I call it the Higgs boson of the social brain
March 7, 2018 10:53 AM   Subscribe

“Would you like to share a hug?” "Are we living through a crisis of touch?" asks novelist Paula Cocozza. Along the way she touches on nerve endings, legal concerns, cuddle centers (previously), cuddlebots, wire mothers, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, hypervigilance, loneliness, and yoga.

(An earlier column by the same author might suggest the opposite point of view)
posted by doctornemo (47 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
This article makes me want to scream. It's because touch is so powerful that we're now recognizing how much damage it can do when forced upon people. Society is not your therapy tool.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:14 AM on March 7 [21 favorites]


Being so dismissive of the Girl Scout idea that children shouldn't be forced to hug family members is really saddening to me. I do self-soothe with tactile contact that I can actually control in amounts that I can handle, rather than taking comfort from physical contact with other humans, and it is better for me that way. I'm weird. I know I'm weird. But I'm why you don't just assume that hugs are okay and welcome. I don't do casual social touch. I have trouble even doing physical contact even in the context of health care.

I do really like that way of phrasing the question, though. I am happy to say "no thank you" when a hug is offered, or to find an alternate way of sharing closeness that is something I can actually handle. And the offer without being forced to actually do it would be very nice. I think part of the reason my associations are so violently negative now is because I have so rarely been in a position to get to say no to family, friends, partners until very recently. I am all for hugging people hugging each other, and I'm happy to be invited even if I don't partake, because it demonstrates not just warmth but respect for my feelings.
posted by Sequence at 11:19 AM on March 7 [21 favorites]


As someone who winces whenever another person goes to touch me (extremely violent mother issues/trauma) I greatly value my personal space, but I have met a few cool people, in part because of the job I do that takes me to another country, and through everyday human interaction that ASK before they touch and it's been really lovely. That said, if I see or hear about someone laying a hand on their child I LOSE MY MIND. There is not such a thing as "acceptable" touch when the person being touched either can't consent or didn't.
posted by lextex at 11:22 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Sequence, you just said what I meant in a WAY more eloquent way. Thanks :)
posted by lextex at 11:23 AM on March 7


...For Carlson, touch is “a sort of species recognition”. Which suggests that without touch, humans may be, well, less human.

I've gone through multi-year stretches of singledom where my only actual human contact was handshakes and infrequent hugs of family members, and -- yes, this less-than-human feeling is definitely true. Absolutely there was (is) a detrimental impact on my mental health. I didn't see myself as a full participant in humanity, didn't see myself as being a worthwhile member. I was this thing that no-one wanted to touch. What did actual intimacy feel like? I couldn't remember.

Which is not to call for mandated touching on anyone's part. Only that in my experience, this is a real thing, a genuine problem.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:35 AM on March 7 [26 favorites]


Reminds me of this comic I found a while back about an experiment in the 1970's, called "Deviance in the Dark" when published in 1973 in Psychology Today.

It was an interesting experiment to say the least, with interesting results. Two sets of students in two rooms for an hour. One set in a room of total darkness, and the other in an illuminated room. Their surprising finding was that in the darkened room, while there wasn't as much discussion, there was much more movement and physical touch, and not just accidental physical touch, but a lot of purposeful physical touch.

Interestingly, the comic writer notes at the end that:

The experiment was repeated in 2012 for an episode of a Discovery Channel TV show. This 2012 repeat, a single 60-minute session, did not observe physical intimacy that resembled the original 1972 sessions. The participants kept their distance from each other.

So, have we as a society really regressed in being able to touch each other freely? I don't know, it's a hard argument to parse, because apparently when touch was more "free" a lot of people were getting touched who didn't fucking want to, and now things are different because touchy people actually have to have considerations for other people's personal space. I mean, I don't advocate the people who lose their shit if you accidentally bump into them or something, but people not wanting to be touched purposefully makes sense to me. Because there's plenty of people I don't want to be touched by, and that list of people is basically "everybody I don't know and have only just met." I don't want some stranger on the bus trying to hug me, even if I am emotionally devastated. Give me some kinds words, and if I'm so broken I reach out for touch, give it to me, sure. But in general I'm not so broken I want that kind of treatment. On the flip side, I have had long stretches where I worked for years in cities where I had no friends in the same city as me, had no family in the same city as me, and I recall those years as some of the most depressing and difficult of my life. However, even then, the touch I craved wasn't from strangers, it was from people I knew and trusted.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:44 AM on March 7 [11 favorites]


