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March 27, 2013 2:51 PM   Subscribe

I met a guy who was completely ordinary until I got close enough to smell him, at which point I went into overdrive. Has anyone else experienced this? What just happened here?

This wasn't a date or anything, which is why the romantic interest completely caught me by surprise. We just happened to be working in lab together (anatomy lab, no less). I don't even remember what he smelled like, only that it induced almost a state of limerence in me, and I could not stop looking at him for the rest of the afternoon. Do you think it was his natural scent or are there certain colognes/perfumes that can have that effect? (Disclaimer if not already evident: I know nothing about this stuff.)

Additional question: how can I, a lady in her twenties, induce the same response in persons of my preferred gender (male)? For, y'know ... science.
posted by cucumber patch to Human Relations (29 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Pheromones are a thing.
posted by rtha at 2:53 PM on March 27, 2013 [14 favorites]

Seconding pheromones!
posted by Eicats at 2:54 PM on March 27, 2013

Yeah, major histocompatibility complex. Short pop-sci rundown. Hard to replicate through artificial means!
posted by baby beluga at 3:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

Also, of all senses, smell may be tied the strongest to memory. It can whisk you away in an instant. Recently, I was in a brain fog, walking through an underground subway station, thinking about a million different things, in a crowd of people bustling about, and one woman walked by me, close enough for me to smell perfume/shampoo/whatever it was, and my mind immediately snapped to a girl I dated six years ago and hadn't thought about for years. The memory was so absolute in ways that seeing or hearing a similar girl couldn't match.
posted by 3FLryan at 3:09 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

As for the additional question, that is what perfume / scented stuff is for, basically. However, there will be some people for which you simply cannot stand their natural smell, and it may be a deal breaker. It's happened to me before: There was an attractive, smart, funny woman I knew once, and when we kissed, her natural smell was so overwhelmingly bad to me that it makes me cringe to think about it even now. And this was not your run of the mill BO, it was something much more primal!
posted by 3FLryan at 3:13 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Several friends (all female, oddly) have surreptitiously followed people around clubs just to keep smelling them. Have no idea about pheromones, but this is definitely A Thing.
posted by ominous_paws at 3:24 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

humans are divided into smell groups. I think it's biological diversity pre-programming.

sometimes people we think we are not visually attracted to... are a chemical pair for us.

there was even a bunch of parties in NYC recently based on some new research that people who are attracted to their partner's scent, stick around longer.

people would bring in a t-shirt, scarf etc... and got paired with others based on scent, not looks.

I like the idea of being abe to celebrate a "smellaversary".
posted by bobdow at 3:27 PM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]

Did you ask him what fragrance he was wearing. I wore a hole in a magazine once from smelling a Hugo Boss fragrance sample.

Plus, 'ooh you smell nice, what do you have on?' is a really good conversation starter!

My partners skin smells amazing, so I do believe in pheromones, but I'm thinking it could also have been his choice of fragrance. You could buy it and wear it yourself. See if it's a man attractant!
posted by Youremyworld at 3:39 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yes, this has happened to me before. It's something I've become more conscious of since I've been with my current boyfriend. I love him, he is wonderful is so many ways, attractive, geekchic look to him that I love and his command of language is phenomenal, but his scent brings about a primal desire in me as well as comforts me when I am near him. Yes, it is pheromones and I love it. I find it to be a bond of monogamy because the scent of other people are not as pleasant, and at times have repulsed me. I will note that I have not experienced this type of scent attraction until I met him. Yay for pheromones!
posted by i_wear_boots at 3:54 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing pheromones. They overrule any other scent.
posted by mumimor at 4:11 PM on March 27, 2013

Are you ovulating? Because yeah. Pheromones!
posted by Specklet at 4:29 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh my god, a kid in my class stood next to me for a few minutes the other day and the smell of his neck drifted over to my nose and out of nowhere my limbic system went, "BOYYYYYYYYYY!!1!1!!1!1!11!" and I lost all ability to focus for half an hour. This with me happily married and said boy being quite literally half my age or less.
Smell is powerful mojo.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:21 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

see also: birth control pills, maybe.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:24 PM on March 27, 2013

1) Pheromones

2) Cologne

3) Deodorant

I mention all three because it may be that you have a certain attraction to him specifically or it may be just due to a certain thing he is wearing. Next time you are at the mall stop by the men's fragrance counter and see if you can find it. Then anyone you are interested in you can force them to wear it and it will be true love! - Kidding but you get the idea -

Examples: A man I was with (and his friend) wore Aqua Di Gio by Goirgio Armani and that drove me nuts. It smelled soooooo good. Now however I won't let my husband ever wear it because it reminds me of that relationship and I want to only love my husbands smell. (Yes, it is that good smelling.)

