Dear Prudence

Help! I’m Really Disturbed by How My Boyfriend Changed After I Moved In.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

Woman covering her nose, sitting next to a man with graphics of smell lines and flies coming from his body.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images via kiattisakch/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Nikiteev_Konstantin/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been dating a wonderful man for two years. He is the first person in my life who has made me feel loved and accepted unconditionally, at my best and worst, which is why I think the issue I have with him feels hard.

His hygiene stinks. It wasn’t an issue when we met: His routine is to shower and change his clothes before he leaves the house to do anything, so I never noticed this before we lived together. I moved in with him four months ago and since then, I’ve noticed his hygiene habits have been thrown out the door. I think he maybe showers once a week, doesn’t wash off after we have sex, and only changes his clothes when I ask him for his dirty clothes to do laundry. I also caught him not washing his hands after pooping … we cook together every night! I can’t stomach eating his food now knowing he has dirty hands. He smells dirty, like, not even typical B.O. but dirty. Sometimes I can’t stand getting close enough to his face to kiss him because his face smudges my glasses, his stubble scratches my face, and he just … smells.

I love him so much and don’t want to bruise his ego or make him feel bad. Our relationship is otherwise great, and we have a good track record of working through difficult issues with love and respect, so I don’t know why this one is so hard for me to bring up. Should I? Or am I being ridiculous? If I do bring it up, do you have a script for how I can talk about this without it being embarrassing for him?

— Dirty Lover

Dear Lover,

Wow. I was overwhelmed and admittedly more than a little grossed out by the behavior described in your letter, so I asked Slate readers for help responding to it.

Several people felt strongly that your boyfriend’s struggles with hygiene could be the result of depression or a symptom of neurodiversity. I’m not so sure, because I’m confident that if the issues with showering and handwashing were part of a package of other behavior changes, you would have mentioned that. But maybe not! So that’s worth considering if it feels like it could be the explanation here. And if that’s the case, you’d obviously want to see if he’s willing to seek treatment for the underlying issue.

Depression or neurodivergence/sensory issues come to mind. Assuming it’s laziness or a willful choice to be disgusting is unkind. But it’s possible to be kind and still set *necessary* expectations/boundaries for basic hygiene and food safety. Dude should also do his own laundry. — @aankphd

He doesn’t need a script he needs a Social Story. You’re with a person on the Spectrum. But he’ll respond to the right input, good luck!(to both of you) — @chilltd2018

Letter writer doesn’t say anything to suggest it’s the case, but seems possible this lack of meeting one’s basic needs could be sign of depression. — @mtellock

I don’t have a script, but I do wonder about mental health, and whether something might be going on for him that might have him struggling with/neglecting hygiene. Not that she should just accept it, but might be worth exploring and addressing, if relevant? — @jm_leahy

Another set of people who responded simply couldn’t see “great relationship” as compatible with a situation in which your partner doesn’t have enough regard for you to care about the foul smells you have to deal with, nor protect you from his poop germs.

Insisting on basic hygiene is plenty fair and measured. My only advice would be “break up with him” — @antoniathegreat

This is easy. Tell her to leave him. Now! — @ijbailey

Are you allowed to say “leave him?” Because that’s what I’d say! — @CiCiAdams_

I believe that her tolerance is the problem. His lack of hygiene is a sign of disrespect, for her and himself. Love is kind and being kind means telling hard truths. OTOH, does he lack the maturity to say he doesn’t want to live together? Is he trying to force her hand? — @jacqueyoung

Just no. — @debofficially

I’m sorry, but wonderful and refusing to bathe in water are mutually exclusive. Unless you are a chinchilla. In which case, carry on with your wonderful dust baths — @SorayaMcDonald

I think that’s worth reflecting on—for many, the behaviors you’re describing would be deal breakers. But you obviously love him and want this to work. That is going to require saying something direct to him, and doing that will almost definitely mean putting aside your concern for his embarrassment. He hasn’t been cautious or delicate when it comes to your experience living with him, so you shouldn’t have to be cautious and delicate when it comes to addressing what you need from him. Think of how comfortable he feels deciding not to change his clothes every day—that’s the kind of comfort you should bring to telling him exactly how this makes you feel.

The pandemic has hit us in different ways, and this might be one of the ways for him, especially since a lot of us aren’t going anywhere these days. That being said, there’s no way other than honestly here. Just be straightforward and say you’ve noticed some hygiene issues You can sound sympathetic etc. but at the end of the day, he needs to hear the straightforward truth and how it makes it more difficult for you to share a space with him. — @jannatesq

Not pertinent to the issue specifically, but the LW should definitely let themselves off the hook for trying to find a way to discuss it without embarrassing him. Embarrassment and discomfort for both are probably inevitable, so focus on kindness, compassion, and patience. — @akmcquade

If you can’t talk to him honestly about his body odor, you won’t be able to talk to him about the much more important stuff that comes up later on. — @Tomandlorenzo

“I love you and want to be close to you, but I don’t like the way you smell when you haven’t bathed in a while, and I worry that your hands aren’t clean when we cook. I’m asking you to bathe every X days and wash your hands before/after X activity. What do you think about that?” — @jennlworley

You’re twisting yourself into a pretzel to spare his ego when the best way to resolve this is to simply say “Babe, you stink. You need to go take a shower.” He might be embarrassed, but I’m sure he’ll get over it. — @dwhite10701

If she’s worried about eating food contaminated with his poop dust, that’s next-level wtf. Family meeting: I love you, but can you please shower every day and wash your hands after laying cable? If no 👋🏼 ­— @Andy_Carstens

“You know how you used to shower before seeing me? I really appreciated that, it made me feel respected and valued. Now that you see me every day, I need you to take that care with your hygiene every day, so I can keep feeling respected and valued.” — @bessjay

There are no casual, inoffensive scripts for outrageous relationship issues. You should know that the vast majority of people who read about your dilemma were horrified. You have a right to feel the same way and to express it. And what you say doesn’t have to be all that different from the way you’ve presented the issue in your letter: “Here’s what’s happening. Here’s why it’s a problem. I care about you, so please fix it.” Good luck!

Classic Prudie

My boyfriend’s family lives about an hour from us, and he likes to make weekend visits every other month. They are kind, welcoming, generous people. Their house is … not clean. When we open the front door, we are greeted with a wave of the smell of urine. They have a lot of pets in a very small home and rarely clean up. The bathroom floor is covered in cat litter and excrement. One dog pees on the carpet fairly often, and the most I’ve seen anyone do is dab at it with a paper towel. Shelves, dressers, and picture frames have dust an inch thick. Dead bugs are stuck in cobwebs in corners. Is this just something I have to suck up and deal with? Or can I say something to my boyfriend?