Did getting a tattoo after waiting for years live up to expectations?
March 18, 2014 4:16 AM   Subscribe

If you wanted a tattoo for years and then you finally got a beautiful one, did you regret it later?

Posting for a friend. He has wanted to get a specific tattoo for about 15 years (he's mid-30s). In the past he has suppressed that desire (for a variety of reasons that no longer seem as relevant), but recently he can't stop thinking about it. He has done research and contacted reputable shops who do beautiful work, but can't decide whether to pull the plug; he's worried he'll regret it later. So he's looking for anecdata and related wisdom - if you wanted a tattoo for years and you finally got one, did you regret it later?
posted by n'muakolo to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yep! Now I'm in the process of deciding whether I should keep a tattoo I dislike or try to laser it off and possibly end up with ghost images.
posted by arnicae at 4:24 AM on March 18, 2014

Nope, no regrets here. I got a large (~7inches across, 3 inches high) orchid tattoo on my side on my ribcage in honour of my grandmother who was a prolific orchid grower. I wanted it for a long time, it took hours and hours to get done, it was NOT cheap, but I love it. Plus I got it at the same time as my bestfriend/cousin got hers done (also an orchid with sweet peas for her maternal grandparents). She passed away two years after I got the tattoo. The tattoo is an important tie to her for me.

YMMV but for ME I think they key to not regretting a tattoo is:
1) Have it be in reference to something that truly can never change and not based upon potentially passing interest. No team, no fad (ie. chinese characters, tribal, moustache, etc), no jokes. If you don't want to regret it when you are older than have it be about something you KNOW will still matter to you when you are older. It is important to think about WHY you want the tattoo.

2) Get it someplace that is easily concealed. My orchid tattoo isn't seen by anyone other than me, my husband, and people like my doctor, massage therapist, etc. It isn't this big thing that everyone who sees me is aware of, and it isn't out there for others to have opinions on. There still can be some social stigma issues around tattoos, which is ridiculous but it is what it is. I wanted the tattoo

Your friend is wise to think long and hard about it. People should never go in to getting a tattoo thinking that it can be removed if they don't like it later. As arnicae suggested, tattoo removal is far from perfect and often leaves scarring and doesn't often fully remove the tattoo. From what I have seen it is more of a "tattoo fading" than removal.

However, if he has wanted it for fifteen years it does not sound like a passing interest. I'd get it if I were him. Life is short.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:42 AM on March 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

No. Both of my tattoos, one on the outside of each bicep, were given a lot of thought, although I didn't wait years to have them done. Each in different places (Babylon, New York and Biloxi, Mississippi). That was over 30 years ago and I'm still like them. However over time and the years the ink has naturally spread out. Once sharp and colorful lines are now faded and blurred. Knowing this, would I do it again? Probably.
posted by rmmcclay at 5:07 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

However, if he has wanted it for fifteen years it does not sound like a passing interest.

I read it the other way--if, after 15 years of "wanting" the tattoo, he still hasn't gotten it, and is asking strangers on the internet whether he should do it, he has a deep ambivalence about it, and probably doesn't really want it.

I've mentioned elsewhere on this site that all the things I've ever done that I've truly regretted were things that I knew I didn't want to do, or shouldn't be doing, but did anyway. That looks like the case here.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:08 AM on March 18, 2014 [16 favorites]

Yes. I have a beautiful and interesting tattoo that I regret simply due to placement. PuppetMcSockerson's advice about getting it in an easily concealed place is solid. I wouldn't regret mine if i had done that.
posted by missmerrymack at 5:09 AM on March 18, 2014

I think it's really important to examine your inner-most motives for the tattoo.

What's the reason for having this beautiful image inked onto your body? Do you want people to see it and ooh and ahhh over it? Probably not the best reason to get a tattoo.

Do this. If you knew that no one but you would ever see the tattoo, would you still want to get it? If so, then I'd say that you were doing it for the right reasons.

My suggestion is to have the beautiful art made into a piece of art your friend can hang on his wall. Live with it day in and day out in his home for a while. See if that helps him decide.

