This is not a blog of much import. I think I should make that clear up front. But I feel compelled to write it, because I’ve discovered through recent conversations that there are a number of women who wrestle with the same trivial dilemma that has plagued me for years. There may, indeed, be “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” but I’ve come to believe that there are far fewer options for women to leave their hair stylist.
Having a person with whom you are not romantically involved literally run his or her fingers through your hair is a level of intimacy that isn’t present in most client/provider exchanges. Your hair stylist can become privy not only to your desire for a haircut that makes you look like Jennifer Anniston or Tina Fey, but also to confidences about your childhood, your co-workers, or that time when you thought it would be a good idea to have a frank and open family discussion at grandma’s birthday party. Which it wasn’t. For an hour or two, every four to six weeks, you may have a very close and personal relationship with your stylist.
Yet, as sometimes happens in relationships, one person can gradually begin to feel the other is taking her for granted–that her ideas are not listened to, her desire for an exciting new look is ignored, or her decision to grow her hair out is not supported. In short, the client/hairstylist relationship can deteriorate to frustration and dull routine. Commonsense would say that at this point, a woman should simply tell her stylist she’s unhappy with her hair and move on.
Yet most don’t, for the same reasons they go on with unhappy personal relationships in their lives. Sometimes, it’s because it seems unkind, or impolite, to criticize another’s efforts, and women are well schooled in being polite. Or because they’re reluctant to leave the devil they know, for the devil they don’t. The comfort of the familiar is strong, particularly when pitted against the proposition of bouncing from one bad quick cut to another, searching for a good match they may never find. But mostly, it appears to me, breaking up with your hair stylist is hard to do precisely because of the faux intimacy that the personal nature of the work can create. It feels like you’re leaving a close relationship, not just switching service providers.
My own go-to solution, after finally accepting that things aren’t working anymore, is simply walking away and avoiding an unwanted, uncomfortable conversation. Then hoping I’ll never run into the stylist again. The last time I needed to make a switch, however, I was thwarted in my usual cowardly strategy. The new stylist I wanted to see worked in the same salon as the one I wanted to leave. I had no choice but to tell my stylist why I was dropping him. I found myself offering up an awkward, stammering version of an actual break-up. And yes, it’s true, the phrase “It’s not you, it’s me,” was used.
Oddly enough, after it was over, he said that typically when clients leave, he doesn’t know why, and he appreciated my honesty. We were thus able to nod cordially, whenever we ran into each other at the salon. That was more than eight years ago, and since then I’ve been very happy with the stylist I left him for, who is a better fit for me. She’s not only gifted in the art of hair styling, but also excellent at listening, and skilled at steering me away from potential hair disasters.
Therein, I think is a lesson. If you’re unhappy with your hair, or your job or your relationship, it’s OK to leave. Breaking up is hard to do, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do.