Some Notes On The Couple's Massage

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We are promised that there will be no rose petals, which is good—both because I refuse to participate in a genocide of flowers and because I do not want my boyfriend to flee the premises.

He and I have arrived at The Retreat at The Castle Hill Inn in Newport, Rhode Island, to experience what the spa has been tactful enough to call a “massage à deux.” But we will not be fooled. This is a couple's massage.

For the record, we do not do this. To date, Jason has never bought me me a box of chocolates or a Hallmark card. Over the holidays, he presented me with a gift certificate to the Cheesecake Factory—a joke! He swears! A few months ago, he gave me a cactus. Against all odds, we like each other. A lot.

I explain this to Brenda Brock, who greets me in the lobby. As the founder of beloved skincare line Farmaesthetics, Brock has masterminded both the products at and the overall environment of The Retreat. She is very sympathetic.

“It’s all about how you set it up and stage it,” she contends. “There can be champagne. It can be all about romance, but that is not what we wanted. We wanted this treatment to be about time together—to get people in the same place at the same time for something private.”

I relay this sentiment to Jason. He nods. It is so cute how he tries to suppress his panic. Great effort.

He and I are led to a small room outfitted in heavily patterned furniture. The concierge hands us basic questionnaires and cool glasses of water, leaving us to bask in amorous bliss. We sit down next to each other and begin to recount our medical histories. I leave an earnest note in which I detail poor circulation, dalliances with acupuncture, occasional migraines. Reclining in a tufted throne, Jason records his.

“Should I say that I’m pregnant?” He asks innocently.

I roll my eyes. This is our romance.

We complete the forms and are steered into a small room. The space is bright and cheerful and a little chilled, which strikes me as very genteel. I take in the yellow wallpaper and sloped ceilings and think of Ina Garten. I would estimate that I wonder at least every 10 days: “What would Ina do?”

As far as I am concerned, the Barefoot Contessa really knows how to live. She always seems to have a bottle of wine on ice and pals over for dinner. This is what I want for my future.

The fact that I can picture Ina and Jeffrey Garten at The Castle Hill Inn is a good omen for Jason and me. I tell him this. He does not respond. He should be honored. Jeffrey is a lucky man and never wants for fresh mozzarella.

Together, we walk inside. We wash up, strip down, and slide under our respective covers. Small children that we are, we cannot stop laughing. Jason is convinced that he will laugh in the middle of the massage, revealing us both to be infants. We agree to think of dead puppies and take deep breaths.

When our masseuses return, my lips are pressed into a tight line. I am determined to be expressionless. I am adult woman. I am worth a “massage à deux.” I am told I hold a lot of tension in my jaw.

But the strain abates. And for several dozen enchanted minutes, there is no sound. I am so relaxed I do not even remember how to be jaded. I am so relaxed I forget Jason is even there.

After more than an hour, I am slicked in oil—lissome and drowsy. I glance over and see Jason. Oh! That’s right. Him.

We both get dressed in a daze and amble back to the car.

“I never wanted it to ennnnndddddd,” Jason confesses, betraying an enthusiasm for extravagance that makes me smile.

“That was heaven,” I pronounce.

And yet it becomes evident: We have not resolved what we set out to. Massages for two are nice. But they are no nicer than “massages pour un.”

For all the elation, the twin tables did not make me fall deeper or further in love. Not even a charming set of matching bathrobes could do so much. When I visualize rose petals, I still see carnage. But at least my knots are gone this time.

—Mattie Kahn

Photos courtesy of the author. Next up: The Blurred Line Relationships With The People We Pay To Touch Us.