Dealing with deal breakers
August 21, 2011 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Three dates with a great guy. One problem: his toxic breath. Should I tell him or move on?

I just started dating a guy from OKCupid who's cute and just as sarcastic as I am. He seems to really like me, and on each of our three dates we talked for hours. The problem? Each time we met I noticed his breath. It is NOT good. There might be some sort of medical issue?

I would love to keep seeing him, but this one thing is a total turn-off. I can notice it from across a table. What would you do -- would you speak up, or just bow out gracefully? If he were my partner I would tell him directly, but he isn't.
posted by jessca84 to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
OK so you're not going to keep seeing him if he doesn't clean up this part of his act. This leaves two options:

1. Don't tell him, bail, end of story.

2. Tell him. At which point one of two things happens:

a) He can cope with this data gracefully, attends to the problem, you keep seeing him.
b) He cannot cope with this data gracefully, he stops seeing you, but probably attends to the problem vis a vis future dates.

I would, therefore, tell him. It has more positive outcomes for more people. And if he's dating, he really needs to know or the exercise will be endlessly futile and frustating for him. It's the kinder thing to do, on balance.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:18 AM on August 21, 2011 [22 favorites]

Just like the campsite rule - you should leave the other person in a better shape than when you met them. It's good for whoever comes after you.
posted by marais at 7:24 AM on August 21, 2011 [31 favorites]

Bring it up as your own concern, perhaps due to some shortlived yet intense medical or dental reason. Halitosis that strong (across the table) could be due to gingivitis even. When we discuss our own concerns about something the other would a) will hopefully say, oh no, its seems to have cleared up for you but b) then wonder perhaps how his own is... (and even ask?)
posted by infini at 7:26 AM on August 21, 2011

I'm a chicken but I definitely think directly is better than indirectly. Firstly, sometimes hints are missed, and secondly it's not a first person story that he MAY trigger to, it's actually about him! Beating around the bush can be more embarassing for both parties. I would email him (yes, chicken) and say 'there is just one problem, please deal with it (or not) and we will never speak about this again' or something to that effect. If I had a problem I would be SO embarassed to hear about it, but it is valuable information. And then I would want to NEVER have it brought up again- even as a joke 10yrs later!
posted by bquarters at 7:45 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Of course tell him. The upside is that you get to keep seeing him, which is what you want. The downside is that he doesn't do it and you stop seeing him, which is zero downside because that's what you're going to do if you don't tell him.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:55 AM on August 21, 2011

Give him the shit sandwich: 2 compliments with the complaint in between.

I'm really enjoying the time I spend with you, your breath smells terrible, that's a nice watch.
posted by jander03 at 8:20 AM on August 21, 2011 [33 favorites]

Pull out a box of mints or some gum. Take a piece for yourself and offer him some. If he refuses insist that he takes one. Wave your hand in front of your face like pee-yoo and nod at him. That should get your message across.

If that doesn't work tell him his breath is a bit rank, and move on.
posted by Sweetmag at 8:42 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd leave him. This isn't going to get better.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:50 AM on August 21, 2011

I knew a guy in high school who had a sinus issue which resulted in him having pretty nasty breath. He carried around a toothbrushing/mouthwash/oral care kit with him at all times to stem the worst of the smell. He still had a faint smell about him that was unpleasant, though.

Are you in email contact with him? I know some people will say that it's too impersonal, but this is such an odd, sensitive subject, and if you bring it up in person and there is no solution for his breath (other than a mint or gum), it's going to create a bad situation. If there IS a medical issue it might be a sensitive subject, and if it's going to be a deal breaker, email might be the least painful way to let him know. You aren't officially dating, so I don't think you are on the hook for more. I'd say: "I really like you, but I've noticed that your breath is consistently a little "off". I'd like to think that next time we see each other we could move to the next level. Is this something you can work on. I'm looking forward to seeing you at X/for Y." His reaction is key here. If he says "Whoa, I had no idea, I'll do better next time" you are fine. If he's offended, just stop seeing him!
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:25 AM on August 21, 2011

He's a great guy but he has bad breath? Carry some mints to share and get over yourself. Everyone has flaws, and people with the easily-fixable ones such as this are keepers.
posted by pink candy floss at 9:35 AM on August 21, 2011

I say "tell him." What if he doesn't know how bad his breath is? I'd certainly like to know if I had dragon breath and it was a possible deal-breaker. If someone just dumped me for having halitosis without telling me, I'd wonder if it was something I did. Also, what if his bad breath has been a repeated deal-breaker, and he's had woman after woman dump him - and he begins to think it's him and his personality, and he starts to wonder what is wrong that he can't keep a date...and it all turns out to be something easily fixable.

