Sensitive sniffer feels excluded from invite



December 6, 2019 - 4:17 PM

Dear Carolyn: I recently had cancer surgery with a number of complications, including severe asthma. It is triggered by, among other things, the slightest exposure to fragrances.

Months ago, my beloved partner of nine years and I scheduled a multiday visit with his brother and sister-in-law, at their invitation. They are very well-off and have a grand house in a beach community. Sister-in-law has been communicating often about how excited she is to have us as guests. We have stayed with them in the past, every three years for a brothers’ reunion.

A few days ago, I recalled her flair for decorating includes bowls of potpourri, plug-in air fresheners, candles and a permanent holiday tree laden with scented ornaments. I contacted her and said I understood this might be perceived as a lot of drama, but I must avoid triggers that cause my airways to shut down.

Sis-in-law responded that we would be better off at a nearby hotel, so I can have a fragrance-free environment. In other words, she is not willing to remove her scented products while we are visiting, so I am now essentially disinvited. She did phrase it very nicely — with the exception of one slightly snarky comment about how it must be really hard for me to go anywhere these days.

My partner and I concluded that it makes the visit pointless. I would be stuck in a hotel room costing hundreds of dollars, unable to attend gatherings in their house with everyone else.

My partner told his brother we couldn’t visit, and to get a sub for the three-day sporting event they were supposed to play in together. Brother really worked on my partner to make the trip, so he felt compelled to go, and off he went.

I am trying mightily to not feel slighted, without success. If the situation were reversed, I would certainly temporarily remove scented products.

How might I best view all this? There’s another get-together there this summer. — Feeling Excluded


Feeling Excluded: But .?.?. it really must be hard for you to go anywhere these days.

I say that snark-free. It’s an observation made in sympathy for how terribly limiting this can be.

That was my first thought while reading your letter.

And maybe I misread her intent, but my next thought was, your sister-in-law gave a pragmatic response to an impractical request. “Temporarily” removing scented products from a home heavily layered with them won’t create anything close to a “fragrance-free environment.” Remove every peel, fluff and pfft from the place and it’ll still stink for weeks.

You’ve conflated inclusion — which is realistic and deserved — with scent-purging, which is unrealistic.

Maybe if you say reality disinvited you, not your sister-in-law, that will help you not feel slighted.

Meanwhile, this is your partner’s family — his going solo was both unfortunate and appropriate.

But that also means you and he need to start brainstorming now, with another event always on the way: Different host? Same host, with gatherings off-site or outdoors? A resort? If you can get past taking personally what is meant logistically, then you’ll think and negotiate better.

It’s also okay to tell your partner this is for the brothers to figure out while you focus on getting well.