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"I Took a Couples Massage Lesson"

I’m not going to lie: I didn’t read the instruction manual for my sewing machine, iPhone, Macbook Air, Italian stovetop percolator, Soda Stream or unassembled chalkboard footstool. I figured I could guesstimate my way through each of those. Mostly, I did.

But halfway through a couples massage lesson, as a kindly masseuse, Jodie, showed me how to run my the heel of my palm down my husband’s forearms so his fingers curled up, I had to admit: I have no idea how this thing works.

She taught me a broad, warming stroke down and up his back, and out to his shoulders, using the full flat of my hands, and a circular stroke where I planted one hand over the other to generate more pressure—while lunging, might I add, so I “don’t hurt myself.” (Literally a day ago, I ended a makeout session with a cry of “my head is going to fall off!” Not out of the ordinary, I wouldn’t say.) She showed me how to knead back and forth across my husband’s calves and thighs with a push/pull motion between each hand—a stroke that was intensely relaxing when he performed it on me.

All I could think throughout this episode was: Where was Jodie when I was banging my first boyfriend, me grabbing away at his blood flow fruitlessly, and he ramming away, stopping occasionally to ask, “Is it good?” Jodie would have corrected that shit.

Toward the end, she turned my husband’s head to the side and showed me the triangular hollow where the carotid artery runs up the side of his neck: “Never go in there,” she said. Ha. My ex used to ply my artery in the name of “relaxation” like it was a stress ball. She demonstrated a three-fingered path from the shoulder up the back of the neck and into the hairline: it was a magic move, a technique that could subdue a bronco. This is a pretty good metaphor for relationships, I note: an inch-wide potential for transcendent gratification or, alternately, a stroke.

During my turn on the table, my husband struggled to get the hang of the circular stroke. “Like this,” Jodie said, and placed her hands over his. “This way you don’t cross over the backbone. Neither of us said a thing, but stood/lay guiltily, knowing that, across America, backbones were being crossed by well-intentioned but unskilled spousal hands. “It’s like the karate kid,” my husband noted, as he had an “aha.” Two moon-shaped candles with a hollow in the center around the wick flickered gently to the side as we learned. “Wu Tang clan.” My husband whispered.

We’re a caring couple, but I must admit that this was the first time in five years that we had invested time or effort in trying to really understand how to look after each other in a therapeutic sense. Jodie showed us how to put together an hour-long massage—not one of those lazy footrubs in front of the television, or a selfish excuse for foreplay, but a generous gift of sorts.

I would love to borrow a Jodie for a week, to just instruct us on how to be married, around all the dead arms and accidental elbows-in-eye-socket in our tiny kitchen, and to ask us, periodically, “How is that for you? Is he/she doing a good job?” In the meantime, we can work on kneading each other more.

Janet Manley is a writer in New York with a crunchy outer shell and heart of caramel ribbons. Follow her @janetmanley.

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