No April Showers
April 9, 2007 2:36 PM   Subscribe

My significant other has, over the last few years, taken fewer and fewer showers. She now takes about one per week (yes I keep tabs). I don't notice any smells although her hair can get that needs-washing look. [more inside]

It's starting to bother me and gross me out. I've had a talk with her about this and explained that it also makes it hard for me to initiate sex when I have this on my mind (which has also been more and more infrequent). She politely said 'yeah, ok' and seemed to increase her shower frequency. A week after that shower, she decides to take another one.... It was another week before she had one again.

Now, if I mention it she seems to think I'm annoying her on purpose. I'm not sure what to do about it other than have another "we need to talk" moment.

She's in her mid-thirties and I would also like to point out that this wasn't the case when we first started seeing each other a few years ago. I love her but increasingly think of her as being gross. Also note that I am not a clean freak in the least.

My question is - what can I do about this or should I do anything about this? Am I being unrealistic? Is this related to our decrease in sex?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (66 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You're not being unrealistic. In Canada and the US, bathing or showering daily is the expected norm. Weekly is unacceptable, and worthy of "we need to talk".
posted by solid-one-love at 2:43 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Has she said why she's taking fewer showers?

Your questions are hard to answer, and without knowing your SO it's impossible to say what's going on and what you can reasonably expect in the way of change. It's true (but by no means a definitive indicator) that some folks with mental health problems have trouble with what are called activities of daily living. Bathing is one of these. But, there are as many reasons not to take a shower as there are drops from the faucet.

I can't speculate about your relationship based on what you've written, but I will say that it is not a good sign when one consistently views their SO as "gross." It's a bad sign, even.
posted by OmieWise at 2:44 PM on April 9, 2007

for both of your sakes, do not let it slide. if this is affecting your attraction to her, then it's simply not ever going to get better until there's some resolution to the problem. If you try to ignore it, you'll eventually resent her for putting you in a position of having to ignore it while she just goes about doing (or not doing) whatever she wants without caring if it bothers you. (note: that's just an approximation of the resentment, not intended as a description of the actual situation.) If you try to ignore it, you'll also just stop being attracted to her, which will just kill the relationship dead. If she refuses to take your concerns seriously, then you have some real thinking to do, but you're not doing yourself any favors by trying to avoid that eventuality. You being attracted to her sexually needs to matter to her if you guys are going to last and more importantly whatever's causing her to not shower might be kind of important and have something to do with you. This is not to say that you're at fault but rather that, for all you know, this might be a subconscious way for her to put distance between you two physically. Either way, it's not minor and it's not something to be ignored. Talk about it, keep talking about it, and if talking about it becomes a source of problems between you give some serious thought to ending it. Hell, for all you know you'll talk to her about it and find her side of things totally reasonable once you see where she's coming from and why she isn't showering. But that'll never happen if you don't talk.
posted by shmegegge at 2:45 PM on April 9, 2007

My wife also prefers to shower infrequently, and largely it is because showering dries out her already very dry skin and makes things painful for her. Your wife might very well have a similar dermatological issue and showering might result in her being very uncomfortable. So, it could be an unconscious reaction to a real problem.

If she doesn't actually, you know, stink or show some other signs of actual problems from not bathing, I really wouldn't be that concerned about it as a health issue. Frequent, daily bathing is a relatively new part of our culture anyway. You need only watch a 50s social hygiene video about actual physical hygiene to find out that only 50 years ago they were suggesting you make sure and get that bath in once a week. [And isn't sex supposed to be dirty? ;) ]
posted by smallerdemon at 2:47 PM on April 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Does she offer any explanation? Has her weight or fitness changed, so that it might be a body image thing, or does she seem depressed?

As your last question, if there's no other obvious explanation for her change in habits -- and especially if she seems to propose sex less often -- it doesn't seem implausible to me that it's a conscious or unconscious way to create an obstacle to your intimacy. Which I think would be of concern to you. But I guess I would turn to that explanation last of all.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:49 PM on April 9, 2007

I don't think asking an SO to shower more than once a week is unreasonable, even if she doesn't smell. It's not that she has to be a clean-freak - I know people who shower every other day or who only wash their hair a few times a week - but as an adult you really should be cleaning yourself more than once a week.

I hate to throw out the mental illness card, but seriously: she wasn't like this before? It's been a slow descent into non-showering? Maybe she is depressed. Is she showing any other symptoms, like not being interested in activities she used to love, sleeping a lot, weight gain or loss, or anything like that?

At the very least, this is bothering you and she seems to not care. That, to me, would be a red flag. She doesn't even seem to care about herself, which is troubling, and it seems she doesn't really care what you think, at all.
posted by sutel at 2:49 PM on April 9, 2007

You are not being unrealistic. You need to make your significant other realize that her hygiene is starting to materially affect your relationship and see how she responds.

Are there any other changes in her behavior? Her lack of bathing could be a personal choice or it may be the manifestation of something deeper. Just something to consider.
posted by Falconetti at 2:49 PM on April 9, 2007

Are there any other changes in her behavior? In addition to scary sounding terms like "mental health problems", regular ol' depressed individuals can have problems keeping up.

(Answers: yes, you should do something about this, no, you are not being unrealistic, and I'd say it's likely a cause of your decrease in sex.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:50 PM on April 9, 2007

I was going to write something but I'm suspecting there may be larger issues at play, e.g. if I mention it she seems to think I'm annoying her on purpose.
posted by rolypolyman at 2:51 PM on April 9, 2007

I've noticed that lack of hygiene can sometimes be a symptom of depression. I've also seen it used as a distancing mechanism, a means of telling people to keep away. Both examples are probably unconscious reactions to events in their lives. Yes, you should talk to her, but also try to see if there isn't something underlying the situation.
posted by lekvar at 2:54 PM on April 9, 2007

if I mention it she seems to think I'm annoying her on purpose
Either she's unaware of how important this is to you or she's trying to sidestep conversation about it. I'd say that neither should prevent you from trying to press the issue - it is important to you and it should be to her (if only for your sake).

