I’m meeting a friend for lunch and she’s late. I’m annoyed because I
know why. She had a hairdresser appointment this morning and even
though she would have been finished in plenty of time to meet me, I’ll
bet she’s gone home first. To re-do her hair.
By the time she arrives, 25 minutes late, I am officially cranky.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she calls out apologetically as she hurries over
to the table where I’m sipping a chai and sending her “WHERE THE BLOODY
HELL ARE YOU?” texts.
“You are nuts, you know that, don’t you?” I chastise as she sits down.
“I cannot believe you still go to that hairdresser.” My friend has the
decency to look part sheepish, part wretched. “I know, I know” she
grimaces. “I’m hopeless.”
How did this happen? How did this intelligent, assertive woman end up
trapped in such a dysfunctional relationship with her hairdresser? As
the customer in this transaction, how did she surrender her power and
lose her voice? She’s not sure. All she knows is that she’s been going
to the same salon for 10 years and having her hair cut the same way by
the same guy. She likes him. She even likes the way he cuts and colours
What she hates is the blow dry afterwards because he does this flicky thing that makes her look like a 1994 newsreader. But instead of asking him to do it differently, she sucks up her flicks, thanks him profusely and then dashes home to wash out 1994 and blow dry it again. She’s been doing this for years and barely questions it anymore. I, however, question it. Often. I think it’s mental and never miss an opportunity to tell her so.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she insists today as she orders prawn linguine. “I know, it’s stupid and I’m an idiot”. I nod. She continues. “I have no rational explanation for why I can’t ask him to dry my hair the way I want it. But it’s too late for that. I had my chance years ago and I chickened out and now I’m trapped. Window closed. The end. Shall we have a glass of wine with lunch?”
If it were just one friend who did something like this, I’d dismiss it as a quirk. But virtually every woman I know has, at some point, found herself trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with a service provider. Including me.
Some of these relationships are long-term like a hairdresser, a cleaner or a doctor, while other are casually dysfunctional.
Like my friend who will drink the wrong coffee because she can’t tell the barista he stuffed up her order. “I won’t say anything,” she admits, despite skilfully managing a staff of 12. “Even if it means drinking one of those soy monstrosities that taste like bong water.”
Another friend scoffs at the idea of drinking the wrong $3 coffee but charge her $80 for a massage and becomes a passive wimp. “If the masseur starts chatting, I never ask her to be quiet no matter how much I hate it. I just lie there feeling tense. I even chat back to be polite. Then at the end of it I pay my money and feel totally stressed and ripped off. But next time it’s the same. Why can’t I just say ‘would you mind if I didn’t talk?’ Maybe it’s the vulnerability of lying there in my knickers.”
Oh totally. The more intimate and personal the service, the more difficult it can be to assert oneself. If someone is touching a part of your body, it’s rather awkward to tell them you don’t like their work, isn’t it?
“Last month I had my eyebrows waxed and along with a few stray hairs the beautician also waxed off half my face,” grumbles another friend. “I had red, raw, scabby eyebrows for a week because she ripped off so much skin with her too-hot wax. Instead of being outraged and refusing to pay, I told the girl it was fine and that it “happened all the time”. I paid my 30 bucks and walked out nursing my shredded face.”
Every woman who do this kind of thing (and is mostly women) have no trouble being assertive in most situations. None of us could ever be described as doormats. We are positively bolshie as partners, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. But in particular circumstances as customers, our assertiveness evaporates and we end up swallowing our frustration and dissatisfaction for the sake of…. what exactly? A need to be liked? A fear of confrontation?
“There’s almost an embarrassment I feel when something goes wrong or isn’t delivered the way I expected,” theorises the friend with the waxed face. “Instead of standing up for myself and asking for a refund I smile and pretend GREAT! THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED…and then I run away, cursing silently.”
“I think it’s that we don’t want to offend people to their face,’ says a different friend who wants to change doctors but is too embarrassed to ask for her medical records. “Saying you don’t like a haircut or telling your cleaner that the house is still filthy is basically like saying “Hey you know your chosen career in life? Well, you’re crap at it”. It’s awkward for all involved..”
You bet. It’s far less awkward to pay money to have your hair looking ridiculous, your face stripped of skin or your shoulders in tension knots after a massage…..
sources include Russian prisoners, mental asylum patients and even corpses. Would you like conditioner with that?