Couples Massage. You’re about to be Swistled.

On Friday, Phil and I got a couples massage. I’d never had a massage before, and I had a lot of angst leading up to it since I don’t like to be touched. Like, at all. And all the other parts of a massage that seemed really awkward and distressing to me before I had one. I got more and more worked up about it as it approached, but I ended up going through with it. As I consider myself to be the most average person on Earth, I assume there are plenty of other people who have never had a massage or have massage-related first-worldy anxiety. Once it was over, I decided to lay it all out, Swistle-style, so anyone who is in my previous position can get an idea of what to expect. Swistle does this the best, so you’ll have to pardon me for doing a poor Swistle-imitation.

Phil and I don’t usually celebrate mother’s and father’s day. We actually have a kind of non-celebratey approach to holidays and such all together. We just usually end up mutually agreeing to let it pass without gifts, etc. This is especially true around the holiday season – we have our anniversary, then there’s Thanksgiving, then my birthday, then his, then Christmas, and it’s just a whole lot of events. So for our birthdays, we usually skip gifts and just do some joint activity, usually dinner, and call it good.

The joint birthday dinner was one time a huge problem. I love nothing in the world more than chocolate cake. Before we moved to a place with extremely limited choices, I used to choose where we went to dinner based on the potential for chocolate cake. So, one year, we decided to go to a restaurant for our joint birthday dinner, chosen because they had amazing chocolate cake. Phil and Penny had just gotten over a really bad stomach virus, so we were all ready to get out and eat some real food. I couldn’t really eat too much of my dinner and Phil was stuffed, so we took our slice of chocolate cake to go to share later. Later that night, I was struck with the same stomach virus. A day or two later, as I was laying in bed miserable, Phil came into our bedroom and said something about having some chocolate cake. Why not. I couldn’t eat it yet, so he might as well have some of it while it was still at its best.

WELL HE ATE ALL OF IT. He ate ALL of our joint birthday cake while I was sick, knowing chocolate cake is my favorite thing ever, and knowing that HE was the one who brought the death bug into our house.

AND THEN?

He bought me a box of Funfetti cake mix. “So you can make a new cake if you want.”

Anyway, despite that disaster that nearly lead to Phil’s perfectly timely death, we decided at random to go with a couples massage as a joint mothers/fathers day gift. He’s been really stressed lately, and I’m just a generally high stress individual, though I have nothing in life to actually be stressed about. Also, a couple of weeks ago? I hurt my back? And that’s a question, because I didn’t actually do anything. It just started hurting one day. And then my leg started spasming so badly I was shrieking in pain. The back pain went away, but the leg pain lingered for a long time. Even when it stopped twitching as much, my leg was so sore, like I’d been exercising it, but of course I hadn’t, because come on. So the massage seemed like a good idea at the time.

I booked it online, which is something I love about living in the future. I live in a small town, so it probably wasn’t as expensive as it could be, but it wasn’t a “let’s do this every week!” kind of amount of money, either. Definitely fell into the “treat” category.

Like I said, I’d never had a massage before because I always figured it was more suited for other people. I had several concerns. The first was that I generally really don’t care for being touched. It feels strange and uncomfortable to me. Relatedly, when someone has rubbed my back or something in the past, it hurt. I have no way of knowing if I’m more sensitive than other people or anything like that, but firm physical contact – hugs, hand shakes, etc – are often painful. Even Phil hurts my arms when he hugs me. Is that normal? I really can’t have any idea, but whether it’s standard or not, it’s one of the reasons I thought I wouldn’t enjoy a massage. Based on life experience, I assumed it would be uncomfortably painful. The second concern was obviously the undressed-ness. You can give yourself all the pep talks in the world about how a massage therapist is a professional and has seen everything, but the everything they’ve seen hasn’t included MY body, so there’s some angst in there. I assumed I’d be so focused on body insecurity that I wouldn’t be able to relax. Basically, I’d never had a massage because I didn’t think I’d find it at all comfortable and relaxing.