And, on preview, I've known it as a symptom of depression too.
posted by muteh at 2:57 PM on April 9, 2007

Yeah, as others suggest, you might develop some curiosity about this. Why would someone suddenly stop showering? That way your questions don't sound critical or incite a power struggle. (It's perfectly understandable, you losing attraction, but I might start by trying to understand where she's coming from.)
posted by ruff at 2:57 PM on April 9, 2007

Any other things worth mentioning ? Does she look depressed ? I tend to interpret not taking care of yourself as a depression alert. Any procrastination signs ?

If she has siblings, is it something they do too ? (that can indicate it's coming from the education she received).

Perhaps you should try to stop bathing for a week too - making her realize what it feels like. That could help her stop. That or a no-bath equals no-sex blackmail.

Hope it helps.
posted by Baud at 2:58 PM on April 9, 2007

In college, I probably didn't shower as much as I should have. Even now, if I didn't have to go to work every day, I'd probably only shower once or twice a week. Why? I don't really know. It seems like a bit of a waste of time, doesn't it? I mean, you'll just get dirty again in a few minutes anyway.

In other words, it could be a sign of depression, or it could just be a sign that she doesn't like to shower. Instead of saying, "Did you shower today? You should shower more, it turns me off when you don't shower.", maybe you should ask her, "Hey, honey, I've noticed that you've been showering a lot less recently than in the past. Has anything changed for you that you've been reluctant to tell me about? I'm here for you no matter what."
posted by muddgirl at 3:00 PM on April 9, 2007

Disclaimer: I don't bathe every day. Its not great for my supersensitive skin. Here are some varied suggestions. If it is an issue for you, it should be an issue for her, its part of being a partner.

Offer to take a sexy shower with her!

Next time you have that "what turns you on talk" say something about that soft, slightly dewy post bath skin that just makes you want to get her dirty again.

Draw her a lovely bath and leave her be.

Buy her lots of great shower items.

Keep those cool body wipes around, and say "Man, these make my pits and other places feel fresh!"

Say things like "Man, after a long day, a shower is sure awesome" and see how she responds, it make shed light on it. I happen to hate the way being wet and cold feels. Maybe there is something you can fix in the layout that would make her more comfortable.

Get a great cozy bathrobe or towel warmer.

My feet are the only thing that gets stinky on my and my bf
will let me know! If she stinks let her know.

They make in between shower dry shampoo. It works.

Perhaps its a wet head thing and she would be more comfortable with taking a bath, then washing her hair in the sink as needed. That's what I do.

Then again, it might be a body issue thing, or a sympton of depression or being overwhelmed. All that girl stuff can take up a lot of time in the bath. Offer to help scrub her back or warm her clothes up in the dryer. All the while telling her is beautiful.

Hopefully, something in that list might work!
posted by stormygrey at 3:01 PM on April 9, 2007

In other words, frame the conversation in terms of your concern for her well-being, rather than your concern for your own feelings about it, which can be seen as somewhat nagging and selfish.
posted by muddgirl at 3:01 PM on April 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

What about asking her to take showers with you? That would be awesome and cleansing!

You should find out why she's not taking showers. And see if you can't strike a comprimise. A friend of mine has dry skin so can't soap up all the time, but does the "asshole, armpits, crotch, and teeth" routine daily and it doesn't seem to lead him into Bad Hygiene Land.

I wouldn't get too squicked out about it otherwise. Aside from the asshole-armpits-crotch-teeth thing, skin and hair are cool if they're not washed daily--you'd be surprised how quickly they adjust to not having to overproduce oils to compensate for the drying effect of shampoo and soap. After a few weeks in of the no-poo method I could go a week without washing my hair without it looking gross, and now it's about a week-and-a-half, two weeks before the grossness sets in.
posted by schroedinger at 3:02 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

explained that it also makes it hard for me to initiate sex when I have this on my mind

You haven't mentioned whether you initiating sex is something she wants you to do. If she does not want you to initiate sex, that might have something to do with why she does not shower. There may be other reasons for the not showering though - dry skin, depression, or cultural reasons.

Is this related to our decrease in sex?

Well, it would have been good to include more about your 'decrease in sex' if you wanted that part of your question answered. If sex only happens when you initiate it, and you are initiating it less because of the shower thing, I would have to say that the answer is fairly obvious.
posted by yohko at 3:04 PM on April 9, 2007

Now, how to talk to her about it is a different can of worms. You're certainly going to need a "Ok, so, we have to talk about this showering thing because it's bugging me and talking about it bugs you, so I'd like to talk about it again, one more time, just to see if I can figure out how to make myself more comfortable about it without making you feel bad about it."

I personally wouldn't be as concerned about it being depression as everyone here seems to be without know a lot more information. Does she brush her teeth every day? Does she do laundry? Does she wear clean underwear and socks regularly? Does she brush her hair and keep it some way that she likes it? Does not bathing have an impact on her job? Can she function?