I am generally always down for a hug, but I have started moving, whenever possible, to the fist bump as a physical greeting as it strikes me as a socially acceptable level of touch.
posted by Samizdata at 11:51 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


One of the things I really like about stuffy old social and folk dancing is that there's a lot of touch but it's prescribed; handholds and swinging your partner round a corner in folk dancing, up to an embrace that's holding both parties up but involves NO PELVIC CONTACT UNLESS VIENNA for a swirling waltz or polka. And you're cooperating in doing something moderately difficult, not competing which means someone's a loser. Really good for me when I was in a LDR and sometimes didn't speak to anyone in person for six days running.

People whose hands wander can be told to stop because they're doing it incorrectly, which means we don't have to have discussions about intent and whether the attractive people get away with it and therefore everyone should.

But I can't persuade everyone to try the polka. I like handshakes, one hand only and no pulling, and in cases of apparent sadness I try to be a shape that they can clearly move into for a hug, but not actually initiating contact myself.
posted by clew at 11:56 AM on March 7 [5 favorites]


One newspapers cry of 'crisis of touch' is another person's celebration of agency, consent and body autonomy.

I'm going with the agency, consent and autonomy on this one.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 11:58 AM on March 7 [25 favorites]


One newspapers cry of 'crisis of touch' is another person's celebration of agency, consent and body autonomy.
I'm going with the agency, consent and autonomy on this one.


I cannot favorite this enough. 'Nuff said.
posted by honey badger at 12:10 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


And if you're having a "crisis of touch" because people are now empowered to tell you no, you have bigger problems than touch.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:12 PM on March 7 [11 favorites]


Seconding "body autonomy"

This is a good blog article from a mother teaching her children body autonomy.

Touch is good, but it should be consensual under all circumstances.

Says I, who nearly fell over this morning trying to avoid a back pat from a delivery man.
posted by slipthought at 12:13 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I almost feel like what we have the real crisis of is people who are comfortable with hearing "no"--not in an asshole way, even, but that we're so conditioned to feel like rejection is waiting around every corner and that rejection is a disaster. So nobody will ask nicely about a hug if they think a hug might not be welcome; they just go without it, rather than risk the "no". People need to understand that someone declining is not personally rejecting you, that it's often a thing that has nothing to do with you.

We need more of a culture where people feel secure enough to go out on a limb with the request and are capable of rolling with it if the answer isn't "yes". Even if there is rejection--someone else rejecting your polite offer of physical affection is not any kind of reflection on your value as a person. We're improving at understanding bodily autonomy, but seems like we're not doing so hot at honestly communicating our needs to people around us, still. (And I don't mean just romantically, by a long shot.)
posted by Sequence at 12:26 PM on March 7 [7 favorites]


There’s a lot more to this article than just body autonomy, though. One of the researchers even says that he is extremely sensitive to touch. There’s being given the opportunity to say no, and then there’s the people who worry about legal action for touch that both parties consent to. Like a doctor putting on a bandage, or a foster caregiver hugging a child. Yes, of course we shouldn’t obligate people to touch, but that’s only part of the story here. It’s valid to explore whether there’s something of value being lost in some cases.

I read an interview once with Norm McDonald where he said that he heard people are afraid of touching homeless people, and that increases their feelings of isolation. So now he always makes a point of shaking their hand and talking to them so they don’t feel alone. I’m not his biggest fan, but that seemed very kind.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:30 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


People need to understand that someone declining is not personally rejecting you

A few people here and there with absolute rules about formality or strong tactile/sensory preferences or who just hate the physical sensation across the board may not be personally rejecting those they decline to hug. however, I absolutely am. as are, I think, most people. Whether I say yes or no to someone who asks me if they can touch me is 100 percent about my feelings for them as a person and as a physical embodiment of a person and the level of physical intimacy I want to have with them, personally.

sure, people whose rejections really aren't personal don't deserve to carry the burden of the asker's offended or hurt feelings. but then, neither do I.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:35 PM on March 7 [7 favorites]


There’s being given the opportunity to say no, and then there’s the people who worry about legal action for touch that both parties consent to. Like a doctor putting on a bandage, or a foster caregiver hugging a child.

