If you worry that the hyper-competitiveness and extraordinary density of America's two megalopolises — New York and L.A. (Philadelphia, nobody cares) — are starting to create a new breed of human beings that will soon only be able to aspirate caffeine-infused oxygen, then the latest matchmaking gimmick will probably confirm your worst fears. Singles in New York and L.A., either desperate for a mate or morbidly curious about the dating lengths to which their own loneliness will drive them to seek romantic company, have taken to sniffing each other's clothes, you know, sort of the same way dogs smell each other's assholes.
According to the AP, pheromone parties are becoming something of a strange curiosity with the country's most urbane urbanites. The parties go something like this: attendees are told to bring a freezer bag full of their noisome laundry to an art gallery (or some other uncomfortably sterile space). The bags are numbered and then set out for people to peruse and sniff at their leisure. When someone finds an especially pleasing scent, they hold up the bag for a picture, the picture is flashed onto a big screen, and the owner of said twice-exercised-in socks is obliged to come up and meet his or her future life partner.
A lot of the people the AP interviewed seemed pretty good-humored about the proceedings, with sentiments ranging from "I wanted to see what kind of mutants would really think sniffing a stranger's clothes is a good way to find a date" to "What the hell — internet dating is futile." Konstantin Bakhurin, a neuroscientist who would know better, said, "I think it's probably a bit more pseudoscience." Other attendees thought that taking hesitant whiffs of someone's clothes is at the very least a good way to strike up conversations, conversations like, "Oh, I noticed that your crumpled t-shirt smells like weed." "Why yes it does — I am a marijuana enthusiast. What are your interests and life goals?"
Web developer Judith Prays came up with the idea for pheromone parties after a failed online dating career. She wound up in an overlong relationship and, when it was over, the only thing about her man friend that she could really remember was his peculiar odor. "Even when he smelled objectively bad," she says, "I thought he smelled really good." The parties blossomed from experimental gatherings among friends to bona fide dating events, and, while the concept seems ripe (oh so very ripe) for mockery, there's predictably a little bedrock of scientific research supporting pheromone parties as good ways to find a potential mate.
According to Martha McClintock, founder of the Institute for Mind and Biology at the University of Chicago, "Humans can pick up this incredibly small chemical difference with their noses. It is like an initial screen." Sniffing potential mates, however socially off-putting, is a way for creatures like us to prevent inbreeding, preserve time-worn genetic adaptations, and harshly reject those sickly mates who will most likely produce offspring with weak immune systems. Pheromone parties, then, are really just getting back to the core of human coupling, which can only mean that people living in the big cities have advanced so far beyond what it is to be human that they're undergoing a process of devolution, by which they will gradually turn their cities' skyscrapers into giant tree fortresses and rely only on a rudimentary, time-saving language based on three different kinds of grunts. And they'll use bananas for money — there, all the jokes, I have included them.