Posted by: Marie | August 23, 2012

(695) Shaky negotiations

Post #695
[Private journal entry written on Saturday, September 17, 2011]

I had a piano lesson with the student, James – the cop . . .

Prior to the lesson, I had decided I was going to talk to him today about the touch issue. When he came into the studio, my student from the previous lesson was just packing up to leave . . . she and her mother were not in a particular hurry to get on their way. So, I didn’t have time to have “the conversation” with James before his lesson was due to start.

And, my mom and my sister were due to show up at my studio at the time James’ lesson was scheduled to end. So, I knew I likely wouldn’t have an opportunity to have the conversation with him after his lesson. I knew I had to do it during the lesson. But, I don’t like using lesson time for anything other than teaching . . .

But, I didn’t have much of a choice. I knew that James’ daughter would likely be with him during the next several lessons . . . since she was not with him this week, this was the one chance I would have for weeks.

On the Mountain by Martin Chen

So, at one point during his lesson when we were sitting at my desk, doing some work with the composing software on my computer, there was a pause in our conversation. I took that opportunity to ask him if I could talk to him about something not related to music . . . he said, “Sure!”

I told him that, recently, I’ve been working on learning how to be more comfortable with physical contact with people – more specifically, with men. I told him that I feel safe with him and that I find his touch – for example, when he touches me on my arm or shoulder when he is talking to me – to be comforting and healing. I said that, if he felt comfortable doing so, I’d like for him to continue doing so . . . with one caveat . . . that he make sure he doesn’t come up behind me and catch me by surprise with a touch because that’s a bit tough for me to handle.

As I was saying the last few words (“a bit tough for me to handle”), I got emotional and tears came to my eyes and started running down my face. I took a deep breath and said, “Whew! I didn’t think I would get emotional having this conversation with you!”

James looked a bit puzzled and he asked, “Have I done that – touched you from behind, I mean . . . ??”

“Yeah . . . a few times.”

“The last thing I want to do is cause you to feel uncomfortable! Touch is something I do as part of my job – we are trained to use it to connect with people – and it is also part of my natural expression. I’ve always touched people. However, I don’t want to cause people to feel uncomfortable with it. There is obviously something going on with you that causes it to not be okay for you – and that is okay! I can stop doing that . . . I will stop.”

“I’m fine with you touching me when I can see it coming. The only part I have trouble with is when I don’t see it coming. I would like for you to continue touching me, if you are comfortable with it – just with that one caveat.”

“Of course!”

We then continued the lesson . . .

As we finished up his lesson, my family hadn’t shown up yet. James gathered up his stuff then he kind of saddled up near me, standing to the side of me. I suddenly got a sense that he was considering asking if a hug would be okay. Instinctively, I moved towards him and started raising my arm in preparation for a hug . . . I almost didn’t think about it, it was just something I did automatically in response to his body language.

As I took a step towards him and raised my arm, in response my body language, he asked if I would like a hug. That’s when it dawned on me that I may have read his body language wrong . . . maybe he wasn’t initiating a hug. Maybe he was just walking past me . . . which would most likely be the case since I just asked him to refrain from one kind of touch . . . on the other hand, maybe he was using a hug as a way to let me know things are still “okay” between us . . .

But, I don’t think I was wrong . . . I think I instinctively read his body language correctly . . . I hope so because otherwise I may have hugged him when he didn’t want to be hugged. I hope not, because that would really be embarrassing, especially when I just had “the conversation” with him about physical boundaries . . .

Anyway . . . we hugged . . . but I was nervous and awkward and hit him in the face with my hand . . . but it was nice to get a hug from him . . . weird, but comforting.

I didn’t include in our conversation the details of what happened to me in the past that made touch an issue for me. He didn’t ask and I didn’t volunteer the information. I didn’t volunteer it because I didn’t want to burden him with more than he bargained for . . . he signed up for piano lessons, not for all my drama.

As James was on his way out of the studio, he thanked me for bringing the touch issue to his attention. He said he was glad I said something to him about it. I told him I was concerned he would feel uncomfortable around me after I talked to him – that I had even discussed it with my therapist because I didn’t know how to best handle it. I thanked him for respecting what I said and for honoring my request. He said it was important that I am comfortable.


This evening, after spending some time with my mom and sister, I took a moment to shoot off an email to Edward about the exchange with James:

Hi, Edward –

Quick update . . . I had a lesson with my student the cop . . .

At a fitting pause during the lesson, I said, “Um, can I talk to you about something not related to music?”

I told him that I’ve been learning how to be comfortable with physical contact with males, that I felt comfortable and safe with him and that I find his touching my shoulder/arm comforting and healing and that, if he felt comfortable with it, I’d like it to continue with one caveat – that he not come up behind me and touch me when I can’t see it coming because that is tough for me to handle. That’s all I said, I didn’t go into any detail . . . but I did get emotional when I got to the part about the caveat (quivering voice, a few tears) . . .

His expression showed he first thought I was going to ask him to not touch me, then he looked surprised when I said I wanted it to continue, then he got a concerned expression when I got emotional . . . then he looked relieved when my caveat was that simple . . .

He apologize for causing me discomfort . . . said he certainly would honor my request, that it was a very reasonable request, he was glad I talked to him about it because he would rather know than to have me suffer in silence . . . he said he didn’t want to lose me as a teacher and a friend because he greatly valued those relationships with me.

He also explained that his training as a cop has taught him to connect emotionally with people that way, plus it is something he does as part of his natural expression – but the last thing he wants is for his behavior to cause discomfort for another person – that he would refrain from touching me if I preferred there be no touching. I assured him I liked that physical connection as long as I wasn’t surprised by it . . . no problem, he assured me.

As he was leaving, he again thanked me for talking to him about it. I sort of initiated a hug and he asked if I would be comfortable with a hug (it just felt like a connected, huggy type of moment) – I said “yes” and we shared a quick hug . . . a really nice moment for me (I hope it was comfortable for him) . . . a very positive experience.

I feel good right now! Thank you for the encouragement to take this risk!

I’ll touch base with you next week . . . thanks!

– Marie


Edward quickly responded:

Dear Marie,

Well done!



  1. What Edward said. I think the way you did that is a great example of how to do boundary setting. Congratulations.

    • Thank you for the acknowledgement!

  2. Great work on setting boundaries and doing it in a gentle yet assertive fashion. You didn’t make James uncomfortable yet you got what you needed it seems.

    • Hey, Ellen –

      Thank you for the kudos!

      I was sure hoping I didn’t make James feel uncomfortable!

      – Marie

  3. It’s good you expressed how you feel with others, and letting them know – that’s a huge thing.

    I’ve had that issue with others, people putting their hands behind me, on my shoulders in particular, and completely sending me into panic attacks.

    It’s nice that he didn’t dismiss your boundaries, and was able to talk with you about and make sure you were OK – that makes him a pretty awesome person, and admirable – most people thinks it’s weird, insist on pushing the boundary, or ridiculing, which is a secondary form of abuse – I’m so glad you didn’t get that response, but one that was encouraging and uplifting.

    • Hi, Penney –

      Thank you for your excellent input!

      I did appreciate his validating my experience . . . he is a quality guy!

      – Marie

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