And also for the sake of his career - think of someone being known as "Bob, The Assbreath Dude" - that won't do his career any good. Another reason to tell.

His breath could be a dental issue, a sinus issue, a reflux issue - all of which can be treated. Maybe he needs a good dental cleaning. If assbreath persists despite good dental hygiene, this can be a sign of sinus issues (like with Two Lights Above the Sea's high-school acquaintance), silent reflux, any number of things that require a doctor's visit (and usually are easily treated).

Be gentle, and maybe tell him in an email rather than in person. "Bob, you're a great guy and I have fun hanging out with you. There's one thing, though - I notice your breath sometimes smells quite strong. I'm telling you because it is really noticeable, and I don't know if anyone has told you before. I know you will want to do something about it - a dentist or doctor can clear that right up."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hold on. This is bad enough to post a question here? This has to be pretty bad indeed.

Every one needs a little reminder now and then when they have a spot of ketchup on their face, or cat hair on their shirt. Nobody is perfect or even close to perfect.

But seriously bad breath on a **first date**, to the point of the person posting a question about it on Metafilter? This isn't going to end well. There's a real issue here.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:57 AM on August 21, 2011

It's a third date, jeff-o-matic.

I do agree there's probably an issue - so you're not just helping him give people a better impression, you're quite possibly cluing him in to a medical or dental issue that would be worth addressing. For me that's the direction I'd come at it from - not just 'hey have a breath mint' (which might work if it's fairly mild but if we're talking 'rotting thing in his mouth' smell then I wouldn't trust that to be enough) but actual concern.
posted by Lady Li at 10:46 AM on August 21, 2011

Just chiming in to add that I've met some (often lovely!) people in my life with breath that made me want to vomit - I do NOT think you need to 'get over yourself' as some posters have suggested.

I DO think you should bring it up - tell him you're embarrassed to bring up something that may seem petty, but that you like him a lot because of X, Y and Z, but that he seems to have a breath issue, and you only bring it up because you know this can be a sign of some health problems. Then apologize for the awkwardness, and arrange another date!
posted by stray at 10:47 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

2. Tell him. At which point one of two things happens:

Well, yeah, but how you tell him is key. You want to tell him in a way that doesn't feel like criticism. It may hurt no matter how it's done, but in a relationship, sooner or later potentially hurtful things that must be negotiated are guaranteed to arise anyway. So be sensitive to how he's reacting and make it clear that you're problem solving rather than complaining.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:50 AM on August 21, 2011

OK third date. Whatever. This is a basic, human thing and if he's not being concious about it by while out on a date, I'd say something is wrong.

Do you want to get intimate with someone who has bad breath while out on a date? Again, if it's enough of an issue that you're posting here about it, I'd say let him go.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:07 AM on August 21, 2011

Because I am really chicken, I would try to enter the discussion via my absorbing the smell as an associative problem: I.e., I am so sorry, but your breath for some reason I don't why, reminds me of when my dad made me hunt for fishing worms in the compost pile.

I get this is all passive and shit, but good lord, if I found out my breath was about to drive a guy away I'd feel really, really bad. If I got some whacked-out metaphor I would start shrieking in horrified laughter, rather than thinking (I am so gross why am I dating again?)
posted by angrycat at 11:30 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a guy and I would want to know.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:01 PM on August 21, 2011

Are you at a point where you'd like to kiss him? Bring it up in that context.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:29 PM on August 21, 2011

Guy here. Tell him directly. This is how guys function. It may seem brash, but it's the best way to communicate to most men. You could text him right now and be done and over with it:

Text 1:
"Yesterday night was so much fun! (Insert relevant comment about one of your conversations)."