I'm with Admiral Haddock, if he's still on the fence about it, I'd say, he probably doesn't want it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:13 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've wanted one for around fifteen years, and finally got one a few months ago. Haven't regretted it for a second. I am lucky, however, in that one of my friends is a highly regarded tattooist and artist.
posted by slkinsey at 5:13 AM on March 18, 2014

I obsessed and worried over my first tattoo, which ended up a large, expensive, multi-session half sleeve, and I don't regret it at all. However, I'm also the kind of person who, years later, gets allusions to "The Outsiders"* permanently emblazoned on myself on $20 Tattoo Tuesdays on a whim, so as the diverse answers you're receiving here attest, YMMV.

*TUFF. That Stay Gold shit is played out.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:20 AM on March 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

I got the idea for my first tattoo when I was fifteen. My folks wouldn't let me get it until I was 18. Got it at 18 and haven't regretted it in the decade since.

As long as the tattoo has meaning and he's spent some time seriously wanting it, then I recommend getting it.
posted by GrapeApiary at 5:32 AM on March 18, 2014

I got my first (so far) tattoo at 32, and I don't regret it at all. It's a nature- & music-based design [ref PuppetMcSockerson's advice about something meaningful], on my upper arm [easily concealed by 95% of t-shirts]. I drew it myself, so it's no great work of art, but it still makes me happy two years later. Working on my 2nd design now.
posted by jeffjon at 5:35 AM on March 18, 2014

I have a couple of tattoos, one I got when I was in high school and one when I was around 20. I tend to think of them as representative of where I was in my life at those times, even if they are not wholly relevant to my life now.
posted by torisaur at 5:36 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

About 10 years ago, I got both my legs done from just below my knees down to my ankles. The artwork is a tribal design, based on the shapes of the letters of my daughters names. Left leg for my oldest, right leg for the younger and I have never regretted my decision. Depending on the size, detail and location it can be quite painful. The parts around my shins and achilles tendons were especially so. I read comic books and had a pair of earphones jammed in my head with music blaring to distract myself.

I'm a male IT professional working in the banking industry and for the most part, no one even knows I have tats, but when a little leg slips in a meeting and I see people notice, I chuckle to myself.

A tattoo is, imho, a pretty significant life decision and I'll echo what's been said in that the subject for a tat should be something permanent, like family or an event that has impacted your life strongly enough to deserve a permanent place on your body.

You also need to have the self-confidence to be able to talk about it when asked, or at least not feel bad is someone looks at you with distain. When I'm wearing shorts and sandals and I'm out with the family, believe me, I get lots of people staring at my legs. I didn't get my tats to get attention, I didn't get them to spark a conversation, I got them for me and don't really care what anyone else thinks of them or me as a result.

An additional word of caution. Tattoos are like potato chips in that once you start, they'll probably want more.
posted by ZureaL at 5:37 AM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have mixed but overall positive feelings about my tattoo at this point, ~14 years after getting it. The tattoo itself? It's appropriative of a culture that is not mine, a thing I was not thinking about at the time because I was young and sheltered and unaware of cultural appropriation as a thing.

If it were somewhere super-visible, I'd probably have either looked at removal or had some sort of cover-up work done by now to turn it into something else. Since it's somewhere no one sees unless they're seeing me a lot closer to naked than most people will ever see me, I haven't done that, although I still might consider having a proper cover-up job done someday.

That said, I still have warm fuzzy feelings about my tattoo. It meant something important to me as a marker of a specific thing in my life that will always be important to me, and it still has that meaning now, even if I do wish I'd come up with a different way of expressing that thing to myself. I have great memories of actually getting the tattoo. And I have a certain amused soft spot for young, dumb me and don't entirely mind having a reminder of her carried around with me.

Whatever he gets, it's going to change physically as his body does. Chances are the meaning will change for him somewhat as well, over time. If he's going to be able to roll with that, and have a sense of humor about it, then he'll probably be fine.
posted by Stacey at 5:41 AM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a tattoo that's been there for nearly ten years. It's on my shoulder blade so easily hidden by clothes. People can usually only see the tip of it in I'm wearing a boat or scoop neck. So it's primarily only visible when I'm wearing a bathing suit or tank tops or something like that.

I also tend to forget it's there since it's not in a place I see every time I look in the mirror or look down or something, so every time it gets pointed out, it sort of renews having it for me.

I think placement can also play a factor in regrets. I consider where an equally important factor as to what.

