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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Addiction Or Love Affair – Why We Can’t Get Enough Of Perfume

There was a time when I did not care for perfume.

As inconceivable as this seems to me now, whether I remembered to apply a spritz or two of whatever happened to grace my vanity at the time, or not, was not a matter of concern.

I always had a bottle or two in my possession since it was like getting dressed or brushing my hair, just a gesture that was necessary to make myself presentable to the world. If I forgot, well, it would have been worse had I forgotten to put on trousers, wouldn’t it?

Then, sometime – I bet you all have a story of how it happened for you – I saw things differently. All of a sudden perfume took on a new meaning, a new importance and a new, almost magical pull.

My sense of smell awakened, smells all around got a new and vastly enlarged priority in my conscious mind. It was as if I had grown a new nose over night.

Perfume became a way of living. It started to seep into everything, permeate my life with its wonderful sillage.

What am I wearing today? Why am I wearing it? How does that make me feel? When can I try this new perfume? When can I buy a bottle of this old classic?

Do I need this? Should I save up for that? Do I start a collection of vintage perfumes as long as I have the chance? Do I get a decant or a full bottle? Do I need a backup of this beloved limited edition?

As time progresses, the questions get more and more complicated. More and more details have to be considered. As our collections grow along with our tastes and experiences, perfume rules a part of our lives.

We spend significant amounts of time researching it, we spend time testing and experiencing it in stores and we spend time trying to imagine it. We seek out opinions of others, we talk about it, we connect with other like minded individuals about it - we have a hobby.

Do we?

Or is what we experience an addiction?

Of course it can be. But not necessarily so.

The hallmark of addiction is the abuse of something (or someone) to fill an emptiness that is otherwise unbearable. In most cases this addiction is detrimental to the person having it. The abused substance can be bad for you in itself, like drugs and alcohol or it can be turned into something bad, like food or shopping.

All addictions have the loss of a correct idea of the right measure in common. The urge to fill the emptiness is stronger than any other, healthier impulse.

This is a serious disease, a severe disturbance affecting the whole personality.

There are certainly instances where this passion we all share can get out of hand.

When it is abused for something else. When we use buying and acquiring more and more of the beloved item, to fill the emptiness, when we lose control and spend more than we can afford and still not stop, when we prioritize it above all else, even something as beautiful as perfume can become a drug of sorts.

So why am I writing this?

I have been asked several times by a lot of people whether such a passionate affection for what is essentially just a thing, is normal. Whether it is healthy to feel delighted or frustrated, happy or sad all because of perfume. Whether it is normal to spend so much time and effort on it. Whether it is normal to take such satisfaction out of an inanimate object.

Everything is a question of the degree, the extent of involvement as well as the intended purpose, to what end the “substance” is used or abused.

We all have a deep connection to perfume as a way of self-expression. We use perfumes, we appreciate them, we do not abuse them generally. Of course there can be exceptions; every lust can turn into a must, but only on the ground of an underlying problem.

I do not believe perfume is ever the first problem. Addiction is always an attempt to self-medicate, to regulate what is perceived as wrong or missing. Even perfume can be instrumentalized for that effort, but to collect and wear more than twenty, fifty or five hundred perfumes is certainly not in and of itself a sign of addiction.

It is okay to be passionate about something. It enriches our lives, it helps us in all kinds of situations, it helps us deal with life’s vagaries, it enriches our sensual perceptions, it broadens our horizons, it makes us appreciate art and artisanal craftsmanship, it delights, saddens, angers, empowers, calms, brings us down or lifts us up.

Perfume is a mood altering device at worst and at best.

Let us use it as such and be happy we have found it.

Image Credit,



Blogger Ines said...

I use it and I'm very happy that I can.
All I can say is that I agree with you, I don't feel addicted (much) - I couldn't live without it though. It thrills me to discover new scents out there (not only of the perfume kind).
Btw, you had me laughing with your new nose over night. I can't remember what happened, I just remember at one time ordering sample packs from TPC and the rest is history. :) And a very fragrant present!

6:23 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do, and have always, enjoyed my sense of smell. However, yes, perfume did turn into a full blown addiction for me and it still can if I'm not careful.

7:26 AM EDT  
Anonymous Olfacta said...

Very interesting post that will elicit many comments, I'm sure!

I've gone through phases where the perfume passion felt like addiction -- mostly in the beginning, much like a new love, when I just couldn't get my hands on enough, waited for the postman and UPS, etc.

Since the I've come up with one Rule: If I'm going into debt to buy perfume, it's time to stop. I haven't, but made a couple of vintage buys that made me uncomfortable for awhile.

The good part of being part of a community like this one is that you learn all sorts of alternative ways to buy fragrance that are much more efficient and much less expensive than the perfume counter.