So. The reality of how it went.

We got there a couple minutes early as requested and we each filled out a short form about medical conditions and any current problems for the therapists to focus on. We went to a small room with the two massage beds in it. It was really dim and smelled nice, but not TOO much smell. Just enough smell. There was a bathroom attached to the room, and they suggested we use it if we needed to because we’d be laying down for an hour, then they told us to “undress to our comfort level.” That was one of the things I was worried about, because that’s what everything on the Internet said – just undress to the point you’re comfortable. I would be more comfortable if I knew what was expected and then decided my actual comfort level from there. But the therapist followed with “most people undress to just their bottom underwear.”

Before we got there, I’d seriously been fully intending to keep my pants on because I couldn’t imagine being comfortable without them, and definitely keeping my bra on because I am not comfortable without a bra, period. My therapist said it would be difficult for her to massage my back with my bra on, so I decided to just suck it up and take it all off down to my underpants. They left the room while we changed and said we should get under the blankets on the tables when we were done, so there was only really a moment of OH GOD I’M BASICALLY NUDE IN PUBLIC. I don’t even take that much of my clothes off for the doctor. They leave the little paper dress and come back to find me fully dressed with a little paper dress sitting next to me, because no. I don’t like to have more than 30% of my body exposed at a time. Everyone’s got their limit, and that’s mine. But the tables had both a sheet and a heavy soft blanket on them, pulled up really high, so I could get right in there and be covered up to my neck. Plus, Phil was there in his underpants. I think that made it easier for me. I don’t know if I’d have done a massage for the first time by myself.

There was a little heated thing on the table to go behind our necks or shoulders while we waited for the therapists to come back. They gave us plenty of time, so no chance of being caught naked and diving under the sheet. They explained what they were going to do, and how we should try to stay as limp as possible, etc.

So here’s something I didn’t expect, but probably should have if I had thought it through. The first thing the therapist did was take my hair down. I guess I’d thought putting it up – which I always do anyway – would have it out of her way and save a lot of hassle, but she wanted it down. If I’d known she was going to take it down, I wouldn’t have put my usual 8000 pins in it, because that was a pain in the ass for her, and I kept apologizing. Also, Penny was at a sitter for the day, so Phil and I were out kind of making a day of it (I also had a doctor’s appointment, so it wasn’t like a super FUN day or anything, but still), so I’d done my makeup. I know I talk a lot about makeup, but I don’t wear a full face every day or even most days, but since I was having a day out with Phil, I did wear quite a bit. She started with massaging my head, forehead, and sides of my face, so the massage oil rubbed off a lot of my makeup. Just something I’d remember in the future, and probably should have thought of beforehand.

ON TO MY WORRIES.

First, I was concerned I’d be super sensitive about my body. Before we started, they asked if there was anywhere we didn’t want to be touched, and I gestured to my whole middle area. She informed me that they don’t touch there anyway, so that was good. And since they start at the top, like with the head, neck, shoulders, and arms, it’s kind of like easing into it. Every time a new area was touched, I’d feel a twinge of angst about how it looked or felt, but I didn’t end up dwelling on that like I’d assumed I would. Except for when they’re doing the arms, you really don’t actually see the therapist too much. That’s obviously extra true if you keep your eyes closed. Because the room is so quiet and because you don’t see the therapist too much, for me it was almost kind of easy to forget there was a person there. I don’t mean to dehumanize the therapist or anything, but that’s the best way I can think to explain it. It doesn’t really feel like hands attached to a person. It’s easy to kind of let go of the idea that there’s another person there.

And that brings up a whole other thing, about paying a person to rub all up on your body, but these are not normal people. I mean, they’re people, but massage therapist people are different than you and me. If you’ve gotten a back rub or massage from your husband or whatever, that’s one thing, but these women maintained such consistent pressure with their hands, I feel like they probably crack open walnuts and crush full beer cans without a problem. They’re not like hands I’d ever felt before, which adds to the whole ability to kind of detach from the fact there’s a person rubbing all up on you.

