Yesterday I introduced you to K****, a man perfect for me on paper in a myriad of ways, yet my heart was struggling to get on board. Between our first date at the end of January to Thanksgiving, I probably broke up with him 2 or 3 times, but kept coming back around because my head was telling my heart, “you’re 35 years old, you’re running out of time and options to marry, so you must make this work.” Not the most inspirational kind of love story. But despite my lukewarm feelings for K****, he invited me to spend thanksgiving with his wonderful family in Ohio, and I was departing for Costa Rica a few days later to kick off my 5 month sabbatical from my spa.
Why does a 35 year old need a sabbatical? Because I felt lost and confused. I’d just gotten a serious offer to buy my spa from a client who was a friend. He loved how I did business, so he wanted to merge my spa with his existing hotel spa, which had no business, despite it being quite fancy. He liked how I retained loyal staff for years, I had a company culture, I had loyal clients and I was busy all year long; all things that weren’t true at his spa. I took his offer seriously because it we flattering to have my business be recognized and admired, so we arranged for a get together at his hotel’s restaurant which was next door to his spa. At this meeting was myself, my spa director and my attorney, and we all ordered drinks and shared an appetizer as we waited for my client to join us.
We’d spent the previous two weeks discussing how to peacefully merge the two spas, what changes would need to be made in his place to meet my standards, and we discussed what the terms of my employment would be if he were to take over my company. He assured me that he’d keep me involved on the management end for 1-2 years on an undisclosed salary, but we never got into specifics. But from our discussions, money didn’t seem to be an object to him. Need a change in the decor? He’d handle it. Need a change in how things operated? He’d do anything; so that openness felt fun to play in. But as the four of us sat in the corner booth of the dimly lit restaurant, it came time to discuss the price he’d be willing to pay me for the spa, which at that point was 10 years of my life. I was expecting around $250,000 as a starting offer, but I was open to negotiating. But when the number he chose came across his lips, I just stared at him, not thinking I’d heard him correctly. He’d just offered me less than $20,000 for over 10 years of my life. I asked him to repeat himself, and when he did it, saying it was a nice offer given the spa business, it was hard to chew and swallow my food. I was literally so insulted that I was at a loss for words. But luckily my attorney was not, and he quickly replied, “thanks for your offer, looks like this meeting is over.” And we all quickly finished our drinks, left some cash on the table and the three of us got up together to leave. My spa was not for sale.
Now when a scenario such as this unfolds, a business owner can go in a few directions: 1) totally fold and sell their soul for a ridiculously low price, 2) say no thank you, but leave the meeting feeling completely gutted and disappointed, 3) use this experience as a launch pad to get some perspective, feel some inspiration and make a change. I chose the latter.
During the negotiation process, before a price had been discussed, when he guaranteed me a job at my own spa for 1-2 years during the transition, that left me with a vulnerable feeling; but it also got me thinking. What would I do with my time if I didn’t show up at my spa everyday? Would I still be doing massage? Would I work for someone else? That would be weird. Would I still go to my spa as a paying client if there was a new owner? Again, weird. And would the old school core spa staff stick around without me as the owner? And if I didn’t do spa stuff, what would I do and who would I be? I was both overwhelmed and excited by all these thoughts because these were big questions that got me seeing that sure I’d given so much of my life to my business over the last decade, but I’d also lost a little of my own identity, and it was time to go seeking me. I didn’t have much direction, interest or life outside of Align Spa. So who would I be if I wasn’t Harriet from Align Spa? I’d never had a reason to consider this question before, so I was grateful for the opportunity that the outrageously low offer gave me because a piece of me woke up and I knew it was time for a change. But what change? So I set up a meeting with my management staff to discuss some fresh ideas and possible solutions that had came forth.
I loved to write; almost as much as I loved owning my spa. So that was the first thing I acknowledged in this reassessment of my life. But I wondered was I allowed to take a few months away from my normal schedule at the spa to write? Could the spa support me taking a sabbatical? That would mean I’d still be drawing a paycheck but I wouldn’t be there. Was that okay? But what would I write about? I kept going back to the time I’d spent in Bali traveling with Ma**** the year before (day 61) and his suggestion that I write a book, because he enjoyed hearing my stories so much. So was that an option? To just stay in Utah, but go to coffee shops during the day and have my focus be writing and not my spa? Yes, that’s what I wanted to do. And when I shared this new dream aloud at our staff meeting, I felt a tangible difference in my body; it was like my body was softening in response and saying yes and thank you.
At that point in the life of my spa, I’d had mostly the same staff for going on a decade, and a lot of the spa’s day to day responsibilities were taken off my plate years before. My role at the spa was to be the face of the spa, do the payroll, do the spa’s monthly accounting, do a few front desk shifts, do some massages and have spa calls forwarded to my phone after hours. And all of these jobs could be pretty easily absorbed by my team with a little training, and they were intrigued by my curiosity about who I could become, so they were up for the challenge. The plan was for my sabbatical to begin December 1st and it would go through mid April, so it would be the entire length of our busy session because we were in a ski town. And the timing was perfect because back in February I had booked myself on a week long Yoga retreat to Costa Rica leaving on December 2nd, and I’d already gotten the thumbs up from the team for that. So Costa Rica with Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the Four Agreements, would be my kick off for this self imposed sabbatical. But I wondered how K****, my boyfriend of 10 months would take this news of my sabbatical, because I hadn’t discussed it with him at all. We were about to depart on a 6 day Thanksgiving trip to see his family in Ohio, so this would be a wonderful time to share the news.