Now my husbands deodorant (Old Spice) makes me quite happy. It's not unheard of for me to hang out near his armpit after a long day. I dare other women to say they have never done this or wanted to.

He also randomly found Usher's fragrance in a box after he moved. He may have accidentally taken it from a roommate but that also smelled amazing on him. Overall I can pick my husband's smell out. I can tell which shirts he has worn, even without deodorant.

There was also a study done - to the best of my knowledge - in which they had a group of men wear a shirt (without fragrance/deodorant) for 24 hours. They then had women in different times during their cycle smell the shirts. The women who were ovulating were most attracted to the smells of the men who were most potent reproductive wise. That could be playing a part in why he smells good too!
posted by Crystalinne at 7:12 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I met a guy once who smelled like Man. There is no other way to describe it. Even when we were all sweaty from hiking . . . he smelled BETTER. I had to hold myself back from running into his arms and basically throwing myself at him.

I think the phrase I used to describe it to my friends was "seriously disturbing my calm". And I didn't think such things happened to me!!!
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:29 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Pheromones. 60% of the time it works every time.

"Poison" perfume use to do that to me. Maybe still would. Then it was "Sweet Pea". Maybe I associate them with certain girls. Because "Red" (now) makes me retch.
posted by skypieces at 8:05 PM on March 27, 2013

Yes, pheromones. Plus, whatever fragrance he was wearing (even if it was just deodorant or fabric softener) happens to mix well with his natural scent. At least as far as your personal olafactory preferences go. I've noticed that some people smell WAY better than others in identical fragrances.

However, there will be some people for which you simply cannot stand their natural smell, and it may be a deal breaker. It's happened to me before: There was an attractive, smart, funny woman I knew once, and when we kissed, her natural smell was so overwhelmingly bad to me that it makes me cringe to think about it even now. And this was not your run of the mill BO, it was something much more primal!

Yes, I've experienced this as well. It's definitely someone's pheromones not being compatible with yours. It's kind of scary when someone's smell can completely change your mind like that.
posted by gjc at 8:27 PM on March 27, 2013

I've definitely experienced this. In fact, it was never any use trying to get interested in someone who didn't smell wonderful to me. I think some people are more sensitive to this than others.

I have also experienced the loss of this. In the sixties, even though I didn't have to do it, I used to iron my husband's shirts because I loved the way his natural scent lingered in his clothes even after laundering. Years later, although I was in therapy and trying hard to cope, I realized just how unworkable our relationship had become because I could no longer even tolerate that smell. I don't know what changed but it was not something I could override.
posted by Anitanola at 10:00 PM on March 27, 2013

I had this happen to me. It ended up with me having a terrible relationship with someone who was totally wrong for me on an emotional level because I could not stop following that smell. So beware!
posted by hazyjane at 11:25 PM on March 27, 2013

Yes, it happened to me a few times. It was odd, but so primal! I have no idea if I have ever had that effect on others.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 1:12 AM on March 28, 2013

Happened to me once. I did not let that dude go.

Seriously, seven years later and he's still here. In my house. Smelling awesome!
posted by Skyanth at 2:56 AM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would favor 3FLryan's interpretation over pheromones. Pheromones are not "a thing", at least in humans. It's highly debated, but at the end of the day there is not a single concrete piece of evidence in favour of human pheromones. The "Menstrual synchrony" phenomenon is inconsistent, the Vomeronasal organ may or may not exist in adult humans but if it does it almost certainly does not signal to the brain (unlike bone fide functional VNOs in other animals), and the best candidate pheromone receptors turned out not to be sensory (i.e. they don't send signals to your brain). The MHC compatibility and 'opposites attract' theories have some real elegance to them from an evolutionary point of view, because hybrid vigor is a thing, but nobody has shown any consistent evidence that human beings pick out their partners along these lines (quite the contrary in fact), let alone how such a phenomenon might actually work at the cellular and molecular level.