Another thing. You know how people associate Enya and pan flutes and all of that with spas and woo woo tra la la stuff. I thought I’d be kind of annoyed by the music – standard pan flutes and nature sounds and whatever – but it turns out they play that stuff for a reason. It’s totally part of it. I had thought maybe I’d want my own headphones to listen to my own music, but that would have detracted from the experience for sure. But silence would have been too uncomfortable. That weird woo woo stuff is actually played for a legit reason.

A good thing: I was never more than 30% exposed. That was a delightful surprise. After she worked on each arm, she tucked it back into the blanket. When she did the legs, she’d uncover one and carefully tuck the sheets and blanket around the other one, then cover the first one before exposing the second. That was another thing that hadn’t occurred to me, but it’s a really thoughtful process. I guess I thought I’d end up with a sheet draped over my butt region and nothing else. The reality was way better.

Laying on my stomach was a bit uncomfortable. I have a large chest and I didn’t wear my bra, so there was really no getting around that. But when it was time to lay on my stomach, the therapist lifted the blanket to create a sort of tent shield and explained how she wanted me to turn, so even the awkward flip was fully covered. Nary a nipple was seen that day.

Our massage included hot rocks, and the therapist would say “hot” right before she touched me with one, and they WERE hot. For the first few seconds, I was very close to saying “too hot TOO HOT,” but I waited it out for a moment and I adjusted quickly. But that didn’t stop me from feeling the same little flare of panic each time she added a new rock. It was just bordering on “oh shit,” but not quite there.

At the end, they put steam towels on our backs left the room. They told us not to get up, because they were just going to get us some water. They brought cool water back in (apparently you should drink a lot of water the day you get massaged or you’ll be sore), took the towels off our backs, and told us to take our time getting ready and they’d meet us out in the lobby. We didn’t lay too long because it’s not really our style, but since the room is dim and calm and quiet, I could see how some people might want to take a few minutes before getting up.

When we went out to pay, they had more water for us, and I drank all of it and left none for Phil because that’s how our marriage works.

Our appointment was for 75 minutes, and I thought an hour was a really, really long time to lay still and be rubbed by someone, but it does go by quickly. Not so fast I was like, “whoa, what?,” but fast enough that my concerns about being bored/having to pee/etc were not necessary.

So the massage itself was really pleasant, but I didn’t feel different upon leaving. That is, I didn’t feel super loose and wobbly or whatever. My leg wasn’t sore for the rest of the day, so that was nice, but I wouldn’t say I experienced any lasting benefits from the massage. Maybe that’s something that happens if you get them regularly.

I thought I’d spend the whole time so uptight about my body and nudity and someone touching me that I wouldn’t be able to relax, and that didn’t turn out to be true at all. However, there is a lot of time for your mind to kind of wander, which lead to me thinking about things like work, decisions we have to make for Penelope, and random other stressful things. I suppose that’s better than spending an hour angsting over how my butt looks, but not especially relaxing. If you’re good at clearing your mind, you probably wouldn’t have that problem, but if you’re prone to over thinking things, a massage is a lot of time to lay there and think.

One of the main comforting things that people say about massage therapists is that they’ve seen everything, so you don’t have to worry about them thinking something weird about you. That’s never really worked for me. What might have worked for me is to know that massage therapists are really very, very good about ensuring your comfort without making it seem like they’re going out of their way to cater to your prudishness. The whole system is so carefully thought out and enacted that there’s not really any space to feel exposed or vulnerable or insecure. You also don’t have to make any decisions or judgments on your own. Like you don’t have to spend time wondering about how your going to execute your turnover without exposing your belly stretch marks. They already have a plan for that.