I guess I just think that jumping to the depression of sign of serious problem conclusion here is, well, jumping to conclusions. For her it might just be one of those things that she's finds laboriously annoying to do. Think about all of those college kids that bathe every day but don't do dishes for a month and let their kitchens turn into experimental biology labs. Gods almighty if I could pay for someone to do dishes I would. I am already working on a plan to have the majority of my clothes cleaned by someone else, and probably have someone come to clean my house. I do it regularly, but I hate doing it now (I'm in my early 40s) because even though I like the results of the day-to-day chores in life, I hate doing them and I feel like that are a waste of my time. For her, bathing might just be one of those things and she is able to get away with not having to do it every day.
posted by smallerdemon at 3:06 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, I certainly shower daily, but I confess to wishing I could skip it several mornings a week (and I say this as someone who hasn't been clinically depressed in years). Personally, I just get sort of tired of washing and drying my hair, especially as I've let it grow longer and it takes much more time and effort to care for. Could it be something as simple as finding the daily upkeep of her hair just too tedious to put up with? Or, as someone else said upthread, perhaps she finds showering overdries her skin?

In any case, muddgirl's advice on how to approach the conversation is spot-on: frame the conversation in terms of your concern for her well-being, rather than your concern for your own feelings about it, which can be seen as somewhat nagging and selfish.
posted by scody at 3:07 PM on April 9, 2007

There is no universal standard that can be imposed. Infrequent bathing conserves water and energy. It was the “accepted norm” in the past and will be so again in the future.

In the present, the reasonableness of shower frequency depends on your personal resources, your philosophy regarding the use of common and limited resources, how stinky you get, how much stinkiness matters to your personal and professional milieu, and how much you enjoy showering.

Personally, I don’t crave a shower the way many people do and I actively dislike showering in the winter because I get cold. Like your SO, I’m down to one a week. (I thought this was my beloved posting, but the age is wrong.) Unlike your SO, I stink. This is not good. My beloved handles this with subtle hints like “You stink. If you want me to fuck you tomorrow morning, you need to take a shower now.” That usually does it.

If your SO doesn’t stink, maybe she doesn’t need a daily shower. Maybe she doesn’t sweat much. Maybe you need to worry less.

But if her hair is stringy and you want to have wild carefree sex with promiscuous mingling of body fluids and she stinks close up even if she doesn’t stink at co-worker distance, then that is a big deal. Court her. Send her love notes at work. Cook supper and tell her to take a shower while you’re busy in the kitchen. Make showering kinky and seductive, because the thought of water clearly does not speak to her soul all by itself. Make sure the bathroom is nice and warm, and put her bathrobe in the dryer to warm it up. Go to bed early and rub her with lotion — if her skin dries up and becomes prickly and itchy that’s a disincentive to wash.

You can probably learn to settle for her showering as a part of a seduction ritual. She can probably accommodate specific requests/orders to bathe *now,* even if she never becomes an enthusiast of frequent bathing.

It’s polite to at least wash yourself with a washcloth before you go to bed with someone, so that is another source of compromise that might work for both of you.
posted by kika at 3:09 PM on April 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

How are you keeping tabs? (I.e. are you ever apart for long enough where she could shower.) I think after a week of not showering you would almost certainly be able to smell (body odour), which leads me to conclude she might be showering at the gym or when you're not home or whatever. Hair looking funky doesn't necessarily mean she's not bathing the rest of her body, and in some cases (curly or wavy hair) it can be hard to get that nice shiny look, your choices are too oily (ick) or too dry (damaging your hair).
posted by anaelith at 3:16 PM on April 9, 2007

She doesn't smell, she's doing what she wants to do. This is your problem. You're not going to trick her into taking more showers. Either you'll get over your squickyness, she'll shower more or that'll be it.

From a personal point of view, I often find it easier to change my attitudes towards people than forcing them to change their own attitudes about themselves.

Although I wondered too if it was a depression thing. It's hard to say from what you've given in this question, but I suspect not.
posted by seanyboy at 3:16 PM on April 9, 2007

*heh* I guess I should mention that I am the opposite of my infrequently bathing spouse. I can easily shower twice a day. I've been known to take three showers a day in the past (once when I get up, another time to wake me up after a nap when i get home before going to my tae kwon do class, and then again after the tae kwon do class - not going to TKD anymore, so, I'm down to two a day as a maximum).

I suspect that kika may be right about less frequent showering becoming the norm as resources become more limited due to population growth, etc. It really is a very recent luxury we have to shower every day. And I consider it that every time I get in the shower and luxuriate in it, which leads to some excessive time I spend in the shower just soaking it all in. Of course, I get stinky within a day of not showering AND my skin starts to become a greasy hive of oily goo, so, there you go. My wife, otoh, if she showers daily starts to turn red and her skin dries up into painful cracks and flakes. I'm not going to encourage her to do something for ME that makes HER life unnecessarily painful.
posted by smallerdemon at 3:16 PM on April 9, 2007

Clean the bathroom, scrub the shower or tub. Then run her a bath with a nice scented bath bombs. (I recommend Lush products because they're different and fun but anything in your local drugstore that smells nice will do.)

Share the bath with her or let her soak on her own. Do not say, "hey I ran a bath for you. Look what I went to trouble to do for you." You're not doing her a favor you're comforting your wife. Make this a ritual, say twice a week and see how that goes.
posted by who squared at 3:22 PM on April 9, 2007

Sex in shower.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 3:27 PM on April 9, 2007

“accepted norm”

Actually, I wrote "expected norm", not "accepted norm".

There is no universal standard that can be imposed.

Correct. In Canada and the US, there is an expected norm, however. Nobody is referring to "universal" standards or "impositions" of any kind.

If you want to be stinky, go for it, but at least be honest in the discussion.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:36 PM on April 9, 2007

Please do not try to bribe or trick her into bathing. Treating someone like a child or a mentally ill person is inappropriate unless they are one or the other. "Look at this lovely bath I ran for you [, Stinky]" is right up there with "I'd like us to exercise more often together [, Chubs]" and "oh dear, this chocolate syrup inadvertently spilled into my pants onto my genitals [, Licky]".

