Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend STINKS!”

I’ve been with the boyfriend for almost three years. We were engaged for a year, but called it off last summer because he couldn’t pick a date. I agreed because I was busy trying to get into a grad school. The problem now is that everything is starting to slip. We don’t really date anymore, he spends a lot of time on the computer or his video games, and his hygiene has been especially lax, too. He goes a couple days between showers, and I honestly can’t remember the last time he brushed his teeth! I hear myself making the same claims that other women make: when it’s good, it’s good! And 98 percent of the time, it’s good (minus the hygiene issue), but when we argue, it turns ugly and the broken engagement comes up from him. Is this a case of MOA? How do you break it to someone nicely that they stink? I’ve tried everything: buying body wash that I compliment him on when he uses; getting him a new toothbrush and giving compliments when he uses it. I’m so confused! — I’m With Stinky

Your question is very similar to one I answered last year from a woman whose boyfriend never brushed his teeth. Take the advice I gave her, multiply it twice (for the lack of showers, too) and apply it you. My advice was this: “It’s not like you’re not criticizing something he has no control over — like, say, a snaggle tooth or something — you’re telling him (I hope) that his breath is funky and he’s putting his health at risk when he skips regular brushing and flossing. For all that’s good and right in this world, don’t ease up on that message for fear of hurting his feelings. If anything, you need to be more clear and more focused is relaying the message. Stick post-it notes on his bathroom mirror reminding him to brush; buy him a snazzy new electric toothbrush, stick some floss in his jacket pockets; and finally, withhold physical intimacy from him until he shows you the respect of cleaning his mouth.”

Yes, I went there: don’t have sex with the guy if he’s not bathing or brushing his teeth! But don’t withhold sex just because he stinks; withhold it because you no longer feel intimacy with him. For the record, you are way beyond “breaking it to him nicely” that he stinks. Is he being nice to you when he skips showers? When he tries to kiss you with his foul breath? No. And you need to let him know that his terrible hygiene not only turns you off, but it has greatly damaged feelings of intimacy between you. In addition to better hygiene on his part, you need dates together. You need attention. You need to connect again. If you aren’t able to do that, not only should you put ideas of engagement on the back burner indefinitely, you should definitely seriously consider moving on already.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at [email protected].

28 comments… add one
  • Chicago-Dude

    Chicago_Dan February 8, 2011, 3:35 pm

    That boy needs JESUS!
    jk.

    Tell him he’s dirty and offer to take a shower (or showers with him). Trois fois merde.

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    baby.blanka February 8, 2011, 3:43 pm

    It’s sad but I feel lucky that I have a “clean” boyfriend… because I am around guys a lot and sometimes they really are stinky. That being said… I love the idea of showering together – show him where that soap is sexiest to you 😛

    I have found that with issues like this (not really hygiene, but my bf does like to cuddle after eating a bag of sunchips and smells like the bottom of a wet paper bag) I find gentle honesty to be the best way to go. If it doesn’t work, move to honesty… then brutal honesty. Good luck!

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    Painted_lady February 8, 2011, 4:15 pm

    Having had a boyfriend who couldn’t care less about hygiene, I am sooo thankful that mine always smells good.

    Just food for thought, though – it’s possible, maybe, that your boyfriend is in a depression. The lack of attention to personal hygiene, while totally irritating, may be a sign of something else going on, as are the increased fights. You didn’t say how your sex life was, but since everything else has gone into a slump, signs would point to that being the case as well. Don’t misunderstand, though; it doesn’t give him carte blanche for him to continue taking you for granted, it just means that he’s not doing it intentionally. He still needs to get his smelly ass to counseling or something.

    It may not be the case – the smelly ex was simply shedding the last vestiges of even trying to remotely impress me – but only you can know that. Give him the same ultimatums Wendy suggested no matter what, but perhaps, if depression is the cause, a bit more than irritation may be called for.

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    • Chicago-Dude

      Chicago_Dan February 8, 2011, 4:20 pm

      Good call; i agree it could be an indication of something else going on.
      Keyword here is: COULD.

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    • avatar

      spaceboy761 February 8, 2011, 4:28 pm

      I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

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    • avatar

      Andie February 8, 2011, 5:19 pm

      Speaking from personal experience, it can absolutely be a sign of depression.

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    • avatar

      cdj0815 February 9, 2011, 8:50 am

      Painted Lady, that’s exactly what I was thinking when I read this. Because it does not seem like from her letter “And 98 percent of the time, it’s good (minus the hygiene issue)” he was always like this. I would definitely suggest therapy.

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        cdj0815 February 9, 2011, 9:17 am

        Sorry, meant to say “he was not always like this”.

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    • LK7889

      LK7889 February 9, 2011, 2:18 pm

      This sounds like a new problem and I have to agree with Painted Lady. He sounds like he might have a problem with depression. Try to get him to get some help if you feel that might be the cause. However, as someone who has dealt with loved ones with mental illness my whole life, he is going to have to want help and there won’t be much you can do if he doesn’t. If he’s depressed and he refuses to get help, you need to think about yourself and your sanity and MOA.