Some parts did hurt a little bit, but I got the impression she was focusing on those areas – like the spot between my neck and shoulder – because she felt they were particularly tight, so I didn’t ask her to ease up. I also never asked her to increase the pressure, though she told me I should let her know if I wanted it harder or softer. It’s possible I didn’t feel as loose and relaxed afterward because I didn’t ask her to increase the pressure. The pressure she used, though, didn’t hurt and since I generally expect firm contact to hurt, I felt like I should just leave it where it was.

If you’ve had massages before, you probably knew all of this. Or maybe you haven’t had a massage before and still knew all of this. But again, I’m operating on the idea that I’m the most average person on Earth, so there are definitely some people out there who spend the days leading up to a massage scouring the Internet for information to prepare a little better, and these are some of the things I would have wanted beforehand.

To my surprise, I would definitely do it again. At this point, I’d be comfortable going on my own, as well, if I went to the same place. Even though I didn’t experience any lasting benefits, the whole thing was a enjoyable use of time.

Oh, Phil liked it, too.

17 thoughts on “Couples Massage. You’re about to be Swistled.

  1. Swistle

    I read every word with INTENSE INTEREST. I laughed many times, I am too hungry to make a list. Not hungry because of the post. Just, I was already heading for lunch, but I thought, “Oh! There’s a new Temerity Jane post! I will read that first!” And NOW I am going to get lunch.

    TJ Reply:

    But would it make you okay with getting a massage? Somehow I feel like you have probably never made an appointment and gotten a massage, for Reasons.

    Swistle Reply:

    It would make me MORE okay with getting a massage than I would have been WITHOUT reading it. But you are right: I have never made an appointment for a massage. Or been inclined to.

  2. Kelly of Aerten

    I’m glad your massage went so well! I had to keep slapping my hands watching your angst on Twitter. I had a similar experience when I got my first massage, although it was something my doctor recommended for my fibro rather than A Thing To Do. And how long did I procrastinate about THAT? (I don’t actually remember, but it had to have been at least six months, possibly a year.) I started talking to myself, too (but that’s nothing new). “Kelly, you need to just let TJ have her own unadulterated by your opinions experience. DO YOU HEAR ME?” (Apparently, I yell at myself, too.)

    So, yeah, everything hurts. Everywhere. All the time. The massage therapist was (IS!) awesome. After three (or more? Time has no meaning) years, she’s worked up to “normal” pressure when she does the massage. In the beginning, my brain wouldn’t shut off. It still doesn’t, but it goes to the same sort of creative place my brain goes when I dream. Massage Wednesdays are crazy story-writing days. (The amount of writing is crazy, not the stories. Okay, sometimes they are.)

    I go every other week now… no, NOT pocket change, but it seems to help reduce my stress level. And with repeat applications, has helped with the pain, too. I can remember when my pain was at least “Actively Being Mauled By A Bear” on the Allie Brosh pain scale. Now it fluctuates between “My Pain Is Not Fucking Around” and “Ow, Okay My Pain Is SUPER Legit Now.” Obviously, massage isn’t the only thing I’m doing to decrease pain. But when my MT goes on vacation, I do realize it’s an important (and expensive, sigh) part of pain reduction.

    DFTBA!

    TJ Reply:

    When I wasn’t doing well with a chronic pain condition I have, I considered getting a massage as a last resort. Like, a literal LAST RESORT because I was so against the idea of massage for me, personally, that I tried every single other thing available to me first. And then I got better, so it wasn’t really an issue. Even now that I’ve had a massage, I don’t think I could ever see myself going weekly, or even monthly, but it’s definitely something Phil and I will consider when we have some extra money or want a little celebration.

  3. Mary

    As a semi-regular massage-receiver, I was interested in your take on this. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’m not sure if the 30% uncovered at any time is something they told you or just your estimate, but it’s actually a thing. I mean, I’m not sure if the number is 30% but part of the RMT code of conduct is they only cover the area they’re working on and that part can only be a certain percentage of your surface area. Or something like that.
    Also, if you decide to go again, it might be worth mentioning that you were uncomfortable on your stomach – they can normally complete some feat of engineering with pillows to help alleviate some of the back strain.

