I’m super friendly. I smile pretty much all of the time. I remember your name and the names of your dog, spouse, and/or children. I will remember that you are training for a triathlon or visiting an exotic location soon, and I’ll ask you about it when I see you six months to a year later.
But it’s sometimes the bane of my existence.
Too often my friendliness has been mistaken for sexual interest by men, and the most recent event has me looking for a new chiropractor.
In 2011, I developed a running injury that has plagued me for years. Every time I try to start back running, I get a pinched nerve in my low back that radiates all the way down to my ankle. In the last eight years, I’ve been on several rounds of steroids, done three different rounds of physical therapy, and lots of yoga. Nothing has helped to prevent the injury from happening again.
After I hurt it again in June of this year, I decided to seek out a chiropractor, as that was the only option I hadn’t sought in the past.
The chiropractor is married with two children, probably five to ten years older than me. Not all that good looking, but a friendly guy. I did, though, notice things from the beginning that were odd about him.
He always made a point to touch my arm when he saw me, and then he started hugging me before any adjustments. I’m a huggy person, so I took it in stride. I did, in fact, witness him acting the same way with his other patients, so I rationalized that was just his personality: the “approachable” chiropractor.
But then one day he asked me if I was dating. When I told him I was, he asked me how serious it was.
“We’re going to get married. We just aren’t engaged yet,” I told him.
“Yup!” I responded.
At the end of that appointment, he let me know that if I was ever having any pain or discomfort at night or over the weekend, I could call him on his cell, a number he told me was on the clinic’s website. It struck me again as odd, but I rationalized that he was just being a concerned professional, especially since it was obviously a number open to the public since it was listed on the website.
I also remembered that some of my previous doctors had offered me their personal cellphone numbers when I was having issues that concerned them. I didn’t remember, though, feeling weird when previous doctors had told me I could call them.
Being friendly, I knew the chiropractor liked comic books and the Marvel movies, so I’d ask him about them as a source of quick chit-chat whenever I’d be in for an adjustment. Several appointments went by with nothing striking me as weird.
Then one day, at the end of an adjustment, he started telling me about his collection of first edition comic books.
“I have a lot,” he told me.
“If you were to come to my house and see them, you’d be impressed,” he told me next.
My stomach started knotting, and I blinked at him. “My husband’s nerdy. I bet you that would be more his thing,” I said.
“I have a great collection,” he reiterated.
“Maybe you should have a party and invite a herd of nerds to see it!” I said, trying to joke to change the topic. He laughed and repeated, “A herd!”
As soon as I got out the door, I started texting my husband. I was angry, both at the chiropractor and also at myself. I was angry at him because the adjustments had been really working, my back felt so much better, and he had just made things super awkward. I also was angry at myself because I felt like I must have done something wrong to make him think I was available or interested, that I had brought this on myself.
But when I assessed my part in the whole situation, my only part was that I had been nice. I had clearly stated I was in a relationship, had talked about my significant other plenty of times. I had never uttered a bad word about my honey to him, and I had repeated at least a couple of times how much I felt I hit the lottery with him.
When I got home, I told my husband, “I’m just going to have to find another chiropractor. I fucking hate it, but I just do.”
But then I didn’t get around to finding another one because I was busy.
When my pain returned and it started being hard for me to find a comfortable position to sleep in at night, I decided to try going back. This time I took my husband with me.
With my husband’s presence, the chiropractor acted noticeably different throughout the session. Instead of leaning down to hug me or making a point to touch my arm often, he was more reserved.
When he arrived in the room, he told me hello and then asked, “Who’s this?” of my husband standing in the doorway.
“This is my honey,” I said.
He introduced himself to my husband, and they shook hands. Later, my husband told me that the chiropractor tried to crush his hand, which he’d over-reciprocated since he is stronger.
“I hate when guys do that,” my husband said. “It’s a dominance thing,” he’s told me before.
As we were walking out, the chiropractor suggested I start coming back regularly again and then tried to sell my husband on a family plan.
The difference in the chiropractor’s demeanor told me everything I needed to know: he had been inappropriate. The things he said had meant what I thought they had meant, and as my husband confirmed, he did seem to have a “thing” for me.
I felt again frustrated and gross. Why the fuck do I have to find another chiropractor because of this shit?
You see, this has happened to me before.
A male gynecologist I had when I was 19 told me I was beautiful while checking my breasts for lumps. I didn’t learn until years later that there should have been a nurse present during the exam. It had been so long since the event when I learned this that the statute of limitations had passed; otherwise I would have reported it.
A nurse in the ER after I’d had a car accident that had shattered my nose and left several gashes along with two black eyes stuck his phone number in the bag of my belongings that he handed off to my mother.
A dental hygienist, who knew I was married at the time, once asked me what I was doing that evening while flossing my teeth. When I was then able to tell him, he told me it’d be “cool” to see me at a bar he was going to that night.
A physical therapist told me at the last session of a ten-week round of PT, “I’ll be changing practices next month. As long as you’re not a patient of mine, I’d be interested.”
Many of these may seem innocuous. They were just heterosexual men, and I am a heterosexual women.
Our society is prone to blaming women for the choices of men. I might have “given the wrong impression.” Maybe I wore something “inappropriate” and that made them think I was down for them doing and saying whatever they did.
Those things simply wouldn’t be true. I am a good conversationalist. I listen actively. I am nice. That’s it.
Each time, I felt violated and angry because the clearly defined boundaries of patient/medical personnel were crossed. That’s why it doesn’t even matter if I “gave the wrong impression” or may have “dressed inappropriately” (I simply didn’t.) because there are strict codes of moral and ethics for medical professionals, and one of those is not having any inappropriate — romantic or sexual — relationships with patients.
Each time, I’d trusted a professional with the personal details of my medical history and care, only for them to presume that level of intimacy would translate into romantic intimacy.
I’m frustrated, and in the past, this has caused me to want to change my own behavior — to clam up, shut down, be bitchy, etc. — to discourage these advances. But, what I’ve learned too, is that I don’t have any control over how others act. I don’t like myself when I’m not myself, and my self is friendly and personable and kind.
All that I know is to keep showing up, having clear boundaries, and being honest, and when it’s time to cut people out of my life — including chiropractors in offices located conveniently to my own home — to fucking do it.