Wednesday, June 4 — Q: I've gone out several times with a girl I really like, but her breath bothers me enough that I don't want to kiss her until it improves. (It smells like pepper and socks.) She doesn't smoke, eat stinky foods, or have an odd diet (beyond not eating red meat), so I’m not sure where this is coming from. I think her feelings might be hurt if I were to say something. What’s the best approach?
—Holding My Breath
A: When you read a book about the horrible chemical weapons used in World War I, you shouldn’t think, “Hey, that reminds me of kissing my girlfriend.”
People will tell you that you can just give the girl a hinty-poo in the form of gum or a mint. And sure, Altoids can eliminate persistently bad breath — if the person who has it gets killed in an avalanche of them. But terrible breath that isn’t caused by something a person ate or eats regularly could point to dental problems — issues even “curiously strong mints” can’t fix, not even when combined with a really strong mouthwash, like Lysol Basin, Tub & Tile Cleaner.
There’s a common misconception — held even by many doctors and dentists — that serious bad breath originates in the stomach, notes the health care research-vetting group the Cochrane Collaboration. In fact, only 9 percent of the cases at an “oral malodor” clinic were caused by things such as gastric imbalances, diet, and sinus infections. But 86 percent of the cases originated orally — most caused by gross microscopic critters relaxing and playing poker on a person’s tongue.
Studies find that these microbe meetups can be shut down with tongue scraping, at least for a while, but you can’t just present this girl with a Tiffany’s box with a silver tongue scraper. (“Thinking of you…”) Sure, you may lose her if you say something, but if you don’t, you’ll almost definitely have to ditch her or have your sinuses filled with cement.
To break the news, start positive: “I find you totally hot and an amazing person, but I have to tell you: There’s a sort of ongoing issue with your breath, and I’ve read that this can point to dental issues or a need for tongue scraping.” Assuming she isn’t so mortified that she dumps you, this news is likely to send her to the dentist and/or to the drugstore for a tongue scraper. This, in turn, should get you longing to kiss her — a far more enjoyable act once you’re no longer dating a woman who maybe looks like Xena the warrior princess but tastes like Xena’s horse after it’s licked the break room refrigerator.
Q: My buddy was hit on by a girl he plays softball with, but he politely told her he is married, and they’ve since become friends. Recently, he set me up with her. She’s actually very cute and nice, but I can tell that she still likes my friend. I feel like a consolation prize. Is that just in my head? Should I let this girl go even though I like her?
A: People often give their romantic partners food-related nicknames. Maybe yours can be “my little half-eaten muffin that somebody handed the homeless guy.”
This woman knows in her rational mind that there’s a big wife-shaped roadblock between her and your friend. The problem is, when she initially turned getting him into a goal, she switched on the human motivational system, which is highly efficient in maintaining a craving but lacks an off switch for easily discontinuing one. As for where this leaves you, well, in game show terms, your friend’s the trip to Bermuda; you’re the set of steak knives.
When somebody you want still wants somebody else, the temptation is to chase after them and then tie them to a chair and pontificate on your greatness. That’s the most counterproductive thing you could do. This isn’t to say you have to give up on this girl. Just forgo hot pursuit for lukewarm pursuit. Instead of going whole hog, go one-eighth or one-sixteenth hog. In practical terms, make yourself occasionally available but generally somewhat scarce. She should have the sense that you’re also dating other women, and ideally, you are doing that. A month from now, if she’s still looking at your buddy the way a dog looks at a piece of bacon teetering on a counter ledge, it’s probably time to move on. When your future wife tells the grandkids, “I’ll always remember when I first saw your granddad,” the rest of that shouldn’t be, “Because I’ve still got the hots for the guy who fixed us up.”
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