Thursday, December 30, 2010

Touchy touchy.

I am a very touchy person. I don't mean fly off the handle emotional touchy (though if I hit a really bad stretch with no sleep at the right time of the month I can sure act like one!) I mean touchy feely. Enough so that I feel like I should warn people. If you are sitting next to me expect me to touch your arm while we talk, expect me to rub your shoulder, expect me to pat your leg. I just am a touchy person.

When I met the friends I made online for the first time I warned them all that I would be greeting them with a hug. I knew them and they were my friends after all...we just hadn't met face to face yet. And to be fully truthful I don't hug, I HUG. I don't hold back. The first time I go drinking with a group of friends I warn them as well, because as touchy as I am sober I am much worse after a few drinks. Most people are fine with it but you never know how comfortable other people are going to be with being touched. I try to keep that in mind, but most often I will still hug someone or at least pat them on the arm.

I think part of it is brain chemistry. Because it's not just people that I touch, it's everything. In a store I am the person that walks by the clothes and reaches out to feel them even if I have no intention of buying them. Right now as I proof read this blog I am running my hands over the edge of the desk because there is a rough edge there that feels different than the rest of the desk. I don't eat certain foods because I don't like the way they feel in my mouth. I would honestly eat everything with my hands if I could get away with it so when food comes to the table I have to hold my hands in my lap to keep from touching the food, just to see what it feels like. And sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. Brent and C both are very understanding about a random finger in their plates. And not only do I want to touch everything but then I want you to as well. All of my friends know that if I am wearing a particularly soft article of clothing they all must feel it. If I find a very smooth rock at the beach everyone must marvel at the smoothness. I want to share what I feel, so if you are close to me you get touched and must touch as well.

I have passed this compulsion along to C as well. He will pick his entire wardrobe based on how the clothes feel not how they look. I spent his childhood washing walls because he couldn't walk down a hallway without trailing a hand along the wall and kids seem to just be sticky by nature. Though he isn't as touchy feely with people as I am. It was a sad day for me when he reached the age where he stopped cuddling up on the couch with me to read a book or watch a movie. But I have for the most part respected that boundary. When he hit around 11 and got a little more embarrassed by public displays of affection we turned the hug into the fist pound fist bump routine that we did for years. Hit the top, hit the bottom, bump.

I noticed that when he left for college the one thing I really missed was being able to touch him. I talked to him once a week by phone and a few times a week by IM or Facebook. We never really stopped communicating (he is a very good college boy and humors his mother) but I missed being able to touch him. When we went up for Parent's Weekend I gave him a hug when we first saw him, of course, and then spent the weekend fidgeting with him. Straightening a collar, brushing his hair off his forehead, punching his arm...softly...but still just something to register that he was really there. And then spent the rest of the time holding my own hands so that I didn't bug him too much.

Right after Brent and I got home I was out driving one day and got stuck behind a school bus bringing kids home from elementary school. As I watched the kids get off the bus and meet with waiting parents I was struck by the amount of touch. For the little ones, it was usually a hug that was eagerly reciprocated by the child. Then you hit around 2nd grade level and the mom or dad would reach out and pat the top of a head, or put an arm around a shoulder but for the most part the kid would just stand there. Then you got to the older kids, if there was a parent waiting for them at all the greeting was a high five or a fist bump. Setting up those boundaries but still a little bit of touch. Just to make sure they were okay and really there.

I wonder if we are all hard wired for that touch and just some of us have stopped listening to that need. I told you earlier that I believe part of it is brain chemistry for me. I also believe part is the way I was raised. My parents were both brought up in houses that were pretty closed off. They decided that they would do things differently, so we were touched a lot as kids. Hugs, hands held, heads patted and they also touched each other in front of us. My father still can't resist patting my mother's butt as she walks by and he is 80 years old! No matter how embarrassing it was when I was a teenager, it stuck with me. I am not embarrassed by public displays of affection (within reason, there are things nobody needs to see at the mall!) and think it's sweet when you see a couple walking down the street holding hands. Or an entire family for that matter.

As a massage therapist I can tell you that you need touch. You have all read about or heard about studies done with children who were not touched enough as babies and the problems they have. But it happens with adults as well. Some people are just touch starved. We would get clients in to clinic at the school who had not been touched by anyone in weeks. Just the act of laying a hand on them would help them begin to relax. Touch is important. But it doesn't have to be structured touch, you don't need to visit a massage therapist to get that benefit, just hold hands with your kids, with your spouse, with your best friend. Put a hand on someone's arm when they are telling you a story. Connect, touch.

There is a corny Miss America joke that used to go around when I was a kid about her answer to how to end war..."I believe the whole world should hold hands, because if you are holding a hand you can't hold a gun." Something to think about...


  1. Nice insights - very true and, it's interesting that our culture is so very sensitive when it comes to closeness/touching.

    In other countries I've visited, things are much different, with hugs and cheek kisses the norm; here, however, I think the isolation that comes from home ownership instead of 'village life' has created issues for many people that need addressing.

    Thx - great insights.


  2. Kent, it's interesting when you read articles about personal space we (in the US) have the largest personal bubbles of any culture. That space where we start to get uncomfortable when someone invades.

    When we lived in Florida and then again in California you would get huge influxes of tourists from other countries and they thought nothing of standing thisclose to you. I used to tell Brent...they are breathing my air! Even as a toucher, it was a little too close for me to be to a stranger. Definitely something I would have to get used to if we ever lived someplace else!

  3. Guilty as charged - the more you live in an environment the more you tend to adopt it (unless you're just incredibly introverted).

    I've consciously tried to break that "hold" society in the States has on me especially as I interact with my friends from around the world - they are often bemused at the initial discomfort with closeness that I can demonstrate until the bulb goes off in my brain saying "it's okay, they're not Americans" :)

    So - I get it - we often adopt the culture we're in but, I believe strongly we have the capability to see that and then break out of it consciously if we have the cojones to do it!