How the 'dating apocalypse' led me to vajazzle my armpits

For the increasing number of single women in their thirties, any dating idea can seem worth trying, no matter how bizarre

28 May 2016

9:00 AM

28 May 2016

9:00 AM

I am crouching with a tall paper bag over my head, with holes cut out for eyes, nose and mouth, while sniffing a stranger’s hairy armpit. All the faces around me are equally obscured by paper bags, and each is inhaling the scent of underarms; we look for all the world like a very niche branch of the Ku Klux Klan.

This is not a gathering of white supremacists or strange fetishists, but an ultra–modern speed-dating night called Romancing the Armpit, and I am here to find love. Aged 35, never married, and alone for nearly two years, I am far from an anomaly: there are now more single British women than ever before. The official figures show that 43 per cent of women under the age of 50 have never been married, more than twice the proportion a generation ago, and there are more women living alone now in their thirties than in any previous era.

It’s not there are no men available —that would be statistically improbable — but that women want to find Mr Right, rather than merely Mr All Right, and in the era of Tinder, casual hookups and what Vanity Fair has called the ‘dating apocalypse’, that’s harder than it sounds. And so, refusing to give up on the pursuit of romantic happiness, we are prepared to try increasingly unconventional methods of finding true love. Unorthodox events to have sprung up in the past few years include Shhh Dating (silent speed dating), Playdate London (an arts and crafts-based dating night) and Killing Kittens (a masked ball).

Hence I’m feeling claustrophobic in a paper bag in a darkened room trying to reassure myself there is at least science behind this charade. The theory is that we can sniff out the right partner by assessing him purely on the pheromones secreted in his sweat. Body odour is influenced by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules, which are genetically determined and linked to our immune systems. Numerous studies have shown that we judge potential sexual partners as more attractive if their MHC composition is different from our own. Still, the evening is downright odd.

Encouraged by the articulate organisers to style my underarms prior to the event, I have ‘vajazzled’ them with glitter. I wanted to use green to dazzle potential suitors, but was worried my pits might look mouldy, and that I would have to keep saying to my dating compatriots, ‘All that glisters is not mould.’ I eventually decided on gold glitter instead, and unfortunately now look as though I have ginger armpit hair — incongruous on an Asian woman.

Before the sniffing starts, I sip a strong sweet complimentary cocktail through my mouth-hole, and ask a man nearby why he’s chosen to attend. Embarrassingly, I can barely make out what he’s saying through the paper bag, because there are no holes for ears and the music is too loud. During a pause in the bassline, I discern that he works in marketing — then, bizarrely, he confesses: ‘I just had a look at your boobs!’ Deciding he probably isn’t a keeper, I scuttle off and hide in a corner.

I am relieved when all participants are given a number, a scorecard and a paper cup, and the night begins. To my surprise, everyone has to sniff everyone else’s underarms, both men and women. Though we were encouraged to go deodorant-free — and some men here have clearly taken this to the extreme — I needed the glitter to adhere to something, so have used peach-fragranced perfume oil. I wish one particular man had used it too, instead of opting for body odour with a hint of curry.

Sniffing strangers’ underarms is bizarrely intimate, and quite disconcerting. After the singularly pungent whiff mentioned above, I feel nervous about getting too close. Thankfully, most of the armpits smell like deodorant, soap or nothing at all. Sadly, I realise I don’t fancy any of the men, pheromones or no pheromones — I tend to favour introverts, and most of the men here seem very outgoing and confident.

After the first sniffing session, we are allowed to remove our paper bags and have a 15-minute interval. Most people seem relieved; a few had already started lifting their bags up for air. During the break, some extrovert daters elevate their arms and strike a pose for a photographer, who takes a ‘candid armpit portrait’. Others beautify their underarms at a station full of glitter gels and sprays, or sample what claims to be the world’s sexiest perfume, but many merely opt for another potent cocktail.

It is while sipping my drink that I meet someone lovely. Actually, two people, alas neither of them men. They are fellow female daters in their mid-thirties, both professionals. They admit that they don’t fancy any of the men either. We sample the sexiest fragrance: ‘If sex smelt like that, I’d do it a lot more!’ says one of the women. They confess that they signed up for the night while drunk. ‘And at least if we don’t click with anyone, we get to spend time with each other.’

Once I’ve met them, the night becomes far more enjoyable. Still chatting, we queue up together for the second round of armpit-sniffing. I relax so much that I fail to spot the dater with the pungent armpit, and duly inhale his noxious smell again, which almost makes me retch. After this round, the night is over; I swap details with the two women, invite them to a comedy night I’m playing at, and say my goodbyes. ‘We might not have met a man,’ one says sweetly, ‘but we’ve made a new friend.’