You say she's in her mid thirties, I will assume you are also an adult. If you want to know what the deal is, ask what the deal is. If you just want to order her to bathe more often because you'll feel better, just do it instead of pretending you want to shower with her or whatever, and good luck with that. It is fair to her and you both to tell you that you don't understand and you would like to understand, and to express further concern if she cannot give you any kind of straight answer (like dry skin discomfort or a loathing of the shower head or a soap-up-nose accident that precipitated this change in habit), or just to say "I'm sorry, it bothers me and I'm going to have to remove myself from the situation if we can't come to some kind of understanding here."

I would say just let it go if it's not hurting you, but you feel like it might be affecting your sex life, so it should be something you get to address.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:36 PM on April 9, 2007 [11 favorites]

It could be depression, it could be that it irritates her skin. Since she doesn't smell perhaps she is just washing the smelly parts where the limbs connect to the trunk. That is the camper's way of lving without showers. I somehow doubt though that someone who showers once a week doesn't have serious odor issues. If it bothers you then it is worth discussing. Showers every day are the cultural norm, whether a recent phenomena or not and showers once a week or less seems like something is up. Communicate your feelings. Listen to hers. It's the basis of relationships.
posted by caddis at 3:43 PM on April 9, 2007

Lyn Never, you’re absolutely right that you shouldn’t try to trick people into doing something, or pretend that you aren’t doing something that you are.

But what’s wrong with bribery? It’s straightforward and honest.

Bribery recognises and respects the needs and wants of the bribed person, which trickery and deceit do not.

When my beloved takes over supper duties and orders me into the bath, I’m pleased, not deceived or infantilised. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making a deal a little sweeter with a trade.
posted by kika at 3:49 PM on April 9, 2007

"My significant other is doing something that she never did before, and I find it unpleasant. I let her know how I felt, and she made a half-hearted attempt to stop doing it, but quickly started doing it again. We're not able to communicate on this subject any longer."

With the problem thus re-framed, I'll go ahead and list the possibilities:

1. She has undergone a physical or mental change that makes showering unpleasant/undesireable/unimportant to her.

2. She has made the decision to do something she's always wanted to do, or now wants to do, and thinks that doing this thing is more important than the repercussions.

3. She has made this decision with the specific intent to put you off, either sexually or otherwise.

So, give her the benefit of the doubt. Explore it from point one first (as many have suggested above), with the understanding that something may be wrong.

Then, if that doesn't pan out, explore it from point two (as some have suggested), with the understanding that you're in a relationship, so your disgust with her behavior is as important as her desire to do it.

If you make no headway here (and by "headway" I mean reaching an acceptable compromise, not bending her entirely to your will), then point three doesn't even need to be explored, as the result is the same as lack of success with point two: either way, the two of you have a big incompatibility that could be fixed if both partners cared enough, but they don't. Whether it's enough to split you apart is up to you.
posted by davejay at 3:51 PM on April 9, 2007

If it's a dry skin issue, there are a few steps that can help with that. Eg, use Cetaphil cleanser (available in any drug store, often in generic brand versions too) rather than soap. Don't use super-hot water in the shower. Shower only ever few days. Put on a good unscented lotion immediately after showering.

If it's a hair-hassle issue, be sure you have a good hair dryer (eg if her hair takes a long time to airdry by itself). If it's tangly, Infusium-23 is a product that can help fix that. She could also cut it shorter, which can be incredibly freeing for women with thick hair.

If it's a dirty-bathroom issue, you know what to do about that. Clean up, maybe get new shower curtain and bathmat if they are too soiled.

If it's a coldness issue, nice thick bathmats and maybe even a towel-warmer for the bathroom might be in order.

If it's a water-dislike issue, maybe getting a adjustable showerhead that can be set at lower-than-head height might help. She might also respond to you helping her wash her hair in the sink as a one-night-a-week ritual.

If it's depression (eg if she's been sleeping too much, not getting out of pajamas, not taking care of herself generally, not doing activities you know she enjoys), talk to a therapist or someone who can discuss the possibility of meds.

You could also say "Sweetie, can we agree that you'll shower twice a week, if I [do task X]?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:08 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

You've made it clear that she isn't actually smelly. From what you've said it sounds like she isn't visibly grubby either, aside from the "needs-washing" hair. So presumably she's keeping herself clean enough to be healthy.

You'll have to figure out exactly what aspect of this is troubling you in order to find an acceptable solution.

It might be the suboptimal hair. If that's the problem, and she dislikes showering, she might be willing to consider washing her hair between times in the sink.

However, I have a hunch that what's really bothering you is that she's flouting the cultural convention of a daily shower -- which feels "gross" to you in principle, regardless of the practical implications.

Don't think I'm suggesting that the conventional concern is negligible. If you and she have very different attitudes towards social norms, you'll have a tough row to hoe in various realms, especially if you're considering kids.
posted by tangerine at 4:08 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

1. I haven't seen anyone else ask this: has she been complaining about anything wrong with your bathroom? Do you have any wonky plumbing or slow drains, is there any visible dirt or mildew, is the shower curtain clean, do you put out fresh fluffy towels for her every day, etc? Before assuming it's an internal issue (something she's feeling, mentally or physically), I'd try to make sure there are no external causes at play that she might not be comfortable discussing. If you're finding it hard to keep the place clean, you could look into getting a once-a-week cleaning service, that would help a lot.