I've found this argument to be...less than compelling. People who try to make the argument that they would touch, if not for those pesky lawyers have always struck me as disingenuous, and that they have other issues here.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:44 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


It's possible for there to be both too much and too little of something! Different people have different situations.

It's always weird to me how happy some folks are to fall back on bootstrap individualism when they don't personally empathize with someone else's problem.

Oh, you don't have enough physical touch in your life? No one owes you anything, you're a hapto-fascist who wants to force people to hug you. If you deserved to feel close to other people, you already would be and you'd have nothing to complain about! Fix it yourself like I did, instead of whining about it!

Check out this other recent thread for more!
posted by grobstein at 12:46 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


Again, society is not your therapy tool. If you personally need to more touch, that's an issue for you to resolve. Nobody is dismissing it as an issue, because touch is important.

The problem that people are having is that there is a conflation of the greater push in recent days to empower people to refuse undesired contact and the idea that there is a "crisis of touch", as if telling people that they have bodily autonomy is creating an emotional crisis. That's not the case, and that's what people are pushing back on.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:55 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


I'm "a hugger" and generally effusive with touch with friends, and many parts of this article resonated strongly with me. Of course, like everything, it's context dependent and something that requires trust and consent. Some of my friends don't like (or aren't comfortable with/etc) touch, so I don't touch them. I don't touch strangers/etc. I do feel down when I go awhile without touch, so I'm thankful for my friends who are happy to cozy up or generally share physical space.

There is the tension of rejection that Sequence mentions-- At an Oscar party this Sunday I watched on the couch with a platonic friend sitting on the floor up against my legs. We've been friends for 5+ years and dance together and all that jazz, so we're quite attuned and comfortable together. I ended up scratching their head throughout the show and the initial hand-to-head touch had this notable, electric tension. It felt like a new level of intimacy (and may well be), not-quite taboo, but certainly something outside of the everyday. They leaned into it and thanked me for it, so I'm not worried it was unwanted, but I realized it was the first time I had touched a friend's hair or head in an awfully long time. Quite different from my mental image of orangutans preening each other.
posted by matrixclown at 12:55 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Sure, I'll agree that there's a crisis of touch, however at the core of that crisis isn't feminism and advocates for children. It's the routine over-sexualization of certain classes of people combined with pandemic levels of harassment and assault that's spoiling things.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:59 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


I think I disagree with the statements of "society is not your therapy tool." Sure, society is not here to walk you through a specific recovery plan or help you with the nuances of overcoming a particular trauma. But a major point of therapy is to be able to function in society, so treating it as your practice ground and accepting feedback from society-at-large is part of emotional health.

I don't like the idea that there are two groups of people: My friends/family members, with whom there is a set of expectations and obligations, and everyone else, who are mobile objects whose humanity I can ignore as long as I'm following a set of rules that boil down to "as much as possible, do not engage."

I don't mind the concept of, "it's not society's job to fix my problems." I am less happy with the converse, "I am not obligated to be concerned about the problems of anyone I don't personally know and care for."

The claim that "society doesn't owe you X" implies that we are somehow outside of society, and not the people creating it. I don't believe I'm obligated to play therapist for every random stranger, but I am obliged to work toward a society that values both consent and friendly touch, if I believe both of those are good things.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:08 PM on March 7 [10 favorites]


The claim that "society doesn't owe you X" implies that we are somehow outside of society, and not the people creating it.

No, it doesn't. What it means is that no, you don't get to expect that people will provide you with free emotional labor (which is what touch is in most cases.) And nobody is opposed to friendly touch - we just want people to realize that hey, touch is a two way street, and both parties need to be consenting.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:17 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


The unexpected touch can be the most positively affecting thing, much much more so than a predictable one. It can flood you with a sudden sense of being loved and accepted, whether that is logical or not. Although even an unexpected touch should only be done in the right scenario.

True story: Once as I was walking down the street, a stranger grabbed my upper arms gently but firmly from behind and I guess I thought he was an old boyfriend or was a brand new boyfriend that somehow materialized out of thin air. Then before I could look I felt a shove, landed face down off the curb on my hands and the guy grabbed my purse and ran off.