As I walk back on my own in the rain, I reflect that, as thirtysomething women grow older, the chances of us settling down decrease so exponentially that — no matter how outré and fantastical the dating scene may become — making new friendships is far more likely than falling in love.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Ariane Sherine is a musical comedian and comedy writer. She discusses dating with Cosmo Landesman on this week’s Spectator podcast

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Show comments
  • Landphil

    Faecal attraction.

    • Father Todd Unctious

      1% inspiration. 99% perspiration.

      • Landphil

        We’ve all heard you crapping Toddy – that’s pretty accurate for you.

  • Bonkim

    Society as we know is on its way out.

  • Teacher

    “but that women want to find Mr Right, rather than merely Mr All Right, ”

    There’s your problem. In the words of the song, ‘”If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” There is no Mr or Mrs Perfect so work hard on finding MR or Mrs All Right and then work harder on making a relationship.

    However, you might want to find someone who washes under their arms.

    • Father Todd Unctious

      Statistically you are best sticking with the third person you meet.

      • Landphil

        Lucky I’m number two.

        • Father Todd Unctious

          Lucky for me too you munter.

      • Anonymous Coward

        I think you’re being a Tad Unctious!

    • samton909

      Women without men say such things.

      • Teacher

        Fair enough. Caught me. I am being disingenuous having been with Mr Right since 1977. However, he was Mr Rebound and I have turned him into Mr Right over the years.

  • This is REALLY bizarre. Anyone who thinks they are going to meet their perfect partner at a gathering which centres around deeply weird behaviour like this has I’m afraid lost the plot. Friendship, affection, desire and s e x, are NORMAL human activities which are built up through normal human activities and interactions. Sniffing stranger’s body parts reminds me of the behaviour of my dog. He’s quite a charming dog when he isn’t trying to tear off the flesh of a rival male dog (any male dog with g on ads) but while I find him lovable (mostly) he IS A DOG and behaves like a dog – rather like these people, he depends a lot on sniffing other dogs. Personally, I don’t do that, and I don’t know anyone who does, and I certainly don’t know anyone in a successful relationship who arrived at this happy state by sniffing a stranger’s armpit, let alone a whole lot of stranger’s arm pits. To fall for this ridiculous scam suggests that the writer needs some lessons in ‘How too spot a scam’, and should probably concentrate on meeting people of like mind to herself, by engaging in social activities which revolve around things she enjoys. She is also probably far too focussed on finding ‘Mr Perfect’. Is she ‘Miss Perfect’? If not, men like George Clooney are probably off the menu.

    • Ariane Sherine

      I think Mr Clooney is very happily married! But no, I am far from perfect.

      • He’s probably far too old and much to arrogant to deserve you anyway Sherine. Scrub that!! God I just googled you and you look fabulous. You can’t possibly have any problems there girl.

        • Father Todd Unctious

          Extreme virtue signaller alert. Arthur remove those beer goggles.

          • You obviously don’t have a clue what virtue signalling is.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            She is virtue signalling Arthur. Steady now.

          • I thought you were talking about me since you replied to me.

          • Father Todd Unctious

            Sorry Arthur. I was looking out for your own well being. I could see you were clearly taken with the turn of her ankle. But I didn’t want you to forget your dignity. She is a massive virtue signaller, pretty face or not.

          • It wasn’t the turn of her ankle that I noticed, but we’ll leave that there eh? 🙂

            I find that by telling women they are wonderful (when I temporarily believe it for reasons of desire) I get much better results.

          • she replied to a comment made about her – you’re an oaf

  • Birtles

    Dear Ms Sherine, I am about 15 years too old, but I am at a loss as to why you should be ‘alone for nearly two years’. Why? Are all the men you meet blind?

    • Ariane Sherine

      You’re very kind. Thank you.

      • Father Todd Unctious

        Why are you gripping your head? It makes you look insecure.

        • polidorisghost

          “Why are you gripping your head?”

          The very thought of you

        • samton909

          She smelled too many armpits, and her head is about to explode.

      • samton909

        She’s fifteen. Give her another couple of years in the current culture, and that will be beaten out of her.

    • liho1eye

      You’ll learn in due time.