And he should figure out if his ambivalence is coming from himself, from outside sources, or from thinking if he should keep thinking about it because reasons. You'd be surprised how often that last one happens to people who really do want tattoos (or anything, really) and once they realize it, the decision they want to make is very clear.
posted by zizzle at 5:56 AM on March 18, 2014

No regrets. Trying to decide exactly what and where #4 will be and go.
posted by rtha at 6:03 AM on March 18, 2014

I have two tattoos: one I got impulsively when I was too young on my lower back, and another on my hip that I waited ten years to get. The one on my hip isn't complex but I still waited a long long time to get it because I wanted to be certain that I wanted it. And I went through something really rough for a few years and at the end of it I knew it was the right time to get the tattoo.

I still occasionally regret it (I got it about a year ago) but most of the time I love it and am glad I did it. I know that the personal meaning of my tattoo (which no one but me actually knows) is really intense, though, so I think I don't regret the tattoo as much as the path my life took that ended with the tattoo, if that makes sense.

I'd say that I am really glad it's hidden on my hip because it is pretty personal.

Also the meaning of things changes over time and a tattoo is no exception. So waiting ten years for the tattoo meant that my own relationship with the image and my reasons for wanting it on my body changed over the period of ten years, ten years during which a LOT of stuff happened to me. Still wanting the tattoo after I had experienced a few of the different meanings and reasons for wanting it first-hand was really helpful and important when I finally decided to get it done.
posted by sockermom at 6:13 AM on March 18, 2014

I absolutely regret mine. But I didn't go into it well, and ended up getting a tattoo in a street shop in San Diego by a guy who told me he didn't want to hear about any symbolism or reasoning, to just pick something and get on with it.

I did. But it wasn't good work, and it's faded quite a bit. It was gorgeous the first few years, but now, 15 years later, I'm really hesitant to show it anywhere. Thankfully it's on my back, so it's easy to hide.

So with really good work, a design that means something to your friend, and careful research, I would say go for it. It doesn't sound like he would make the same mistakes I made.
posted by routergirl at 6:21 AM on March 18, 2014

Not at all. I'm still quite fond of it 33 years later. I then waited 6 years before my next tattoo and 11 more years before the one after that. Then in about 2001 I started a very large piece, the latest (last? ) installment of which was in 2009.

There's this terrific novel called Electric Michelangelo about a tattoo artist in which several truisms about tattoos are discussed and one is Thou Shalt Get Used To It. I say your friend should go for it and you both should read the novel (and avoid that travesty written by John Irving, if that mess can be called "writing" Until I Find You)
posted by janey47 at 6:29 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think a good test to figure out if this is will be a regret for him or not is this: flip a coin. Once the choice is out of his hands, he'll probably gain a new perspective.
posted by fontophilic at 6:29 AM on March 18, 2014

No, I don't regret either of my large, beautiful, expensive tattoos. I thought long and hard about them and worked with an incredibly talented artist and wonderful person.

However I disagree with people that claim tattoos must have meaning. Mine don't, beyond: This is a beautiful work of art on my skin. It changes over time as it fades and softens and my body changes, and that's amazing. It represents a financial, time, and pain commitment to have gotten it, but not much more than that. And absolutely part of the reason I got them is so people can oooh and ahhh over it. Even though I always say "Thanks, but my artist is the one you should be complimenting" when they do.

Both of my tattoos are on my upper arms/shoulder so they are easily shown if I want people to see them, yet easily hidden if not. My current dilemma is that I really want to extend my half-sleeve down to my wrist, but coverup becomes more challenging. (I am incapable of not pushing up long-sleeved sweaters, shirts, etc. to my elbows.) The only reason this is of concern to me is my future career. My current job does not have any tattoo prohibitions, but future opportunities might. Then again, would I ever want to work somewhere so buttoned up that an occasional glimpse of a tattoo is verboten? Probably not, but it's still something to consider.
posted by misskaz at 6:31 AM on March 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

My oldest large tattoos are ten years old now. I was in my late 20s and I have no regrets. I am relieved that I had the "wisdom" at 18 to give myself long waiting periods for my terrible ideas of that very young era. No regrets, especially since I like to disappear sometimes and they are coverable (not on hands or neck, but no shade towards those brave souls).