On the other hand, the influence of smell, actual smell, on memory and behavior is extremely well-documented. As you can see by the responses here, the phenomenon you've experienced is not completely unusual, but it's not pheromones that are responsible, at least not in the way we define pheromones in the rest of the animal kingdom.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:17 AM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

This happened to me. It was a married co worker and all he did was sit beside me during a meeting. I wanted to make out with him that second, but again... married co-worker... Awkward. Until, that is, he divorced his wife. Then I pounced on him like a puma. A crazed puma. I love when he goes for a jog in the evenings because he comes home reeking of his awesomeness. I love getting long lingering hugs from him because I can nestle in to his neck and smell him while cuddling.

We're getting married this fall. :)

So yeah, if he is single then go all puma crazy on that mofo.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:24 AM on March 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

I just want to point out that this is a plot point in the Twilight books, and is the only reason anyone can give for why a character played by Kristen Stewart, who was recently dubbed Hollywood's Least Sexy Actress, has 2 such hot guys all over themselves in love with her.
posted by CathyG at 8:51 AM on March 28, 2013

For me that growly "want" feeling seems to show up mostly when a hint of sweat mixes with her perfume. When the two components match, it's like the scent of her skin wears a nice dress.

I believe it's been similar when women have expressed positive feelings to my own smell. Not when I'm outright filthy of course, but with mild stick-deodorant applied on a body that didn't come straight from the shower. I pay some attention to this, and make an effort to pick brands that I think harmonize with my primal man-scent (read BO).

So my advice is to find an evening perfume that's fairly light but not too sweet and girly, and apply it in moderate amounts. Then let your skin provide some deeper notes by not scrubbing your armpits with all too much soap.
posted by springload at 11:28 AM on March 28, 2013

here are 3 follow up articles on pheromone parties:

happy sniffing people!
posted by bobdow at 2:03 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are some colognes and perfumes that just click with people for whatever reason. Years ago, I worked with a woman I had absolutely no interest in. I'm a clean cut gentlemanly kind of guy, and she was a million percent rough & tumble. Rather than looking like a motorcycle chick, she looked like someone who could beat up motorcycle chicks' boyfriends. Hell, she could probably take on all of them at once. She was tough.

One day - and I do mean only once - she came to work wearing perfume. I noticed the smell before I knew who smelled like that. IT STOPPED ME DEAD IN MY TRACKS. All I knew is, whoever smelled like that, I WANTED HER. I was shocked when I realized who smelled like that. We'd worked together for months. I saw her often but never had even the slightest sexual thought or interest. But on this particular day, she smelled so astoundingly alluring and I couldn't concentrate on anything other than very inappropriate thoughts of her. YUM. Eventually, I had to ask what perfume she was wearing and she seemed flattered. It was Happy For Women, which is nice but isn't anything amazing. But on her? WOW. YUM. WANT.

Even now, years later, just thinking back on how she smelled... I still want her!

Sometimes, a smell really clicks with me in such a primal way.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:09 PM on March 28, 2013

In La Seduction, there's a section where the author is talking to someone who worked in the perfume industry in France, and he described exactly this. I just looked it up:
" of our favorite games was to pick a theme and try to illustrate it with a perfume. We probably had something like fifty to a hundred perfumes to play with. One morning, the theme was, 'Illustrate the woman you would follow down the street.' And something unbelievable happened. There were twelve of us, and all twelve of us picked the same perfume, without talking to each other! It was the first time this had ever happened! It produced a good mood in you...purely seducing, you don't know why. You're just seduced."
The perfume was First, by Van Cleef and Arpels.
posted by ella_minnow at 10:12 AM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't think you can engender that effect in people consistently because that's the effect all perfumes promise, and yet we are all not swooning 24/7. I think the effect of perfume is very individual, and often tied to memory.

In 2006, I was in line at the cafeteria at my work and somebody reached past me to get a drink from a refrigerator case. He was wearing an Alfred Sung cologne that a roommate of mine had worn when we were in college fifteen years earlier. I almost passed out with lust: I literally had to hang on to a railing and close my eyes for about six seconds. The weird part was that I hadn't had any strong feelings for the roommate at any point: he'd been a schlumpy, slightly depressed kid who we eventually kicked out for being slothful and obnoxious. So I think my (strong! physical!) response wasn't really lust at all, but instead just a super-strong wash of memory for a particular time and place, that somehow manifested as sexual. Scent is powerful: it's an awesome thing.
posted by Susan PG at 11:08 PM on April 3, 2013

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