I’m single. Sometimes it seems like I’ve always been single. I’ve had boyfriends, sure, but the default is single. This time around I’ve been single for about five continuous years. I live alone with a small, affection-withholding dog. I’m very busy, and I’m very social, and yet stretches of time go by during which I do not feel the touch of another human.
But that’s not entirely true.
Because there are those who touch me. Folks beyond my doctor and my (incredibly handsome, erudite, gentle and highly recommended) dentist.
For instance: the woman who performs my ritual mani-pedi. Like so many other ladies in this town, I make a monthly — sometimes weekly! — pilgrimage to the nail salon where an attendant awaits with a steaming, bubbling basin. Like the Greco Roman baths of yore, I attempt to relax with my fellow plebeians, other exhausted citizens stealing minutes from our days to try and absorb the healing properties of water and “ballet slippers.” We soak our extremities, they sand, buff and arm us with a swish of candy-colored varnish. There are moments — when she’s gently placing my foot in frothy suds or mindlessly massaging the tender tendons between my thumb and forefinger — that I look at the manicurist and wonder if she knows. Does she know that this is the first hand I’ve held all day? Does she know that no one else has rubbed these ankles for weeks?
Does she know that this is the first hand I’ve held all day? Does she know that no one else has rubbed these ankles for weeks?
On Wednesdays and Fridays at 6:45 am, I see a trainer. Thanks to a combination of luck and location, she comes to work with me in my apartment. A former dancer and Slovenian by birth, she scolds me as I squat, jump, lift, push, pull and plank. At the end of the hour, in a rite that feels like a reward for my sweat, she rearranges my limbs and stretches them, sending waves of pleasure pulsing deep through tissue and sinew. Is it better than sex? It’s certainly more consistently satisfying. Afterward, I feel all the blood in all of my veins, from head to toes, tingling and vibrating. She has a powerful effect on me. My body feels loose and alive and like a cohesive collection of cells, at least until work starts.
Then there are the hair guys. Two — one for cut, one for color — every three months or so. They’re both straight, funny and handsome, and I find that their gentle tugs on my scalp act as foreplay for sensual, highly erotic scalp massages I get from the shampooer.
Once, a few years ago, for reasons that still remain mysterious to me, it was necessary to have my hair dried very quickly before one of the hair guys could perform some magic. I was dispatched to a chair where not one but two lean young men in tight black T-shirts and tight black jeans wielded large black blow dryers. I sat down between them and, well, they double-teamed me. Hot air, two nozzles, four arms, two crotches…it was one of the most intense salon experiences of my life. I remember that one was Israeli and one was Puerto Rican and that my skin, my face, burned the entire time, although whether it was from blushing deeply due to being their submissive captive, enduring an overwhelming amount of attention, or from the two professional-grade hairdryers, I can’t say.
Every four to six weeks, I take off my underwear and a Russian woman named Albina smears hot wax on my vulva. The first time you get a Brazilian wax, it’s torture, but if you keep going back, it gets easier and easier. The hair gets finer and sparser, and eventually you live in fear of not going — the more infrequently you go, the more it hurts. If you let it all grow in and then want to go to the pool or beach, you end up where you were, with long hair that’s excruciating to tear out. It’s a racket. So I go. “Almost done, baby,” she says as she rips the wax away. Her touch is firm, efficient, quick, methodical and completely non-sexual, but sometimes — months at a time — she’s the only one down there. I don’t know if she knows how rarely someone’s all up in my vulva.
A couple of weeks ago, I got eyelash extensions, which involved lying down on a bed and having a sweet-faced young lady ever so delicately affix silk strands to my eyelids. Her touch was feather-light, and I was drowsy, and I drifted off to sleep before she finished the right eye, jolting myself awake with a snort. She gingerly placed her fingers on my brow and shifted my head, centering me, and it was strange to realize that it only felt loving and affectionate. It was just business.
It’s all just business. That’s what these people who touch me on a regular basis have in common: I pay them.
Oh, I’m seeing a couple of guys, on and off. Having actual sexual encounters. But the paid touching eclipses those in frequency and regularity.
I do aspire to enjoy more non-customer-based touch. I would welcome a whirlwind romance. But I’m also not that upset by the fact that right now, I’m touched more by those I pay. Self-care is vital, and when you work hard, it’s tough to put a price on the bliss that comes from going somewhere you can close your eyes and let someone else do the work. After a long day of negotiations, adjudications and grin-and-bear-it management decisions, having a pseudo-stranger attend to my hair, nails, eyebrows, eyelashes, vulva or quads is a relief. It’s not better than a romantic relationship. But love — being seriously involved with someone — requires compromise. In business, the customer is always right.
In the immortal words of Mariah Carey, “Touch My Body.” Remind me to book a massage!