My husband, Bear, is a furry man. He is particularly furry on his chest, back, and arm regions (in addition to the lumberjack beard and the curly hair that, dammit, I wish he would freaking grow long). It’s grown in more since we got together 13 years ago. Before that, he had chest hair, but not too much — I ridiculed him for it being state-shaped, though I can’t remember which one. Let’s pretend it was Florida.
Anyway, in the intervening years, Florida has dissolved into a chest-wide morass of fur. He calls it his pelt. In reality, it’s not as thick as that would make you think, but still, it’s a substantial amount of hair. Ditto for his lower arms.
And his back, well, when we were in our early 20s, he had a patch or two of hair. Now most of his upper back is covered, including his shoulders. It’s crept, slowly spread. By the time he’s 50, he’ll be an actual bear.
There’s one big problem that comes along with all this fur: The fur has to grow in. His hairs often get confused, and instead of growing up into the light, like a good little hair should, they decide to grow sideways into his skin. These evil little hairs make everything swell. Bacteria accumulates. It creates puss. Soon, Bear’s got a whitehead going. And if it’s on his chest, he can take care of it. But when it comes to his back, he can’t see it, much less kill it.
And I freaking can’t stand it. So I tell him to hold still. I go in with both thumbnails. And I pop the shit out of that sucker.
I started doing this back when we were dating. He had a giant whitehead, which was really yellow (supergross!) on the back of his shoulder. It was staring at me. I swear, it had an eyeball and two hands, and it was going “Nyah, nyah, nyah, you can’t do anything about me!”
“Um, you have a giant zit on your back,” I told him.
He was embarrassed, because to most people, zits are embarrassing. We were still in that phase. Oh, how young and delicate our sensibilities were back then! This was long before back facials and popping videos, before the internet ripped the veil off pimple-popping. “I’ll kill it for you, if you want,” I said.
“Oh, okay,” he said. He turned around. He braced himself. I went in with my nails. “Ow,” he said.
“I barely touched you,” I scolded. “Hold still.” I squeezed. More gunk than I ever could have imagined possible spurted out, because I was used to dainty girl zits, and this thing was a beast, spawned from the dark depths of man-fur. “Ow!” he said again. He did not squeal. He never squeals if I squeeze too hard. He is too manly to squeal. But sometimes his voice gets a little bit higher.
From that day forward, I became responsible for any and all whiteheads on his back. And when we were younger, what with all that growing hair, there were a lot of them. Some days, I’d just make him take off his shirt and lie down on his belly while I killed them — teensy ones on his sides, which hurt like the dickens because he was so sensitive there; bigger ones on his shoulder blades, which hurt less. It was so romantic.
Okay, it wasn’t romantic at all, but it brought me some sick satisfaction.
As the years have passed, his hair has become more settled. It’s a fair crop, front and back and chin and head (and no balding at nearly 40, thank you very much). That means that his backne has chilled out a lot, too. When he does have a whitehead somewhere, if I see it, I offer to kill because it stares at me. I can’t deal.
Now the tables have turned.
Hormones have conspired to give me — me! The one who sailed through her teenage years with milkmaid skin — blackheads. And not just anywhere — because I work out daily, I get blackheads where my sports bra sits. I can only assume it’s a combination of hormones and sweat and friction. Now Bear is the one sneaking up behind me and saying, “Hold still,” while he digs his thumbnails into my back. I pride myself on both staying completely still and never squealing. I have a higher pain threshold than him, probably because I was in labor three times and felt three epidurals stab into my spinal cord. Getting a blackhead popped is nothing.
Then he ogles me while I get dressed. Because despite how unsexual as killing zits is — and it is decidedly unsexual — it has no bearing on the fact that we see each other as sexual. In fact, I think it’s helped us become more comfortable in our own skin. He knows I’m not thinking how gross his back is (and finally, he doesn’t think that, either). I know he isn’t squicked out when he scratches down my back and a tiny blackhead comes out. We’re comfortable with the normal functions of our bodies. I think, in the long run, that’s good for our sex life — which is good for our marriage.
“It’s a sign of love,” we always joke. And it’s a joke. But it’s true too. It’s an acceptance of each other. It’s a willingness to do something gross, yet weirdly satisfying, for each other. So tonight, before I pass out, I’ll probably kill a zit on my husband’s back. He’s already popped several blackheads out of mine.
And if you’re honest, you’ll admit it: You and your spouse do it, too.