“Do you want to grab a beer?”

Over the years, I’ve had a few clients tiptoe past my boundary line by asking me to join them outside of the massage room. One of the most memorable instances was more of a “bro-ship” bid than a request for a date, but it still required tactful maneuvering on my part.

I’d seen this client, who came across as somewhat socially awkward in his interactions, a few times for back tension. Even though I noticed his odd demeanor from the onset, my conversations with him still maintained his needs as my priority. He noticed the thorough attention I give to my clients and became somewhat enamored over the bond that was being created between us.

He expressed how his massages had become one of his weeks’ highlights. I saw the writing all over the wall, yet I was still shocked when he popped the question, “Do you want grab a beer, sometime?”

It sounds innocent enough, but it’s the seminal request for starting a bro-ship. Now, I’m not one for avoiding a good connection when given the chance, but this felt like I was being put in a situation I didn’t want to be in. As I contemplated the question, I felt that if I said no, I could be insulting him and risk the chance of hurting his feelings. If I said yes, I might be in a relationship I didn’t want to initiate. I didn’t know what to do.

I followed my instincts and said no. He was taken aback by my answer and wanted to know why I couldn’t join him for just one beer. He said he’d even let me choose the date and time. What he wasn’t aware of was the unspoken client/therapist rule that you don’t generally ask each other out in the massage room. And if you do and get a no, you don’t ask why not and put the other person on the spot.

Does that mean therapists never strike up friendships with clients? Heck no! People become good friends or even end up getting married after meeting each other during a massage. It happens; but at the same time, everyone needs to be respectful of each other’s boundaries.

I saw this client for a couple more sessions and after he made his best attempt at fishing for whether I was more of a wine enthusiast than beer, I politely asked him to see one of our other therapists. It wasn’t easy, and I knew he would feel rejected, but it was beginning to affect my ability to give him a massage. He understood after some added explaining on my part, and I didn’t see him again after that.

It’s not easy trying to manage personal feelings while conducting a massage, but I don’t like sending the wrong message to my clients. Even though a beer is just a beer, unwarranted bro-ships aren’t my thing. My time outside of the massage room is my own, and sometimes I have to clarify that to my clients.