2. Despite the above point, I do think, as so many people have already stated, that there's some element of depression at work. I've never met anyone that only showered once a week, but I do know depressed people, and they often don't work out or exercise. If she can go so long without a shower, I'm guessing she doesn't have a regular workout routine? Depressed people seem to have a hard time taking care of themselves.
posted by paperclip at 4:16 PM on April 9, 2007

lyn said exactly what I wanted to say: do not try to bribe her to shower. There is no need to "sweeten the deal" in order to get her to shower. To everyone who suggested co-showering, pampering her or purchasing bath items and/or towel warmers, do you really think lack of bubble bath or a shower buddy is what is keeping her from bathing regularly? What happens when there is no new bath gel or he isn't there to shower with her? I don't think the issue is going to be solved by the practice of her being bribed into bathing, I get the idea that he wants her to change her attitude about showering.

Also, if a filthy bathroom is keeping her from wanting to shower and her response is to stop showering regularly instead of cleaning, I'm going to guess that she is either very lazy or depressed. If she is too lazy to clean the bathroom, my guess is that she is also too lazy to shower (rather than disgusted by the filthy bathroom) and he can clean the bathroom everyday and nothing will change. If she is too depressed to clean the bathroom and also in too much of a funk to care about her hygiene, he can clean the bathroom everyday and guess what? nothing will change.

My first instinct was depression or body image issues (has she gained weight? is she changing her clothing? has her wardrobe become limited as well?). If the lack of showering is an ongoing problem and she hasn't mentioned dry skin, hatred of wet hair or hair styling or water conservation, chances are something is going on that she is not comfortable speaking about (depression, body image issues, etc.).

At the end of the day, either she will shower more regularly because you want her to (or because she wants to), or she won't. If it is the latter then you need to accept that you can't change this behavior just because it doesn't match your own hygiene routine. You either have to accept it or walk away.
posted by necessitas at 4:33 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot the whole point of my reply: ask her what is going on. Find out why she isn't showering regularly. If she just says "i dunno . .. I'll try to shower more," probe her for an answer. If she has gained weight, gently ask her if the showering problem is related to body issues. If not, ask her if she is ok, if she is depressed or in a funk. Find out why she isn't showering for no other reason than to help her get help if it is a depression issue.

Once you find out the reason, if the reason is that she just isn't into daily showering and this is something you can't deal with, you'll probably be better off moving on than trying to get her to bend to your hygiene values or silently seething about hers.
posted by necessitas at 4:39 PM on April 9, 2007

"To everyone who suggested co-showering, pampering her or purchasing bath items and/or towel warmers, do you really think lack of bubble bath or a shower buddy is what is keeping her from bathing regularly? What happens when there is no new bath gel or he isn't there to shower with her? I don't think the issue is going to be solved by the practice of her being bribed into bathing, I get the idea that he wants her to change her attitude about showering."

If he wants to change her thought process, he might as well walk away right now. Not going to happen.

If he wants to change her behaviour, then whatever works. If he isn’t there to coax her into showering, then he’s not around to be bothered by SO’s unshowered state either. Where’s the problem?

“Coaxing” of course needs to be within whatever OP thinks is reasonable bounds. He may find that SO hates showering so much (or finds it so pointlessly tedious) that she isn’t going to suffer through it for anything less than complete catering-to. OP may not find the effort worth it; well, neither does she.

If all the coaxing that SO needs is bedroom eyes, a bathrobe and some clear direction, OP is much more likely to be satisfied with the tradeoff.

Yes, there’s certainly more to their relationship than OP laid out in the original query. There always is. But if you can simplify the question, you often get interesting answers. If the question is really the simple one about bathing, then if bribery works, it works. The desired behaviour is elicited. If the OP contemplates bribery and realises that no, the question is not actually about bathing at all, bathing is simply the chosen symbol of the atmosphere of apathy and discouragement that pervades the relationship generally, then we’ve made progress of a different kind. That doesn’t make bribery wrong.
posted by kika at 4:52 PM on April 9, 2007

in addition to the possibility of a skin issue, women over a certain age sometimes also deal with hair thinning, and if she still wears her hair long, she may find it comes out in the shower. I used to love showering and often do it multiple times a day, and I've reduced it so that I skip days sometimes because of a bit of paranoia about this issue - it's not really externally noticable in me yet but I see it in my older female relatives, and I see it in the shower, & it's just about the most unsexy feeling ever.
posted by mdn at 4:55 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you're being realistic.

Re. all the depression comments -- is anything else going on?

Years ago, when I was very depressed, I'd give up on every part of self-care save for taking baths on the weekends. Monday mornings were a battle with quite tangled hair from not having brushed it since Friday afternoon.

If it's part of a general decline in upkeep, yeah, depression's a possibility.
posted by kmennie at 5:31 PM on April 9, 2007

Long, thick hair can definitely make one unwilling to shower as often. I have hair down past my waist (and I'm rather tall; this is 2 1/2 feet of hair +, we're talking about, and thick), and it takes an average of 4 hours to dry when it's loose. If I put it into a ponytail or a braid, it'll stay wet for 8, 10 hours or even longer. Add to that the fact that it takes at least 20 full minutes, sometimes longer, to comb out after the shower, and you've got the makings of quite a ritual.

This is a -pain-. One does not want to wake up, shower, and then deal with having wet hair for the first half of the workday. Nor does one want to go to bed with wet hair, because it gets the pillow and bedding wet and clammy.

I, luckily, don't have an 8-5 job, and so I deal with this much better; I'm able to shower every other day (sometimes every third, when I haven't done much) with little issue. But I can definitely see it being more than a small annoyance if it were an every day thing. Short hair may not be as classically sexy in some peoples' eyes, but it's uber-sexy in the way you can just step out of the shower, run your hand through your hair, and be done with it.