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    • avatar

      Isabel February 9, 2011, 3:19 pm

      I was thinking exactly the same. Also, spending too much time playing videogames is something people use to escape reality. Not saying that all videogame lovers have issues, but speaking from personal experience, is something I used to do when having problems facing reality.

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    • avatar

      maru February 9, 2011, 4:29 pm

      agree 100%

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    spaceboy761 February 8, 2011, 4:22 pm

    I’m typically against the idea of using sex as relationship currency, but I think that withholding intimacy here is more about “Your BO and bad breath is a serious turn-off”. Honestly, if the romantic element of your relationship is long gone and he could reasonably choose a night of FF14 (that’s Final Fantasy XIV for all non-nerds) over sex with you, withholding intimacy might not get you very far. Sadly, I think the the hygiene issue is the LW’s second biggest problem right now.

    Alternatively, you could just ambush him with a comically large and soapy sponge. Although unlikely to solve the problem, it would provide great entertainment value.

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    • avatar

      spaceboy761 February 8, 2011, 5:10 pm

      In the guys defense, finally getting my Miqo’te alt up to level 30 would totally pwn.

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    Hawaiian sunshine February 8, 2011, 4:43 pm

    In terms of all hygiene and health, this is how I see it: how can a person help nurture their relationship and take care of their partner when necessary if they cannot even properly care for themselves? My husband and I both try to keep ourselves in tip top condition, not only to maintain our physical intimacy, and to maintain self confidence (which goes a long way for our sex life…who wants an insecure partner for a good roll in a haystack? Much more fun to feel confident and uninhibited), but also to maintain our health so that if the other’s health falters, we have the energy and strength to care for that spouse’s health.

    If someone is so lazy about taking care of himself, how confident are you in his ability to care for your relationship? I think it looks like a sign that he has given up and stopped caring. If he needs you to mother him to remind him to clean himself, and spends all his time playing games, he needs to step up on his maturity level. You are a smart gal, ya? And you acknowledge the importance of caring for yourself. Why not MOA and hold out for a more motivated guy with similar values? (Showering should not be a value, BTW, but a normal every day occurrence).

    If a guy is so lazy he can’t be bothered to bathe and clean his teeth, it makes me wonder where else he lacks basic motivation in life. Does he want to move forward in a relationship? Cause he doesn’t seem to be trying hard. Does he ever want to move forward in a career? Most employers won’t promote someone who is shabby and lazy. Just saying.

    I wouldn’t live with this guy, and would at the very least take a break from the relationship until he can act like a grown up and figure out how to care for himself. Unless he has been in a traumatic, physically debilitating accident, you should not have to practically be managing his hygiene schedule.

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    • avatar

      MissDre February 8, 2011, 5:18 pm

      Under most circumstances I’d agree with you. A girl should never have to compromise herself and/or lower her standards. But in this case, she’s been with the guy for 3 years, and she says in her letter that most (98%) of the time things are good. It’s really hard to just get up and walk away from 3 years of loving somebody and being happy with that person. 98% is a big number… she didn’t say 50-50 or that she’s just 60% happy… I don’t know what the answer is here, but I think it’s worth putting in a bit more time and effort to salvage things. I think it’s only fair to walk away when you can honestly say you’ve given it your very best shot.

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      • avatar

        Jess February 9, 2011, 2:24 am

        What about him giving it his best shot? It doesn’t sound like he is putting in any effort at all. Why should she put it MORE when he is not even willing to take the time for basic hygiene or take her out on a date. He is obviously NOT his “best self” around her, move on!

        When you’re the only one trying, its time to move on.

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    • avatar

      Jess February 9, 2011, 2:28 am

      EXACTLY! This is a lazy, sloppy person. I’m not sure why she would want to save a relationship with someone like this.

      You could try buying new bedding and just have a rule: you like to sleep in a clean bed, so he has to shower before bed if he wants to get in it. I agree with the posters who say the romance is probably so far gone by now that withholding sex isn’t going to work. He’s probably too lazy for sex too! But not letting him sleep in the bed might.

      But honestly, WHY would you want to save this relationship? It sounds like the reason that 98% of the time its good is because of you, not anything special he is doing, so I bet your next relationship will be great too. But this time with a motivated, energetic and responsible man.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom February 8, 2011, 5:33 pm

    Maybe he’s depressed or maybe he’s just waiting for you to break off the engagement. Maybe he just doesn’t care whether he’s attractive to you and he might even try to be unattractive if he doesn’t want to have sex with you. He may not know how to break up and so is pushing you to do it.

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      princesspetticoat February 9, 2011, 12:35 pm

      I agree. It seems to me that there is more going on here than a lack of hygiene. It seems significant that the lack of hygiene came after the broken engagement and I think the broken engagement is the significant issue here. First of all… they broke off the engagement because they couldn’t pick a date?! What? That makes no sense to me. I can understand them being busy and deciding to wait to set a date… but to completely break off the engagement seems really weird.

