It's gonna get sappy up in here.
Naked or not? Hard or soft? Male or female? Such decisions could apply to several scenarios, but I’m thinking of massages at the moment. And one fateful experience in particular.
My husband and I were on vacation with another couple in the sleepy beach town of Sayulita, Mexico. Surf shops peppered the shoreline, along with artisanal shops, yoga studios, and spas. And in a turn of excellent spousehood, the hubbies decided to surprise the wifies with an afternoon massage at one of those spas.
The front of the establishment was all flowy fabrics and long silver chains, racks of bangles and colorfully weaved headbands. At a perfectly worn wooden bureau, there was occasionally someone tending the register—nicely negligent in that laid-back way you want a shop in a Mexican beach town to be.
It even smelled relaxing, and as you walked toward the back of the shop, the aroma got thicker: incense and scented candles with wicks burned down to the wax. Like a little secret discovery you came upon a dimly lit area in the rear, a stone pathway beckoning you deeper toward the sound of trickling water.
My flip-flops were loud on the stones. I had my bathing suit on under a sundress, and there was a stack of white towels in the changing room. I’ve probably had less than a dozen massages in my lifetime and I always think twice before going totally bare, but I figured if I wanted to feel the full effect of Sayulita’s powers of relaxation, I should just go for it.
Which made it all the more surprising when the attractive young male masseuse approached me as I came out of the dressing room wrapped in one of those fluffy towels. Wearing a T-shirt and a red sarong around his waist, he was quiet and calm in his greeting—but I couldn’t get over that he was this cute guy with a luminescent glow to his skin. I had presumed my masseuse would be female, as that had been my request, and what I’ve always had.
If you’ve seen the movie "Living Out Loud" with Holly Hunter where she intentionally gets a rubdown from a hot dude, I really had no intention of reliving that scene and honestly would’ve preferred the opposite. But yet again, I figured, if I wanted to feel the full effect of Sayulita’s powers of relaxation.
So I went with it. I got on the table. The sheet was draped over me in all the right spots. Pan flute pitter-pattered the air. That water trickle sound. The incense. It was all working right—sort of. I willed myself to be comfortable with the male stranger running his oiled-up hands over my body. I started on my belly so at least there was that. He had a good touch—not too firm, not too soft.
And then I turned over. All my bits were still covered and he was doing his thing, but then I noticed that he seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time on my inner thighs. And then around my breasts. Not the actual breasts mind you, but all around on those boney areas—did they really need to be massaged? But before this goes to that place, let me be clear, reader: There was no happy ending. I was in fact not so happy, although technically he may not have done anything wrong. I just I kept thinking through my squeamishness: Is this just how they do massages in Mexico? Am I just not getting it?
When it was done I put my clothes back on and felt befuddled and icky. I was not crying in a corner or anything, but I most definitely was not relaxed.
When my friend walked in to the place to take her turn on the table she asked me how it went. I sort of shrugged non-committedly—I seriously just couldn’t put a finger on how I was feeling. Who was I to tell her how she would feel about it? Maybe it was just my inexperience with male massage therapists? I suggested she keep her panties on, for comfort’s sake.
But wait! Before you accuse me of throwing my friend to a wolf in a red sarong, keep in mind that the whole ordeal was all about second-guessing my gut. So much so that after my massage I went to that perfectly worn wooden bureau and literally paid for what had just happened. With tip!
When my friend emerged 90 minutes later, she confirmed that the masseuse had done the same thing to her and then we laughed about it back on the beach towels with our husbands, telling them of the ironic twist of their gift. (Our husbands just kinda sorta laughed.) Had our spouses known that the massage therapist would lavish over the vicinity of our private parts, they might have spent their dough on a mani/pedi instead.
I may never know if it was a cultural thing or if this guy was actually fishing for a happy ending. But the whole thing certainly taught me that it’s best to be prepared. So if you’re planning to get naked on a table:
—If you asked for a male or female and haven’t gotten your choice, just reschedule.
—Communicate your desires clearly from the beginning. Practice what you are going to say before you are sitting on the table with your skivvies off.
—If the massage isn’t going the way you want it to, reiterate your preferences.
—After your second indication, if the masseuse still isn’t doing what you want, stop the massage.
—You have the right to refuse payment if the service has been unsatisfactory. Or, if it simply wasn’t exactly what you wanted, but it was an adequate experience, your tip should reflect that.
Above all, just listen to your instincts. Maybe you’ll come out of the thing with a story to share and a few laughs on the beach. But you never know.