    TJ Reply:

    The 30% thing is just my life’s rule. A happy coincidence that massage therapists follow it, too!

  4. Caitlin

    I’m so glad you liked your massage! I am a semi-regular massage-getter and they are one of my favorite things in life. I think especially the first few times it can all be a little like, whooooooa what is going to happen next, what’s going on here, is she going to see my WHOLE butt, where is he going to touch, etc. And I don’t particularly mind people touching me or seeing me! It all just feels very…EXPOSEY. So on those notes especially I applaud you for going!
    Where was I? Oh, so! But then as you get used to how they go, and you get used to being alone and quiet in your own head with that peaceful music and the nice smells, it can be such a nice period of tranquil and refreshing time time. Tranquil being the word equivalent to pan flute music: absurd and not a real thing until it is.
    I also find that how I feel after a massage has a loooot to do with how stressed I am, and the style and level of pressure of the masseuse. If I might offer a bit of advice, if you’re wondering about adding a little more pressure next time just to see, then you can let them know ahead of time you might want to experiment a little with pressure today. Or just tell her to add more pressure, and if you don’t like it, say you changed your mind. I used to get regular seated chair massages in my office and saw the same guy for years. He once told me that he loved that I told him I needed more or less pressure because it made his job easier and the feedback helped him know better how to help me. So for what it’s worth, there’s that, if you need to feel like you’re not asking for yourself but to help them.

    I hope you keep going back. Massages are such a treat!

    TJ Reply:

    I think I am just entirely too high strung to experience any kind of lasting results from a massage. That doesn’t mean that it’s not great while it’s happening, but I’m still just normal vibrating-with-anxiety me afterward, you know? There’s not really anything that changes my general demeanor, though. Except alcohol, maybe, and that only changes it for the worse. IT’S NO GOOD.

  5. shin ae

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed your massage. That makes me happy.

    2. I enjoy being touched and I also enjoy being naked and I enjoy massages. I always have to remind myself that not everyone is the same, because I tend to impulsively touch people (appropriately and non-nakedly, let the record show, since this is the Internet) and really not everyone appreciates that. I mean, no one has ever said anything, but that’s probably politeness. I really shouldn’t just randomly touch people. And now I’m wondering whether not liking to be naked and not liking to be touched are things that kind of go together. Hmm.

    3. I have a back injury which, when the nerves are more annoyed, causes me to have pain in my legs and feet. I’ve been really nervous to have a massage since my injury, but since it sounded like yours eased the pain a bit I wonder if maybe it would be nice. Another hmm.

    TJ Reply:

    It’s tough being someone who doesn’t like to be touched because sometimes a lot of naturally touchy-feely people get offended if you step away from them or ask them to please not touch you. Even if I’m perfectly polite, people sometimes get really offended, like how dare I not want them to touch me. It’s such a weird thing to get offended about.

    I totally get that more physical people express themselves in that manner, and that it feels so natural that it’s weird to imagine someone else could be totally and seriously bothered by it. I’m sure not everyone you’ve ever patted on the arm or whatever has hated it, but surely one or two have, just by the nature of odds.

    As someone who doesn’t like to be touched, the best I can explain is that it feels really strange and uncomfortable to have someone put their hand on me casually. Like a hand on my shoulder or a hug my body language is clearly saying I don’t want. I’m not going to freak out and lose my mind, but it doesn’t feel NICE is what I’m saying. Since I assume for the opposite type of person it DOES feel nice, which is hard for me to imagine, that’s probably hard to imagine as well. You know who the worst people are? The ones who are like, “I know you don’t like hugs, but I’m going to hug you anyway.” THAT’S NOT COOL, THAT’S AWFUL. Only slightly better are the people who pointedly say, “I know YOU don’t LIKE hugs, so I won’t hug you.” You can just not hug me without the explanation. I’ll know you’re not hugging me by the fact that you don’t hug me.

