I joined a gym the other day.
I wasn’t planning to, although I have seriously considered it on a number of occasions, because the running just isn’t happening and I see myself softening and rounding and sagging in places where I’d rather not.
Anyway, I did it – I signed up, paid for my access tag and even attended the “New Member Induction” the following day, with both of my teenagers in tow. Nothing special about that.
But I did want to have a small rant about the joining experience itself, which has more than a little to do with why I have not yet been back.
You see, as I mentioned, I was not planning to join the gym. I was, in fact, pushing a trolley full of groceries out of Pick n Pay and heading home to consume a whole bunch of tasty stuff. I happened to be in a good mood at that moment, anticipating all the tasty things to be enjoyed in my almost-immediate future, so when one of those gym guys who hang around in high-traffic areas punting their gym joining specials approached me, I was patient and friendly and didn’t stalk off in a huff at him for even suggesting that I looked like anything less than a fitness goddess.
Anyway, so I smile politely and tell the guy my last gym membership expired before I ever set foot in the gym, and then – like a bloody fool – I ask him what the joining fee is right now.
I know, right?
Right. But then, my ears prick up when he says, “Today, it’s free.” HA! And that was me, sold. So I went in as arranged at 14:00 and proceeded to experience something I was totally not expecting:
I arrive at the gym at the appointed time and ask for the sales guy I’d spoken with earlier – we’ll call him Jim (see what I did there?). He arrives at reception moments later, and off we go to the sales office to complete my application. Of course, we start making conversation, as you do. I mention that I’m really not a fan of gyms but have lost my running buddy, and I jokingly mention my husband’s reluctance to run with me.
Now, I don’t know if mentioning one’s spouse’s disinterest in sports/fitness is some kind of code in the gym world that implies that one is somehow “available” or “looking for something on the side”, but it certainly seemed to be exactly that in the Jim world, if you take my meaning?
The guy suddenly became unbelievably familiar. It seemed innocent enough at first – he asked me what my husband does for a living. So I told him – he’s an engineer. This must have, unbeknown to me, been more code, because he smiled at me then, and made some crude comment about how my husband must be loaded, then. I didn’t quite know how to respond because, in 2018, I kind of assumed that we all know that asking questions or making assertions about a stranger’s personal financial situation is in poor taste?
Of course, I’m a little taken aback and unsure as to how to answer, so he starts telling me about his restaurant in Gordon’s Bay, and my bullshit meter slams into the red zone. I ask him what he’s doing, selling gym contracts, if he has a restaurant in Gordon’s Bay, and he spins me some story about how it’s his inheritance as the once-favourite grandson, on account of his once having played rugby for the Lions, or some such, but he’d rather work in an industry that lets him interact with people. He lets his sister and her husband run the restaurant, while he does what he’s passionate about. I leave it at that, because hey – who am I to say what someone is or isn’t passionate about, right?
Anyway, so Jim moves on and asks me what my goals are in terms of training, and I tell him that I’m just looking to regain some fitness after four kids and being fairly inactive for many years. I specifically mention the four kids because, in my experience, this is usually a pretty strong “I’m not even vaguely available” message. But Jim takes it as some kind of competition, and tells me he has six, and then takes my surprise – let’s face it, six is quite a bit less common than four! – as a sign that I’m mighty impressed by his unparallelled virility. But I miss this, because now we’ve crossed over into the “parent zone”, and as someone who pretty much lives there full time, I relax and begin to feel like I’m on familiar territory. So I ask him if they’re all his own or whether some are step-kids.
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Jim launches into a whole spiel about how he’s in the middle of an ugly divorce after he caught his wife cheating on him, and asks me if I’m happy in my marriage, and whether my husband works really long hours, etc. He’s kind of hinting that I’ve somehow implied something of the sort, and I sit there wondering how the hell he came to that conclusion?
