Poppy Turner | Contributing Writer | Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Smells To Avoid When You're Going Through A Breakup

The Debrief: From condoms, to old salad, when you've been dumped expect nostalgic odours to hit you from all angles

Crying, ice cream and throwing stuffed toys out of the window are all part and parcel of a breakup. But, weirdly, so is your nose. 

Time Out recently revealed the top five ‘most welcoming smells, an oh-so British list which seems to be totally food based – pasta and pesto, a fried breakfast and a roast dinner are all up there as the smells that make us feel most at home. Smell is a sense which is notoriously evocative; the bits of your brain which are responsible for emotion and memory are cosied up to the olfactory bulb (the bit that processes smell). 

Of course you know the post-break-up memory pang you get when that song comes on the radio. Smells do it, too – like when you walk past someone’s fragrant washing hanging on the line and suddenly you remember everything about your best-friend-when-you-were-six even though you haven’t thought about her for years. Or when the person standing next to you on the tube smells of Dove men’s deodorant and you find yourself daydreaming about the one night stand you had a few years ago with a mate (which definitely shouldn’t have happened, but was actually kind of great), until you realise that you’ve missed your stop. 

We’re all familiar with smells reminding us of people we care about (eg sobbing into the ex’s side of the bed because it still smells like him). When you’re with someone they somehow manage to always smell great – even when they’re super sweaty. In some cases, especially when they’re sweaty. A guy I know told me about a girl he was seeing once who used to sniff him like she was drinking in his scent – which he of course found incredibly creepy. Maybe it’s something to do with the hormones? 

Neuroscientists believe that the biological make up of our brain could be part of the reason smells are such powerful memory triggers. ‘Smell is unique among the senses in that it enters directly deep into the brain,’ Brain specialist Tom Stafford recently told the BBC. ‘If we look at the major pathways travelled by the other senses, such as hearing and vision, they start at the sense organs – that is, the eyes or the ears – and move to a relay station called the thalamus, before passing on to the rest of the brain.’ Dating organisations such as Pheromone Parties have thinking T-shirt sniffing is all the rage when it comes to blind dating these days – but maybe it’s just that Lynx really have found the exact formula for getting into our pants. 

Whatever it is, make sure you’re prepped for the curveball odours that are going to really get you in your broken, sad, heart when you least expect it. Because knowledge is power.  

Old salad

You can imagine my surprise when I opened a bag of salad from my parents’ fridge (having been warned by my mum that it’d been there a while) and found that it smelt exactly like my first boyfriend, who I was completely in love with between the ages of 16 and 18. It wasn’t a smell I’d have imagined associating with him, or one that I’d have thought would bring up faintly pleasant memories… it was, however, in some ways comforting to have my decision to terminate our relationship reaffirmed, as nobody really wants a boyfriend who smells like a peppery mix of rocket, baby red leaf, mizuna and spinach, six days past its use-by date.


The smell of condoms is a classic one; anything slightly rubbery combined with stale alcohol and, oh the horror, those memories you’d successfully repressed until now of the guy who kept his trousers on and his eyes closed and spilled beer on your bra before awkwardly making his exit come flooding back. 

Aftershave (or deodorant – see above)

Aftershave seems to be the universally acknowledged smell certain to send you into a reverie. Whether it’s aftershave, deodorant, perfume or shampoo, you’re bound to run into someone who’s the spit of your ex at some point – straight out of a bottle. Even the smell of your own perfume (and/or bodily fluids, as a quick search on reddit will testify) can have the same effect – reminding you of the feelings you had while wearing it…

Bad breath

When you wake up next to someone in the morning, the chances are that they won’t be smelling too wonderful (unless they’ve made the silent dash to the bathroom to clean their teeth before you woke up), but when you fancy someone like mad, you didn’t even really mind. Now, however, when it's your boss and she’s yelling at you for screwing up a presentation, it’s not so cute. And you should probably stop remembering relationships gone by and focus on what your boss is saying because the only thing worse than bad breath is having no job. 


We’re all familiar with those hazy summer relationships that are wonderful when festival season is in full flow and you’ve got no responsibilities, but which just don’t have what it takes when September comes round and reality bites. But back in the office, all it takes is a waft of summer breeze drifts past your nostrils from a cracked open window and you’re transported back to that grass-stained, mud-caked, rose-tinted summer fling. And snogging. So much snogging. 

Ineffable Boy Smell

The indescribable smell of boy varies of course, but sometimes if you catch the scent on the air it’s the most powerful memory-jogger of all the smells. On a reddit thread, which attempts to capture what truly constitutes a ‘manly smell’, redditor heteroflexible007  suggests crushing up cedar leaves and juniper berries and smearing it on your neck, whilst dmizz gets straight to it and suggests rubbing up on a lavender bush. And anyone who had a boyfriend in their teenage years will be familiar with the slightly sweet sweaty musk of teenage boys. As a friend so eloquently put it, ‘A fruity combination of socks, jizz and old spice.’ Fit. 

Like this? You might also be interested in...

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Getting Ready When Your Ex Is At The Party

This Jilted Boyfriend Is Selling His Holiday With His Ex On Ebay

Follow Poppy on Twitter: @poppyjaneturner

Tags: Relationships, Ex-odus