DEAR JANE: My close friend STINKS of B.O. – it’s so bad it makes me feel sick every time I see her

Dear Jane,

I have a very close friend who has a serious body odor issue that has become so severe it’s threatening to destroy our relationship.

I have been good friends with this person for years now – we’re both in our mid-20s and have known each other since our freshman year of high school. We went to different colleges, but always stayed in touch, and now we’re both living in Boston, where we see each other regularly.

But over the past few years, she’s started to get really, really bad B.O. 

Initially I just noticed it occasionally but for months now it’s been there literally every time I’ve seen her, and it seems like it’s getting worse. 

I know it sounds so petty to be bringing it up as such a big issue, but honestly the stench makes me want to gag every time I see her. When we go to restaurants it’s a struggle to eat because the smell is so vile.

Dear Jane, I have a very close friend who has a serious body odor issue that has become so severe it’s threatening to destroy our relationship

I can see other people around us making horrified faces and looking over to find the source of the stink – and it makes me feel so embarrassed that they might think it’s me.

I’ve tried every subtle way I can think of to encourage her to sort it out. I’ve given her perfume as gifts, I’ve recommended deodorants that I tell her I’ve tried and loved in the hopes that it will help, but she either ignores me or claims she’ll try them out and never does.

She told me recently that she’s struggling to make friends at her new job and I can’t help but think it’s because she stinks all the time. She’s been struggling with dating, too, and says that guys will take her out on a first date and then just ghost ‘for no reason’.

I don’t know how I can possibly bring this up without making her feel awful – but at this point, it feels just as cruel to ignore it? Surely she realizes that she smells terrible?


Kicking Up a Stink

Dear Kicking Up a Stink,

These things are so much easier to write than to actually deal with. I remember once having a friend who had terrible breath. I’d arm myself with mints and chewing gum to offer her, which she mostly refused, and like you, never had the guts to tell her.

International best-selling author Jane Green offers sage advice on readers' most burning issues in her Dear Jane agony aunt column

International best-selling author Jane Green offers sage advice on readers’ most burning issues in her Dear Jane agony aunt column

But we do owe it to those we love to tell them the truth when we see something that is negatively impacting their life. As her good friend, and now that she’s confided in you how much she is struggling to make new relationships, you have to tell her why you suspect it’s a problem.

Bad news, or difficult news, is always best delivered in what I call the sandwich. Start with something good, throw in the bad, end with something good. 

As in: ‘You are [an amazing person/supportive friend/fun/loyal/whatever other good qualities you think of], and yet you’re having such a hard time with dating. 

‘I have no idea if this is the reason why, but I’ve noticed over the past few years that you’ve been smelling different, and I’m wondering if this might be off-putting for people who don’t know you?’

‘Often, when people start to smell different or suddenly have body odor, there is something going on. It could be diet or an underlying medical condition, but I’m worried about you, and you need to get it checked out with the doctor. 

‘You’re so [insert positive qualities again] if this is the reason people aren’t following up on friendships or dates, it’s probably a really easy fix.’

Good luck, and remember that we can say even the hardest things if we say it kindly – ‘Say what you mean, mean what you say, don’t say it mean.’

Dear Jane,

My wife and I have had a solid relationship with each other for the past 24 years and we have three great kids — a son who is 19, another son who is 17, and a daughter who is now 15. 

My wife has always been a bit closer to the oldest son than the other two for some reason. I love all three equally and give attention to all of them the best I can. 

This lopsided attention issue escalated about two years ago when my middle son came out as gay. I was delighted and supportive of him to live his true life, but since then I have come to find that my wife’s acceptance was very superficial whereas mine was authentic.

In the two years since coming out my son has been bullied at school and has had a tough time adjusting to his sexuality, and navigating life and relationships like any 17-year-old does.

But my wife ignores speaking to me about him, rarely has conversations with him, and has doubled down on giving extra attention to my oldest who is at university. Although she does not argue with him or me, it concerns me that she devotes so much attention and care to just the oldest one who is not even with us.

Every time I speak about this, she denies it, but it never escalates further. My 17-year-old is very perceptive. He has asked me many times why she ignores him and whether or not she stopped loving him because he is gay.

I cover for her and say that she is like me and that she loves all her children equally, however, my son is old enough to realize that his father is not totally honest, and it’s obvious that I care way more for him and what is going through than she does. 

Dear Jane’s Sunday Service

So often relationships break down because we are not able to be honest. 

We let the small things slide, thinking we can let it go, thinking we can overlook it, thinking we can sweep it under the rug, but that withholding means the pile under the rug eventually gets so big, we end the relationship because our resentment has grown, and we decide we have had enough. 

Far better to address the issues when they arise, to talk them through, to figure out how to do things differently Those are the bricks on which every solid and long-lasting relationship is built.

Should I just be honest with my son and tell him that I can no longer speak for her, and should I escalate this issue further with my wife or will she start ignoring me too? I cannot imagine this dynamic being the new normal forever.


Authentic Love Is Love

Dear Authentic Love Is Love,

Good lord, this is hard for you. 

How understandable it is that you are trying to protect your son from his mother’s disinterest or disapproval – it’s hard to know quite how she feels as she doesn’t seem to have told you, and it is vital that you get to the bottom of it with her. 

You say that when you try and speak to her about it, she denies it, so perhaps, instead of confronting her with what you have noticed, ask her how she feels about each of her children. Keep asking questions until you get the answers you need, and the truth. 

It’s only when she is honest about how she feels and what her son being gay brings up in her, that you’re going to be able to address it.

As for your son, you need to stop covering up for your wife and validate what he already knows to be true about his mother. 

Explain to him that you don’t understand it either – although hopefully soon you will – and you have no idea why she favors the eldest, but it likely has nothing to do with him being gay, and more to do with the unique bond that mothers often have with firstborn sons. 

That said, it’s important that he knows that you are working with her to try and understand what’s going on, that your son isn’t imagining it, and that he has your unconditional love and support, and together you will try and get to the bottom of it.

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