Tag Archive for: ask for what you want

Hair Repair

“No Jane, I did NOT leave the color on too long, and if you don’t like it, that’s on you not me,” Mindi snapped, stomping her Doc Martens across the tiny salon.

Despite the multiple sizzling come-backs I could have offered, I held my tongue. It’s an old trick from my couples therapy days: when someone says something outrageous, you just let it hang in the air. That way, the person who said it can hear themselves.

Not that I had a lot of options.

Mindi (not her real name) was one of only three hair stylists on the island. Of the remaining two, one was known for her one-size-fits-all men’s cuts. The other was Mindi’s mom.

I had a video presentation in a couple of days, my roots were showing, and Mindi’s previous coloring-oops was becoming increasingly obvious. And, unless I wanted to take a floatplane every time I needed my roots done in future, I needed to fix this now.

“If it’s possible to have the highlights go all the way to the roots, I would prefer that,” I replied, offering her a path to repair.

Mindi continued her stomping, banged a few cupboard doors, and turned me away from the mirror. I wondered if I’d be leaving with green hair and a half-shaved head, but I reminded myself that if the worst came to the worst, I do own a wig.

I waited while she mixed the color and cut up the foils.

“How are you settling in to your new place?” I ventured, recalling that she was in the middle of a move the last time I’d seen her.

“Fine.” She responded, flatly.

I waited a few more minutes and tried again.

“Did you say you were headed back to college this Fall?”

“Next Fall.”

I  closed my eyes and let her do her thing.

And there we sat, in semi-uncomfortable silence, while she did her work and I breathed.

After about half an hour, she finally spoke.

“My mom says your husband is the sweetest man she’s ever met.”

Bob to the rescue.

“He is.” I replied.

I told her our story. Our previous marriages. The therapists, the coaches, the energy healers who’d helped get my life back on track. The angels who’d shoved someone into my path to distract me right before I almost screwed everything up. The clients whose stories had given me hope.

I advised her on her own dating journey.

I encouraged her to start loving on herself.

We lapsed back into silence while she blow-dried my hair.

“You know, I did leave the color on for way too long last time,” she admitted.

“And I’m a Gemini-rising, so sometimes I get a bit hot.”

“Did you hear the part where I told you I loved the cut?” I asked.

“Yes.” She said. “Thank you.”

The Don’t Ask Conundrum

“Those who ask don’t get, and those who don’t ask, don’t want!”

This was one of my grandfather’s favorite sayings; albeit delivered with a twinkle in his eye, but delivered nonetheless – mostly when he caught my siblings and I looking hopefully at the sweetie-tin on the mantlepiece, the ice-cream van in the park, or the last chocolate biscuit on the tea-trolley.

It would be many years before I learned about double-binds as a therapeutic concept, but even at six years old, the conundrum was not lost on me. 

Ask and you’d appear ungrateful for what you’d already been given. Even worse, you’d put a kindly elder in the heartbreaking position of giving up something they were saving for themselves because they didn’t want to say no to a child. 

Don’t ask, and nobody would realize you were even interested. “Well, since no-one else wants it,” my father would say, helping himself to the last of my grandmother’s perfectly crispy roast potatoes, right in front of our forlorn, puppy-dog eyes.

Because when you can’t ask, puppy-dog eyes are your only recourse. You gaze longingly at what you desire, and then beseechingly at the person with the power to grant it, in the hope that they might notice, take pity on you, and offer it up. The trick is to be obvious enough to get your grandfather’s attention but subtle enough not to arouse your dad’s, because he’s been playing the game for longer, and is better at it than you are. He’s also acutely attuned to how your behavior around his parents might reflect badly on him.

“Say please!” “Say thank you!” “Don’t be greedy!” “I think you’ve had enough!”

With upbringings like that, it’s no wonder we all have such a hard time asking for what we want; why we drop hints and send indirect signals that can be quietly ignored by the receiver or briskly denied by the sender should they inadvertently make anyone upset. But it only takes a few years of marriage for the puppy-dog eyes to slowly degenerate into glares towards the overflowing trash-can interspersed with some stomping about, banging of cupboard doors and a sarcastic “nothing!” when asked what’s wrong.

Our biggest difficulty – and women, I’m mostly talking to you – is that despite what fairy tales and Disney would have us believe, significant others don’t typically swoop in to heal all the wounds of childhood and indulge us benevolently like our grandparents did (or should have). They don’t yet have the wisdom, the life-perspective – or frankly, the time – to anticipate and meet our needs as much as we might want, expect, or feel entitled to. And – if they’re anything like most of the men who come to me for couples therapy – they’re probably just expecting us to meet our own needs, which is what they’ve learned to do for themselves.

Incidentally, meeting our own needs is a reasonable – if not entirely relational – solution to the don’t ask conundrum. A more relational solution, honestly, is to just use our words. Which means that next time we want our significant other to unload the dishwasher, take the kids to a dental appointment or share the last profiterole, we should try just asking – preferably in the same tone of voice we would use to ask a co-worker to help us move a table. Our significant other gets to respond with a yes, a no or a counteroffer. They don’t get to ignore the request, judge the request as ridiculous or say yes and not follow through – because all those would be anti-relational. And why would anyone be anti-relational when we’ve asked them so nicely? 

Unless we forgot to say please.

Jane McCampbell-Stuart is a licensed marriage & family therapist and relational coach. She works with individuals and couples, encouraging relationality and helping all of us become the very best version of ourselves. Find her at therapyjane.com.