I was upset of course, and never did get my purse back, but I still remember the nice part.
posted by serena15221 at 2:18 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


No discussion of cultural differences? I think touch-phobia is a peculiar Anglo-American and fairly recent thing related to extreme notions of personal autonomy and fear of being accused of something or other. It is not a conspicuous issue in many parts of the world where people brush up against each other, sit or stand close together, pat children etc. It was also not an issue pre-WW2. We are social animals and touch is vital for healthy development, especially in the young. I wonder what is the age of most of the commenters above, who may have grown up since the time when "personal space" became a thing. Question: do you ever go to crowded music concerts or dance clubs and how do you manage to avoid touching or being touched in such a situation? Or do you just avoid crowds?
posted by binturong at 2:27 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


I feel like I come across that paradox a lot. Everyone deserves to eat, but you can't compel someone to feed you. Nobody should be homeless - the fact that we have homeless people signifies a failure of society; but on the other hand, nobody is specifically required to give a homeless person a home, or even sell it below price. Everyone needs and deserves to be loved (caveat Hitler) but nobody is specifically required to love a specific person, or indeed anyone at all.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:27 PM on March 7 [9 favorites]


Not to abuse the edit: The person who needs food isn't at fault; the person who isn't providing food isn't at fault either. So like one way out of that paradox is to say "the fault lies in the world that places food out of reach." But another way is to say, "we all have some sort of obligation to the people around us, to create the kind of world we want to live in."
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:32 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


It was also not an issue pre-WW2.

Neither was domestic violence or marital rape.

We are social animals and touch is vital for healthy development, especially in the young.

Bodily autonomy is also vital for healthy development, especially in young children. Which is why we teach them that they don't owe anyone a hug. And no, this doesn't strike me as extreme.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:35 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


Cracked had a good piece about how societal messages about touch are undermining teaching consent:
When I was a little kid, the consequences of disappointing an adult by not giving them physical affection could have ended with a guilt trip, an earlier bedtime, or worst-case scenario, a spanking. When my parents were kids, I'm guessing they were sent to the coal mines if they let down their older relatives in the hugging department.

The point is that we've trained children to think that when it comes to something innocent like hugs or tickling (when the whole point is how much the kid doesn't want it), an adult's feelings are more important than a child's personal space. If you want your kid to say "no" with authority and confidence in the backseat of a driverless car ten years from now, they have to get practice saying no in general. More importantly, they have to know that hurting Grandma or Miss Kristi's (that's what kids call me sometimes) feelings is much less important than listening to their own gut.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:42 PM on March 7 [7 favorites]


Bodily autonomy is also vital for healthy development, especially in young children. Which is why we teach them that they don't owe anyone a hug. And no, this doesn't strike me as extreme.


Well, it is a rather absolutist statement, let us say. Between "you must hug relatives" and "only hug if you want" there are many possibilities contingent on context and history. Children don't always make the best decisions for themselves. (And what are you teaching if the child says the relative smells or is ugly?) Many studies show the value of touch to both physical and mental health and development. "https://brainfodder.org/11-studies-human-touch/"
posted by binturong at 3:56 PM on March 7


Between "you must hug relatives" and "only hug if you want" there are many possibilities contingent on context and history.

The only one that is congruent with consent and bodily autonomy is "only hug if you want."

Children don't always make the best decisions for themselves.

The point is teaching the child to trust in their own judgement with their body,which in turn means that you have to trust in the child's judgment.

(And what are you teaching if the child says the relative smells or is ugly?)

Then there may be a need to teach them empathy. But let me flip the question on you - what are you teaching your child when you force them to be touched against their will?

Many studies show the value of touch to both physical and mental health and development.

Nothing I have said is incongruous with this. I haven't said that touch is bad only that 1) unwanted touch is bad, 2) children need to be taught what consent and bodily autonomy are, and 3) we need to be careful that we don't undermine the lessons in 2 by forcing children to surrender their consent to adult wishes.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:07 PM on March 7 [7 favorites]


fear of being accused of something or other

I hear there are one or two people in the world who refrain from touching people who didn't invite it and might not like it because they're afraid of doing harm. being only afraid of being accused of doing harm is the long, long way around thinking about what is actually important.