Okay, on second thoughts, I guess if I didn't have them at this point I wouldn't regret *not* having them, but it's not like I would have donated the money to charity or anything. But they were important life markers for me at the time.
posted by Lardmitten at 7:04 AM on March 18, 2014

It took me 6 years from deciding what I wanted to actually getting it inked. I have never regretted a minute of it. I've had my tattoos for 14 years and still love them even as I slip into middle age.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:09 AM on March 18, 2014

Got a fairly large tattoo on the side of my torso at 22 after wanting it seriously for about a year. I don't regret it at all and am very happy. The circumstances I got it in are memorable (with my mother) but the design itself is not meaningful, though it is beautiful. I think I would regret it if I hadn't gone to an artist whose portfolio I liked.

While people often say about tattoos in general "What about when you get old and wrinkly?" that's never resonated as a concern for me. I know it will change as I do, and that's okay, because it's a part of me.

I don't know if I would feel differently if it were visible - I'm able to completely cover mine up in any non-swimsuit situation, so I have total control over whether or not people know I have it.
posted by superfluousm at 7:16 AM on March 18, 2014

My original plan for "my tattoo" was two tattoos, one on each arm. I waited a year to be sure, and then got one of them- I couldn't get both at the same time because I'm a side sleeper. I got the first one and loved it, and then started grad school, got busy, etc, and somehow allowed almost six years to pass before I got the other one, and then once I had it I couldn't believe how long I had waited. No regrets about either, a year after getting the second.
posted by dizziest at 7:17 AM on March 18, 2014

It totally lived up to expectations. It was a good idea to wait and it was a good idea to finally get it.

Back story....I always wanted a particular tattoo, since my early twenties. For many years I put it off because I am a practical person who would never spend $300 on something that frivolous when I was basically poor in graduate school and then later had young kids to feed while having an income that simply didn't allow a lot of wiggle room.

Fast forward to my early fourties when I have more income, the kid's college fund is starting to finally look healthier and several things in my life were making me feel and act like a totally functioning adult (parent's died and left a messy estate that I was totally dealing with competently, marital distress was being worked through, corporate job was working out after too many years of being in academia). To mark this important point in my life, it seemed like a perfectly good time to be able to throw practicality out the window and actually spend the $300 on a talented artist from my home town to do some original artwork that was even better than what I would have expected. So, over several trips back to my home town to deal with my parents' estate, I arranged and got the tattoo.

I will also add that part of the decision was based on hearing the life regrets of one of my parents on their death bed and thinking how easy it would have been to never have that kind of regret. Now that ink on my leg has significant meaning and is a constant reminder of the journey I have been on. On my death bed, I will have regrets, but they won't be small ones like never having gotten that tattoo that I always wanted.

By the way....Above The Pearl Tattoo in Portland, Oregon....talented, clean and a true artist.

I highly recommend having years of serious thoughts before doing something so permanent like having kids, getting body modifications or destroying a relationship, but then I also recommend that you do finally go for it if inaction will result in regrets.
posted by BearClaw6 at 7:20 AM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I got a truly gorgeous tattoo five years ago after wanting one for a while, and regret very little about it.

Here are the things I did right:

1) Hired a professional artist to design the tattoo. This was moderately expensive - around the cost of the inking of the tattoo itself. The artist asked me about a lot of my thoughts, dreams, feelings, etc, and managed to make this incredibly meaningful tattoo that I still deeply love. It is incredible, and even other people I know with tattoos are always really impressed at the complexity of the design.

2) Chose a location that could be easily covered in professional clothing, but still be shown off if I wanted to do so. My extremely conservative family didn't even know I had a tattoo for years until I finally got less paranoid about it. Every time I go for a job interview, no one has any idea. Yet I can pull it out and flaunt it when I feel like it, summer or winter, which is nice.

Things I did wrong:

1) Failed to consult with a tattoo artist on colors that do not show to advantage on my skin, before reconsulting with the artist. For the first month, I had a tattoo to make the angels weep. Now, I have a merely fabulous tattoo, because a lot of the detailing was done on white, which does not show on my skin, and which the artist designing the tattoo had no idea about.

2) Spent so much time focusing on the tattoo that I failed to check on aftercare - and so a bit of my tattoo "bled" coloring outwards.
posted by corb at 7:43 AM on March 18, 2014

I love my (large-ish, beautiful, expensive) tattoo. I also have a slight reservation about it's placement. Sometimes I think it looks a little bit like it's floating in mid-air in the middle of my back. If anyone but my fiance ever saw the full tattoo, I think I might feel a little bit self-conscious about showing to new people.

