Love Stinks

by Steve Carter, Ph.D.

Love Stinks

The sense of smell is one of our earliest evolved traits. Conceptually, you can think of smell as being one step up the ladder from pain. Like our sense of pain, our sense of smell evolved to help us avoid danger, only from a slightly greater distance (i.e., if pain tells you that fire hurts, smell tells you that something is on fire!) Although humans have a far less sensitive sense of smell than most other mammals, few changes have occurred in the olfactory sense in the past 500 million years. So, most “smells” are processed at powerful and unconscious level. When your brain receives a message from your nose, it takes it very, very seriously.

One of the ways that smell powerfully affects your life that you may not be really aware of is through your sense of taste. Now, most everyone has experienced a dulling of their sense of taste when they are suffering from nasal congestion. When you have a cold, food just doesn’t taste that good. However, you may be surprised to learn that the human tongue can only distinguish among seven to eight distinct types of taste. Seriously. Your sense of smell interacts with your tongue’s sense of taste to create what you perceive of as the “flavors” of food and drink.

Don’t believe me? Try this experiment at home with a friend: Peel and cut-up a red apple and a white potato into ½ inch cubes and place the pieces in separate bowls. Now make your friend close their eyes, pinch their nose shut, and start feeding them cubes of potato or apple at random and asking them to identify which is which. For extra fun, don’t give them anything to drink. If they can consistently identify what they are eating, and whistle at the same time, they are truly talented (and a really good sport).

So, what does this have to do with love? Well, everything. For starters, it tells us that the way to a man’s heart isn’t through his stomach it’s through his nose (which is a much more evocative image, really). Secondly, it tells us that the way we smell may also be perceived of as the way we taste, which in certain cultures might be strongly related to survival as well as romance.

Now, let’s assume that we want to maximize our romantic olfactory impact. What should we do? Overall, the best advice seems to be to minimize your use of artificial scents or thick make-up, and use unscented deodorant. This is important.

Research has shown that estrogen-like compounds affect sexually responsive parts of a man’s hypothalamus, but not those of a woman. Conversely, testosterone-like substances stimulate sexually responsive parts of a woman’s hypothalamus, but not those of a man. And where do these estrogen and testosterone-like substances come from? Your armpits, of course! Yes, the specialized apocrine scent glands in your armpits are going to woo the hypothalamus of your future true love. So lay off the Old Spice or, whatever you women use. You may not like the way you smell, but you’re not really supposed to. On the other hand, men, don’t skimp on bathing. Women have a sense of smell that is roughly 3 times stronger than that of men.

Finally, men, if you want to really stack the deck, drive a new car.

Michael Stoddart in The Scented Ape: The Biology and Culture of Human Odour has noted that the molecular ingredients of that “new car smell” caused by all the new leather, rubber, plastic and vinyl are analogs of natural human sexual steroids. Vinyl in particular contains the chemical compound ethylene, which resembles the male steroid testosterone.  

Unfortunately, most people are dead wrong in the prediction they make in the early phases of a relationship; dead wrong when it comes to determining whether a relationship will be a good one or not in the long term. I want to suggest to you that many times you make a negative evaluation about the long-term match between you and another person when indeed, if you got involved with this person, you would discover that you would have a great relationship with them.

The fact is that Hollywood has so encouraged us to place our emphasis on external things that when you don’t find what you’re looking for in the other person’s facial features, or their height, or their body type, you simply go right on by. If indeed there are 1,500, it is possible that you are passing up a person with whom you could have 1,490 factors in common. You’re predicting that everything is going to be negative because these superficial factors are negative.

That’s why we say to you that Hollywood has engaged in a great hoax. If you take part in that hoax, you’ll likely end up with a candidate pool so small that you will eventually give up the task of trying to find the right person. I want to help you develop a way of meeting people that will allow you to get beyond the first six or eight factors in order to get to know people at a deeper level, so that you will possibly meet that diamond in the rough with whom you can have a fabulous relationship down the line.

First of all, I would like for you to take ten empty 8.5×11 sheets of paper, and on the top of each of these sheets, I want you to write a word. These ten words come from my book Finding the Love of Your Life. On the top of the first sheet I want you to write the word “Personality.” On the top of the second sheet, “Intelligence.” On the top of the third sheet, “Appearance.” On the top of the fourth sheet, “Ambition.” On the top of the fifth sheet, “Chemistry.” On the top of the sixth sheet, “Spirituality.” On the top of the seventh sheet, “Character.” On the top of the eighth sheet, “Creativity.” The ninth sheet, “Parenting.” The tenth sheet, “Authenticity.”

Now what I want you to write under each of these words is everything you can think of about the person you’d like to spend the rest of your life that has to do with this word that you’ve placed at the top of the sheet. For instance, under the word Personality, would you like your mate to be quiet and somewhat shy, or talkative and gregarious? Which of those attract you? Would you prefer your person to be intense and logical, or kind of laid-back and easygoing? Would you like her, or him, to be funny or serious? Would you like the person to be strong and independent, or someone who leaves the decision making totally up to you? Do you prefer that the person be soft or tough? I want you to write down everything you can think of that relates to personality.

When you get done with these ten sheets, I want you to go back and read over all these things that you’ve written on each of the ten sheets, and I want you to list the ten most important things that you’ve written down on each of the sheets. Finally, I want you to go through the ten sheets and find, out of all the sheets, the ten most critical things that you are looking for in a potential mate. I bet you’re going to find that a number of these ten things are simply not available to you to assess when you’re just meeting a person for the first time. The possibility is that many of these ten things turn out to be from the inside of the person. They have to do with the person’s character, his or her spirituality. When you just see a person and you pass them day by day, you won’t know whether they have these things or not unless you get to know them. Reprogramming your brain. Reestablishing the importance of internal factors.

By following the above exercise you can make sure that you don’t become a part of the Hollywood hoax that would encourage you to look for superficial, external criteria and eliminate all persons who do not fall within these categories. This new perspective will allow you to maximize the time you spend with your eHarmony matches and get in touch with the traits that are likely to make you genuinely happy for the rest of your life.

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