Many studies show the value of touch to both physical and mental health and development.

many studies also show that if you call to your young developing child while holding your arms out, they'll run at you to fling themselves on you and hug you without being grabbed or ordered to do so.

children develop morally and emotionally, as well as physically and mentally. and one way to aid this is to treat your affectionate physical overtures to them -- which you are indeed supposed to make, as a parent -- as offers and invitations, implicitly as well as explicitly. not chores or endurance tests. most kids don't have to be tricked or trained into saying yes to a hug or to curling up on the couch with you while you read them a story, because most of them want to say yes when the offer comes from a beloved adult. and when they want to say no, that is a signal both to pay close attention in case something is wrong, and to respect it even if nothing is wrong.

this is also good for them because it models to them the way to behave, once they reach a certain threshold of maturity where not every action is automatically tolerated and forgiven as coming from a child who knows no better.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:28 PM on March 7 [9 favorites]


One of the things that is very challenging to me as a mother is that I really don't much like being touched (or touching other people), and my daughter really likes being hugged. So there's a lot of times when she wants a hug and I ... just don't want to give a hug. I'm trying really hard to hug her anyway (because she wants/needs it). So far, I've mostly got her trained to ask first, since when she comes up and hugs me unawares, mostly my reaction is closer to "ugh, don't touch me". Which is less than ideal from a mother-daughter standpoint.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:32 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


On the Cracked article: "More importantly, they have to know that hurting Grandma or Miss Kristi's (that's what kids call me sometimes) feelings is much less important than listening to their own gut."

Even more importantly, if the kid says no, the no has to be respected and allowed instead of being guilt tripped or yelled at or being forced into it anyway. I've been lectured a million times about Boundaries And Why I Should Have Them. Y'all, I can say no. I just can't get anyone to listen to my no unless I do what, set off a nuke? I can say no a million times at the top of my lungs and the folks I know won't stop. "Boundaries" only work if someone respects them.

As for the actual article, I concur that touch starvation is a problem, as is forcing touch upon folks who don't want it, and optimally well....I'll hug but I let others initiate that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:44 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I ride the bus, show up now and then for crowded church services, and on good days make necessary trips to the mall. There's difference between the kind of incidental touch needed to negotiate crowded spaces and intimate touch primarily at issue here. And then there's professional touch in medical and educational settings.

Either way, negotiating touch is complicated by assholes who live on a slippery slope between casual and friendly touch and sexual touch. We shouldn't need rules where we teach children good touch/bad touch, chaperone educators and health-care providers, or live in a culture where negotiating boundaries in friendship and love is so fraught, but here we are.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:04 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I am definitely about consensual touch, and absolutely support kids not being told to give hugs or other physical affection if they don't want to. I definitely don't want random people that I don't know to touch me. One of the examples given in the article, of waitstaff getting better tips if they lightly touch their customers on the arm, would skeeve me right the hell out. I have occasional professional interactions with people who are extreme touchers/huggers and it is pretty disturbing - I put up with it but I don't like it.

But. (You know there had to be one.) My partner lives on the other side of the world. All my family members are on the other side of the world too. I have two close friends I see on a semi-regular basis, and one of them is not a hugger/toucher. The other is an exgf so though we give each other brief hugs, there's never going to be anything more than that because it would just be too weird. I have been known to tear up and even cry when reading things about people touching other people (like this article) because I cannot remember the last time someone touched me, or because the only time someone touches me is because I pay them to. And don't get me wrong, I do love my massages and my massage therapist absolutely deserves to be paid, but part of why I feel better after I have one is because someone finally touched me. I am not anathema. I am actually part of the human race.

I don't know what the answer is to this. I do not want the touch of strangers, I do not want to ask them to touch me or for them to touch me without asking. But I crave touch, I need touch and am acutely aware that I do not get enough touch. As always, I am very grateful for my cat, who jumps on me, walks on me, sleeps on me and generally takes my physical availability to him completely for granted. It is not the same as human touch, but it is far better than nothing.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:51 PM on March 7 [7 favorites]


binturong: "I think touch-phobia is a peculiar Anglo-American and fairly recent thing related to extreme notions of personal autonomy and fear of being accused of something or other. It is not a conspicuous issue in many parts of the world where people brush up against each other, sit or stand close together, pat children etc. It was also not an issue pre-WW2."

I suspect in many Anglo cultures homophobia and fear of being perceived as gay played a significant role in the decrease in friendly casual touch between acquaintances (especially men) in the 20th century.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:51 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I ride the bus, show up now and then for crowded church services, and on good days make necessary trips to the mall. There's difference between the kind of incidental touch needed to negotiate crowded spaces and intimate touch primarily at issue here. And then there's professional touch in medical and educational settings.

