Illustration by resident wonder Kelcey Vossen.
There are many ways to test out a new relationship. You can go on a road trip together. You can have him meet your parents. You can also do Downward Dogs in your underwear in front of your new beau and a handsome French doctor, an ultimate assessment of your duo’s chances of survival.
Let’s backtrack to a few months ago, when a guy I was dating (whom we will call Squiggle, for no reason other than it metaphorically makes sense in my brain) decided to take me to an osteopath. We had just spent three weeks traveling through Asia, and I suppose he had grown tired of hauling my hiking backpack along with his own, because, once we got back to Paris, my chronic back pain became his primary concern. “He’s amazing, you will see,” Squiggle raved about the doctor, an alleged miracle worker known for cracking hopeless cases such as my own. While I wasn’t too keen on the idea, I couldn’t help but bask in the warm and cuddly of feeling of being with a man who actually seemed to care, considering that I had previously dated guys who wouldn’t as much as get me cold medicine.
“Make sure to wear underwear that covers your butt,” Squiggle told me the night before the appointment, in what I assumed was a reminder to wear briefs. I nodded, vaguely picturing a respectable-looking man his late 60’s analyzing my disc alignments in the privacy of his office. After all, if this doctor was so amazing, he must have years of experience, non?
The next morning I woke up early and prepared a five-course breakfast in an ever-futile effort to convince Squiggle that the petit-dejeuner is the most important meal of the day. He ate a banana; I drank two cups of coffee and consumed enough complex carbs to enable me to run a marathon – possibly all the way to Versailles, which was where the osteopath was based. By the time the carbo-load was over, my tummy looked like I was carrying little Bea and Shawn Jr. in it. (I apologize in advance in the case that the rumors are false and Beyoncé and Jay Z’s twins are, in fact, not named after mom and pops!)
Forty-five minutes later we pulled up in front of a respectable-looking building in the posh Parisian suburb. Upstairs, in a large spacious office that looked more like the apartment of my dreams than a medical facility, we were greeted by one of the most attractive men I had seen in a long time. Tall and rugged and decidedly Jewish, he looked more like somebody I would normally encounter at Le Montana, rather than the nurturing alternative medicine practitioner I had anticipated.
He gave Squiggle les bises. Had they met at Le Montana?
Dr. Montana led us into his private office and asked me to tell him about my concerns. Thirty seconds into my weak testimony, he cut me off.
“D’accord, let’s take a look. Please take of your clothes.”
I don’t know why I was surprised by his request. He was an osteopath, after all – there was no way he could diagnose me without getting a proper view of my body. But wasn’t there a robe, a sheet, something that would make this whole experience feel slightly, I don’t know, more formal?
“All my clothes?” I asked him, like a true moron.
“You can keep your sous-vêtements on.” With a (deservedly) odd look, he informed me that my bra and underwear could stay.
I suddenly realized that Squiggle was still in the room. “Are you going to stay here for the whole thing?” I asked him, trying to mask my rising panic.
“Mais oui, I need to hear what’s going on. In case you don’t understand the vocabulary.” It was a rational response that left little room for argument, and it slowly started dawning on me that I was screwed.
From where I stand, there are two types of women in this world. There are those women who are completely comfortable with their bodies and can prance around half-naked on the snap of a finger. You see them on the beach – jogging, taking bikini selfies, gorging on French fries while sitting at 90-degree angles – completely unaware of how good they have it in life. Then, there are the rest of us mere mortals, whose confidence is directly proportional to lighting, alcohol levels and amount of consumed food, we who worship bikini cover-ups and would rather drown than recreate a Baywatch scenario. Sure, Squiggle and I had just been on vacation together and he knew exactly what my body looked like, but that didn’t mean I was ready for him to observe me being poked and prodded under fluorescent lighting in my underwear!
