Talk Dirty To Me

An Ask E. Jean Classic

Dear E. Jean:

My husband is a slob! I've been married for three years and everything was fine until a few months ago. When I met him, he was a clean guy, taking showers every day, pampering himself, smelling good. Now he refuses to shower or brush his teeth, and when he does, it's every two or three weeks! I've tried everything: talking calmly, being humorous about it, attempting to understand why it's happening. I even offered him bubble baths with me, and finally, yesterday, I screamed at him.

Needless to say, the whole situation has become a love killer. Our sex life is practically nonexistent. My husband tells me I have the problem. He says if I'm so unhappy about my life, I should go back to Europe (I am French) where I belong! What do I do? --Something Is Rotten In Denver

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Denver, My Musk Melon:

Hate to slap you in the face with a dirty washcloth, my darling; but this is a thing.

It’s possible your husband — like Jake, Brad, Ashton, Charlize, Britney, Mila, etc., etc. — has stopped showering because he’s studied up on immunology and decided that humans are better off just washing their hands and their “bits”(i.e. armpits, pubis, feet), and leaving the other parts the hell alone.

Many people believe showers, baths, soaking, soaping, scrubbing, sponging, etc., strip away the nice oils and the trillions of little buggers living on human skin. And what’s the largest organ in the immune system? Your hide. And what shields against allergens, autoimmune disorders and disease? Right.

So perhaps your husband is following the latest science, and/or has read James Hamblin’s book, Clean: The New Science of Skin. Hamblin is a former staff writer at the Atlantic, an M.D., and, though looking like a naughty wood elf, is a lecturer in public health policy at the Yale School of Public Health. He must not smell too ripe because this young woman married him despite his not having showered since 2017.

This concludes the portion of advice in which everyone thinks I’m insane.

Let us proceed, Ms. Denver:

If your husband is not even washing his bits then, yes, he’s in serious damn trouble. And I don't mean because he has so much film on his teeth he could open a Cineplex. That's not great, of course, but it’s not incapacitating. I mean, here is a fellow who refuses to make love with a bona fide French woman! If that's not straight out of a mental-health crisis encyclopedia, I will eat Sigmund’s cigar.

So, what should you do? You must first try to distinguish between the man you love and his troubles. Think back to when "everything was fine" a few months ago. What happened? Was there some kind of catastrophe? Was he laid off? Was he passed over for a promotion? Was he in an accident? Did he lose someone close to him? Did you have an affair? And more recently: Are his friendships intact? Is he drinking? Gambling? Drugging? Not sleeping? Not eating? Overeating? Is he violent? Suspicious? Sad? The reason for "the situation" could be any of a thousand things, but my guess (judging from your letter) is that he's depressed and/or is enduring a physical complication (a heart condition, high blood pressure, Lyme disease, various kinds of impotency; etc.). You must get him to a medical doctor—though I suspect it’d be easier to tie him to the shower rod with your Hermes scarves and turn on the water.

But try this: 

Plan A: Take him out for dinner and tell him you're not going back to France, you're not unhappy about your life, but, indeed, you are very worried about him because . . . and tactfully describe to him the changes you've noticed. Tell him you’re in this together, and that the difficulty —whatever it is—can be overcome. Be ready with the names of two or three doctors so he can make a choice. If he says, "You have the problem," agree with him, and suggest you both go see a professional. If he's very, very depressed, he won't react to much of anything you say. On the other hand, he may seize you by the shoulders, search your face ecstatically, and whisper: "Where's the tube of Crest?"

Be prepared for anything.

Plan B: If he won't see a doctor after a couple of attempts at Plan A, ask someone he respects to speak to him. 

Plan C: If he still won't budge, follow the great Tom Robbins' advice in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues: "Take a bubble bath for your heart." See a counselor yourself, cheri. You'll need insight on how to best proceed.

Let me know how you’re doing, Ms. Denver, and meanwhile, I’ll be cudgeling what’s left of my brain thinking about dirty men. So far, just off the top of my head, I’d say there are degrees of dirt.

Let’s take, Oh, for example, three GOP Governors:

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There’s Dirty Tate Reeves

Title: Governor of Mississippi

Why He Stinks: He says masks indoors are “foolish.”

The Filthy Results: 18,000 students catch Covid in one month; eight pregnant women are dead; stillbirths have doubled; and 72 fetuses have died in the wombs of unvaccinated women in Mississippi.

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There’s Very Dirty Ron DeSantis

Title: Governor of Florida

Why He Stinks: He enacted no-mask mandates in Florida schools (his ruling was reinstated by the court September 10th).

The Filthy Results: At least 13 Miami-Dade school workers died Of COVID in less than a month.

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And Then There’s Fetid-Cesspool Dirty Greg Abbott

Title: Governor of Texas

Why He Stinks: 1. He vowed to punish any school district that defied his ban on mask mandates. 2. He signed a horrendous voting restrictions bill into law. 3. He strangled Roe v. Wade, and ended women’s rights over their own bodies in his state.

The Filthy Results:As Liam Nissan said on Twitter: The only thing left with reproductive rights in Texas is the Coronavirus.

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But If Anyone on Earth Knows How to Handle Dirty Men, It’s the Conflab — Dirty Old Men, Dirty Young Men, Dirty Little Boys of All Ages . . .

The Conflab is where we hash over the questions sent to Ask E. Jean—and where our boisterous community regularly rescues mankind. Today we’re solving the problem of Ms. Denver, whose husband refuses to take a shower. (I must confess that I’m sympathetic. I loathe and despise the maintenance required to rub shoulders with my friends and neighbors.)

But let’s not be coy: How often do you do it?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Conflabbians! I know you will give Ms. Denver your most majestic advice; but do tell about the dirty deed: Are you a showerer?A bather? A bird-bather (splasher of armpits, pubis and feet)? Do you vote Scottish (starting hot, ending cold)? Turkish (steaming with friends)? Or forgo the tub altogether and run through the sprinkler? How many Conflabbers have spent the night in a sweat lodge or discarded their clothes and performed a “smoke bath” like the Himba? I’m guessing very few of us have felt the sting of Billy O’Reilly’s fatal “falafel” in the shower.

So. That brings us to the even more intriguing question: Where do your bathing attitudes come from? Your Ma? Your Pa? Roxane Gay thinks running around unwashed is a white person thing. And it drives her nuts. But as a hot bath is also famous for helping humans get to sleep, perhaps right now you are ignoring Roxane and me, and heating your towels.

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Photo of Janet Leigh in Psycho, Bettman, Getty Images; photo of Jake, Stephania D’Alessandro, Getty Images; photo of Brad, Steve Granitz, Getty Images; Photo of Ashton, Christopher Polk, Getty Images; photo of Governor Reeves, Rogelio V. Solis, Getty Images; photo of Governor DeSantis, Sopa Images, Getty Images; photo of Governor Abbott, Martinique Monroe, Getty Images; photo of Joshua Matz, E. Jean, and Robbie Kaplan walking into Federal Court: Jefferson Siegle for The New York Times.