I received a text message from a guy yesterday. Let’s call him Greg*.
Greg sent me a text message. Greg seemed like a perfect gentleman. Greg wanted to make a booking to take me out to dinner – he said he was a big Twitter fan, and had been wanting to meet me for a long time. His message was polite and well-written, suffering from none of the grammatical laziness that afflicts so many of my fellow Millennials.
I was lying in bed at the time, watching the rain fall (it’s Melbourne Summer, rain is guaranteed!) I remember that little leap of excitement, the anticipation that’s provoked by a new message in my inbox. As an escort, I never know who I’ll meet next: a shy guy who wants to be cuddled, a virgin, a kinkster with great ideas, a millionaire who plans to take me to Fiji for the weekend. It’s like a human lotto, with all the suspense (plus a higher chance of hitting the jackpot.)
This guy, Greg, seemed like one of the good ones. He was eager to book a day to meet. I explained my deposit process, and he said he’d arrange payment first thing in the morning. We signed off with a cheerful “Good night!” Unfortunately, the next day did not go according to plan. Greg didn’t leave a deposit, and stopped replying to my messages.
Escorting and tattoo artistry have something in common – a plethora of ‘tyre-kickers’, those people who like to fantasise but don’t want to actually commit. That’s why a tattoo artist is often reticent when you walk into his or her shop – they are used to people who wander in, look at a lot of flash, talk about how much they want a tattoo, and wander out again without spending a cent. Just the experience has been exciting enough; the time-waster don’t need to follow through with getting inked.
Tyre-kicking is even more common in boudoirs than in tattoo parlors, thanks to old-fashioned whorephobia: sex work is widely considered less valid than other types of work. Those who think I’m not a real ‘professional’ are more likely to stuff me around. Some people want to see an escort, but they are nervous about committing; this is fine, if they confine themselves to browsing online ads. But sometimes these guys feel the need to get in touch, to actually act like they are about to take the plunge. Then, right at the moment when they have to pay a deposit or actually show up, they disappear (or offer ridiculous excuses. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Sorry, I’ve been in a car accident.”)
My interaction with Greg really got me down. Today, when I heard nothing more from him, I felt a raging in my belly that was entirely disproportionate to the situation. I mean, I’ve never even met this guy. Why was I so mad about it?
It’s not just the time investment. I can answer a text message anywhere. It’s become second nature to me – I can craft a friendly reply, set a date, arrange a deposit, without even breaking my stride at the shopping center, So, Greg hadn’t really wasted my time in the literal sense.
Was it the disappointment of losing the money? I don’t count on income until the cash is actually in my hand. Although I always look forward about a new booking, I don’t allow myself to get excited until the deposit is paid, and the date and time arranged. So I didn’t feel as though I had been let down in that respect.
I think my reaction was more about wasted emotional labour.
Emotional labour is the effort we put into making someone feel comfortable, encouraging them to take the next steps, explaining what to expect, and making sure they’re enjoying themselves at every stage of the booking. It makes up 80% most of my work. Emotional labour is the reason why I collapse on the couch in exhaustion after a long booking, even though the time consisted only of eating lobster and drinking champagne. Don’t get me wrong, I love it…But it’s still an effort, and it’s one I deserve to be paid for.
Greg was definitely stealing my emotional labour. When I’m organising a booking, the amount of effort and engagement I put in before we meet is factored into the eventual costs. If the booking doesn’t eventuate, I’m left short. I don’t begrudge this for people who cancel for a legitimate reason. But those who never intend to book are violating that unspoken contract, the one that says ‘I’m paying attention to you now because you’re going to pay me later.’
There’s more to the story than just theft of my time and attention. The energy expended on Greg wasn’t excessive – we’d only exchanged a few messages. I’m very experienced with replying to new people, such that my replies are easy to construct and I don’t agonise over every word. If we had traded emails for a week, I would have felt that he’d stolen more of my attention. Despite all this I still felt let down, in a way more ‘personal’ than ‘business’. And that’s the clue as to what was really going on.
Like a lot of folks, I’m demisexual: I need emotional connection to feel attracted to someone. I’m not concerned about their looks, or their education, or their status. I’m interested in whether I actually LIKE the person. When I receive a message from a potential client, a process is put in motion … I’m looking for things to appreciate, building up a picture of them in my mind that will allow me to see their best possible self. When it comes down to it, most people are decent creatures, even those who are difficult at times. If I can find that shared humanity, then we can start building a connection that will assure good interactions. All this happens right from the very first message.
I was investing emotionally in Greg. I was searching for his good side – ‘Oh look, he writes really well! He seems like a happy sort of guy. He’s interested in fine dining – so am I! We’re going to get along.’ I had begun the process of liking him. I was extending trust. Greg was not worthy of my trust. He didn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt – he was only out for himself, to enjoy a moment of excitement. While I was looking for the good in Greg, he wasn’t doing the same for me (maybe he was having a wank.) If Greg had seen me as a person, he wouldn’t have stuffed me around. He would have considered my time, my emotional labour, and my investment in him, and he would have chosen to be honest … or not to approach me at all.
Greg, I believed you were a good person. And you believed I was a non-person, a placeholder in your sexual fantasy. While I was seeing the best in you, you were kicking my tyres. But at the end of the day, it’s you who loses – because we’re never going to meet.
*Names have been changed, probably unnecessarily because they never give you their real name anyway.