Since it was too late to run, I decided to go for the trusted “fake it till you make it” approach. I smiled, muttered a silent prayer, and briskly stripped all the way down to my (butt-covering) Princesse Tam Tam set. I stood up straight to face Dr. Montana, who slowly ran his eyes down my body, inch by inch, inspecting it with microscopic precision. The office suddenly seemed brighter, the fluorescent lights hotter. I briefly wondered if I would faint.
He pulled out a metal stick and asked me to follow it with my eyes.
“Aha!” Adding insult to injury, he informed me that I had a slight lazy eye that could be causing my upper back pain. Part of me almost felt relieved – now that I was officially cross-eyed, maybe I could put my clothes back on?!
Nuh-uh. “Ok, now bend and touch zee toes,” was the next instruction.
Wonderful. I leaned forward while simultaneously trying to estimate exactly how many tummy rolls were surfacing in the process. Call me anti-feminist all you want, but no amount of self-love spiels courtesy of Lena Dunham had prepared me for this.
“Très bien. Now crawl into zee plank pose and stay there.”
This was turning into a full-blown yoga class! FYI, few things are less flattering to the female figure than the godforsaken plank, particularly if said female figure happens to be 95% naked and 99% void of stomach muscle. I made a note to remember this moment for the next time I’m too lazy to drag my ass to Equinox.
A few demi-nude Sun Salutations later, I was instructed to lay down on the table. I expected a stretch, but instead Dr. Montana sat down next to me and – drumroll please – started massaging my stomach. As in, smushing all my aforementioned tummy rolls with his hands like one would knead a batch of fresh dough.
“Zees eez a massage digestion – it will help you feel good,” said Dr. Montana, explaining that mid-back pain is often caused by digestion issues. I wanted to tell him that I usually let my digestion take care of itself, but was too focused on containing Bea and Shawn Jr., who were responding to all the novel attention by throwing a bona fide party in my stomach.
After he was done expediting my digestion (and I had resumed breathing), Doctor Montana walked around the cot and sat down behind me. In what may be the most awkward position I have ever come across, he lifted my head and placed my entire upper body on his lap. I looked at Squiggle and wondered if our sexy vacation memories from the previous three weeks would be enough to compensate for the mental image of me lounging on the doctor’s lap in all my Rubenesque glory. For the next fifteen minutes, Dr. Montana proceeded to twist my torso into a multitude of different pretzel variations, manipulating me into positions that I had previously only seen in Kamasutra books, or at strip clubs. All that was missing was the pole.
“Ça va, Marina?” he asked, finally releasing me from his iron grasp.
“Ça va,” I lied.
“How do you feel?”
Let’s see, shall we? You just told me I was cross-eyed, had me do Downward Dogs in my underwear, and twisted me into an Auntie Anne’s assortment platter, all in front of a man I have been seeing for eight weeks! I feel FABULOUS.
“Mortified,” I recapitulated in one word.
Dr. Montana looked confused. With my sarcasm lost in translation, I hopped down and asked if I could put my clothes back on before hearing the diagnosis.
“Oui, if you want to,” the doc said, nonchalantly, as though sitting at his desk in my underwear was a viable alternative. Unable to keep my mouth shut any longer, I told him that most people are generally more comfortable in their clothes.
“Not in France,” was his response, making me feel about as refined as one of those American tourists trying to “touch” the tip of the Pyramide du Louvre. For once in my life, I didn’t care. Never had my sweater felt cozier and my jeans more comfortable. Never had I been happier to be perceived as a lame American.
Once I was fully dressed, Dr. Montana informed me that I most likely needed glasses but, other than that, I would be okay. I thanked him and silently wondered if the same could be said about my relationship.
Sure enough, Squiggle and I broke up two weeks later – when he dumped my ass on Valentine’s Day, to be exact. While that’s a story for another day, just know this: if you ever want to test out your relationship, look no further than a French osteopath. If you can survive that challenge, you can survive anything, meeting the parents included.