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Smell Like a Woman

A certain gentleman in my circle gave me Chanel No. 5 for my birthday a few months ago. For the record, I had never before owned Chanel No. 5. I had never before even smelled Chanel No. 5. It’s just out of my league; one of those perfumes I always figured I had no business wearing.

Anyway, it’s not about the perfume. That’s not what I’m stuck on. Rather the note this gentleman had written on the accompanying card. “Time to smell like a woman,” it said.

Time to smell like a woman.

It’s an age I’m not crazy about, so maybe you can read in these words a sweet and comforting message of encouragement about embracing my status as mature woman. But that’s not how I read it at the time. I, in fact, became rather internally panicked about what, exactly, I’d been smelling like up to that point. An adolescent? And what does that even smell like? Exclamation? Sunflower? The vanilla fragrance from Anthropologie I’ve been wearing for years?

The gift made me wax pensive over maturity, and over what life looks like before and after that point. This particular gentleman is the epitome of mature, in that he’s older, owns a sizable and expertly-furnished home, and fills it with art and sculptures and pictures from his world travels. Whereas the last time we were at my house (a small one-bedroom beach cottage with furnishings from IKEA), I had to scrounge through cupboards just to find a glass out of which to offer him a beverage. Do you see the difference? Do you see why his gift made me panic? Because now I’m convinced my whole life wreaks to him of adolescence. Except, isn’t this more minimalist-style life I live equally valid? Aren’t I still a legit adult woman even without the Chanel?

When I moved to Manhattan a few years ago, I downsized to probably only 10% of what I owned. I did this because I had to fit my large Midwestern home’s worth of goods into a 350 square foot studio apartment. And I’m not saying it wasn’t hard—seeing your costly possessions strewn about your yard and driveway being purchased for pennies can be depressing, as can realizing that you no longer really “own” anything even as a mature adult woman—but what I am saying is that I liked being so minimal. I liked only having what I needed. I liked the ease with which I could clean and pack. I liked knowing if I needed or wanted to up and move again, which, incidentally, I did a short time later, it would be a cinch. I liked being so transportable. I liked defying the Laws of Suburbia which state that possessions are what make us happy and determine our level of success.

Now that I’m in a (slightly) bigger home—one that actually has a bedroom—I’ve re-acquired some things, but for the most part I’m still pretty minimal. And it works for me. Now, would I be more attractive to this gentleman if I had stemware, artwork, and a bed and dresser I hadn’t assembled myself? I guarantee it. But if I’ve learned anything from his gift, it’s that being a woman doesn’t have to look—or smell—a certain way. Of course, I’ve also learned that Chanel No. 5 is divine, so let’s just call that a bonus.

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