Thursday, January 16, 2014

Salon-Chair Philosophy...

I sit in the chair, holding in place the too-small towel wound around my wet hair until the pretty hairdresser swats my hands away. It's Saturday morning, I'm tired from having slept like crap, and try not to look at her--or myself in the mirror--too much. I don't want to have to force the small talk, so I stare at my hands, or the floor, and hope she gets the point. No luck. She asks what I want done with my hair, then begins to ask me the sort of questions hairdressers ask. The "do you have any kids?" and "are you married?" kind of questions.

No and yes, I say. She tells me she has just one, then makes a face that says quite clearly that she's not completely certain about motherhood. Her daughter is nine years old and she's divorced from the girl's dad. I nod and fish around inside my head for something (anything) to say. I'm no good at idle conversation with strangers. I tell her kids aren't for me, either, and she nods, then tells me about some of her family issues. I learn she was married at 16, has a little girl, is once divorced, re-married, and in the midst of her second divorce. I also learn that she loved her first husband, whose a cad, while she only married the second one out of convenience.

I mentioned to Melanie, while on our way to lunch the day before, that I needed to get a haircut. Like me, she hates going to the salon and trying to make small talk. Maybe we're anti-social, but the interactions are generally unwelcome. "Do you think it would be rude to ask them not to talk to you?"  I asked her. We had a good laugh.

But this hairdresser, a pretty 25 year old with a pixie cut and big bow in her hair, goes beyond small talk. She very nearly shares her life story with me and I find myself talking to her. Even though I don't know her, I find myself listening and sympathizing. She's having a hard time, getting divorced for the second time, still in love her first husband who had cheated on her. She swears to me that she can't take him back, even though she might want to, deep down, she can't let the past go.

I say, "You can't live on love, there has to be more." She says, "I think you put up with more shit if you love them. If you love someone marriage is more likely to last than if you marry for reasons other than love." She tells she put up with her ex's crap for years. She tells me that she's begun to hate her second husband for his intolerable idiosyncrasies, where love causes us to overlook those things we like least about our partners.

And this catches me off guard since I've always thought it was the other way around. I've always thought that marriage for friendship or convenience, for good reasons other than affection, made things easier. After all, loving someone involves risk, while marrying for platonic, logical reasons doesn't. Jealousy is born from love, however misguided, and so are a lot of other negative, destructive emotions. But to marry without love is to marry without the fear of those ugly feelings... or so the logic goes. She says it's not, though, and since she's been there and I haven't, I choose to believe her.

Now, a week later, I'm still thinking on it. I've been thinking on it ever since the haircut. I wonder if I might ever stop thinking on it. I married out of fear and obligation the first time, love the second. My first marriage didn't last. I couldn't tolerate those things about my ex that made him disgusting to me: the constant emotional set down and his complete disbelief that I was smart enough or thin enough, or really anything enough, and I grew to hate him. To hate myself, too, for being an accomplice to my own destruction. My second marriage couldn't be happier, my husband believes in me and that I'm enough, even though it hasn't always been easy. It's a risk, because love means being hurt and no one has ever been married without suffering the pain that comes with being in love.

I realize now that being open to this girl's small talk, and not-so-small talk, was worth the awkward moments it took to get there. When I tell Matt about it, he says, "Do you think they plan out these philosophical conversations?" No, I say. I think that this proves wisdom can come from the most unexpected people and places. Maybe next time I'll be open to the small-talk, but probably not. It's taken 35 years to find one wise hairdresser, I'm not holding my breath for a second.