What I Learned When I Broke Up With My Hair Stylist

I discovered my hair stylist 16 years ago. She was everything one could want in a stylist. She owned her own shop. She was a perfectionist in her work. She wasn't cheap but she also wasn't absurdly priced. She asked questions and seemed genuinely concerned with keeping my hair healthy, easy to manage and stylish. I had just moved back to New York and within six weeks had snagged a great apartment and a great hair stylist! I was a lucky girl!

Each time she changed locations, I followed her. I recommended her to friends. I wore my hair shorter, longer, with highlights and without. It was easy to manage. I got compliments. I was happy. Outside of family and a few select friends our relationship became one of the longer ones of my life. So when things started to change, breaking up was the last thing I wanted to do.

At first I thought it was me. My hair, like my body, was 16 years older than when we started. Naturally it wasn't going to behave the same way. But I noticed each time I brought it up, she seemed disinterested. I knew she was no longer concerned in growing her business. She had married, had a child and moved to the suburbs as she simultaneously shrunk her work week to three days, to two and then down to one. But I endured the nightmare of working my hair schedule around her limited one. I was attached. I had gone through enough change in the last few years reinventing my life. I was in no mood to include a change of hair stylist in the mix. I did what people do when they know it's time for a change and are unwilling to make it -- I rationalized -- convincing myself that it was easier to stay put and that the devil I knew was better than the devil I didn't.

But it kept getting worse. She would stop in the middle of a haircut to take a call from her daughter. She would argue when I told her my bangs were uneven. The last time I was there she went so far as to suggest that perhaps my hairline was receding and that was the problem. I spent an hour that night in front of the bathroom mirror wondering if she was right. Maybe it was receding. Maybe my dissatisfaction with my hair was all age-related.

That next week I had a lot of places to be in which I wanted my hair to look good. So I made an appointment for a professional blow out at Dream Dry -- one of those salons where all they do is style hair. The white noise of the high-power hair dryer was putting me into my usual trance-like zone when I was interrupted by these words.

"You know -- your bangs are uneven."

Snapped out of my reverie, I looked up.

"They are, aren't they?"

"They are. I'll do the best I can."

That happened two more times, with two different stylists.

I admit I felt a bit smug and self-satisfied that I was right and my hairdresser of 16 years was wrong. But I was also nauseous at the thought of what was becoming painfully clear I was going to have to do.

I had to break up.

So I made the call.

No, not the one you are thinking. I was acting like a guy. Before I severed the ties once and for all, I made sure I had something else lined up.

I had been telling Alice for a long time that when I was ready to change hairdressers, Alice Hair was where I was going. I had friends who were her clients. I knew her. I knew her work. I knew her story. I knew she came to this country from Ireland with a couple of hundred dollars in her pocket and a dream that led her to eventually opening her own shop, one that has thrived for over 13 years despite the Second Avenue subway nightmare. I knew she was passionate about her work.

Alice, ever the professional, had never tried to hard sell me. She would simply offer her infectious smile and tell me in that endearing Irish lilt "Darlin', just let me know. Whenever you're ready."

I was ready.

The first day I left Alice Hair I was angry. Not at Alice. My hair looked fantastic. The joy she gets out of styling, cutting and coloring hair is so palatable it literally fills the salon and ripples forth from all her employees. She loves what she does and takes real pleasure from helping women feel good about how they look. And she is good at it!

No -- I was angry at myself.

Once again I had done what I had promised myself before I would never do again in so many areas of my life -- whether it was a relationship that was no longer working or a job.

I had stayed at the party long after the fun wore out.
I had hoped it would get back to what it was -- when I knew we were past that.
I had put up with not being listened to.
I had not trusted myself when I knew I was right.
I had let someone else make it about me -- when it was really about them.
I had complained instead of taking action.
I had chosen fear over change.

It's been over three months since the break-up. After being a regular, every four-week customer for all those years, it appears my former hairdresser has not even noticed I've gone missing. Which says a lot about my decision.

What I learned when I broke up with my hairdresser was not a new lesson. But it was one I had temporarily forgotten.

When things no longer feel good, when you are not being heard, when you've spoken your truth and nothing changes -- be brave.

Standing still and complaining changes nothing. Making a move does. And in this case, gave me -- to paraphrase Alice -- "hair I love to wear."