Now you can imagine the level of growth and depth in this relationship with K**** if I’d made this enormous decision about the next 5 months of my life without seeking his input or support. And rightly so, my news sent our Thanksgiving vacation off to a peculiar start. But I definitely wanted to get this topic addressed, before his family asked me if I was excited about the upcoming winter season. I was, but not because of my spa; it was because who I was exploring outside of the spa.
When we arrived at K****’s parents home in Cleveland, we were 1 of a few couples staying there, so we got the bedroom down in the basement that didn’t have a bathroom. We had to walk back up to the main floor and through the living room to use the bathroom and shower. This room we were given looked like a storage room with a bed and it seemed like it hadn’t seen a human being in months. There were boxes piled high on every side of the bed, but it did have matching bedside tables, so it seemed this room’s purpose was once a full time bedroom. I didn’t ask.
I hadn’t had a family thanksgiving experience in years so being with K****’s nice family felt good. I think it had been several years since K**** had brought a girl home for a holiday, so when we went to his extended family’s gathering, everyone was thrilled to see me. So thrilled that before we left for our trip, I was invited to be in the family photo and told to wear earth tones so we all matched. I love earth tones, and felt like an expert at them, so I carefully selected a lime green long sleeve shirt, a maroon corduroy skirt, and knee length black boots; I looked stylish and adorable. I also had a rainbow scarf to bring it all together, but I was willing to leave that out for the picture. We’d be taking the picture the morning of Thanksgiving at his sister's house, just a short drive away, so there was time for a wardrobe change for the Thanksgiving meal if need be. But I also loved what I was wearing because I was comfortable.
We were meeting in the upstairs living room before all piling into the cars to head over, and when I emerged from the stairway from the basement in my bright earth tones, I saw a sea of brown. I clearly had a different interpretation of “earth tones” and it was a little awkward for a moment as everyone looked at me but didn’t say a word. Once at the other house, we all gathered in the backyard amongst the brown & gold Fall leaves, and it was clear that I stuck out from everyone else in the picture; it was a family dressed in brown earth tones and me in colorful earth tones. But no one said anything, which made it a little more awkward. However as we were maneuvering around in different positions and setting the auto feature on the camera, I got the intuition that I should step out of the family portrait and offer to take the picture. But as I stepped out of the group, I heard K****’s mom say, “oh, are you going to change your shirt?”
“No”, I said. “I was going to take a few photos of the group without me in it. So you have some with all brown.” I’d said it. And you could feel the awkwardness ripple through the space that had no walls because we were outside. This earth tone confusion would be sign 1 of 3 that it was time to leave this relationship, but I still had a few more days before each additional sign would appear.
Thanksgiving was really nice. I loved sharing in their peaceful and connected family vibe and attending 2 events that brought in family and friends from several generations. Everyone in my family was spread all over the U.S. so it was nice to know that healthy family units were still a regular thing in some parts. I drank a little wine and we played lots of board games and outside games with the family and I was doing my best to relax. Amid conversations it was repeatedly asked if K**** and I lived together, and though the answer was no, I’d hear him joke that I may as well because I’m over at his place almost every night. And i cringed thinking that was more because staying at his house saved me a 30 minute commute than a desire to sleep over. But I just smiled and didn’t say a word.
The next day was Black Friday and this family certainly had a tradition. Everyone piled into the car at 7am, and away we went to Macey’s, an enormous department store in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, and everyone was assigned to get a present for a name they drew out of a hat. They called this tradition “ThanksChristmas”, and it was a way to celebrate a little Christmas energy because they were seldom together as a whole family for that holiday. I luckily got K****’s older brothers wife, who I knew before he and I got romantic, so it was easy to find her a cute and cozy long sleeved flannel shirt. I had it gift wrapped right on site at a wrapping station, so my work was done. We had an hour to finish this shopping task and the crowds of people were shocking to observe. So many people trying to get in for their Black Friday; and I noticed it made me feel a little sick to see so much consumerism, but I was doing my best to participate and roll with the family tradition.
The rest of the day was for grilling, football, gambling and drinking, so I did my best to stay a part of the group, without having any interest in anything they were up to. You could find me either playing solitaire on my phone and watching the clock, or listening to an audiobook on my phone. We were in this environment until Sunday morning so I had no idea what I’d do for another whole day and a half.
But I soon realized that Saturday was dedicated to ThanksChristmas, so i watched the holidays shift in this house from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and the tree came out to begin decorating. We had another family feast for dinner and presents went under the tree for opening after dinner. Honestly? I loved all of it. The tradition in this family was deep and tight and I didn’t realize it was filling my family cup that had been low for quite some time.
