Today I had to break up with someone. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Our makeshift relationship was short lived, only days in length, but intense enough to feel like a fire typhoon – if there was such a thing.
Long story short, my husband and I want a Mandarin tutor. I found an advert online and contacted the woman. We had a short phone call to make sure we were both on the same page. We arranged to meet at Starbucks on Monday for a demo. Let’s call her Persistent Penny,
It would take 45 minutes, she said. 45 minutes…
Oh how I wish it had been 45 minutes.
Nearly two hours later we emerged from this meeting.
I won’t give a minute by minute account of what happened, but I shall give an overview.
She told us about her company, about how much she thinks we could achieve in the 2 months we wanted tutoring, she told us her method of teaching, and all the way through this she tried to sell the idea that having a tutor would be a good thing.
But we already knew this. She didn’t need to sell the idea of tutoring – I had been the one to contact her.
It was then that things started going downhill. She was pushing the big sell. Even throwing in free things. ‘We’ll give you the books for free as a spring deal’, ‘You won’t have to pay for the tutor’s transport’… it was starting to sound like a dodgy car salesman trying to throw in air fresheners and new alloys because he knew that you were slowly backing away from the sale.
But we hadn’t been backing away. We were really keen and we had made this clear.
Then came out the envelope. This big brown envelope. She pulled out this stack of papers and began to show us contracts that other foreigners had signed to agree to a tutoring schedule. After one or two, we had gotten the point she was trying to make. But she continued, and by contact 12 we were starting to think that maybe we didn’t get the point. Here I began to feel like I was being asked to invest in the company instead.
1. I’m pretty sure you’re not meant to show contracts to random people in Starbucks.
2. A contract? For a tutor?
We were still not entirely put off. Our need to learn Mandarin was still shadowing over the strange strategies she was using to encourage us to sign up.
Then, of course, came the figures. On the phone she had avoided money – telling me that it was very affordable, until i had pushed and she had given me a number. A very nice number.
It was not that number. Nor was it a great deal more but when this little amount was added up over all of the hours that we wanted…it started to feel like more. Then she mentioned they would need two months pay at one time.
Here is where the alarm bells went off. It was a lot. Hundreds.
I’ve not been called tight once in my life. I’ve been called it multiple times. By multiple people. So my natural reaction was to hedge and get out of there. Which we did with the promise that we would contact her later in the day.
Right now you’re probably thinking, this is nothing. Just a normal sales pitch. Oh boy, it hasn’t even begun.
Persistent Penny began to feel like a clingy girlfriend. She’d send long messages, with encouraging tones and reasons to choose her. I would ask her short questions and I’d get an essay response, with more reasons to choose her and explanations about how reliable she is and how professional their company is. I wouldn’t reply because it was late at night, and she’d message me the next day checking I got her message.
It was starting to feel like a relationship where I was clearly not interested but she had somehow fallen in love with me and dreamt of our baby-tutor sessions. Over one day she had sent me more messages than I would send my husband in a week.
Finally, I had to break it to her. I tried to let her down gently. It was too much commitment. We weren’t ready to sign a contract. Every inch feeling like I was breaking her heart. She still didn’t give up. She tried to warn me off others. She tried to make it clear that she cared about me the most. She wanted desperately to make it work. She could change the way she did it, just for me.
Still, it was too much. I didn’t reply to the final message. I believed that I had broken it off with her. However, I must have been too British and not as direct as she needed.
Standing in class about to teach a phonics lesson, I see my phone light up. Someone was calling. I felt my stomach drop, the same feeling you get when you’re expecting it to be your crazy ex. I gave some vague instructions to the students and answered the phone (while a student in class called out ‘I still don’t know what we’re doing’).
That was all I needed to hear. I hung up the phone in panic.
I watched as it lit up again but didn’t dare answer.
I sent a text message. Who is this?
I needed to know. I was waiting for an important call to tell me some documents were ready for collection. But I think I already knew. Those two words were enough. She hadn’t given up. I wasn’t even safe at work.
I checked the number against the number she had called me off the first time. It didn’t match. Maybe it was someone else. Maybe I was just making her out to be crazy. Maybe I was becoming the paranoid one.
Later in the evening my phone went off again. I reluctantly answered it, hoping to be done for once and all. (Bear in mind, this was a third number that she had used to call me…)
The call lasted 12 minutes. I think I spoke for 2 minutes.
She wasn’t giving up on me. She was full of hopeful words about how we could make it work. I wasn’t ready for commitment. We could compromise, she’d say. I didn’t know if I had time for her. She believed I would make the time. I thought someone else would be more suited for me. She said others wouldn’t be good enough, wouldn’t care about me as much.
I couldn’t take it anymore.
“You’re coming on too strong.” I blurted.
It didn’t stop her.
She offered one final compromise. I didn’t agree. She implied that I would be back to her.
I have never seen someone talk their way out of a sale so much.
And I have never had a harder break up.
Suffice to say I blocked Persistent Penny.
But I’m sure she’ll find her way back to me, with her essays and her brown envelope.