It’s a quarter to midnight in Paris. The summer streets are full of laughter and the sun set only half an hour ago. Uniformed waiters are offering carafes of wine. Back at Marie’s apartment it’s still not clear whether I’ll be sleeping on the couch or the bed. But I’m tired. I just arrived in Paris after a month in the south of France. My plane home leaves in three days.

If I make the wrong move those could be a difficult three days. We have dinners planned, I’m supposed to sign books at Shakespeare & Co. tomorrow and meet with my editor from L’Optium. But she sits down next to me. This is the first time we have been alone together. And I realize that under her sundress she ne porte pas de soutien-gorge.

And so I debate making the offer…

“You are asking for and building trust. At the time you are asking for trust, you are also asking another person to disrobe and turn their back to you. This can be fun. It can be terrifying. But what it should not be is awkward.”

A massage is like a glass of wine. It’s great to offer her after a long day. It can be refreshing. It can be fun. It can lead to sex, or even easier to a nice nap. But giving a woman a good massage is something more akin to a palm reading. You’re exploring her, reading her body, learning how she is in her skin. So, like a horoscope, it needs to be personal and it should reflect who she is. But it needs a good structure.

And this is one of those times where knowing what you’re doing, working confidently and methodically, can make any amateur man into a godlike figure. Forget navigating the wine list, forget having heated bathroom floors or flowers in every room of your house. They’re nice. But if you really want to show a woman you can take care of her, you need to up your massage game. Which is something I have done for years, but I realize now that I should get some professional advice.

So I asked Rachel Beider, LMT, owner of Brooklyn’s Massage Williamsburg for some tips…

massage-2

1. Talk to your partner.
“Ask her where she has pain or tension. During your massage, make sure to focus on those spots in particular.”

Massage takes the lactic acid from stress, athletics and other unsexy things from the reaches of your body and moves it through the body to the—

“Nope. That’s a myth.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Here’s some info about the lactic acid myth from the NY Times.”

“I have been using that in my massage bedside manner speech for at least 10 years.”

Apparently knots are caused by layers of muscle that get “stuck.” They leave you sore and stiff. Massage works to undo that.

Let’s let the expert get into it:

2. Set the mood.
“Choose a quiet room, light a candle, play some relaxing music and get comfortable. If your partner prefers to be seated, put a pillow in her lap for support. Make sure she’s warm and comfortable.”

And the candle works for one simple reason: It’s an excellent light to be naked in. Flattering. Quiet. It’s the Instagram filter of the bedroom.

Also the massage surface must be firm. Tempur-Pedics, futons, even a yoga mat on a firm surface with a towel over it works in a pinch. Speaking of which…

3. Have towels on hand.
If this is your first time touching her flesh, you want the towel for a number of great reasons. It shows you care about her comfort and modesty and it will keep just-rubbed areas warm while the muscles cool down.

Here’s how it goes down: You hand her a (clean) towel and say, “I’m going to step out and wash my hands, why don’t you take your shirt off and lay down on your stomach and we’ll begin.” A massage therapist is not going to stand around checking his phone while she disrobes and puts her bracelets someplace safe and neither should you.

4. Speak as much as possible.
Be direct and clear. How you handle yourself is just as important as how you handle her. “I’m going to start now.” If she has a bra on, let her know you’re going to unhook it for her and leave it there like she’s sunning her shoulders.

“A massage therapist is not going to stand around checking his phone while she disrobes and puts her bracelets someplace safe and neither should you.”

5. Use proper oil.
It has to be there. Talcum powder is also suitable. But keep in mind that this is a woman’s skin. This is a good one for home court advantage on her part because you can put a cream she already likes on places she can’t reach. Sun tan lotion is a fun replacement in the winter because it smells like warm days.

Years ago I bought a legit bottle of scented massage oil and I usually offer either that or a regular grocery store jar of coconut oil. Girls always choose the unscented coconut oil. It’s great for the skin and at the end you don’t feel like you need a shower. Personally, I see this as an indicator of what she hopes to get out of the massage. A woman who wants your hands on her later will usually choose for the one that doesn’t have herbs and spices in it.

The great thing about coconut oil is that it’s thick viscosity means you have to rub it together with your hands and get it warm to work. It feels like hard chapstick. This is a good reminder for all guys attempting the massage: You have to warm up the oil in your hands. Do not, under any circumstances, just squirt the cold bottle of topping on her. She’s a woman, not a hotdog.

“Rather than starting with lots of movement or technique, warm your hands by rubbing them together, and then let your fingers slowly sink into her shoulders and see what you feel. This is called palpation—it’s like the difference between looking at words on a page, and actually reading them.” Beider says. “For a massage to be truly exceptional, you should start by feeling what’s happening with your partner and responding to it.”

