How I recovered from breaking up with my hairdresser

It's one of the saddest relationship break ups I've ever endured.

He knew almost everything about me. Remembered to ask how big work projects were going. He knew my opinion on major world events, and would enter into spirited debates about politics with me. Although we differed in outlook, he was always respectful. We laughed together, a lot. No more.

He treated me well, knew exactly how I liked it. And his massages were unrivalled. Now, all that pampering has stopped. I've tried seeing others recently. It's nowhere near the same. Maybe it's too soon ...

My hairdresser has left me. And, he left the profession to become – wait for it – a tradie. Two professions further apart I could not imagine. At least he's still putting those skilled hands to use.

Barber vs stylist

For the last five years, at Kimmy Ralph's boutique salon in Sydney, I was treated like a prince by Patrick. I'm unashamedly one of those men who shuns the barber – a spit and sawdust hut where men's locks get butchered with garden shears, then they're swivelled around and tipped out of their chair like dirty rag dolls.

No, give me a fussy salon any day where I pay well over the odds to pretend my opinions matter and my comforting delusions are indulged: my hair isn't actually receding and warrants discussion on its style, and needs to be washed twice within an hour.

Unique relationship

It got me thinking about the unique relationship between hairdresser and client. For the last five years, I actually enjoyed getting my haircut by Patrick, before he decided to massage cement instead of heads. It became less of a chore because the conversation was natural, flowing and engaging, instead of awkward, dull small talk – the clichéd 'where are you going on your holidays' type surface-level chat. I'd leave feeling valued, resplendent with my short locks.

Before she left the profession, my sister was a hairdresser but bemoaned that inevitable holiday question: "Why should I be bothered where they're going on holidays when I can't afford one myself?" she'd complain. She had a point. She was only interested in the hair – but a stylist is much more than that. They're a social worker, a counsellor, an active listener, an entertainer.

Loyalty

In an age where loyalty is elusive, it was refreshing that old school customer service had me returning every three-to-four weeks for five years. That's $5356 I've spent on my straightforward men's cut without a single loyalty card. It's something that has endured through the generations: my late Dad visited the same hairdresser, Harry, for almost 30 years.

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In fact, Harry was a barber, who treated Dad like he was more than a dirty rag doll (I take it all back, barbers). Harry knew more about me and my life than some family members, thanks to a proud dad. When he died, Harry was one of the first we called, to break the sad news and invite him to the funeral, as someone who knew Dad better than most.

Trust

For those who are slightly neurotic about their hairs, like me, trust is everything. I've been cursed with a forehead so large, friends call it my 'fivehead.' A former hairdresser audaciously asked "if people called me slaphead?" She didn't get a second visit.

So I wanted Patrick to do his best to conceal it. I refused to get rid of an intense pushed-forward fringe until Patrick one day, delicately, suggested I brush the front of my hair back, rather than forward. I gulped at the prospect of exposed fivehead, but I trusted him. I lost count of the people who told me "Your hair looks so much better like that" in the week that followed.  

The Prince of all hair cuts

Kim Berry cut Prince's hair for 30 years and travelled on the road with him. She said: "To allow someone to touch your hair is a big deal. You're completely vulnerable. We become a brother, sister, friend, lawyer and most of all confidant."

And what did Prince confide? "That he doesn't have any celebrity friends. His band members and the team around him were his family. People automatically assume because they're all stars that they're all friends, but that's not true."

Confessions over the wash basin

Ellen Robbins, 24, has a "great relationship with male clients" at Olivia Kate Hair in Noosa. "It's very relaxed with them, whereas female clients like to know the nitty gritty of how each strand will look." Many male clients have become her friends. And because they feel "nurtured", they confess.

"I've had a PT client confess he was secretly dating a much older (married) female client of his, and to make it more bizarre, she also happened to be a client of ours! One client told me he'd just discovered he had a child he didn't know about, who found him by chance online. I've had a few men tell me they've walked in on their partner with another man – which is obviously very heartbreaking!"

"There aren't many professions that are such an intimate experience", Robbins adds.

Now if only she'd pop over to the building site and remind Patrick.

Have you struggled after losing your favourite barber or hairdresser? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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