      It seems like there are some deeper issues in the relationship and the lack of hygiene is either depression related to that or, as you said, an attempt to break up altogether.

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  • avatar

    MiraGeauxRound February 8, 2011, 5:56 pm

    Maybe the people I know are just weird, but I know females who don’t force a male to wear a condom once they become exclusive so maybe she might want to withhold intimacy from him because she doesn’t want a dirty sausage. I could be way off here, but it’s just something that popped into my mind.

    Also, I dated a guy who wouldn’t brush his teeth and his teeth and breath were awful. However, he was one of the sweetest guys I’d ever met. The problem I experienced was that I could never bring myself to kiss him and we dated for a while, but I could never bring myself to tell him how bad I thought his oral hygiene was. Hopefully you can bring it up to him. One thing I’ve learned is that men don’t pick up one subtle hints, you actually have to tell them. But listen to the others that say proceded with caution because he may be going through some changes emotionally.

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    • bittergaymark

      bitter gay mark February 9, 2011, 5:03 am

      That’s an incredibly foolish thing, that no condom thing. Seriously. Ladies! Take better care of yourselves!! Especially if you live in a big city. I can’t tell you how many married guys are trolling the websites looking for a little dude a la carte! Twice in the past month, I’ve fallen in lust with guys out and about only to learn in about fifteen minutes of conversation that they “needed to be discreet!” Um, okay, dude. Maybe next time don’t try to pick me up at the Bistro in IKEA. 😉

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      • avatar

        MiraGeauxRound February 10, 2011, 12:03 pm

        BGM,

        My thoughts exactly. I’m not sure why they think that exclusiveness in a relationship means it’s ok to use no condom, but they think it’s ok. But beyond that, I agree that they should ake better care for themselves, and even more have better respect for themselves. I’ve tried to be the voice of reason but sound like another mother, so after years I’ve just stopped trying.

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  • bittergaymark

    bitter gay mark February 9, 2011, 4:59 am

    Yikes…. Um, get out now. Yeah, I would seriously head for the hills… I dunno, is he genuinely depressed? If so, help him with that. If he is NOT depressed, then for the love of Pete stop wasting your time here. I mean who wants to spend their ENTIRE life with somebody who smells? This sounds cold and heartless, I suppose, but it’s also practical. Very much so.

    Moreover, it’s beyond DISRESPECTFUL to you. I mean, he knows this offends you and yet he does it again and again. It’s not like you are being even remotely unreasonable… Like say you had severe OCD and demanded two or three showers a day… But no. Instead you appear to be demanding only that your man simply live and take care of himself as damn near EVERY sane person does. And then he expects to kiss you with that mouth?! Gag. Barf. Vomit. Seriously, RUN, LW, RUN!!!!

    On a more serious note — it seems to me almost as if he is TRYING to drive you away. I just couldn’t abide such behavior. And you shouldn’t either… Trust me, it will only get worse if you stay with him… I mean if the bloom is off the rose now when he ought to still be wooing you…imagine how few and far between showers will be once he has you more permanently tied down…

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  • avatar

    mick February 9, 2011, 5:35 am

    I agree with Wendy and others about the general health issues, and that he seems to be using them as a weapon against you, which is totally crap. You should not be putting up with that at all, but especially not from someone who can’t be bothered to really commit to your relationship – I’m talking about the cancelled engagement.

    My question is, do you really think he was that committed in the first place? Why couldn’t you two agree a date? If people are truly in love, waiting for a time that suits both isn’t an issue – and it’s certainly not enough to call it all off. I think he’s playing games and you should get out asap.

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie February 9, 2011, 8:58 am

    Long ago I was this guy which is the probably the reason I didn’t have a girl friend. My behavior changed when I got a part time job as a bartender. Nothing like a hit in the wallet to get my attention. Even then it was years before daily showering was my norm. If you decide to stay with him your in for an extended role of mothering him. Hope he’s worth it.

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  • avatar

    evanscr05 February 9, 2011, 11:16 am

    I say this as a person who has also been with my guy for three years: Why are you not at a point in your relationship where you can just bluntly say “Dude, you’re nasty. Take a fucking shower”?? I brought up this situation with my fiance last night and neither of us can understand how, after this long, you’re not able to vocalize with him what you need. I told him if he ever stopped showering, I’d call him out on, and he said he would do the same to me. Clearly you should MOA, as your relationship does not seem to have reached a maturity level after three years where you can be open and honest with your partner.

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    neuroticbeagle February 9, 2011, 1:51 pm

    My immediate thought was that this guy is depressed because it seems like his whole attitude changed, not just his showering habits (I’m assuming you didn’t spend three years with a stinky man only to now try and correct the problem). I think you need to help him find a therapist to get to the bottom of this.

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  • avatar

    blackbird February 9, 2011, 5:38 pm

    I agree with neurotic beagle. It sounds like he’s really depressed. Maybe the next big talk with him shouldn’t start with “I think you should shower more” but “how have you been feeling lately?”

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