in close to kiss him or to bury my face in his neck or shoulder, I would recoil because something wasn’t quite right. A few times it freaked him out because I was so persistent about it, and I even asked him to shower to get the bad smell off of him.

I’ve always loved the way B smells, regardless of changes in routine (new shampoos, deodorants, etc.), emotion, or illness. I know a bit about pheromones as they relate to physical attraction, and I guess this must be the cause. Every time B would come back from the field or from a deployment, no matter how many foreign scents were layered on his uniform or his skin, I could always detect his familiar scent, the one that hasn’t changed since the day I met him. At first, he used to laugh because when I kissed him I’d linger and sniff his face, on either side of his nose. Honestly, it weirded him out. And he’s into only violating personal space for a good reason, so it took him a while to get rid of his “Unless we’re making out, there’s no need to have our noses pressed to each other’s faces like that” rule. I think it was Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses (excellent book, by the way) that first introduced me to the theory that kissing as we know it evolved from the animalistic desire of humans to smell one another. So when we were living in caves and dragging one another around by the hair, instead of kissing we’d sniff each other like dogs (except I imagine this the pleasant way, with face-sniffing rather than the popular dog method of greeting). I take this very seriously.

For a short while during my sophomore year of college, I went out with an Argentinian. He was a handsome, dark-featured man with a sharp mind and a great sense of humor. We hung out with friends, then went out a couple times later and had a great time talking about things like architecture, steak, and rugby. I danced a night away with him, then another time I sat close to him at dinner and didn’t notice any bad smells. That is, until the poor fella made a move on me later that evening. I was into it, until suddenly I became overpowered by how much I was not attracted to his scent. I remember running to my car and racing back to my campus to get away from him. My girlfriends giggled at me later when I told the story: “So basically, he’s gorgeous, athletic, smart, funny, a great dancer, and he doesn’t smell bad, but his smell just isn’t right.”

While in that case my olfactory abilities were an asset (only a couple of months later I met B), a lot of the time they really get in the way. Like when they turn into smell-o-vision as I’m watching a movie, and the story’s really deep and the actors are all doing a great job, and all I can think is “Oh damn, that sucka must smell bad right now!”, and then I’m grossed out and preoccupied with how the character must reek. This also happens when I watch my beloved Pride and Prejudice, for example, and think about how rarely people bathed back then. So I love Elizabeth Bennett and all, but really, she only bathes once a week. Darcy doesn’t smell flowers when he sniffs her hair, that’s for sure.

My olfactory prowess–I like the way that sounds–has also caused me to avoid several people, but not just the stinky ones. Some people are just too clean. I remember one such person well, and can still recall the way she smelled when she hugged squeezed the living daylights out of me. I’d swear every time she embraced me I felt like I needed to roll in some mud to get the institutionally, medicinally clean smell of her out of my clothing. To my relief, it quickly became apparent that my neuroses didn’t mesh well with her neuroses, so she started avoiding the hugging and scent-swapping routine when she greeted me.

The point of this story? No, I’m not pregnant. I just have a powerful sniffer every day.


6 thoughts on “The Nose KNOWS.

  1. susan j!

    after N’s first surgery, he came home smelling mostly of hospital, and some of him. later, i’d get mostly the good whiffs & only occasionally was repelled by the hospital/surgery smell (he did have a pretty sizable piece of hardware inserted in his femur – its unsurprising it changed his scent… and maybe body chemistry). after this second surgery, the hospitally smell has kindly kept away for the most part. knowing a little, as i do, about humans & pheramones, it causes me to ponder how many other types of things that we put in our bodies affect the physical essentials of who and what we are… that, and i wish i could predict when the surgery smell would be around – at least then i’d know not to snuffle his ears.

    on a related note, my hearing is quite acute – my sister’s as well – and its been referred to (albeit nonsensically) as supersonic hearing. its good for, oh, lots of reasons… but its awful when the headaches come ): in fact, i think some of them are triggered by noise, so i invested in some super awesome musician-grade plugs that are quite divine!

    and C, don’t you think even the wonderful miss bennett would have considered scenting herself with oils or sprigs of herbs or whatnot? lavender is quite a green perfume, if you will.


  2. stocktoc

    Oh, S. This is why I love you! Way to help my image of dear Lizzy!

    I didn’t actually know about your super hearing! I understand your pain as far as the headaches go. I think my super nose actually worsens my headaches, too, so I have to warn people to keep perfumes and other strong scents away from me. 😦

    Let’s find a super-taster, a super-toucher (that sounds funny), and somebody with X-ray vision, then we can assemble our own team of Planeteers…or something like that.


  3. erin

    Haha! Do you obsessively clean your house to deal with the smells? With two big pups, I can’t imagine. We’ve just got the cats and one small dog, but there are days when I come home and immediately embark on pathological cleaning because “the house doesn’t smell right”. I think my sensitivity comes from having such bad allergies- I’m hyper-aware on the few days I can actually smell.

    p.s. It’s either going to be hilarious when you are pregnant, or you’ll have to go live in a clean room somewhere, with everyone earing spacesuits to keep their weird smells away from you.


    1. stocktoc

      Yes, yes I do. We love our Dyson, and not long ago we purchased a steam cleaner for our carpet, for the same reason. My allergies are AWFUL, so I’m used to cleaning everything pretty religiously. (BTW, that’s why B insisted we get labradoodles. They really are easier on my allergies, somehow.)

      I will say, though, that no matter how much cleaning I do, since we got the dogs I can never make our home smell as sparkling fresh as it did before they lived with us. But the trade-off is well worth it. 🙂

      As for the whole pregnancy thing…yeah. (Eek!) I guess we’ll have to just deal with that when we get there, but I’m already kind of dreading the heightened-senses thing.


  4. Pingback: An Open Invitation to Harass My Husband «

  5. Elizabeth

    D would totally agree with B. We have SUPER smellers. He was telling someone the other night that I would be able to smell if someone a block away, in there house, was smoking, I would be able to smell it. My reply “Yeah there was a person smoking in their car (which had it’s windows closed) a few cars up from me today on the highway and it was really bothering me.” Daniels’ response, *rolling eyes* *sigh.*


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