    ANYWAY, long ramble to say, yeah, probably some people were probably just being polite to you, but surely not everyone ever, and also randomly touching people does run the risk of running into a person who is really not going to like that at all.

  6. Jane

    I felt JUST LIKE YOU before my first massage and then enjoyed it heartily and have had some since. No one’s ever massaged my face though – I wouldn’t stand for that bullshit. Also, did you know there are places that do foot massages? FEET ONLY? I haven’t ever done that but I’m contemplating it.

    TJ Reply:

    I don’t think I could do a foot only massage. I only have so much foot. You know, a foot only massage would probably have been really appealing when I was working in an office and wearing 4″ heels like they were sneakers regularly.

  7. Jess

    OK I thought this was great. I’ve had lot of massages so it wasn’t a surprise to read any of it but I still found it interesting. I am curious what you thought of having Phil there with you. I know he made you feel more comfortable at first, but what about while it was going on? Did you notice his presence? Did it make you feel more relaxed? Did it feel… bonding somehow? I’ve never had a couples massage and I have some trouble envisioning if it’s a connected experience somehow or if it’s really just (what I assume) a convenient way for you both to get a massage at once.

    TJ Reply:

    So, right, I don’t think I would have even scheduled a massage without it being for the both of us this first time. It never seemed like something I’d want to spend money on, considering all my hangups about it before I had one. But spending the money for the both of us, especially after mothers and fathers days, made more sense. Also, I think it was VERY slightly cheaper to do the couples massage than two separate massages of the same duration.

    During, though, we didn’t speak to each other at all. The room was really small, and the two therapists were each so quiet that with my eyes closed, he might as well not have been there at all. The description of the service does say that you can talk to each other or just separately relax, but talking seemed weird since there were two other people in the room. That really only lends itself to casual conversation, and I see him every day. I’d rather take the opportunity to lay in blessed silence for an hour.

    We’d definitely do a couples massage again, because like you said, it was really convenient to just both go at the same time while he had a vacation day and Penny was taken care of for the day. I wouldn’t have a problem doing one by myself from now on, but it was nice to have him there for the first one just for the comfort level thing. Other than that, I assume it was basically the same as an individual massage.

  8. Charleen

    My first massage was also a couples massage. We got one on our honeymoon, and it was… a little awkward. Not in an uncomfortable way, but it was done in just a regular hotel room at the resort where we were staying, so the therapists hid in the bathroom while we were changing, and it didn’t have the ambiance… it just wasn’t quite the same experience, and I didn’t have any real desire to do it again.

    Cut to several years later, and my husband gets me a gift certificate for a massage at this local spa I like to go to occasionally. I love it because it’s a spa/salon, and so you get some of the ambiance even if you’re just going in to get your nails done, or a haircut, or whatever. But I was really nervous about getting an actual massage. It was almost a year later and the gift certificate was about to expire when I finally sucked it up and made the appointment. But this one was SUCH a different experience than that first massage, and totally turned me around on them.

    I still haven’t gone for another, just because they are pretty expensive compared to other things I treat myself with, and (like you) I thought it was an enjoyable hour but it didn’t have any real lasting benefit, so is it really worth it? I don’t know. I’d like to get one again, but there’s always something else I’d rather spend money on.

  9. Alice

    I love love love love love massages. I have some issues with parts of my body not always fitting together right, and massages SUPER HELP the tension in my neck/shoulders that crops up as a result of all the misalignment. I thought I’d have trouble with the naked aspect when I first started going, and I was really self conscious at first, but man now I’m like HEY NO PROB ACTUALLY MY GLUTES ARE SORE WANT TO JUST GO FOR MY WHOLE BUTT? OK!

    For a while I was also getting regular Deep Tissue massages, which are not at ALL relaxing and actually super painful, but really good for you (me). But man they are not playing around with those – I had to employ some serious yoga breathing and lamaze to get through it.

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