But, you know what? If you asked me before I got my tattoo what it would be like to have slight reservations about a tattoo, I would think "OH MY GOD THAT WOULD BE SO TERRIBLE" and definitely not worth it. But that's not how it feels. I have a slight reservation about it in the same way I occasionally have reservations about the way my hair looks, or the shape of my body. It's just...not that intense of an emotion. And it's balanced out by the pleasure I feel when I really love the way my tattoo looks peeking up from the back of my shirt, or when I get a really nice compliment on it. It's like, with any big decision, some regrets and doubts come with the territory, but if you only do things that you're absolutely positively sure you'll never regret, you won't end up doing that much at all.

I think if he's been wanting it that long, he should get it.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:49 AM on March 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

I thought about my tattoo for five years. When I finally decided to do it, the artist I went to told me that my initially planned size (and therefore location) wouldn't work. So my tattoo is on a foot instead of a wrist, and is actually quite different in design from the original plan, though it maintains the same concept I had been thinking about. I'm glad I followed the artist's advice; she knew how to make it look as good as possible.

I've had it for nearly three years now, and I still love it. I agree that (for me), being able to cover it up is important. I have never regretted it at all, and I don't think I ever will.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:53 AM on March 18, 2014

I am really happy I got my first one at 29 - one, because unlike at 18, I could afford to pick the best artist in the city and get them to do my work (as opposed to a scratcher in a discount shop), and two, because at 30 I was concerned about aftercare which means all my tattoos look fantastic a few years later.

I sincerely think the concept of "tattoo regret" is overblown, particularly by parents and others who don't "get it" - yes, some people get absolutely terrible work, get drunk tattoos, or get things that are very infantile that don't age with them - however I don't know a single person who thought things through, carefully worked with an artist, and regrets it. I'm sure someone out there exists in this realm, but they're not very plentiful.
posted by rutabega at 8:57 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wanted a tattoo since I found out about tattoos! When I was about 24 or 25, I finally got one.

I had it done on my lower back where it is only rarely seen, but that is by design. If you want to see yours or show it to people, put it somewhere easily visible without lots of effort on your part.

It had been my new year's resolution that year to finally get one, and on a Sunday night at 10 p.m. the last couple days of December, I was calling around to tattoo places in Seattle until I found one that would answer all my questions over the phone (and of course was still open...).

I had a really great experience at the place where I went, which was filled with awesome motorcycle dudes waiting for a friend or something and they were all in awe when I did not need to look at the books with designs because I drew my own simple (witchy) design.

It is painful. I have a high pain tolerance so for me it was nowhere near as bad as people say, but your experience may vary there.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:01 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mine has been something that pretty much always makes me happy. I have a more public tattoo that is on one of my shoulders that I had a design for printed out on the wall for ... five years? I don't now, a really long time, and finally the time was right and I got it. I have another less-visible tattoo that is more or less just for me and I've only ever seen it in reflections and photographs. Both of them are great in different ways. In fact they can be a sort of great litmus test for how my state of mind is generally. Most of the time I either forget about them or love them. There have been a few low points over the last 25 years or so when I've been like "Oh man why did I get this tattoo? What was I thinking??" and that has said more about me being in a bad place (that something was wrong and needed addressing) and very little about how much I really like not just having this tattoo but being a tattooed person in general.
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 AM on March 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I forgot to say that I don't regret my tattoo, the whole point of this question. ;) Sorry. Also, I agree very much with getting something meaningful. I did that and it is still perfect all these years later.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:04 AM on March 18, 2014

In general, if the tattoo isn't of a Pokemon character or a swear word, and it's on a reasonably conservative part of your body (not neck, face, or hands), I think all the worry about tattoo "regrets" to be overblown.

I have two tattoos. There are things I would probably do differently if I could turn back time and do them again, but I'm happy with both of them years later and contemplating eventually getting a third.

The fact that your friend is no longer a dumb teenager really helps matters, in my opinion. Most people I know with tattoos they specifically regret (including some who've gone the removal route) got really ugly and poor quality tattoos when they were teenagers. The nice thing about waiting till I was 25 to get my first one is that I was able to figure out what I wanted, make a plan, pay to have it done right, etc. It sounds like your friend is going this route as well.

One caveat: as I was planning my first tattoo, I was pretty confident at that point that I definitely 100% wanted this thing on me forever. If your friend is still not sure about what he wants to get, in general, and whether he will regret tattooing that particular thing on himself, then yeah, maybe he should wait until he's more sure. When I knew, I just knew.

