I’ve never been much of a perfume wearer, but recently I found a scent that I really love. My mom complimented me on it, asked what it was, and immediately went out and bought it for herself. I’m fine with copying in a lot of areas, but perfume feels so personal. I usually put a bit on to help me feel sexy for my husband — so it’s weird to smell the same as my mom, especially since she is at our house almost daily nannying my daughter. Is there any way to ask her to stop wearing it without sounding totally petty? I don’t want to make her feel bad.
Anonymous / Denver
If anyone knows our petty sides, it’s our moms! You should be able to say something like, “This is embarrassing, but that’s my frisky-times perfume. Do you mind not wearing it to the house?” She may also be embarrassed in the moment, but it will be a funny story you can look back on later.
You should be able to say that. But if it were that easy to use your words, you probably wouldn’t be writing to me, would you? The top note of your letter is all about the perfume, but that evaporates quickly and the deeper notes are coming through. What’s this business about “copying in other areas”? How else does your mother mimic you? That’s not a feature of a healthy relationship. People influence and model themselves after each other in all kinds of ways. But if copying feels like the appropriate word for her behavior, then the behavior itself isn’t appropriate.
I could be wrong! I’ve never met you or your mother. But maybe reality-check your relationship with some folks who do know and love you. What does your husband think? Other family members whom you trust? Longtime friends? You can ask yourself some questions, too, starting with to what extent you want to have the same kind of relationship with your daughter that your mother has with you, and why? You can check out some online support communities where people discuss family dynamics (Reddit has quite a few) and see if other people’s stories sound like yours. If everything is in fact copacetic, use some version of the above.
If it’s not, you’ve got some reflection to do and choices to make — but in the meantime, see if you can literally throw your mother off the scent. You can’t use your words with a cat, either, but you can use a laser pointer to redirect them wherever you want them to go. Get a few samples of other scents and rotate them. You’re a perfume aficionado now — you’ve seen the light and smelled the lilacs. Then choose a new favorite smell from among those, wear it for a week, and hype it to your mother. I bet you anything she’ll buy it — both the ruse and the perfume.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.