Every week, it was the first question asked on my family Zoom call.
“Robert, what are you going to do about your hair?”
I’d turn to my husband, eyebrows raised: My, what an excellent query.
My husband has hair long and curly enough that a man we don’t know recently stopped us on a hike. “I’ve seen you before,” he said. When we remarked on his extraordinary recall, he laughed and pointed to my husband’s head: “Hard to forget.”
On a good day, Robert’s hair spirals into dozens of silky ringlets. But lately there have been fewer and fewer good days. As self-quarantine has worn on, his hair has grown decidedly more mullet-like.
I’ve been begging him to let me cut it for over a month. I promised to take it seriously, to watch hours of YouTube videos in preparation. But even as the situation became somewhat urgent — he’s in the process of interviewing for his dream job over Zoom — he still refused to let me loose on his curls. For as long as hair salons stayed closed, he said, he’d wait.
Couples everywhere are experiencing some version of this situation. More than two months into self-quarantine, many people — mostly men, who tend to keep their hair shorter — are in dire need of a haircut. With no one else around, their partners are volunteering to do the job themselves.
But the help is not always wanted. There’s a lot at stake when you allow someone else to cut your hair, says Mercedes Ortiz-Olivieri, who owns Trim Hair Salon in Washington, D.C., which is offering virtual hair tutorials during coronavirus. A bad haircut can be a deeply distressing event, she says, often impacting a client’s self-esteem. It’s not easy to close your eyes and hand someone clippers or a pair of scissors — even if you’d trust that someone with pretty much anything else.
“There is just such a huge amount of trust built into the relationship you have with your stylist or barber,” said Ortiz-Olivieri. Of course you trust your romantic partner, she said — “just maybe not with this one thing.”
In her Bay Area apartment, Karina Rich has been trying to convince her boyfriend to let her cut his hair for weeks. The situation was particularly dire, she said, because he’d dyed his hair brown when self-quarantine began — and there’s now a clear line of black hair where the dye stops. She tweeted a picture of hair clippers she’d ordered: If I can get 1,000 retweets, she said, I can cut his hair.
Her boyfriend sold the clippers before she reached 300.
Rich isn’t surprised that he hasn’t budged.
“Grooming is his thing,” she said. “It’s kind of like makeup. Think about someone else putting on your eyebrows? No way, that has to be done a certain way by you.”
There is an assumption that men “shouldn’t” care about their hair as much as women do, said Ortiz-Olivieri. In the 25 years that she’s been cutting hair, she’s found that assumption to be patently false. If anything, she says, her male clients worry about their hair more than her female clients do.
When her boyfriend said he didn’t want her to cut his hair, Brooke Zweier tried not to take it personally.
“We have a very trusting relationship,” she said. They’ve been isolating together in northern New Jersey and while he trusted Zweier completely, he explained, this was different: The cut would be with him “for weeks,” he said, visible to everyone he spoke to on Zoom.
Zweier persisted. For three weeks, she kept asking, offering to order “all the proper tools.” When her boyfriend finally relented, she set up her own barber shop in the basement, leaning a large mirror directly in front of his chair. He refused to look at it.
She hadn’t been nervous until she was holding the scissors, she said.
“But in that moment, I really started to get cold feet. Like, oh man, I really don’t want to mess this up.”
Paolo Sison was nervous, too. He set up his own hair-cutting station outside his parents’ apartment in Manila. He plugged a few different kinds of razors into the extension cord and draped a tarp over his boyfriend’s shoulders. Right before he made the first cut, Sison said a silent prayer.
“I was like, ‘Dear God, please don’t let this be the end of this two-year relationship.’” His boyfriend wasn’t vain, Sison said, but “his hair is really important to him.”
Sison and his boyfriend, Vincent, are riding out the pandemic with Sison’s family in the capital of the Philippines. When Vincent initially agreed to the haircut, Sison said, it was a “romantic moment.” He knew that it meant something: No one besides Vincent’s regular barber had cut his hair in five years.
“If someone were to propose to you — the feeling you’d get,” Sison said. “It felt something like that.”
The haircut was going according to plan, Sison said — “until the injury.” The bulk of the work was done. Sison just wanted to “clean things up” around the edges. He was trying so hard to get a few specific strands of hair between the razor blades, he said, he didn’t notice that he’d nicked the corner of Vincent’s ear.
It took a few hours for the bleeding to subside, Sison said: The ear, as his father — a doctor — was quick to inform him, is a “natural bleeder.” Sison couldn’t believe how calmly his boyfriend handled the whole thing. The bleeding would stop, he said.
But at least his hair looked great.
My husband finally let me cut his hair on Sunday. Once he decided to go through with it, he didn’t want to wait for any special supplies. On the brink of a hot Washington D.C. summer, he’d been experimenting with various ways to keep his hair out of the way. One attempt included five ponytails scattered across the sides and back of his head, strongly evoking Cindy Lou from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
It was time to make a change.
Armed only with a pair of kitchen scissors, I tackled my husband’s hair.
It’s a little too short — and one side is definitely longer than the other. But on Zoom, no one will be able to tell.