Am I the only middle-aged woman in America that is just now realizing how good it feels to get a back rub from a stranger? I used to say I wasn’t the massage type - and I wasn’t. I’m still not. But once I realized I wouldn’t laugh like a third-grader being tickled - that I just might be a real grownup after all - it feels pretty damn good to have your body kneaded like a ball of white, warm, yeasty dough.
Those of you who know me know what I’m talking about. When I was getting ready to move from our little New Jersey town, my friends got together to plan a going-away for me and thought a massage and spa day would be a good gift.
“She won’t do it,” my friend Jude said. “She won’t go.”
“Well maybe she should do it,” someone else said.
“Yeah, she should do it, but she won’t do it.” Jude knows me too well.
Instead they bought me a Fitz & Floyd plate, which I loved. It would be five years after the plate broke before I’d get that massage and spa day.
My husband and I were in the unlikely setting of Williamsburg, that crazy colonial adventure village, when we decided to get a couples massage. I was skeptical, since up until we walked into the spa across the street from our hotel, everyone - and I mean everyone - was in colonial period dress. I requested a male masseuse because I figured if I have to be worked over by someone from the 18th century, I’d rather it be a guy in pedal-pushers, a puffy shirt and a tricorn than a woman in a bonnet and a long gingham dress. My husband requested a female. We won’t hold that decision against him.
Happily, the massagers were from modern times, so the experience was not kinky in a historical way. My masseur was a very 21st century (or at least late ‘90s) guy named Joseph, who treated me like someone who had survived an airline disaster and was being lured back onto a plane.
“Tell me if the intensity is too much or not enough,” he whispered in my ear. Hey, watch it there, Joe. You can squeeze my butt all you want, but when you murmur double entendres into my ear when there’s sitar music playing and the smell of lemon verbena in the room, well, my husband is right over there, you know.
Or is he? While my table was squeaking occasionally and Joseph was asking me for all the feedback, I wasn’t hearing a sound from the next table. What are they doing over there? I wondered. With my face down in a hole and the lights turned down so low, I couldn’t be sure. Are they even in the room? Did they sneak out for an herbal cigarette? (The couples massage idea, while nice, is pretty pointless. It’s not like you can carry on a conversation with your spouse during a massage. Occasionally I’d say, “How you doin’ over there?” and he’d respond, “Fine.” I couldn’t really think of any conversation starters that were appropriate for a massage room. My question about the water heater maintenance agreement would have to wait.)
Joseph told me to let him know if anything felt particularly good, so when he was working on my right sciatica-ridden hip, I tried to think of a proper way to say, “Oh god! Yes! Deeper! More! Give me more of that, Joe!” So I said, in my best scientist voice, “That feels good.”
“Thank you,” he said. I hadn’t meant it as a compliment, but I guess masseurs are people too.
Afterward, when Joseph was walking me to the locker room, he pulled me aside and asked about the bruises on my thighs. No, I don’t fear for my safety; No, I’m not being abused or even roughed up. I use my outer thigh to close my desk drawers, so I often have a matched set of bruises on both legs. But thanks for noticing, Joe. Please don’t notify the police or women’s shelter. My desk drawers would be terribly put out by any false accusations.
I’ve only had Swedish massages. As tempting as the hot stone massage, shiatsu, reflexology, and aromatherapy massages sound, those straightforward Swedes know a thing or two about getting the job done without a lot of fuss. I would never consider a deep tissue massage or a sports massage, which sound like trouble. My aforementioned friend Jude gave me a quick, hard squeeze on the shoulders in her own massage method once on my deck and I thought I was going to lose the use of both my arms. And anything with the word “sport” in it brings up bad, repressed memories from the time I went to a chiropractor - he was the team chiropractor for the San Francisco 49ers - and he convinced me that getting my muscles shocked with electricity would cure my back pain, which ultimately ended up to be gall stones. I haven’t trusted anyone associated with football since.
For a late anniversary gift, my husband and I are getting another couples massage at a local spa. In preparation I looked up some other types of massage to consider trying. There is Ayurvedic Massage, where you get double-teamed by two masseurs working with heated herb oils. (Nice!) With Visceral Manipulation Massage you get your stomach rubbed. (Gross.) There’s one where you get massaged by bare feet. (No thanks.) Hilot Massage involves banana leaves and can induce labor. (I’m passing on that one. I can’t have a baby right now.) Lomi Lomi Massage was invented in East Futuna, a place I’ve never heard of, so I’m naturally wary. There is Thai massage, but I think that’s just sex with a prostitute.
We’ll probably just go with the Swedish again. In most countries it’s referred to as Classic Massage. And for a down-to-earth girl like me, that’s about as massage-y as I get.