I know this may not be the issue. But if it is, there's my nine cents.
posted by po at 5:47 PM on April 9, 2007

I've had quite long, thick hair, and had times when I didn't feel like taking showers daily. For me, the two weren't really connected, as an admittedly unsexy shower cap was part of my daily shower routine (and possibly because my hair looks better and softer a few days after it's been washed). Now that I think of it, when I did avoid showering it was part of a general inertia that kept me home, not socializing much, etc. Perhaps sadly, having to go to work outside my home and having to meet friends socially are the main things that motivate me to get sparkling clean. (Not so for dental care, which I enjoy doing and find soothing.)
posted by PY at 6:05 PM on April 9, 2007

Not maintaining proper hygiene and becoming apathetic about her appearance should be a major warning sign to you. It means:

a) She doesn't care about your feelings (i.e. you asked her to change and she didn't even try) and doesn't care that the physical component of your relationship is waning.

b) As she ages, her laziness/apathy/grossness will only become more pronounced and will manifest itself in different ways. Maybe she'll stop brushing her teeth, taking prescription medication, maintaining a healthy weight, washing her clothes, shaving her pits, clipping her toe nails, brushing her hair, and God knows what else.

If you have already expressed your feelings and she didn't make a good faith effort to change, you need to reevaluate your relationship. This may be the stinky, dirty tip of an even stinkier, dirtier iceberg. Good luck, man.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:07 PM on April 9, 2007

Of course, if her not showering is because of a temporary psychological or physical condition, forget what I wrote and get her some meds, STAT!
posted by HotPatatta at 6:09 PM on April 9, 2007

"Honey, I'm worried about you. Are you okay? I know we've talked about this before, but I'm curious as to why you've stopped showering more than once a week. Are you depressed? Is there anything I can do? I love you, I don't think that you stink, but it worries me. I wish you would shower more regularly, but more importantly, I want to be sure that you're okay. What's up?"
posted by pazazygeek at 6:47 PM on April 9, 2007

In addition to whatever other concessions, discussions, etc. you two work out, you might consider redecorating the bathroom. Someone else mentioned cleaning it, and that's part of it, but if your bathroom's not very nice, consider bleaching/regrouting the bathtub, painting, new (definitely non-moldy) shower curtain, enough shelf storage space so that shampoo bottles aren't overcrowded, new towels, nice lighting, etc. -- things like that, whatever would make a difference.

Of course, you could have an immaculate designer bathroom already. And even if not, this likely won't address any serious underlying issues. But it's an additional idea.

Other idea (not knowing what her hair looks like) - would a shorter, neater hair style make her hair seem less "unwashed" as the days pass? This probably wouldn't make a huge difference to you, but it's another idea to consider.

Shorter hair _could_ make the shower go faster.

Finally, is it possibly a scheduling issue? Are you using the showering facilities during the time when it would be most convenient for her to shower?

Ooh, one more thing - if you exercised together, maybe she'd want to shower after that (and if she were borderline depressed, it might perk her up). Talking her into walking/running with you is a long shot, though, if she won't even shower regularly to please you. However, if there's anything like that which _she_ wants to do, you probably want to consider it.
posted by amtho at 7:01 PM on April 9, 2007

Public Service Announcement: The name of the so-called "no-poo method" is misleading. I just don't want anybody to be disappointed.

But I do wonder how much less often I'd have to shower if I didn't poo.
posted by BaxterG4 at 7:01 PM on April 9, 2007

Let's just say one of my closest family members had issues with this. She is close to mentally ill. I'd say get help.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:51 PM on April 9, 2007

Are you sure she's not washing up at all? It takes less than two minutes to wet a washcloth, wash the "important areas", and be out of the bathroom. If she doesn't sweat much, then she could easily get away with one shower a week while keeping tabs on the important bits.

There were no indications of any other changes (eating habits, sleeping habits, mood fluctuations that are abnormal for her). Perhaps she did it at the beginning of the relationship in an effort to "appear more normal" but now that you love each other she doesn't see the need. Or perhaps something else has changed.

I'm wondering why you haven't asked her just out of curiosity? I'm sure she has her reasons, but you give no indication of them here. Nobody likes hearing "we need to talk" when they know the other person is just going to talk down or talk at, but not talk with. So what can you do? With genuine curiosity ask her why. You don't have to be satisfied with whatever reasons and you're not unreasonable in that. But you ought to hear her out and actually have a discussion. You want your feelings on this to be respected and your wishes. Well so does she. There's no hope of compromise unless you can approach her with that attitude.

Perhaps there has been a decrease in sex because there has clearly been a decrease in communication.
posted by Danila at 7:58 PM on April 9, 2007

I used to shower and wash my hair every day, in the morning. I enjoyed it, and liked how my (short) hair looked. But it took at least 20 minutes,and when i started needing to do back exercises (to prevent pain), knee exercises so i could walk, neck stretches, yoga stretches so i don't creak, etc., something had to give, timewise. i agree with those who say it may be helpful to find out what has changed for her in relation to showering.

Another thought, suppose you believed she was showering more (say at times or places you don't know about), how would you feel. You might try the experiment of deciding to believe that. You know so much more than we do that I'm reluctant to start the depression questions.
posted by judybxxx at 8:00 PM on April 9, 2007

"I've never met anyone that only showered once a week..."

Hm, haven't travelled much, maybe?

I agree with Danila...maybe she's taking a daily "cat bath." I shower about every 3-4 days, less when I'm overseas...access to hot water is sporadic. I don't stink/sweat a lot, though.

As for OP's originals:

1. Am I being unrealistic? - No. So you don't like it. Either get used to it, compromise, or leave. I bug my DH to put on deodorant all the time, even though it's not something they use where he's from. Just my little quirk...but he does it for me.

