There are more than enough emotions flying around when you walk in to get your first tattoo done, but there's one you might not be prepared for — and that's crushing on your tattoo artist. The relationship you establish with them is going to be special, even intimate; after all, you are the human canvas to their artwork. It's like having a rock star write a song about you — totally sexy. Relational psychotherapist and psychiatrist Dr. Max Belkins says tattoos often represent significant thoughts and feelings that we haven't yet acknowledged out loud. They're symbols that pulsate memories and emotions, and it's the artist who is turning them into realities.
So, it's not uncommon for us mortals to feel some sort of sentimental connection to the tatted individual working on us. There's a lot of emotional complexity that gets tossed into the mix. In her new memoir, How To Grow Up, author and queer icon Michelle Tea regales a funny story about the guy who did her latest ink. She thought there were some sparks there, but she couldn't be sure if she was simply getting high off the adrenaline and cortisol, then transferring these over to the hottie holding a needle. I won't spoil the rest of the story for you, but I will say she is certainly not the only one who has been there.
I went in for my first tattoo last week (in Peru, mind you) and, like a true rookie, I was sweating from the nerves and biting my nails until I drew blood. And when I saw my tattoo artist (that's him, above), my heart started racing even more. His arms were decorated with the coolest designs I had ever seen — plus, he was kind and cute. We chatted — as much as possible, anyway, with my limited Spanish — and we built up enough trust for me to surrender my arm over to him.
It was definitely a strange feeling, sitting in solidarity with him for a full hour; so strange in fact that I finally understood how things could be easily misconstrued. Whether you're going in for your first tattoo or a seasoned veteran, here are the top five ways to avoid falling head over heels for the cutie needling you.
1. Remember That This Is Their Job
We're not exactly taught as children that being a tattoo artist is a respectable career path, but this is as much of a job for them as your's is for you. They often work late hours that leave them completely drained, and what they do takes tremendous concentration — because a slip-up on their part isn't reversible. For us folks who are still fairly new to the wonderful world of tattoos, it's important to respect what they do and remind ourselves that they're not all free spirits who take absolutely nothing seriously.
There will be physical contact, and lots of it, especially if you've opted in for a tattoo on a special part of the body. Touch is a powerful thing and it can easily be confused for something more. Before you sit down on that fateful table, prepare yourself for this kind of intimacy. It can be a really beautiful experience, if the boundaries aren't crossed.
2. Keep The Conversation Appropriate
In other words, don't flirt. Sure, you can chat with one another if you're feeling up to it, but talk like you would if you were at the office. If they're a true professional, they'll be so focused on the work anyway that they won't even have the brain space to listen about the fight you've recently gotten into with your ex.
Appropriate topics include their career, how long they've been an artist, what kind of needle they're using, and which future pieces would go great with what you're currently getting done. The second you get too vulnerable with the conversation, the more you recklessly add onto the confusing pile of emotions that are already present. Steer clear of over-the-top compliments and flattery; you wouldn't bat your eyes at your gynecologist and whisper how lovely their outfit is, would you? I didn't think so.
3. Focus On Your Tattoo
Instead of gazing into their blue eyes or staring at the sleeve on their left arm, look at the piece of art that's happening on your own body. That's the reason you're there — to get something meaningful etched into your skin. I know it's easy to get lost in the art that lives on them, but, trust me, that's a dangerous road to go down. The more I looked at my artist's tats, the more and more attractive he appeared to me.
Often times, the work will take longer than you expect. You might have to stay a few extra hours, and as the both of you become drained of energy in situations like this, it's important to keep everything in check. Guards are down and everyone is extra sensitive, so now's the time to keep your gaze steady and your bedroom eyes tucked away.
4. Go With A Friend
You're probably going to need a friend there who can be an emotional support while you're getting stabbed with a sharp needle. Ask your bestie, your roommate, or your sister to accompany you to the tattoo parlor. Hell, go together and get matching ones. That way, you can avoid depending on your artist to provide you with everything you need, thus preventing the whole "You're my hero" complex. They're not there to hold your hand and fetch you a cold glass of water when things get rough — their job is to create the best possible art for your body.
Besides, when you have a friend there, there's something else present to occupy your mind. You're walking on thin ice when it's just you and the artist, alone in a room for three hours; even the strongest willed person will end up incessantly flirting. Take preventive measures by bringing in a third party who will hold your hand and tell you funny stories to take your mind off the pain — and off the artist's inked, chiseled chest.
5. Don't Assume They're Fair Game
Sometimes I can't help but compare tattoo artists to yoga teachers, in the sense that both always get hit on. Generally speaking, both lead alternative lifestyles, so people mistake that for full availability, as if there's no way they could be in a committed relationship — or married. While some are happily single, there's a lot of diversity in the tattoo community; don't automatically come to the conclusion that this person is on the hunt for a date.
A recent blog post from the girlfriend of a tattoo artist in Ohio proved that it can be tough watching your partner touch people every single day for long periods of time. It's so easy for a connection to spark between the artist and the client, and she says a lot of jealousy comes into play. Don't be the one who causes trouble in the tattoo parlor.
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