Viewer Mail: Stalking by Smell

Hi Katie -- no pressing perfume questions for you -- rather, I'd like to share a story. A few years ago, two people mattered more to me than anyone: my best friend and my significant other. The friend was someone I intensely admired, jealously, almost to the point of obsession. And honestly, I think the only reason I kept the boyfriend for so long was that I knew that the friend was in love with him, and would hang out with me as long as he was there. An odd triangle -- me loving her, her loving him, him loving me.

Anyway, at one point she told me her favorite fragrance and I planned to buy it for her, but her mother got there first. I was wounded about that for a little while.

Eventually my relationship with the boy ended -- violently. He promptly moved in with her, got pets with her, blah blah pain pain. It was a huge obstacle in my life and it took me a year to start moving on.

But my superpower is remembering random little things people tell me about themselves, and I never forgot which perfume it was. Lately, the possibility of owning a sample of her favorite stuff, smelling what she loves to smell, loomed until I gave in. The descriptions online sounded good, if not really my cup of tea. The sample arrived in the mail today, and I applied it about thirty minutes ago.

Katie, I feel that a huge weight has just been lifted off my shoulders. This perfume smells immature, uninteresting, and like straight-up clear hand soap. Not soap-y, just soap. Like, if I washed my hands right now, they would smell just the same.

What a relief! I would feel a lot less happy right now had the perfume smelled incredible. I am trusting myself a little more and thinking maybe, if this scent accurately represents her, I never had reason to admire her so much in the first place -- and it's all thanks to my nose for letting me know.

I think I will keep this sample and use it very occasionally, on days when I have envy that needs fending off. For the record, the perfume is Burberry Summer for Women, the original rather than the 2009 version.

-- Laura

Laura -- what a sick story! It's got it all: obsession, a love triangle, emotional stalking -- all aided and abetted by fragrance. And the worst thing is how much I can relate. (And the other worst thing is that the perfume punch line was Burberry Summer for Women.)

I, too, have been diminished by jealousy. I, too, have been crumpled into a fetal ball after a beloved friend’s dismissal. I, too, have broken into an ex’s apartment and prominently re-displayed old pictures of us happy together, to freak out his new girlfriend. (Wait, you didn’t do that?)

I’m always fascinated by the power of scent to seduce, to manipulate, to repulse. People use perfume to enchant, but in your case, disenchantment was the desired effect.

Just be careful that your other superpower isn’t staying stuck in your attachment to the old drama. I'm happy to hear that smelling your ex-friend’s crappy old Burberry has broken the spell, but now you need to put that hair of the dog away and pour yourself a new perfume.

Sometimes, the thing you're stuck on isn't the person herself, but the emotions that swirled in the air when you were with her. Or the person you were when you were friends. But whatever you do, don’t start stalking the old you. The old you will never return the new you’s calls. Take it from me...the new me, that is.

P.S. Read this moving essay on the iron grip of a beloved's perfume in Invisible Magnet. (Oh Invisible Magnet -- where did you guys go?)


  1. Glad to hear of the happy ending in both stories - Armani Code is another spell-breaker for sure. : - )

  2. I bet that a bunch of us have stories like that. In my case, there was a young woman when I was in my teens who befriended a group of us. She seemed very glamourous, fashionably dressed, well made-up etc. A few of us were enthralled by her charms, as she rolled through our lives, stealing boyfriends, subtly pitting us against each other, etc. She wore Ciara, as did the rest of us, in our wide-eyed attempts to emulate her. She was hypnotic, or so we thought.

    Many years later, I could still smell Ciara if I thought about it, until.... I actually tried it. Had it been hideously reformulated? Suddenly, what seemed exotic, womanly and bold smelled thick and brash. Although I had long ago dealt with the memories of this woman's treachery, it was interesting to dismiss her scent as well.

  3. the story made me start thinking about past loves and heartache. the power of scent and love. pretty amazing.

  4. Love all your comments and stories! There are indeed many ways to be "led by the nose".

  5. Kudos to Laura for being brave enough to share that story and even bigger kudos for realizing that the hold this person had on her was as ethereal as the remembrance of her scent. I agree with Katie that she should find a new scent to represent her new-found maturity and toss the old one. It could be a symbolic end to that time in her life by getting rid of that perfume - do it!

  6. thanks everyone for the support, and for the similar stories! <3

    @scentofsmell i'm exploring widely at this point in my life and hopefully i will soon find a few happy signature fragrances of my own, and if so i'm sure they shall be superior to Burberry Summer.


  7. Dear Laura--

    I love this story. Mostly because I'm not involved.

    I am a sick puppy. The more I think someone dislikes me, the more I want to be that person's friend. Kind of.

    Anyway, everyone has feelings like this--jealousy, obsession, insecurity, etc. It's not just you. Whoever tries to pretend that he or she does not have bizarre-o thoughts or feelings is giving you a lot of smoke and mirrors. Either that or the person is wholly uninteresting, because life is not worth living without a tiny bit of subversion.

    Anyway, enjoy your freedom and rediscover people who will enrich your life, and whose lives will be made better for having known you.


  8. "enjoy your freedom and rediscover people who will enrich your life"

    Hear hear, Nora!