But even with incidental touch, the US just doesn't get crowded or feel crowded. The only time I remember being wedged between people in the US is at Comic-Con. On the other hand, being surrounded by people was pretty much a normal everyday experience in China, Taiwan, and HK: Subways, night markets, elevators, even lining up to buy noodles in the morning. I think there is an obvious cultural component, but I think it's also just different lifestyles and the design of public spaces.

And speaking of different forms of touch, what about sports touch? Not only the touch from contact sports like martial arts or football, but high fives, shoulder grabs, backslapping, and of course, the butt slap. Secret Sparrow mentioned in the above comment how Anglo-American men don't like to touch one another, but sports seems to be an exception to that rule.
posted by FJT at 9:54 PM on March 7


random do-gooders deciding YOU NEED A HUG is not a substitute for real intimacy
posted by thelonius at 12:37 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Note: Everyone needs a hug.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 3:17 AM on March 8


Isn't that what cats are for?
posted by acb at 3:58 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


only after the parasites are nestled into your brain.
posted by eustatic at 6:20 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I suspect in many Anglo cultures homophobia and fear of being perceived as gay played a significant role in the decrease in friendly casual touch between acquaintances (especially men) in the 20th century.

Funny how abuse in response to the mere suspicion that we might not be straight tends to kill a lot of intimacy outside of family in American culture.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:15 AM on March 8


Note: Everyone needs a hug.
I'm sorry: definitely not.

I'm one of a long line of non touchers and I can remember being really quite young and my mother asking me to please stop breathing down the back of her neck so she could read the paper on her own in peace. Then my uncle had a story of his mother, my gran, who was the sweetest ever person, saying to him while they were watching telly Oh, would you mind sitting over there in that chair, you're a little bit too close to me here on the couch.

I don't know how this don't-touch-me malarky got such a bad name, there are enough people who feel it. On the other hand I've a whole family of nephews and nieces who think it's the funniest thing to ambush me with hugs; except for the youngest, who has young children so presumably is in with this contemporary don't make children hug if they don't want to sensibility and has extended it into general life.
posted by glasseyes at 10:09 AM on March 8


the optimum speed of a human caress is 3cm to 5cm a second

Time to start carrying a stopwatch and some calipers.

j/k I always have a stopwatch and calipers.
posted by poe at 12:00 PM on March 8


I do not like being touched for sensory, chronic pain and abuse reasons so of course I have children who craved constant touch. Leahwren, I feel your dilemma! I made myself hug them and do things like shoulder pats and hair ruffling and back scratches on demand. It becomes a reflex with practice but I remember sobbing with relief at not being touched after a night's sleep alone in bed. I type this with one kid leaning on my lap, because my migraine means she can't lie physically sprawled across me as she would prefer.

The thought of never having to be touched by someone I don't agree to be touched by makes me my eyes well up - it's like hah, sure, cure for cancer, world peace, wouldn't that be nice. My body has never been mine, and has always been accessible to other people regardless of my wishes.

Teaching that they can choose to say no to my children has been a great joy. Watching that develop culturally as a basic given now is just wonderful. I think it'll be one of those cultural shifts where we look back and go wait, people really thought it was ok to just touch other people including children, without consent?
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:51 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I once had someone start to hold my hand while we talked to each other, it was incredibly intense, and wasn't done to be flirty or anything. It was just another avenue for communication where one would squeeze when stressing something, etc. It was incredibly intimate and I still think of it. I've not really had that person in my life since, it was just a random conversation between friends-of-friends after a show, and as far as I know no chemicals were involved. But it makes me wish that was common somehow, and that there was a way to indicate you were open to it without any kind of imposition.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:26 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


GenderNullPointerException: "Funny how abuse in response to the mere suspicion that we might not be straight tends to kill a lot of intimacy outside of family in American culture."

Absolutely. Coincidentally the Homosexuality is Stalin’s Atom Bomb To Destory America FPP made shortly after this one (& the discussion & links posted under it) get at the rising public awareness of homosexuality post WW2 and how/why the American government and medical community were promoting homophobia, and the human cost of that.

shapes that haunt the dusk posted a pretty interesting link about the Lavender Scare that I'm just dipping into now.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 12:33 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


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