Spa-ing with a dear friend can be a fantastic way to catch up, chill out, feel great and – thanks to the absence of too many cocktails – remember everything that happened. But it can also be awkward and/or expensive.
As a Spa Spy and amateur psychologist, I love trying to work out the dynamics between people while pretending to doze by the pool, one eye fixed on the dramas unfolding before me.
Good friends seem to float around together, drifting in and out of animated conversation and silence, completely attuned to what each other needs.
In less happy pairings, things become more interesting. To paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy friendships are alike. Each unhappy friendship is unhappy in its own way, and there’s nothing like a spa day to highlight this.
Perhaps in small doses – or through the Mojito mists – you find your old friend amusing. You might have forgotten how at school she used to make so angry you scratched her face out of pictures. Now sober, in a bikini and trapped with her for a whole day, you’re suddenly getting changing-room flashbacks. You are this close to locking her in the steam room and barging off to sulk alone in the Jacuzzi.
The dominant/submissive friendship for example can take many forms. There’s the outwardly bossy friend gossiping loudly in the relaxation room while nicer, quiet friend looks around awkwardly at all the glaring (albeit glowing) fellow spa goers trying to doze peacefully after their treatments.
The dominant friend often loudly proclaims what is the best way of doing things, how long to spend in each room and why they chose the best treatment ever compared to their friend’s rather cowardly, obvious choice. Oh, they know EVERYTHING about detoxing, wellness and thalassotherapy. They (slightly bitchily) recommend treatments you would LOVE, but also happened to correct your body/face imperfections. “You should SO have this anti-cellulite treatment!”
It’s the kind of spa experience you need a spa experience to get over.
Sometimes, spa brings out surprising things in people you thought you knew. Recently, I treated one of my sweetest chums to a spa day in London. She was worried before we went about what to wear and the fact no one had seen her in a bikini since 1997 – even though, as I kept telling her, she has a great body and no-one at a spa cares what you look like anyway.
“Are tankinis okay?”
“Of course they are. You can wear swimming costumes if you want. Heck, you can wear a burkini, this isn’t France.”
On the day, she sported a stripy little two piece, modest compared to my rather more revealing bikini (the more spas I go to, the more body confident I become). We had booked a mud treatment to kick off our spa day, and were given two little bowls of mineral rich slop and told to smother it all over our skin and hair in the steam room.
I expected we would just wipe the stuff onto our arms and legs as a token gesture then sit down and have a chat. Once inside, my friend totally stunned me by whipping off her tankini top and slapping mud all over her body without a care in the world. I suddenly felt quite jejune. It took me a moment to survey the territory – very steamy and thick, lighting low, no one else in the steam room – before I rather tentatively took off my own top and did the same (at the same time wondering all kinds of new things about my friend’s private life. Who was this woman? Could I ever look at her the same again?).
Only a week before I’d been in Austria, totally intimidated by all the naked parts swinging freely about the thermal area. But now here I was, in London – quite the cosmopolitan. And you know what, it was fine. It was funny, and not at all awkward. Maybe it was a good thing. At least I didn’t get mud on my bikini.
Not that I’d do it again, mind, especially not while spa-ing solo. Definitely not with my mother. Or with work colleagues. Not even with Mr Spa Spy, that would be too ‘swing-y’. And certain other friends who would probably double up laughing if I did.
Clearly there are boundaries. Boundaries that only the oldest, loveliest, most trusted friends can cross. That’s why we love them, isn’t it?
Which one of your friends woudld you take on a spa trip? As September is Friendship Month, take inspiration and treat your BFF to a day at a spa (you can also enter our competitions for two). Because you are SO worth it.