2. Is this related to our decrease in sex? Yes.

I can't believe so many of you want to medicate this poor woman without knowing any more that always your first solution for signs of depression?
posted by Liosliath at 9:50 PM on April 9, 2007

i am distinctly reminded of the time i was in 4th grade, when for reasons i don't remember (most likely laziness) i showered about once a week. and i rode horses too! i shoulda been a ripe one!

one day i when i was eating lunch at the cafeteria, these two kids seated next to me started gossiping about this girl that we all knew and they hated. one of their insults was, "oh, she's so dirty she only showers once a week." ack! i gave them a cold, hard look. could they have been referring to me? nope, they were immersed in their conversation and quickly moved on to the next salacious story.

anyway, the whole point is that a lot of our phobias about cleanliness and dirt are just mental blocks we've set up in our mind that have nothing to do with reality. i sat right next to those two gossipy kids and many others during the school year, and no one noticed that my shower habits were out of the "norm." i've no doubt if i had reeked they would have called me out on it, and i also have no doubt that if i had declared aloud that i only showered once a week, i would have been immediately ostracized as the kid who stinks even though no one noticed before.

take a piece of meat for instance. if i open a package of meat that hasn't reached its expiration date but it smells putrid, i'm not going to eat it because my natural senses tell me not to. however, if i take out a package of meat that is past its date but it looks and smells good, i won't eat it either. why? because i've been conditioned not to.

so i suggest this. cuddle with your wife the same day or the day before she's due for her weekly shower. you don't have to bang her, but just get real up close and personal. nuzzle her neck. sniff her hair. just really take in her natural scent, and do not think about the fact she hasn't showered for a week. at all!!

all done? now think about it. did you have to cut your cuddle session short because she stank and you needed to come up for air? or did she generally smell the same as she does at any other time (right after a shower doesn't count!). if so, then you may need to conveniently forget the fact that she only showers once a week and reprogram yourself against the idea that showering once a week is repulsive.

if you still have trouble getting over the thought of it, then why not just suggest doing it in the shower when you're in the mood? after all, i assume you must shower at least once a day. why not get it over with together? but make sure to let her know that your shower sessions are because you find sex in the shower to be incredibly hot, not because you find her shower habits to be repulsive. if she turns you down flat at this suggestion, then that will be a major clue (i think) that there are probably other issues either in your marriage, or with her. good luck!!
posted by tastycracker at 12:58 AM on April 10, 2007

I had this problem with my husband. He once went six weeks without a shower (though he did wash his hair every few days). A chat about a direct correlation between the frequency of his showering and the frequency with which he received fellatio seemed to do the trick.
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:02 AM on April 10, 2007

I'm going to assume that she's not depressed and assume that she's not sub-consciously using the showering to punish you for something else (though either could really be the case).

I would sit her down and explain that this is really important to you and ask her what she wants to do about it. Whatever she says, you reply that you would like to shower with her three times a week for a month. For instance, on Mon, Wed, and Fri you shower together.

The only way to change behavior is to institute a new replacement behaviour. It may seem childish but behaviours can become very ingrained. Btw, I don't think you are being petty or annoying at all. This is an issue that's affecting your relationship and all you are asking is that she take a five minute break three times a week to shower with you.

You can't be with someone you think of as gross, so nothing less than your relationship is at stake. She's doing this for you, because of your issue, a serious issue for you. That's what's happening straight up, and I would be honest about it. She doesn't like to take showers, but it's important to you that she does at least three times a week. Would she, for your sake, be willing to take showers with you?

Be direct. I don't see much point in hinting that showers are really great. She's knows how you feel, but doesn't share your feelings. You need to make this about her helping you with an issue, and nothing else.
posted by xammerboy at 10:57 AM on April 10, 2007

A little more about what I was trying to say.... Assuming she's not depressed or something, I think she could simply not share your feelings that it's important to shower more than once a week. And she could be right. After all, daily showering was not common until recently and it's mostly just in the US that people shower everyday. You've said yourself she doesn't smell.

BUT - this is important to you. It's not necessarily rational on your part. It may be for psychological and cultural reasons but it's an important issue for you and the relationship. Then help her change the behavior by doing it with her, even if that means more than one shower a day for you.
posted by xammerboy at 11:10 AM on April 10, 2007

I have to say, all these suggestions to ask her to shower with you are odd. Showering with other people is often cold, and awkward, and crowded. Half the time you're shivering in the cold while the other person is under the water; it's slippery and precarious to change places; and it takes three times as long to actually get clean.

I mean, it's great as foreplay, or as a "Let's fool around somewhere different" sort of thing, but it's kind of a pain in the ass and rather inefficient as a cleaning method. I have a hard time believing that someone who doesn't seem to like to shower, and doesn't seem concerned about a lack of sex, is going to jump over this suggestion.
posted by occhiblu at 12:51 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fight fire with fire. i think you should stop wiping after you poop or something and see which one of you can gross the other person out the quickest. Then arrange a deal that you'll start wiping again if she'll shower thrice-weekly.

Or just talk to her.
posted by ZackTM at 1:03 PM on April 10, 2007

"I have to say, all these suggestions to ask her to shower with you are odd."

My point is to somehow share the burden for changing the behaviour in a way that makes sure it gets done. Showering together seemed simplest to me. Not forever, just for a bit to while the new habit is forming.
posted by xammerboy at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2007

Right, but my point is, it may not seem "simplest" or even "desirable" to everyone, so insisting that she do so three times a week may create a larger problem.

