Don't bother trying to smell nice for your next date – the hottest LA trend has made its way to the UK: pheromone parties. Rebecca Holman spends three nights getting smelly in the same T-shirt
I was going to start this piece by listing all the strange things in my quest for love (sex). Then I realised that my commitment to meeting my one true love is pretty fleeting at the best of times. I got bored of Tinder after a couple of weeks, I’ve never spent more than four consecutive weeks in a row on a dating website, and I’ve never been speed dating or to a singles night.
So, it was with more than a drop of trepidation that I agreed to try out Pheromone Dating – the ‘latest’ dating trend to come out of LA (I say ‘latest’, what I mean is the strangest right this second. I was going to jokingly suggest someone will introduce blood type dating next, and then I Googled it and realised that’s already a thing).
Anyway, pheromone dating works on the concept that we can literally sniff out a potential partner by getting a whiff of their pheromones (best not to wear deodorant or perfume) – and if you’re attracted to their smell then you’re off to a good start – dating experts believe that a good pheromone match plays a big part in what makes couples attracted to each other. It’s science, innit?
So, you arrive at the event with a cotton T-shirt you’ve worn for three nights in a row, sealed in a zip lock bag, and your bag is assigned a number and added to the pile – the red numbered bags are women’s T-shirts, blue numbers are for guys.
Then you get sniffing. Literally, that is it. You smell all the T-shirts and if one takes your olfactory fancy, you have your picture taken holding the bag – and number – up. The pictures are then projected onto a big screen, so you can see who’s got the hot for your pheromones.
I could now explain the science behind it at this point, but really you want to know what happens when a group of grown men and women get a bit pissed and start sniffing T-shirts don’t you?
I was pretty up for this idea at first, because I’ve been complimented on my perfume more than once (as in, almost twice) – apparently I smell nice/ not terrible. Also, if you’re basing it on sheer science, then the usual things that let me down – annoying personality quirks, unwashed hair, won’t matter. But then I remembered that I’m quite a sweaty sleeper (sorry), so there was still a fair amount of potential for me to be the smelly girl in the room.
Nonetheless I wore my T-shirt for three nights, as requested, and resisted the urge to cheat by spraying my T-shirts with extra deodorant or perfume on the final morning. This, I later discovered was my first mistake.
As well as a smelly T-shirt, I was also asked to bring a guy along as there were fewer men than women signed up to the event – was the pheromone dating night in fact my entire life in microcosm?
So, I signed up my single friend Rob, who dutifully also did the cotton T-shirt trick, and off we went. I was expecting maybe 20 men and 20 women. How many people are you really going to get to come along to what’s essentially an evening in a gym changing room, but with cocktails?
Obviously I was wrong – there must have been 150 people at the event, which was held at Stories bar in Broadway Market, everyone clutching a ziplog bag full of sweaty pheromones. Rob and I were assigned numbers, added our bags to the (weird) pile of dirty T-shirts in the corner, and went straight to the bar, as is our want.
I relaxed slightly when I realised there was absolutely no forced participation involved. Forced fun is my kryptonite, and nothing makes me run off screaming into the night like being made to talk to a total stranger. As it happens, it was perfectly acceptable (if a little redundant) to hang out at the bar without sniffing anything, or having your photo taken. I tried this for about 30 minutes, necking white wine and gazing anxiously at the big screen on the wall out of one eye, waiting to see if my number came up. Nothing.
And while I was contemplating my own smelliness, Rob’s number popped up several times in quick succession. As he was performing a self-congratulatory high five with himself, I glanced over to the table zip-log bags and I’m pretty sure I saw a guy pick up my T-shirt, smell it, grimace and hand it to his mate – like a weird version of that smell my belly button game, but involving my nightclothes and self-esteem.
I was tempted to stomp off into the night at this point – I found the whole thing a bit forced and stressful – but Rob was revelling in his new role as an olfactory stud, and it seemed a bit churlish to leave without giving the whole thing a proper go. So I got sniffing. There were a couple of absolute stinkers, of course, but plenty smelt of washing powder, or nothing, and it took me a while to find one that stood out. Finally I found a T-shirt that smelt really fantastic – part deodorant, part washing powder, and party body smell. But in a good way. So I took the plunge and had my photo taken with my new prize. Taking care to obscure as much of my face as possible, naturally.
Deed done, I skulked off back to the bar, and got talking to a girl who had come along on her own, simply because she lives nearby ‘and what’s the point in living in London if you don’t do these things?’ I certainly admired her chutzpah, it wasn’t the sort of thing I’d have wanted to stick around at without a wingman. People were mingling and talking, but these are the sort of hyper-confident people who believe they’ll be able to pull on sheer smell alone. I’m not one of those people.
As I loitered near the T-shirts (they were next to the bar), I heard a couple of girls telling people to avoid certain numbered bags, as they were the real stinkers. Wait a minute, were people being … pheromone shamed? Yes, yes they were. And similarly a couple of other women there had become suspicious when they noticed that one girl’s number was coming up loads, so they smelt her T-shirt and discovered that she’d almost certainly sprayed it with perfume before the event. They were scandalised, I wished I’d had the foresight to do the same thing.
The point of pheromone dating, I presume, is to cut out an element of the superficiality – there’s no way of judging someone on their looks until you know if you like their smell. But instead, we’d all found new ways to judge each other, and introduce competition to the proceedings. Maybe it’s because how you smell is so hyper-personal that it left people feeling vulnerable. And what do you do when you feel vulnerable? You become defensive – whether that’s by judging other people more vehemently that you’re being judged yourself, or by finding reasons and excuses to explain why they’ve succeeded when you’ve failed.
But once the smelling part of the night was over (I had my picture taken with my ‘picks’ twice, I got picked once – I can live with that – although I didn't speak to him, he looked odd, tbh) and everyone started to relax into it, and I had a great time. Although I had a little bit too much of a great time; I got hammered, frankly, and ended up giving the photographer my number.
Regardless, the genius element of a singles event isn’t the gimmick that ostensibly gets you there (although it does go someway to ensuring the right ‘type’ of people are there for you – quirky? Intellectual? Sporty?).
It’s the fact that you’re in a room full of other single people, you’re all there because, broadly speaking, you’re looking for some sort of relationship and, if the organisers have done their job properly, there should be a fairly even ratio of men to women. And, as any single woman living in London will know, that’s worth its weight in gold.