How May I Serve Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

Imagine this:

You’re at home, getting ready to do a massage. You don’t see clients at home that often and you don’t have a dedicated space, so you’ve got your massage table set up in the dining room, as usual. The heater’s on, since your place tends to be a bit on the cool side, and the CD player is ready to go with your client’s favorite music. You’re nervous waiting for his arrival, but that’s okay. You’re happy to have a chance to provide this service for him. You take a few calming breaths and say your little ritual prayer, blessing the space and setting the intention for healing. Then you go get a glass of water and try not to be nervous waiting for him to arrive. Soon, you hear your front door open (without a knock), and someone comes in, whistling. Your therapist has arrived for his massage appointment.

You welcome him and the two of you hug and maybe kiss. You’ve learned to be careful about the kissing, because if he gets turned on, you won’t be getting to that massage right away and that could be problematic. With luck, you can get him on the table and start the massage. But, as usual, that’s not what happens.

(Let’s just skip over this next part, shall we?)

So then it’s 20 or 30 or 40 minutes later, you’re spaced out, your legs are wobbly, and you haven’t a thought left in your head. Yet you still have to give him a massage. You go to the bathroom to wash your hands and pull yourself together while he gets on the massage table. You have no idea how you’re going to pull this off, but you don’t have a choice. He wants a massage, so he will get a massage.

You actually like doing this—having your hands on people’s bodies, squeezing their muscles, helping them feel good. You want the person on the table to have a good experience, and so maybe you invest a little more of yourself than you should. With your therapist, making sure he has a good experience is crucial. You need his approval and couldn’t bear it if he were dissatisfied with the massage. So you pour everything you’ve got into this; whatever he wants, you’ll do it.

After about an hour, you realize it’s time to wrap up. You ask him if there’s anything else he needs. There is. He wants you to work on that spot on his upper back near the shoulder blade, the place that’s always bothering him. So you go at it. You know how much he needs this, how much he likes this, and you want to make him happy. Another 20 minutes go by, with you giving your all, and finally you finish the massage. He seems pleased, and you feel happy, relieved, and exhausted.

You give him a glass of water with ginger, since that’s what he likes. He uses your phone to call his wife and tell her he’s on his way home. You leave the room while he’s talking, because you want to respect his privacy. He hands you cash or a check for your usual low, one-hour, “friends and family” rate, then gives you a little kiss. You walk him to the door and say goodbye. You’ll be seeing him at your next therapy appointment in a few days.

* * *

The scenario described above happened on a fairly regular basis from August 2001 through 2004. It was about two months after Dr. T started having sex with me when he suggested that perhaps he could come and get a massage. I’d gotten my massage certificate the year before, but I was having a hard time getting started and had only worked on about three people since. I was underemployed and needed the money. How could I say no? (Well, of course, I wouldn’t have said no, not to him.)

I was totally nervous about it, of course. I already had issues with performance anxiety and constantly worried about whether the person on the table would like what I was doing. I was accustomed to managing that anxiety by putting way more energy into a massage than was either necessary or good for me. As a result, I maxed out really fast. Working on Dr. T totally upped the ante. He was used to getting bodywork—how could I possibly compare with seasoned massage therapists? What was he going to think of me? I didn’t want to let him down! Whatever I gave to my other clients, I probably tripled my efforts for him. And, of course, no 60-minute massages for Dr. T. Oh no, I’d regularly go at it for at least an hour and twenty or thirty minutes. I’d work on him until I was toast.

And then he’d pay me my bargain rate. I’d been offering people a low rate, partly because I was just starting out and partly because I was afraid to ask for more. It had always been easy for me to undervalue my services. This was no different.

On one occasion, I actually worked up the nerve to suggest that perhaps he could compensate me for the extra time I regularly put in. He took great offense at this suggestion. He presumed that the extra time was a gift—grace—and if it wasn’t, well, then it was my responsibility to set my limits and stick to them. (Limits? We had limits?) This would be a legitimate complaint in any normal business situation, but this was in no way normal. His solution: He’d lay down his money before the massage, however much he felt like offering on that day, and I could then decide how much time to put in. Problem solved, right? (Actually, just thinking about this makes my brain hurt.) After this exchange, though I tried my absolute best to keep his massages to an hour, somehow they ended up as long as ever. Strange…

Apparently he liked my massages well enough—he made appointments regularly, usually expecting me to fit him in, no matter what else I had going on in my life. He even booked massages for his brother and sister-in-law and a couple of friends, when they were in town. I guess I must have been doing something right. (No, of course he didn’t say, “Hey, I’m getting great massages from Kristi, one of my patients—you should check her out!” Instead, he introduced me as “Diane, his massage therapist.” He didn’t have my permission to use my first name, which I’ve never gone by in my entire life—Kristi is from my middle name, Kristine—but he did it anyway. After all, he had to cover his ass, make sure no one connected Kristi, the patient, with Diane, the massage therapist, right?)

Despite his apparent appreciation for my massages, when I mentioned in my fourth year of working as a massage therapist that I was planning on raising my rates to something much more appropriate, he did his best to talk me out of it, implying that the lower rate was more reflective of my abilities and that my services would be more accessible to a broader range of people if I kept my price low. Ever since then, I’ve felt guilty asking for what should be reasonable compensation for any of my work. Valuing my services was difficult before that conversation; afterwards, it was nearly impossible.

* * *

So take all that—and add in SEX. Yes, massage with a side of sex was usually what Dr. T ordered.

If he wanted sex before the massage, things could get pretty weird. Ever try to do a massage when you’re not actually in your body? Doable, but not easy. I had to try to stay focused and not get too spaced out. Afterwards was usually not an option, since he found that sex often undid the benefits of the massage. Eventually, I became bold enough to tell him that if he wanted a good massage, then we couldn’t have sex beforehand. (Truthfully, I just couldn’t bear the thought of giving him a bad massage. It would be too awful if he were disappointed or didn’t think it was worth the money.) Sometimes this strategy worked, other times his sexual needs took precedence. Go figure.

As time went on, I began having so much trouble with my body that I did my best to avoid giving him massages at all. I was getting too depleted and giving him a massage wiped me out. Plus, I was getting a little tired of taking care of him. (Can’t imagine why…) He took the hint and made up his own reasons why I wouldn’t give him massages anymore, just so he could act a little miffed that I wasn’t attending to his needs.

I didn’t miss it a bit.

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  1. What is the deal with these guys? It seems as though they think they are God, and we’re their servants! It turns out that my ex-massage therapist is a member of a cult, and has of course started his own “cult” of women clients with whom he can do no wrong. He is a master at lovebombing, which I now see was crucial to my becoming “hooked in” by him. It’s a technique used by the religion he practices (when it’s convenient), to lure new members in. I worry about other needy women I know are his clients, I hope they will see through the deception quickly, and get out from under his attempts at control.


    • Well, this is what we get for becoming involved with sociopathic narcissists…

      I don’t have a lot of confidence that someone who’s gotten hooked is going to see through the charade. That’s the really sad and distressing part of this. I think that once you’re hooked it takes either a massive betrayal (that you can’t ignore) or someone on the outside to deliver a heavy-handed wake-up call to get you out. This is why it’s so important for those of us who do get out to take some kind of action. That’s the only way to get these guys to stop. And even then, they’re going to find a way to get their needs met. It’s not like they’re going to become spontaneously enlightened and change their ways…

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