[Press Send]

Text 2:
"I know it sounds silly, but I was a bit distracted by your breath on our dates :p (Insert another filler comment about one of your conversations)"

[Press Send]

Text 3:
"Hey! There's this band playing at this bar this friday. Wanna go?"

[Press Send]



You don't need to tell him how to fix his breath problem. He's a grown man, he'll figure it out. If he likes you, he'll put in a bit of effort to figure out his breath problem by your next date.

Voila, problem solved.
posted by lemuring at 1:00 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think you need to fully disclose that you've noticed his breath on each of your dates. Next time, bring some mints or gum, and when it seems appropriate just let it drop in a friendly way that his breath seems bad that day and offer him the mints or gum. Repeat this if necessary on subsequent dates. I bet he'll take the hint an you'll be spared having to tell him his breath is a potential "deal breaker," because there's no way that won't be awkward.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 1:27 PM on August 21, 2011

"Your breath stinks. Fix it to increase your chances of eventual hot sex."

"I know. I'm working on it. Didn't realize it was that bad. Will enact contingency measures until I get this sorted out. Thank you for letting me know it was bothering you."
posted by zeek321 at 3:16 PM on August 21, 2011

as a companion to the "shit sandwich", try the "we're in this together." You can do this on the phone if he calls you for Date 4; or at the beginning of the conversation part of Date 4.

[Hey, I'm so glad we're hanging out again, blah blah - sandwich bread.] Then: "There is one thing I feel like I need to bring up, though. Do I have your permission to be totally honest?" (He'll say yes, then you give him the shit, perhaps with some suggestions about solutions.)

[Close with more nice bread.]

This line, the "do I have your permission to be totally honest," works miracles in many awkward situations. However, obviously, his breath may not be something that's controllable, in which case, no line will help.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:04 PM on August 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Re the health issue question: When "someone I know" was doing intensive teeth-whitening (and for a while after) his breath was absolutely hideous. And in the years before he flossed regularly, his breath would get pretty bad when he was past-due for a dental cleaning. (He didn't floss back then.) You can look on for more leads.
posted by wryly at 4:14 PM on August 21, 2011

I would try to let him know. You could say "have you been eating garlic or something?" If he then says "no, why?" you could say "kind of a strong smell".
posted by Bradfordian at 5:23 PM on August 21, 2011

Tell him. I'm one of those oblivious guys, and I'd much rather know that someone had a problem with my breath (easily fixable) than, say, my personality.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:59 PM on August 21, 2011

This is weird, but whatever...

EVERY time I have regularly or semi-regularly noticed someone's breath is rank - they turned out not to be who I thought they were/not someone I should be associating with.

My husband's breath smells of flowers, even after a Big Night. The only exception is when he eats this particular lamb dish at a restaurant - but I HATE lamb.

So there's that.
posted by jbenben at 7:01 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I dated a guy who had really bad breath. It took considerable effort to not wince when we'd get up close and make out. After a few dates, I flat-out asked about it. Turns out that being laid off had set back his plans to get a rotting tooth extracted. And that it had been taking considerable effort for him to not wince from the searing pain every time we'd make out.

A month later the tooth was pulled and both our problems went away like magic.

Find out what's up, and what might be done about, before tossing out something nice with a person you otherwise find enjoyable. Just be candid about the breath. It's not necessarily something he doesn't know, or is unwilling/unable to work on.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 4:26 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thank you, everyone, for the excellent advice. I ended up telling him directly and kindly in an email after he sent me a sweet and witty message in which he stated that he'd like to see me again. (Thought about telling him in person, but decided it would be best not to put him on the spot.) Not sure if we will respond, but I feel a lot better. If he doesn't know, now he does and he can choose to fix it. And if he already knows, he needs to understand it's driving away prospective girlfriends.

Sometimes being a grown-up is hard.
posted by jessca84 at 9:33 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Quick postscript: dental floss is his friend. There's something about some people's mouth chemistry that makes the tiniest bit of trapped food turn sulphurous.

Flossing is great for the gums, too.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:51 PM on August 23, 2011

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