When the time came for gift exchanges, we all went down onto the couches in the living room basement, and presents were dispersed. My box was shaped like a clothing box and was light, and about 8 inches by 12 inches. And I wondered about its contents as I sat patiently as everyone went around the circle opening their presents. As each person began opening their gift we’d disclose who the giver was, and my flannel shirt was a hit. I knew it because K*** went into the other room and changed into it and thanked me profusely. It was my turn. And as I began to untie the ribbon and peel away the gift wrapping paper, I heard K****’s mother excitedly proclaim, “I immediately thought of you when I saw this!” So my excitement grew along with hers, that is until I realized what I was looking at. I saw pink, which immediately turned me off, but when I picked up the whole piece of fabric to observe what was happening, I saw it was a tight pink tube top dress with spaghetti straps, and it had an attached pink scratchy chiffon scarf. Was this a joke? Did I get the 1 gag gift and now everyone was going to burst out laughing, and the real gift would be presented? I would have loved a matching flannel shirt like I got for K***. But as I observed the looks around the room, all of which were on me and this horrific pink dress, I smiled and mustered out a “thank you.” It wasn’t a joke; this was my gift and this was really what K****’s mom was so excited for me to have. I felt a little sick to my stomach and continued to smile as everyone went around opening their totally normal, thoughtful and useful ThanksChristmas presents. What the fuck was I going to do with this dress? Halloween perhaps? And I did get an inner laugh as I envisioned myself dressed up as “Missing the mark”, explained as the gift my boyfriend’s mom thought I’d love.
The flight home to Utah felt long, but maybe it was because of the topic of conversation. K**** thought our vacation had gone over perfectly, so he kept bringing up the idea of us getting our own place and moving in together, because we’d been sort of together (off and on) for 10 months. But 10 months still felt like we’d be rushing it, though we both knew I had a history of moving in with men days after we met. So perhaps it was the guy and not the length of time that was making me not want to pull the trigger to move in. Besides, I was a few days away from starting my sabbatical, and “moving in with my boyfriend” was not on my radar even a little bit. It was as if a piece of me had already boarded the plane to Costa Rica.
The pink dress did become a hit in Utah, but not for the reason it was intended. I took it and hung it up in the back staff room at my spa and wrote on the whiteboard pointing to it, “what my boyfriends mom thought I’d love” and I left it to be a source of a good chuckle for a few days. But what I also couldn’t get out of my head was that K**** thought I sincerely liked the dress and thought it was my style, which I didn’t even know how to respond to, so I left it alone but quietly wondered, “does he even know me at all?”
We were both very busy on the days leading up to my Costa Rica trip, and because K**** was taking me to the airport early the next morning, he came to my house in Salt Lake City December 1st to hang out while I packed. The intention was for us to have a romantic last evening together. We talked about my trip, we talked about the host Don Miguel Ruiz and his book “The Four Agreements”, and we talked about my goals for my sabbatical. I told him I wanted to write, explore and travel, and I listed off a few bucket list locations like Africa or Australia as possible options, feeling my face hurting from smiling so big. But K****’s response to my excitement shifted my smile, “Well I don’t make a ton of money and I only get 2 weeks of vacation per year and I spend 1 week in Ohio for Thanksgiving and the other in Mexico in the spring at our family’s timeshare, so unless you’re planning to go to all these places solo, I won’t be joining you.” And with that, I finally knew it. My heart’s “maybe” had finally turned into a hard no, and I was confident K**** wasn’t the right guy for me. So I broke up with him then and there, and sent him home, hoping I’d be able to find a taxi at 6:30am to the airport. But I went to sleep feeling the most relaxed and confident I’d felt in ages. I was free to be me, just in time for my kick off trip to Costa Rica.
It was 6am and I was still trying to solidify an airport ride when I heard a knock on my front door. I opened it to see K****, holding flowers and apologizing for not being more adventurous. He said he wanted to still take me to the airport, which I happily accepted, so I quickly loaded up my backpack and yoga mat, and away we went for the 16 minute drive to the airport that felt like an hour. We stayed silent most of the drive because there really wasn’t much to discuss. He dropped me at the curb and I can still hear his hopeful words as he hugged me, “I want you to go to Costa Rica and decide if this relationship is what you want. I’ll pick you up when you get back and we can talk more. I’m just scared you’re going to go to Costa Rica and fall in love.”
“That’s crazy.” I said. “I’ll be in the middle of nowhere on a yoga retreat with mostly older people and couples. But thanks for the ride and I’ll see you when I get back.”
I was grateful I didn’t give in. We were still broken up. And I gave him a weak hug, put my backpack on my shoulders, picked up my yoga mat, and walked into the terminal, intentionally not looking back at him.
I never saw K**** again because he didn’t pick me up at the airport. Turns out I extended my trip in Costa Rica a few days because his worst fear had come true. I did fall in love. But that’s another story.