The Touchy Business of Touch

Last week a friend gave me a great big hug for Christmas. I hugged her back. This week a friend of a friend passed on her friend’s instructions to give me a hug. I sent a hug back to her. I really appreciated and enjoyed both hugs. Separately, at a group’s Christmas function, contact varied from nothing, to a handshake to a peck on the cheek. So, after two years of #MeToo, how do we stand on touching between sexes?Hug #1
Last week’s hug was from a friend in a common interest group. We share the same birthday, and are both celebrating our 70th. She likes my expansive approach to celebrating my birthday. We are also both ‘artists’, though, that’s a bit rich for what I produce. She’s also been through cancer this last year and is actively living in the present now. We look into each other’s eyes in our occasional conversations and there’s an honesty and empathy there. I like her, but we are really only group friends. We’ve never done anything together.

Her hug was a real squeeze. And I squeezed back. The kind of hug between lovers or close family, when someone’s just come back or is going away. It added new depth to our relationship. We both felt enjoyment.

Hug #2
This week’s hug was like an Australia Post delivery. ‘Here’s the package I’m delivering, as per the instructions on my phone to show it’s legitimate.’ The woman it came from is also a common interest group friend, with no other link, no history. We joke in the group and share ideas. Her husband is quick sick with cancer, but she doesn’t dwell on it. The hug deliverer is a close friend of hers. We like each other, but again, have no history.

The hug felt like a package delivery – nice to receive, but no emotion. But I felt emotion from the sender, and was touched by her gift and its meaning. So I returned the hug to the Australia Postwoman, with appropriate instructions. I hope it was delivered.

Christmas Function Contact
At this event, it felt like we should all hug those of the opposite sex but all touches were very formal. Perhaps we don’t know each other very well yet. I felt awkward with each touch. They were all very unsatisfying.

Touch is Touchy
Yesterday, I watched a US TV reporter reporting live on a fun run, facing the camera. A male runner came past and, smiling broadly, gave her bottom a friendly slap. She’s suing him for sexual battery…

Touch is touchy. It seems to be OK if a woman wants to touch a man, but not necessarily vice versa. Yet, in this increasingly physically lonely world, where we communicate with all our friends electronically, not physically, we seem to touch the other sex less. And are the poorer for it.

I love to touch, but I’m afraid I might upset the woman, so I tend to be slow to touch, awkward in moving, uncertain of what is OK, not wanting to offend. I love to be touched, even by men. (These days, there are more bear hugs from men than previously. They’re still rather awkward, but I always feel great when a male hug is offered.)

I guess women are more likely to be touched than men and more likely to be touched in an unwelcome way. So I can understand why women might be less keen, more wary of hugs. But a good hug always leaves me feeling better about mankind, closer to others, more empathetic. It breaks down hidden barriers. It’s like those forced handshakes in church, when you have to greet the people next to you. I don’t like them because they are forced…but I do feel more relaxed, more friendly, happier afterwards.

We Need More Touch
In these days when isolation and loneliness are multiplying, perhaps it’s up to women to take the initiative more, to hug more, to determine when it’s good for them. But I think we also need women to see that a hug from someone who is not a close friend might bring more joy into the world, even if not necessarily for them. And I suspect if there was a lot more hugging, there might be a lot less fighting in this increasingly cold, egocentric world.


4 thoughts on “The Touchy Business of Touch

  1. An interesting observation re the relatively simple act of hugging, Graham. And at the end of this latest post I was tempted to re-read one from almost exactly 2 years ago “From Mad Men to #meNOmore”. The practices there are at the other end of the spectrum and, rightly, have been condemned by women and most men. But you do ask an interesting question about what the impact of #MeToo has had on our ability to accept physical contact at any level in our lives these days.
    Personally, I now feel uncomfortable being a man. Uncertainty about what may be acceptable, and what may be deemed to have crossed the line, means I have to second guess every situation. What comes naturally to me in situations where there is some sense of relationship or friendship is now often suppressed. If I was still in a working environment I would probably never hug or peck a colleague again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your reflections David. I realised I should have re-read my own blog of 2 years ago…this is really a reflection on where I think we are at now, but the thinking is basically the same. I had a blog reader today who gave me a big hug, having read the blog! So that’s progress!


  3. I commend “This Changed Everything “ to the readers.

    Even liberal (some would self identify as feminist) males underestimate the impact of small acts in re-enforcing some rather pernicious cultures.

    Re the runner – “boys will be boys”


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