  • Frank

    Far be it for me to teach anyone to suck eggs, but modern single British women do sometimes seem very deluded. In my experience, the long term single ones seem to insist on holding out for someone who causes the skies to light up with some kind of instant mutual attraction (is this what Cosmo told them would happen?).
    This has never ever happened to me (as a male). In my experience, you are more likely to find deep mutual attraction if you do something repeatedly with the same person (ideally of broadly the same social-economic group). If it is hard, so much the better, eg a long walking holiday with a group would probably be an ideal environment. Boring I know, but hope this helps. Superficial instant attraction is not the same as enduring deep mutual comprehension, etc!

  • Des Demona

    Call me old fashioned but I can’t help feeling that anyone you meet at a speed-dating event which consists of armpit smelling while wearing a paper bag on your head is unlikely to be someone who can help you avoid such idiocy in the future.

    • samton909

      Call me old fashioned but anyone dumb enough to put a bag on their head, and run around smelling strange mens armpits does NOT need to reproduce.

  • Tamerlane

    Doggies sniff each other’s bottoms… Woof.

    • Ingmar Blessing

      Wrong party, dude. Wrong party!

      • Father Todd Unctious

        No. He likes to sniff dogs bottoms, and he loves to tell everyone else.

    • samton909

      And note that unattractive women are generally called “dogs”

  • Iffy

    I think there’s something wrong with the current generation of 30 somethings…

    • Father Todd Unctious

      Those born after 1979 have suffered years of angst and torment. I’m surprised this one is even remotely sane.

    • samton909

      You got that right.

  • polidorisghost

    I don’t claim to be an expert Ariane, but this is no way to meet a man – You’d do better begging.

  • Jojje 3000

    Men are overrated, don’t bother.

  • Michael H Kenyon

    Suffer, baby, suffer. If you are so stupid as to go through this sort of ritual, you deserve the sorts of men who would be impressed.

  • Bagsofsmoke

    I think the correspondent has somewhat misconstrued what Killing Kittens is. It’s rather more than a ‘masked ball’.

  • Polly Radical

    Of course, deodorant was invented by the EU – nobody used it before 1973.

  • jamesjw

    I too have looked at the author’s photograph and am baffled.

  • liho1eye

    Reading author’s emotional profile from this article, a bin man is exactly the level she should be looking at.

  • putin

    What a shame that all the lies told by “feminists” have lead to this. It’s a simple truth that women in their 20s generally have their choice of men. They have all the power and enjoy it. Unfortunately though, once you hit 30 the shoe is on the other foot. By then they’ve probably “dated” men they could have quite happily married and would have in the past. Thankfully though the state will now step in and replace the role of the husband as provider, so a lot of women see a welfare baby as a viable option. No wonder the west is in decline.

  • DollarPound

    “It’s not there are no men available —that would be statistically improbable — but that women want to find Mr Right, rather than merely Mr All Right”

    I suppose men’s opinions have nothing to do with the matter?

    Decades of feminism have made a lot of women’s personalities ugly. No matter how much women paint their faces, men can smell their contempt a mile off.

    • Athelstane

      Some men have learned that here are, indeed, worse things than being alone.

    • samton909

      Since women have ceased to be women, there is no longer anything attractive to men.

      Isn’t it amazing that once women started taking drugs all their adult lives to alter their womens hormones, they should cease to want men, cease to want to reproduce?

      If you are wondering why Europe is going down the sinkhole, look no further than contraception. Perhaps you could read the article in Scientific American where a study shows that women who take contraception choose the wrong men – men they ultimately are ill suited towards, and then they get divorced anyway.

      Why would people think that altering the basic, fundamental chemistry of reproduction would do anything but screw things up?

      Buh bye, Europe.

  • Ade

    As “vajazzle” was derived from the v-word, surely the armpit equivalent would be an “axazzle” ?

  • DollarPound
  • wasteman

    80 percent of women are pursiung the top 20 percent of men the new statistic of our time

  • Phyllyp Sparowe

    That’s why we are dying out. How a civilisation dies and is replaced by a less technologically advanced one. Failure to breed.

  • Ray Spring

    The answer is for young women, and young men, to go out and grab a husband or wife. Trying to get one with similar brains and interests. Then work out ‘do I want a baby by this person?’ Will the baby be healthy? Will the baby be brainy? If all is ok, get married pdq. If the man does not pop the question, then it is up to the woman. Most marriages start that way.
    O’h, and make sure you get the old formula. For better, or worse. For richer, or poorer. In sickness and health. ‘Till death do us part. Have your babies, two or three, before age 30 years.
    Sage advice. Most women of 50 years wish they had followed it to the letter.