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Lisa A. Phillips is the author of Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession (HarperCollins) and Public Radio: Behind the Voices (Perseus). She is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Digital Media and Journalism at the State University of New York at New Paltz. A former public radio reporter, she focuses her journalism and nonfiction writing on issues related to love, heartbreak, and mental health, with bylines in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Psychology Today, Cosmopolitan, and Salon, among other outlets.

Bonding with My ‘In-Law’ Over Bikini Wax

Getty Images, Photo Collage by Homestead

Lisa A. Phillips | Longreads | July 2019 | 13 minutes (3,256 words)

My in-law brushes warm wax on my bikini line. This part is soothing, and mildly erotic. Then rip: a stinging, quick pull, taking a section of my pubic hair along with it. I wince. She smiles kindly. Maybe she likes this part the best. If I were her, I would, some small sadistic part of me perking up with every rip.

An aesthetician who works out of her home, she is not my real in-law. An in-law is what, in my small town, you call the parent of the kid your kid is dating. I find out about this bit of slang when I arrive for my bikini wax. She introduces me to her previous client by saying, “We’re in-laws. Have you heard?”

“I have!” the woman chortles. This nascent relationship is hot news. Both kids are 13 and have lived here all their lives. I’m wary of the gossip. But what I’m more worried about is the fact that the house I’m standing in, where my new in-laws and their son live, is, if you have a really, really good arm, a stone’s throw away from ours. All I had to do to get to my appointment — and all the kids have to do to get to each other — is cross a street and a yard.

Just a stone’s throw away. I say this a lot, to underscore my stress as a working mom whose husband travels frequently. I had only recently gotten comfortable with a few latchkey child afternoons. Now the unsupervised couches and beds concerned me more than how many episodes of “The Office” my daughter binged after school. This was not the kind of situation I imagined when, years before, my husband and I chose to live next to a large neighborhood, in hopes that our only child would make friends nearby.

Our daughter, though, was an only child who enjoyed long bouts of solo imaginary play, and that made her particular about friends. Most of the time, the neighbor children didn’t make the cut: The girl who lived closest to us was too moody, the one on the cul-de-sac was a grade younger and thus unacceptable, and so on. Then there was the boy who would become The Boyfriend. For a long time he was like a mythological creature, because we had never seen him. We knew he existed. We had met his parents. But he went to a private school and he was a boy, and the boy part had made him uninteresting. So we didn’t push for what we once called playdates — talk about foreshadowing! — even though it was weird to think that two kids living a stone’s throw away from each other would not recognize each other on the street. This is life in a small town in the Northeast. I’m from one, and I know how surreal community life can be. Privacy, respect for boundaries and the freedom to carefully curate your social life trump mandatory neighborliness.
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