Finding the right hairdresser is harder than finding a mate. I’ve had really good ones for years before they broke up with me—you never see it coming. Terry and I have been going strong now for years, and I trust him completely, but every once in a while I start to doubt. Will he stay with me to the end? It’s not Terry; he’s done nothing wrong, it’s me. I thought I’d found The One before, but I’d been wrong. My coworker’s recent search for a new hairdresser brought back the painful memories of when I got dumped by my hairdressers—twice.
You see, my first was Eileen. After six happy years, without any warning, she ran off to become an electrician. I just couldn’t get over it. I kept asking myself, what did I do wrong? She stayed with me from my 80’s spiky, bleach blond punk cut to the permed, just-got-out-of-bed look of the 90’s. Right before she left, I got my hair highlighted. She’d been urging me for a couple of years to get it done, and finally, to please her, I gave in. Two months later she was gone.
After she left, I was fixed up with another hairdresser at Eileen’s salon. She was okay, but we were too different. I liked alternative music, she liked pop. She spent her weekends at the clubs, and I spend my extra time writing. Eileen and I talked about our relationships and the irony of saving for a house in the Boston area that we’d never be able to afford anyway. Sometimes we didn’t talk at all. We didn’t have to.
“Next time, we’ll redo those highlights,” said the New Hairdresser. There isn’t going to be a next time, I thought. It’s shameful I know, but I don’t remember her name. I don’t remember any of their names, those who come after Eileen. I made my way from Newbury Street to Supercuts and every place in between, shamelessly talking about her to them all. All the while I made secret comparisons: Other salons tried to change me and sell me shampoos that my hair “needed”; Eileen always told me how to get the most out of what I was already using. Inevitably, each salon came up short, and I continued my pattern of one-appointment stands.
I wondered about the last time I saw her, as she painstakingly combed out thin rows of my hair and lovingly wrapped them up in foil and hand-mixed highlight. Was she dreaming about tripped circuits and burned-out fuses? If she was, she never let on. Instead she showed me how to scrunch my curls to help my perm last, and she chipped into my fine hair to give it the lift her creative cuts needed.
The worst part was trying to find a hairdresser who could copy the “S” she cut for me. I loved it because it was her trademark, but after she left, it became a cruel joke. I parted my hair on the side and she cut out a section of hair that lifted up, curved down and then out, like an “S”. No one was able to copy that “S”. Perhaps she got tired of me taking her for granted. I never paid attention to exactly how she cut that “S”. What was the angle? How short should it be? How much hair should be cut? I never paid attention because I thought she’d always be there.
I scheduled another appointment at yet another salon, this time for a highlight. I was nervous because my friend who recommended this place said the hairdresser asked lots of questions about how light you wanted to go. Eileen told me she would only highlight three or four shades lighter than my normal shade, otherwise it wouldn’t look natural. We argued. I wanted to go as light as possible, my desire to be a blonde blotting out my common sense. She wouldn’t give in, but she gave me lighter highlights in the front where they would naturally occur. She mixed the colors herself, and of course she was right. How would I know what the right shade was? The hairdresser was supposed to tell me. Eileen told me.
My friends told me to settle down with a new hairdresser. It’s true that the sign of many different stylists had started to show on my hair—little pieces were longer than the others. The “S” turned into a flip. I knew I had to forget Eileen, but I couldn’t. I kept thinking she’d get tired of electricity and come back to me. I could feel it in my roots.
At the new salon, the hairdresser asked me what colors I wanted, but then made sensible suggestions when I pointed to the platinum blond sample. She listened to the story of the hairdresser-turned-electrician with interest and sympathy. We talked some of the time and were quiet some of the time. She even had a few ideas about the now forlorn “S”. Her name was Betty, and I fell for her immediately. I was with her for a number of glorious years, and then she decided to sell her salon and get her MBA. I wanted to tell her that if she’d been running her own salon, she probably already knew more about business than the kids she was going to be studying next to. But who was I to stand in her way? Proud, ambitious Betty. Eileen had taught me the futility of hanging on, so I had to let her go.
Luckily, I found Terry shortly after, and didn’t have too many walks of haircutting shame. We’ve been together for more than 15 happy years, and he promised me long ago he had no interest in becoming an electrician or getting an MBA. A promise he’s held to this day. He good-naturedly accepts my decision to not color my gray, laughingly exclaiming at my “blond” hair every time I see him. He gave me a fabulous longer layered cut that I love more than a year later. Still, who knows what lurks in the heart of a hairdresser? Do you ever truly know the one who cuts your hair? Love and hair are fickle.
Photo credit: The Paper Blog