Re meaningfulness: I would actually say not to worry too much about this. Both of my tattoos are meaningful to me, but part of the reason I don't regret them is that I abstracted a little bit away from Thing Representing Specific Interest I Have Right Now. My brother got a cross during his religious phase in college. He's now an atheist. Whoops. Don't go that route. Hobbies change. Find something more important than that.
posted by Sara C. at 9:48 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tattooing does not work well with regret, and if someone is prone to regret, I don't think it's a great idea.

However, I am not regret-prone. I have 4 and I love them, including the poorly-conceived #1 that I got at 18. Though it's not a picture/location I would choose today, it is a piece of me and of who I was. The person who took me to the parlor was special; the design means something to me still. Now, ~15 years later, it doesn't look as fresh/neat/sharp as it did on my taut 18-year-old skin, and I love that, too. It's aging, growing, and changing with me, and yet is still a constant. And hey, that skin wasn't going to be what it used to be anyway. But again, my attitude is likely helped by the fact that it's completely hidden to others, and I can't see it easily.

I worked tattoo #2 into a larger, more complex back piece for #3. So even if he doesn't like it, there are other options besides removal. I went ahead and got a fully public wrist tattoo for #4

So despite my concern about the tendency to regret, I think he should go for it. It is fun to be a palimpsest. However, people aren't kidding when they talk about getting addicted to ink.
posted by juliplease at 10:37 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

No regrets here. Advantages to waiting: you're less likely to get something stupid like the logo of your favorite band, and you can afford to go to a better tattoo shop.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:43 AM on March 18, 2014

Can't agree enough with everyone saying to make sure you get something that has meaning to you.

I knew I wanted a tattoo at a young age, I just couldn't decide on what. Pressure from family (my mom has numerous tattoos) resulted in my getting an armband at 18. I selected the design from a magazine - it looked cool, but otherwise there was no meaning behind it.

Do I regret it? Yes. Do I still want another tattoo? Yes - and since I do illustration, I hope to design my own this time around.
posted by stubbehtail at 11:59 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I got my first tattoo at 31 I think. Very happy with it, want more.
posted by stenseng at 12:11 PM on March 18, 2014

I am mostly your friend -- had one I wanted for maybe ten years and got it in my early thirties (15 years ago this week, actually). No regrets.

The missus started later than I did (at forty, IIRC) and now has more than a dozen. No regrets there either, but one of the early ones is blurring so she is going for a touch-up.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:28 PM on March 18, 2014

I have gotten three tattoos: one small one on my ankle which I'd wanted for years and still love nearly a decade later, one on my shoulder that I ended up being so unhappy with that when I got the third one, a large back piece I'd planned for a couple years, I asked my artist to integrate it into the new piece to cover part of it up. The large back piece is finished, and it's only been about a year since it was completed, but I'm still ridiculously happy with it.

The reason I was unhappy with my second one is because I had a hard time communicating exactly what I wanted with my artist, and felt shy about asking her to keep reworking the drawing over and over again until it was what I wanted. Because of this I settled on a drawing that I thought was "good enough" even though it wasn't what I'd pictured, and started feeling regret just a few months after getting the tattoo.

Contrast this with my back piece, where I spent a lot of time working with my artist on making it look exactly like I'd envisioned, and while I took her suggestions for things I hadn't thought about (like size and placement, to best work with the shape of my body), I wasn't shy about saying, for example, "No, I don't like the way the rabbit's face looks in this one, it's too cartoony and cute" and "Those flowers are in the wrong place, can we put them here?" and "Actually I'd prefer a darker, richer green for the leaves." And she wasn't annoyed or put out in the slightest, and the result was that we worked together on a design that she was proud to ink and I am proud to wear permanently.

All of which is to say, let your friend know that it's OK and important to take the time to make sure it's exactly what he wants, and don't be shy about communicating with the artist!
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:50 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a large tattoo on my back I got when I was eighteen, after about half a year of toying with the idea. I'm 28 now. A lot of thought went into it. I was smart enough then to know I don't want my tattoo to always be visible. I think it is really important to have the ability to conceal your tattoo. Mine generates unwanted attention when I wear tank-tops. I have to deal with a lot of "what does you tattoo mean" questions, which sucks.