Was it the fact that I stopped to talk to him outside Pick n Pay? Was it the fact that I showed up at 14:00, as arranged? Was I somehow saying things in a code I knew nothing about, that kept answering his own coded questions in the affirmative, and thus giving him the impression that I’m interested?
Anyway, I ask for information on class times and who the instructors are, trying to steer the conversation back to neutral territory, and we conclude the paperwork, and I sign on the dotted line, thinking that’s that. Jim promises to forward me the class schedule info via WhatsApp and tells me about the New Member Induction that takes place at specific times, and asks me what time I’ll be there that evening. I tell him that I’m not available in the evenings due to family commitments. (This is the truth, but I also figure it can’t hurt to make it clear that I have a family that matters to me, and I’m NOT AVAILABLE.)
Jim makes a comment to his (male) co-worker about how “passionate” I am about not being available in the evenings and suggests the following afternoon at 15:00 instead. I agree to attend the induction at that time.
I go on my merry way, relieved that this awkward encounter is over. I have not yet started my car to drive home when I get a WhatsApp notification from Jim’s personal number:
I send him a thumbs up in reply, because I’m still trying to keep it polite and not make a big deal out of anything that might just be a misunderstanding on my part.
He responds with:
I don’t respond to this because, really, what is there to say?
But then, about an hour later, he sends me another message.
And then another, an hour after that.
And then, at 21:03, while I’m sitting on the couch with my husband, watching Friends, he sends me another message:
Now, the first two, I figured he was just being nice and letting me know he hadn’t forgotten to send me the information I’d asked for.
But to send me a random text after 21:00 to find out whether I was going to keep the appointment I had made? (No mention or sign of those promised schedules, by the way!)
Had I not kept my first appointment, and arrived punctually?
Had I not made it clear that I’m NOT AVAILABLE in the evenings?
Had I not tried to steer the conversation toward the actual reason we were talking in the first place – i.e. the gym?
Had I not given him a totally neutral, non-verbal response to his initial invitation to chat, and then been silent in response to all his later messages?
So, when I lost my patience after this last text and showed it to my husband, he sent Jim a message telling him that 21:00 was not an appropriate time to be messaging me, and that I had an appointment for 15:00 the following day.
Jim responded with some bullshit about “just making sure our clients get the best service” and FINALLY stopped messaging me.
The next day, I brought my two older kids to the induction appointment with me, so that I could purchase each of them an access tag, too. I made sure not to look dressy, either, and arrived on time. The appointment was not with Jim, which I was glad about, but he made himself visible as soon as we arrived, and then proceeded to make a big show of fobbing us off on every other staff member he could possibly rope in, not once, but on several occasions.
What had taken less than 10 minutes to do for me the previous day now took close to an hour, because Jim could not find enough other people to ask to “please handle this” for him, before returning to impose himself and his very cold demeanour on me again, before finding the next person to “quickly handle this” for him again.
I don’t know what Jim thought I was going to to do, but he was clearly pissed off with me. And, you know, I get it. He must have felt pretty uncomfortable when my husband sent him that message, telling him to back off.
But, seriously, was I wrong? Somehow, I don’t think I was misreading his intentions the previous day – he wouldn’t be so vindictive about it if I had been.
He’s obviously used to having the women he hits on be much more receptive, and he was clearly sore that I hadn’t fallen for his spiel about playing for the Lions or his fancy restaurant in the Cape.
I was actually relieved when he fobbed me off for the first time, because I figured I could then deal with a different sales executive going forward, but he was clearly out to make me as uncomfortable as possible.
But, you know, my skin’s gotten a little thicker over the years and the older I get, the less inclined I am to be gaslighted, undermined or otherwise intimidated out of a space I have every right to occupy, with the full expectation that my privacy and personal space will be respected.
So, this Friday, I’m cashing in my free session with a (female) personal trainer and I’ll be showing up at the gym. And I’ll be showing up again after that, and owning the service I’m paying for.
Because I came here to gym, Jim. Understand?