9:34 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a question that I regularly ask myself; I think, given the passion and enthusiasm within our community, it would be easy to fall prey to the darker side--- the "keeping up with the Jones' impulse added atop what is already a very primal sense (scent, and pleasure from it) could create a powerful impulse (don't I know it!), but I think Olfacta makes a valid point: if you're not actually going into debt to satisfy your desire for perfume you're probably doing okay!

A while back I remember reading on one of the NST polls, a commenter was feeling guilty for racking up her credit cards that quarter. In my opinion, that's probably an impulse gone too far!

This is a great topic! Thankfully perfume-land has it's own real psycho-therapist :)

1:19 PM EDT  
Anonymous Fragrance said...

Very nice post. Perfume is a mood altering device at worst and at best.Beauty sentence :)

3:04 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the thrill of finding something new is something I love too. TPC is a wonderland that is indeed hard to resist...:)

3:07 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry you got to know the dark side of your passion. Good for you that you seem to have a handle on it!

3:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Alice said...

I feel compelled to post, as one thing you mentioned really bothered me...more than one person asked you if it was 'normal' to spend the time and effort and to derive the pleasure you do from your hobby. Underneath this question is (in my mind) a criticism. Who is this person to criticize you for enjoying your hobby? Underneath this question is also a belittling of our hobby. Who is this person to trivialize our hobby, something we are passionate about? Something that enriches our lives in ways we may not even fully realize?

My husband also has a hobby. He has played a certain game (fantasy baseball) for 26 years. The same players generally play every year. If one drops out, a new player is recruited to take his place. Each player pays an entry fee at the beginning of the competition each year. These fees are disbursed to the winners at the end of the competition as prize money. All of the players are very competitive. For several months before the game starts, my husband uses every spare minute he has studying, reading and preparing for the game; he subscribes to a couple of 'pay to view' websites, buys books and software for information to help him get an edge over the other players (who probably prepare in much the same way). There has developed an entire industry dedicated to this game (hobby), to help the players become more competitive and also to keep track of how the players are doing in relation to each other during the course of the game. The game lasts for about 6 months. While the game is on, it takes some investment of time every day; some days a few minutes; some days upt to an hour. The game requires travel at least once a year at the beginning of the competition, and sometimes at the end, to disburse the prizes and discuss the upcoming year's competition. All in all, he invests considerable time, money and effort in pursuit of excelling in his hobby.

I feel certain that the people who asked you if the time, effort, money you invest in your hobby is 'normal' would likewise question my husband's devotion to his hobby. I wonder if they would belittle someone who invests in the stock market as a hobby, or someone who raises and races horses as a hobby? What about people who enjoy surfing, sailing or basketball? Are these activities/hobbies more worthy of time, effort or money invested?

My husband has met people from all over the country and made some very close friends through his hobby. He also has begun to write (something I have been trying to get him to do for years) giving advice to other players. His hobby is part of who he is. It helps round him out. It has enriched his life in many ways, thereby enriching the lives of all of us closest to him.

It would not be normal for me to be as invested in his hobby as he is, but it is NOT MY HOBBY. It would not be normal for my husband to be as invested in our hobby as we are, but it is NOT HIS HOBBY. I don't belittle coin collectors, or bird watchers, or downhill ski buffs about their hobbies. Why should anyone belittle us or our hobby?

Sorry I got on a rant, but I do feel better now!

3:13 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the point you make about the community is a very good one. The community provides not only financially helpful possibilities but also friendships that can act as a regulating force. Thank you for your comment! :)

3:13 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

going into debt over perfume is definitely taking it too far, although I understand (and have felt) the impulses leading there, but the healthy reaction is to delay the satisfaction until it complies with realities like affordability. But you are so right the impulse can be incredibly powerful with scent being so closely connected to our emotions.

3:21 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you! :)

3:22 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I am glad you feel better now! :)
I was asked this question by different people not with the intention of belittling me (or themselves in that case since most are Perfumistas as well), but to enquire into my and their own behaviour, since they wanted to get an answer from a psychological point of view. (I do this for a living, when I am not busy smelling perfume. ;))
Other than that I absolutely agree with your take, loving perfume is a hobby like any other and does no more deserve any ridicule or belittling than anything else. Your husbands hobby sounds intriguing and I think it is great to have something to be passionate about, to live for, to invest time and your heart in and deriving energy and pure joy from.

3:41 PM EDT  
Blogger Alice said...

I think a nerve was hit, so to speak, when I read your post. I recently felt my new hobby was being dismissed as something not really worth my time by someone I know.

4:15 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alice, I totally understand that feeling, I know the derision too from some people, some even very close to me. But as long as it makes you happy, it is great. And we are all here to share the joy with you. :)

4:19 PM EDT  
Blogger Carrie Meredith said...

I think when I first became a full-fledged, fully-bloomed "perfumista" (I still have a bit of trouble with labels like that), I was fairly out of control by my own standards. It was an all-consuming lust. Now that some time has passed and the honeymoon is over, I'm more pragmatic about my testing and collecting, but am no less attracted to it. I've grown up a bit, I guess. I'm happy to still take risks and push myself outside of my comfort zone, because that's when I truly learn.

