How Love Works (part 2): Physical Touch

I posted last year about hugging, and described my various hangups about being enveloped in loving arms by total strangers.
This is why: physical touch is one of my love languages.
Go ahead… laugh.
My family will tell you that I have a tendency to just lean on people, particularly my (much shorter) mother. I’ll tower over her for a brief moment, and then lean on her like an old Italian tower, and let her support my full weight.
Once she hits her eighties, I’ll have to stop doing that, because I don’t want to put her in the hospital. I think we’re okay for now, though.
She’s tough.
She’ll be fine.
I have one friend that I tend to pick things off of like a primate (you know who you are… I groom you because I love you… you’re welcome). When sitting next to certain people, I’ll automatically loop my arm through theirs. When I can sit next to someone on a couch and not need the fifty yards of personal bubble space that is my standard, I know that I’m fully comfortable with them (because, lets face it, couches are notorious for forcing thighs to touch, and that’s just weird).

Physical touch, in my mind, equals and signals a great deal of affection. The times that I have felt safest are when I am linked up with people that I love, and that I know love me. This love language is sticky for me because, having been abused as an adolescent, my instinct to touch people that I care for is perpetually at war with the dysfunctional residue that insists that any sort of touch is not okay. For me, touch raises the intimacy level in any relationship, and I think psychology bears this out, as people tend to feel closer to and more emotional about people that they touch or are touched by. If I don’t want to feel close to someone, for whatever reason, I will abstain from touching them as much as I can (without shrieking like a howler monkey and scampering away from them). The problem is that physical space can create or maintain emotional distance, so when I do want to touch someone, I can struggle with being somewhat frozen by the feeling that it’s somehow not appropriate. The only way that I’ve found to cope with this is to establish some rather rigorous boundaries in this area.

It’s easier to navigate with women, as I’ll usually match whatever they do… within reason, of course, since there are some women that I want to restrain with strait jackets just to keep their hands still.
Seriously, what’s up with chicks who keep grabbing at your waist?!
STOP. IT. NOW.
If a woman hugs me, I’ll know that, should I ever be mentally and physically coordinated enough to initiate a hug with this person (this will never happen, but one can dream about such things), it would not be out of place. If a woman is comfortable giving arm touches, then arm touches can be returned, and so on. When I feel safe enough to touch, I’ve already observed the touches that each particular woman would be comfortable with, and I can proceed.
I have made the choice not to touch men very often, even if I might be so inclined. I don’t do arm grabs, I don’t place my hand on shoulders or forearms or backs (particularly not backs… don’t even ask). There are men that I’m good friends with and I’m quite comfortable with them, but I don’t find it necessary to display my level of comfort through touch.
In their cases, I tend to cook things.
Lots of things.
Things with crisp, delicious bacon.
For single and married men alike, I don’t use the hands unless there’s a very good reason to: he’s about to pass out… he’s about to fall off a slippery bridge and kill himself… I’m pushing him out of the way of an expertly thrown ninja star…
As far as accepting touches from men, I generally can sense if someone is a predator, and non-predatory touches are allowed… within reason… let’s not get crazy.

I ran smack into an issue with this recently, in which a something-or-other (could someone coin a phrase for a person resting in that no man’s land between acquaintance and friend, please? Thanks) placed his hand, several times in one night, on my shoulder. I was surprised by this, but not uncomfortable. The issue arose when, on one occasion that evening, that same hand slipped across my back to the other shoulder by way of a neck squeeze and a brief, but spirited, exploration of my upper shoulder blades.
Was I uncomfortable?
No. I experienced no actual discomfort. I’m a female in my twenties, and the gentleman in question is intelligent, charming, and attractive. I give myself a good number of Church Girl Points for not stretching and purring like a very large cat.
Was I okay with it?
No. The type of relationship that would allow such a touch was not in place, leaving me with a number of difficult to answer questions, not to mention conflicted emotions.

You have to understand that not all of the touches I’ve experienced have been the friendliest, and I have (perhaps unfortunately) developed a sharply tuned radar to determine if fight or flight is necessary. If a person, categorized as safe, touches in a way that is more intimate than is warranted, the alarms go off and I am immediately distracted and confused. Regardless of the person’s intent, the touch becomes a mixed signal.

I was faced with the choice of either ignoring the situation or correcting it, knowing that he would probably misunderstand precisely where my objections lay.
I chose to stutter through one of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had in my life. I sounded like a moron, and even though I said precisely what I needed to say, I doubt it made any sense at all. In all honesty, I can’t say that I’m glad I did it, but I had to do it, as much for his sake as my own.

I will, in all cases, accept a one-armed Christian side-hug.

I haven’t taken the time to explain this to very many people, because I have a horror of watching people’s eyes glaze while I’m talking. To bottom line it: I do like to be touched by friends or loved ones. I don’t always know precisely how to respond to touch, and I rarely initiate unless I already feel safe and comfortable.
I know.
It’s complicated.
You should try it from this end.

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8 thoughts on “How Love Works (part 2): Physical Touch

  1. Fear nothing… I have observed you, and have documented that the only touches that would be acceptable are of the life-saving variety.

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      1. Well, no one really has the RIGHT to touch someone else’s body (unless you’re being arrested), so if you’re not comfortable with it, there’s nothing wrong with refusing to allow it. That’s why we have assault laws, for goodness sake.

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  2. I am highly enjoying your in-depth analysis of your responses to various expression of love languages. How lovely to find I’m not the only person who loves to analyze such things at great length.

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    1. Thanks, I’m glad you’re enjoying it! In the flurry of emotions and responses, I’ve found I can stay sane if I know exactly what I’m doing and why, hence the analysis. That, and it’s fun.

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      1. Exactly. It is fun. And it makes feeling thins much more enjoyable. I was just a couple days ago having a Facebook conversation with a friend who revealed that her sister once revealed to her that she doesn’t *think* about her emotions. She just feels them. Wha–how–no. I don’t think that’s even humanly possible. Also, how boring and confusing and frustrating.

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