I mean, "let's take a shower together" has always seemed a bit more like "You must have sex with me now; also, you're dirty" to me. Which isn't always a bad thing, but it's just very... demanding, I guess. Which may not be the way the OP should actually play this.
posted by occhiblu at 2:10 PM on April 10, 2007

I think anonymous is at the end of his rope. If he feels his girlfriend is gross, then this either changes or the relationship ends. However, forget my insistence you shower with her, just make sure she understands its important to you and figure out some way of keeping tabs that seems organic. I don't know what else you can do...
posted by xammerboy at 4:20 PM on April 10, 2007

A few people have mentioned that it's only since the 50's that showering more than once a week has been common, but no one's mentioned why yet. It wasn't just a natural sociocultural evolution. The 50's is when soap companies started running ads to make people embarassed about washing once a week. In order to make money, they had to make people wash more often. They accomplished that so well that most people in the thread now think that normal pre-50's behavior is gross. I don't like it when people don't question the ways that we're shaped by advertising and by social pressures. I wonder if you thought about the ways that you do and don't conform, and the ways that she does and doesn't, if you'd have any interesting insights or shifts in your reactions to her.

I agree that if she's depressed, that's worth addressing. I also agree that what bothers you should matter to her, even if she were acting exactly in accordance with social norms.

You asked about whether the decrease in sex was related to this issue. Since also said that you don't feel like initiating when she hasn't showered, I think you have your answer, unless you meant something else. So, to address that, either she has to shower more OR not showering has to bother you less. (Of course, your age and the length of time you've been together may also be contributing to a change in frequency.)
posted by daisyace at 4:54 PM on April 10, 2007

I am one of several -- but perhaps the minority yet -- who concur with Lyn Never.

I'd only add that in addition to avoiding bribery and trickery, I am very skeptical of attempts to repackage essentially selfish concerns (e.g., it grosses the guy out) as "honey, I am only concerned about you" (which seems to be what scody and muddgirl were advocating). They may be right that it is often more effective; if it were in this case, I might be willing to put aside qualms about it being misleading. I'd caution, though, that explanations of that kind tend to make me suspicious. In this case, after apparently repeated attempts at persuasion have already failed and started to annoy, I'd think her bullshit alarm might sound immediately.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:25 PM on April 10, 2007

I think what HotPatatta said was absolutely ridiculous.
Quote: "As she ages, her laziness/apathy/grossness will only become more pronounced and will manifest itself in different ways. Maybe she'll stop brushing her teeth, taking prescription medication, maintaining a healthy weight, washing her clothes, shaving her pits, clipping her toe nails, brushing her hair, and God knows what else."

This does, however, bring me to the point I wanted to bring up — do you really believe that she will just keep having fewer and fewer showers.... forever? Really?
Isn't it more likely that she's just going through a slump?

Look, from the mouth of someone who has been through a similar situation — and come out the other side (taking more "showers" than ever, to stay true to the analogy) — you really need to let this go. She KNOWS how you feel about it, and that is just making it worse for her. Obviously your distaste is not enough to get her to deal with whatever problem it is that she has. Why can't you just be patient and wait for the inevitable? It's not like she is some creepy anti-shower monster who was like that way from birth. She's going through something, and she obviously wishes you would just leave it be. She will recover from this; it is very likely that every time you make reference to it, whether verbally or non-verbally, you are prolonging her healing process by causing her to shut off.

And, a final question -> How do you know she doesn't shower? Don't you have a job or something? Are you around her 24 hours a day? It is pretty weird that she doesn't reek.

Please set up a throwaway account and e-mail one of us (my address is in my profile), because we need more information to be able to tell what the actual issue is here.
posted by mjao at 11:43 PM on April 10, 2007

"I mean, 'let's take a shower together' has always seemed a bit more like 'You must have sex with me now; also, you're dirty' to me. Which isn't always a bad thing, but it's just very... demanding, I guess. Which may not be the way the OP should actually play this."

The key phrase in that is to me. Lots of folks don't inevitably sexualize bathing together. Lots of couples bath together for the same reason they eat together. It can also be more efficient.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:52 AM on April 11, 2007

As I see it, the problem is that when there's a conflict in a relationship that's clearly because of one person's behavior, that person is very likely to be sensitive about the issue, whether they're making an effort to change or not. These comments meant to incite a change in behavior which are cloaked as concern or praise do not, then, seem subtle; they seem calculated, and can be highly irritating. If the wife is fully aware of how the husband feels already, then as I see it any more comments from him on the issue are disrespectful, and beg disrespectful stubbornness in return.

The vagueness of the complaints in the OP, and the uncertainty as to whether it could be connected to their sex life reminds me of the old wife-upset-about-porn problem. In this case, as in that one, the dwelling and the comments don't help either of them. She'll make her own decisions, and if she cares about the relationship and doesn't need some sort of help, she'll make choices that are good for both of them. He just has to get out of her face about it.

As a woman of relatively the same age whose shower routine is an hour long, and who rarely breaks a sweat, I sympathize with her. I also think this sounds like a phase--there are a lot of reasons a person might stop taking care of themselves. But the OP has made himself clear already. If he has reason to believe that this might be brought on by a significant, relevant issue, then he should talk to her about that issue. Repetitively needling her about her personal care is just cruel.
posted by zebra3 at 8:57 AM on April 11, 2007

The key phrase in that is to me.

Well, yes, that's why I used it. Just as taking a shower every day isn't totally appealing to everyone, taking a shower with another person isn't totally appealing to everyone. The OP and his partner obviously already have different idea about the first; I didn't want him to unilaterally impose his views with regards to the second just beause a bunch of people were presenting it as a universally pleasant/simple/desirable.
posted by occhiblu at 10:29 AM on April 11, 2007

Any update from our Asker on this? :)
posted by smallerdemon at 2:59 PM on May 14, 2007

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