11:57 PM EDT  
Blogger a.k.a. Warum said...

Thank you, this is a wonderful post and discussion. I think Alice had a wonderful point to add: a hobby enriches the lives of the ones closest to us. I think it did enrich my life and my husband's.

Do you think an addicted person can be calm and happy _all_the_time? I mean, most of the time. I don't expect anyone to be happy when something bad happens. But most of the time, and doing regular stuff, not only on the highs of buying a new perfume, if one is happy, one probably is not addicted. Does that makes sense to you all?

12:34 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

all consuming lust - when we are in the grips of something it is both wonderful and a bit frightening. But as you say, it usually comes and goes. :)

2:54 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your comment made me happy!
No, I don't think you are addicted, addiction means first and foremost unhappiness. So lovely to hear how your hobby makes you a more balanced and simply happy person. I would love to be around you. :)

2:57 AM EDT  
Blogger Undina said...

I'm constantly asking myself where is the line between a hobby and an addiction/obsession. Are we really alright if we can stay within some budget limits (of course, with occasional extras in the form of "birthday money/suggested XMas gifts/etc")? Is it OK to buy a $300 bottle of A Really Great Perfume if it doesn't break a bank? Sure. Is it fine to spend the same amount of money on 10 unbelievable bargains on Ebay - not that you need all of those 10 right now but tomorrow there might not be such a great price? Well, maybe... What about 50 new samples when you already have X bottles of The Best Perfumes in the World (TBPW) and XXX samples of potentially TBPW tested just once (if any)? I do not know.
And it was just a relatively simple matter of money and bottles/vials counting. What about time? How much time spent on writing and/or reading perfume-related sites/blogs/books are still within a "hobby" category? Again, I do not know. But I'm trying to monitor my behavior and keep it under my control. I'm trying.

4:04 AM EDT  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

If anyone is still reading...I stopped asking myself what is normal when I was a teen. Still, and from time to time, I have to stop and ask myself if my behavior is healthy, a more beneficial question in my personal realm.

Perfume seems to me a vast world, awaiting discovery. It excites me to open a bottle for the first time--especially vintage.

Collecting and enjoying perfume is a passion--okay, call it a hobby--which I have to keep in perspective along with other facets of life. I don't judge other people who: participate in stunt kite competitions or fantasy baseball, create model railroads, collect Hummels, or Morris dance (okay, that one is a little weird. :-D). As long as my hobby doesn't take over my finances or jeopardize my personal relationships, I'm fine with it.

9:09 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

our passion or hobby, however we call it is certainly not rational. When you put it like you do and count the facts, it seems excessive or irrational. But that would be true for every other hobby too. My husband is known for his experimental cooking that is not necessarily resulting in edible creations, but he loves doing it, whether it makes sense to others or not. Same with trying the twentyfifth amber perfume, not rational, but still fun. But no addiction either. :)

2:41 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Queen Cupcake,
I share your opinion. To aks what is healthy is certainly a better question than to inquire after normalcy. :)

2:43 PM EDT  
Anonymous maggiecat said...

My husband plays golf. I'm glad he has something to enjoy, evenif it is expensive. And I have something I enjoy, and enjoy sharing, something that makes the world a more beautiful place. I know what addiction is - I've lost loved ones to it - but I also know the difference between that and a healthy passion - a difference your post explained perfectly.

8:26 PM EDT  
Blogger taffynfontana said...

Loved your writing, it rang very true to me and my experience with scent.

10:22 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear you had to personally experience what addiction means, with your loved ones.
It is the antithesis of the happiness we experience through our hobbies that fulfill us.

4:06 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you, I am glad you feel the same.

4:07 AM EDT  
Anonymous Zazie said...

I am joining late to the party...
But as someone who has invested time and money into her perfume-hobby, I often wonder if and how far this hobby has gone.
Like bird watching, coin collection or any other kind of hobby, it starts to become *scary* well before you get into debt to pursue you little passion.
So I don't think it's fine just as long as you don't spend more than you're allowed. It's fine as long as you're not obsessed.

What makes wonder is the time, efforts, feelings and money the/my perfume hobby takes away from discovering new things (new passions maybe?)... I think our hobbies and passions enrich our lives, but if they become too sharp in focus, then it says something about being a bit fanatic and single-minded.
I've always loved to read about perfumes, to find the perfect one, but I often question myself about the place this quest has taken into my life. My daily review of perfume-blogs is beginning to feel... unhealthy.
I don't know, maybe 4 years of commitment is enough?

6:38 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the question is whether it makes you happy or not, simple as that. If you feel bad most of the time and perceive perfume as an obsession rather than a passion, maybe a step back is the right thing to do, maybe you'll rekindle the joy or maybe you find that four years are indeed enough.

3:06 PM EDT  

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