Do I regret my tattoo?
It's beautiful and funny.
It is meaningful to me, which I mostly do not choose to share when asked about it.
Nowadays I wouldn't have gotten a tattoo, but I don't regret it in the sense of being unsatisfied that I have it. If I woke up and it was not there, I wouldn't get it re-inked.
I like it, it is part of me, but I probably would not do it again.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 2:59 PM on March 18, 2014

I have three tattoos now, one I got about two years ago at age 33 and the other two just last week.

Tattoos 1 and 2 are images/lyrics from songs that have gotten me through some rough times and that mean something to me.

Tattoo 3 is my cat's name, in white ink, because it's just for me.

I think whether a tattoo needs to have meaning for you in order to be not-regrettable is a question only your friend can answer about himself. For me that's for sure true. I wouldn't ever wander in off the street to some random joint to get a tattoo. The idea has to chase me around for a while, and even then, I want MY artist to do it.

He needs to decide if he's a meaningful-tattoo person or a person; a person who wants a tattoo regardless of its meaning and who is just reacting to the idea of being stigmatized for having a tattoo; or a person who is in love with the idea of getting a tattoo and not the reality of it. Then he'll know whether he should or shouldn't get a tattoo.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:56 PM on March 18, 2014

I printed mine on a clear mailing label in the size and style I would get, then stuck the label in the location in which I would get it. Wore it for 8 months before I pulled the trigger. Never regretted it.
posted by buzzkillington at 9:09 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I spent about 15 years researching the options for my tattoo, and 7-8 of those considering and refining the specific design. I couldn't be happier, everyone who's seen it is amazed, and I can't imagine ever regretting it. Mine retains some texture, and just brushing my fingers over it in the course of the day makes me smile as I remember it's there and part of me.

I've heard the advice that if you're considering a design, you should consider taping it to the bathroom mirror and/or the headboard of the bed, sticking it on the fridge, and other such places where you'll see it (my design was and is my desktop background), and leave it there at least a year. If you can stand looking at it day after day for that long without tiring of it, the thinking goes, you probably won't tire of the image itself.

Alternatively, finding a good henna artist who can replicate the design might give your friend a chance to see it on the skin (albeit in monochromatic form) and consider how he feels after a few weeks of wearing it?

Everything others have said about picking something deeply meaningful to oneself, considering the origins of the symbols one wants, doing research into all interpretations of a given symbol, not just the one that calls to him, considering how the ink will age and so on, is sound advice.

And indeed, tattoo removal is an imprecise and imperfect process (white ink, for example, cannot be removed by laser according to artists I've spoken to, and may well turn black), so he wants to be sure before the needles break skin.
posted by Someone Else's Story at 4:52 PM on March 19, 2014

I waited for 5-7 years after knowing I wanted a tattoo to actually get my first tattoo, since I wanted to be sure the subject matter I chose was something that meant something to me and I could live with it. I started off small, with a straightforward image of a bee on my chest. No extra flourishes. It looks great and exceeded my expectations, artistically. It's for my mother so there is no question to me that it should be a part of my body. Regret has never been a thought about this tattoo, even though it is towards the center of my chest and visible nearly every day at work.

My other tattoo, I took a risk on. Again, meaningful subject matter of the laughing buddha and some text but it is LARGE (it's about half the length of my calf on one side) and a more complicated design. I let the artist, who did my first tattoo and whom I trusted, have more license. He did something much different than I went in wanting. I was really happy while getting it done -- the composition of his design was MUCH better than I had come up with, obvs -- but the weeks afterward took some big mental adjustments simply because it felt like a huge change to my body and I had to get used to the fact that it was not what I had anticipated. Time on the internet revealed to me that this sort of regret when getting either a first tattoo or a first big tattoo is not uncommon. The forever change in your body can be jarring and hard to get used to and you may hate it for a bit. Also, the tattoo is at its boldest right after getting inked. So the visual intensity of it right after inking doubles the feeling of OHMYGOD DRASTIC CHANGE.

But, it's been a few months and I can truly say I love my healed calf tattoo (again). The nervousness of having something large on my body forever went away after about a month. And I now realize (again) that I like what my artist did for me a lot more than I would have liked what I came up with myself.

In conclusion, if it's meaningful and you have a competent artist, it's very likely that getting and having the tattoo you've waited for will be a very positive experience. Even if that's not the case at first, wait a bit. And recognize that it is part of the story of your skin -- and by extension, your life -- now, just like the rest of your scars.
posted by houndsoflove at 5:21 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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