6. Ask questions.
This is where the curious man will never get bored. Women who work at desks have a lot of stress in their shoulders. Waitresses have burnt triceps. “Do you wear glasses at work?” I find myself asking if she has a lot of stress in the neck. This is pretty much the easiest and best possible time to tell a woman what you’re feeling.

The body is a bit of a crystal ball in that sense. “You have a lot of stress in your lower back. What do you think causes that?” Everyone. Everyone. Everyone likes being told that they must put up with a lot to have knots in their shoulders. It’s like when your boxing coach complains that his hands hurt after he took the mitts off and you say, “A boxing coach noticed!”

7. Work that body.
I studied anatomy in school, but this is a great chance to use what you’ve picked up over the years from personal trainers, sports trainers and ER doctors when you’ve gotten injured. Sometimes vocabulary is the best medicine. If you’ve pulled a shoulder before, tell her about the stress to her tendons. Ask about her sports history.

“The flipside is that if you leave her there on a table in the cold dark room and stop for even 30 seconds she won’t feel relaxed at all. How is she supposed to know you aren’t taking pictures with your phone or are suddenly disgusted with what you see? (Don’t be that guy). ”

There’s one thing missing from all amateur massage guides, and I want to take a second to address it right now: You are asking for and building trust. At the time you are asking for trust, you are also asking another person to disrobe and turn their back to you. This can be fun. It can be terrifying. But what it should not be is awkward: Talk, tell her when you’re going to warm up some more cream, keep a hand connected to her when you reach for an extra towel. Make it fun and make her feel like you can take care of her.

The flipside is that if you leave her there on a table in the cold dark room and stop for even 30 seconds she won’t feel relaxed at all. How is she supposed to know you aren’t taking pictures with your phone or are suddenly disgusted with what you see? (Don’t be that guy).

For the same reason that you can’t tickle yourself or do your own chiropractics, a good massage is beyond what someone can do for him- or herself. Keep that in mind. That’s why you have her lie facedown.

When massaging the lower body, work from her feet up—the Achilles, calves, hamstrings and thighs. Maybe you’ve rubbed your calves or shoulders after a workout. But have you ever given your own ass a rubdown? If I could do that I would never leave the house.

Work at all times in small circles up the circulatory system. Wikipedia has some charts. Get an anatomy app. The fantastic Essential Anatomy 5 is probably the priciest app in my phone, but at $24.99 it’s still cheaper than a textbook or a class. It beats my copy of Grey’s Anatomy.

Here’s a simple thing to remember: all things being equal, you want long strokes for long body parts and intricate ones for intricate ones. Legs and lats need long vertical rubs; fingers, ears and necks need smaller, circular rubs.

leg-massage

Use the areas of your hand differently as you fan out from bone to muscle. Use the palm around the spine, the pads of your hands on the ribs and just barely use the fingertips on the flanks (a.k.a. the sideboob region).

Try to be firm-but-not-too-firm, like the mattress. A weak massage is as unsatisfying as a weak handshake. But there’s a limit. “Too much pressure is stressful,” notes Beider. “I always tell clients we want ‘delicious pain, not scary pain.’ ”

“I like to leave the neck and head for last, because these areas are sensitive and will be easier to work on if the rest of the body is feeling relaxed.”

The head massage is probably the most underrated of all. You can do it on a long plane ride or while someone else runs the grill on vacation.

And this concludes the pro-advised portion of this guide.

Normally that would be the end and I would tell you to hone your craft. Do some hand massages. A patient partner will be happy to help you practice. So try that. Maybe do a short one this week to build your confidence.

But here’s one thing I learned that astonished me: There are myriad laws to protect clients and masseurs. Sometimes a person who goes to a massage parlor isn’t there for a foot rub, if you know what I’m saying. In New York it is a felony just to give a massage for pay without a license. (In the eyes of the law, it’s the same as being an unlicensed dentist). For this reason most LMT’s have to deal with laws about draping and nudity.

This means that even a professional masseuse can massage her pecs, but not her breasts. This means she’s counting on you, guy. Breast tissue carries with it just as much stress as anywhere else. They need gentle kneading and care.

Back in Paris now. Marie is facedown on the bed in just a pair of French knickers. She looks like Bridgette Bardot sunning her shoulders in Monte Carlo. At the very end I tell her to just relax there for a minute. Her body just went through a huge experience, and the pressure to reciprocate might undo that. I drape a towel over her and bring a glass of water (dehydration can cause sore muscles).

When I get up to leave the bedroom she asks me to stay. And the next three days were the best part of the whole trip…