A Nose For Lust

By Henry Alford
link to original article

Circa Now column 9/6/2015
COPYRIGHT New York Times 2015


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Artwork by Juliette Borda
In a room full of strangers, who are you drawn to? I enjoy rueful laughter, and thus, in any given setting, will gravitate toward a man who looks like Jeff Goldblum or a woman with a throaty Sambuca rasp.

Excerpted by Athena Institute (Emphasis added)

But it's hard to pinpoint why strangers are ever drawn to us: Maybe you look like one of their parents, or maybe you seem unthreatening, or maybe you just inadvertently pulverized their contact lens. Since 1986, though, when scientists discovered human pheromones, chemical compounds that social animals like pigs, goldfish and moths excrete, thus whipping into a lathered frenzy those in their environs, some people have maintained that human attraction is largely olfactory.

So when a friend told me that Winnifred Cutler, one of the aforementioned scientists from 1986, has been running ads in The New York Review of Books to sell pheromones that "increase affection" from the opposite sex, I decided to test them.

I have no interest in consorting sexually with women; I've been with my boyfriend, Greg, for 12 years, thank you. But whose life couldn't stand a little extra platonic throbbing? Perhaps, I thought, I'll be able to answer the age-old question: What do women want? (Besides, of course, death to the word "mompreneur.")

I called the phone number listed in the ad; Dr. Cutler answered. I ordered from her, for $99.50, a vial of pheromones (one-sixth of an ounce) to be added to alcohol-based aftershave or cologne. I told Dr. Cutler: "I'm sort of an affection pig. For me the ideal cologne would be a tiny burst of applause." Dr. Cutler told me, "You sound like an actor."

She asked if I have a mustache and I said no. "Good," she said. "The sweet spot for men during testing was the mustache area above the lips."

Many of the pheromone-related tests over the years sound like an after-hours "Candid Camera," none more so than one 2003 experiment in which underarm secretions from men were placed on the upper lips of women, who reported feeling less tense than when they smelled a placebo. (If that's what women want, forget it.)

A few days later, I received a tiny vial of colorless alcohol-smelling liquid in the mail. I poured it into three ounces of verbena eau de toilette*********************

Greg and I were about to head off on vacation. So, on Day 1 of my pheromonal dousing, we were seated outdoors at the cafe of Jacob's Pillow, the dance venue in the Berkshires, when three women in their 70s asked if I would watch their bags while they went to get food.

This was my first "hit," and I was determined not to allow its dank allegiance to free labor ruin its essential sweetness; I heartily said yes. Seven minutes later, two of the women returned, explaining that the third, who I'll call Gina, was getting a free drink from the male bartender. I thought: "Interesting. I could learn from her."

When Gina returned, glass of wine in hand, I enthused, "Free drink! Tell us your secret!" Whereupon she modestly mumbled, "I was nice."

One of Gina's friends said, "She's about to have knee surgery." I semi-gasped and asked Gina, "Did you drop the knee-surgery card with the bartender?" Gina chuckled and reiterated, "I was nice."

Fifteen minutes later, I handed Greg's and my tickets for Daniil Simkin's "Intensio" to an enthusiastic female Jacob's Pillow usher in her 50s. When she cheerily asked me, "How are you this evening?," I responded, "I'm great. I'm wearing a human pheromone that is meant to make me more attractive to the opposite sex."

Her eyes widened and she asked, "Is it working?" I looked at the floor and said, "You're supposed to tell me." She smiled and scanned one of our tickets with her handheld scanner and handed it back. But the other one wouldn't scan; after several attempts, she returned it to me, saying, "It must be a female ticket."

After such vivid proof of my powers of desire (bag watching and gadget disrupting, with no underarm secretions required), the rest of that first week seemed fairly tame.

But the following weekend, while at my brother's house in southern Connecticut, I had a 15-minute t?te-?-t?te about young adult literature with a family friend's 14-year-old daughter, Maria. The next morning, the family friend told me, "Maria thought you were handsome." I felt Bieberrific, dewy.

Back in New York, I had a more difficult time assessing whether others were being ensnared by my musky gift.

Yes, the saleswoman at Purl, the yarn store in SoHo, remembered me from another visit and asked me to describe again my needlepoint project "because I remember that it's something really awesome." And yes, the waitress at Le Pain Quotidien was all gentle reassurance when I asked to sit at the communal table but worried that I might be pheromonally "over-fragranced." But it's these women's job to accommodate thusly, no?

I more firmly believed the heat I generated with the comedian and radio host Ophira Eisenberg. On Day 18 we were both guests on Tablet magazine's podcast, "Unorthodox." During the taping, the pregnant Ms. Eisenberg told a funny story about how a male stranger had kissed her swollen belly. Ms. Eisenberg was so bewildered by the man that she told him "I'm not pregnant."

After the taping, while walking to our subway stops, Ms. Eisenberg, whom I was meeting for the first time and whom I'd not told about the pheromones, initiated a cheek kiss goodbye. Ensnarement City.

On Day 24 of dousing, while I was checking my email before crossing the street one afternoon, a bohemian-looking woman of a certain age, dressed all in black and carrying a cane, asked if I needed directions. We fell into conversation.

When I told her about the pheromones, she laughed. I asked her what had drawn her to me. She said, "I'm a teacher. I like to help people. You looked like you needed help." We laughed and gossiped and carried on. Saying that her name was Minerva Durham and that she was the proprietor of the nearby Spring Studio, where life-drawing classes are given, she offered, "Why don't I take you there and we'll see if we can cause a ruckus?"

In the cluttered basement studio, Ms. Durham and I watched nine students, five of them women, sketch a nude male model. Ms. Durham whispered to me, "No takers yet. You may need another application."

Six minutes later, the artists having all skittered off, Ms. Durham apologized, "I'm sorry we didn't have any swoopers." I said, "No. But I met you." We already have plans for a coffee date.

Something worked for me, but I'm not sure whether it was the pheromones or the glee I took in wearing them. To my mind, only three of my interactions are parsable: Intuition tells me that 14-year-old Maria liked that I asked her what she was reading, and that Ms. Eisenberg liked that I praised her pregnancy story. My only known known is that Ms. Durham responded to my helplessness.

Thus, my pheromonal research suggests that any individual who is looking to elicit increased affection from women should 1) ask them what they're reading 2) offer a compliment and 3) spill a bowl of soup on him or herself. Enjoy.


To read Henry Alford's entire story, Click here


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