Q: My wife died in a car accident and, after four years of trying to get over it, I have recently met someone I am interested in dating. However, she wears the exact same perfume as my wife. I know she really likes it because she’s mentioned it by calling it her “signature fragrance.” I really like this woman and don’t want to put her off, but I can’t handle this perfume. Would it be rude to ask her not to wear it anymore?
A: Just about everything can be rude if said incorrectly. Saying “That dress looks great on you” will get a far better reception than, “That dress doesn’t make you look as fat as the one you wore yesterday.” Most everything is how and when you say it – “tact and timing” is an essential component to good ex-etiquette.
That said, I’m not surprised you are having trouble with this memory/scent association. Studies have shown that smell memory is long and resilient, and that the earliest odor associations we make often stick with us for a lifetime. Other studies show the potential for using the smell/memory association for treating things like dementia, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. So the confusion associated with your late wife’s memory and your new girlfriend’s perfume is completely understandable.
Ex-etiquette Rule No. 8 is to be honest and straightforward in all your endeavors – but there’s also that “tact and timing” aspect to consider.
Rarely do women like to be compared to one another, so telling her that her signature fragrance is the same one your wife wore is likely to make her uncomfortable, especially if she’s having trouble with your devotion to your deceased wife’s memory. In your case, however, you may not have to say a word.
If you want to be a rock star, simply go to your local department store and take a few minutes to smell some of the perfumes offered. You really want to be a hero, take her with you and actually spend some time together in the process. Really consider what attracts you to your friend and why you think the particular perfume is “her.” Tell her: “This reminds me of you because…” Now you are creating a new memory – for both of you.
Each time she wears the perfume she’ll think of what you said, how you actually spent time looking for a fragrance, and she might eventually look forward to wearing the new scent.
I’m not an advocate of keeping secrets, so somewhere down the road it may be appropriate to mention all this, especially if she doesn’t cooperate with your more subtle efforts. Try this approach first. A little time, effort, and tact may be all that’s needed for now – and then maybe you two can laugh about it down the road.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.