Several years ago, I wrote a blog post called Tickling, about how tickling can be a form of aggression, and how it can often be very unwelcome and inappropriate. That blog post resonated with a lot of people. It’s short and to the point, so I hope you’ll read it.
I thought of that post recently. I was really impressed to discover that one of my nieces is teaching her two-year-old daughter that no one should get to touch her in any way, shape, form, or fashion, without her permission. Forget about good touch, bad touch. It’s her body. She gets to say who touches it, good or otherwise. We all have that right, but we often forget that.
Just because Uncle Fred is a touchy-feely guy does not mean that he gets a free pass just so you can avoid ruffling family feathers. If he’s making you uncomfortable, that’s never okay. Not ever. Even if you love Uncle Fred to pieces. And that applies to recipients of those touches of any age, not just children.
Also, just because someone is in a position of authority, such as a doctor or a dentist or a teacher or a boss or a politician, or even an older relative or a spouse, that does not mean they get to decide how you are touched. Absolutely not.
I’m not saying that every person who is touching you inappropriately is automatically a sex offender who is grooming you. Some people are just clueless. But it doesn’t really matter. If you aren’t comfortable in a tactile situation, regardless of your age, orientation, or relationship, it’s your body, not theirs, and you get to dictate what happens to it.
Your body is truly the only thing in life that you will always have all to yourself. That’s why it’s such an extreme violation when someone abuses it. I love knowing that there are children out there who are being taught their own agency practically from birth. That’s how it should be. I wish it had been taught to me.
Always establish your own boundaries and make them crystal clear. That’s not being rude. It’s appropriate. And I think that you’ll find that most people are a lot more comfortable, knowing the rules in any given scenario.
Never forget that your body belongs to you and you alone. Always.
Recently, on a cruise in Alaska, I had my very first massage. At age 54. There are several reasons for this.
First and foremost, of course, is the expense. Massages are not for poor people, who usually need them the most. It’s hard to budget for this type of luxury when you are struggling to keep a roof over your head. It is only very recently that I’ve stopped counting myself amongst that number, and even now, it’s hard to get out of the habit of avoiding unnecessary expenses.
Second is the fact that I really don’t like being touched by strangers. It takes me a while to feel comfortable with that level of intimacy. Sure, once you’ve broken down that barrier, I’m all about the affection. I just couldn’t imagine having someone’s hands all over me, invading my personal space, five seconds after meeting, you know?
Third, as I described at length in my post Cruise Ship Feudalism, I don’t do well with the whole class division thing. The thought of someone laboring over me in order to make a living kind of makes me squirm. I hate being catered to. I hate being served.
Fourth is that I’ve always struggled with the concept of being pampered. I was not brought up to believe I deserved such treatment. And I’m not a girly girl. I’ve never been to a spa. I’ve never had a facial or a manicure or a pedicure. I don’t use lotions or creams or gels. I come from a background that’s all about pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and getting on with the business of living. My idea of luxury is a hot bath in a nice deep tub, followed by an afternoon nap. Now, that, I’d do 4 times a week if given the chance. I’m worthy of that, I feel, because it’s free, and it doesn’t involve strangers or servitude.
So you can imagine how much extra tension I was carrying when I went for this massage, which, by the way, I did not book myself. I didn’t know how to act or what to think. I couldn’t look the massage therapist in the eye. My first impression of her was that she was very tiny and that English wasn’t her first language. I thought that she must be lonely so far from home, and her little hands must ache at the end of the day. But that was probably me projecting my unease upon her.
In the end, she was very courteous, dignified and professional. She certainly knew what she was doing. And she used a salt scrub and hot rocks, too. When she finished working on one leg, I could do a physical comparison of the other leg, and I was absolutely shocked at the difference. I had no idea how much my stress manifests itself in physical form. Maybe I do need this. Maybe I deserve it.
In the end, I felt like I had no skeletal system at all. I was just relaxed mush. It was heavenly. They could have taken me out of there in a plastic bucket. My brain was mush, too. I was grateful that the tip is included in the fee, because at that point I wouldn’t have been able to work out what to add on.
So, yeah, that first massage won’t be my last. Maybe. Probably. We’ll see.
The sense I use the most to explore the world is touch. I’m an extremely tactile person. Getting the feel of things is how I comprehend them.
I suspect that most people think that I fidget too much. While I’m listening to others, my hands are often in motion. If there’s anything slippery or soft or oddly shaped in my presence, I’m petting it like a pedigree cat. If I’m wearing clothing with complex stitching, I’m tracing its contours, over and over and over again.
I pet my dog so much that I’m amazed he has any fur left on his body. He seems to like it, though. At least, he keeps coming back for more. (I can’t imagine owning a Mexican Hairless, but I’m dying to know what one feels like.)
I don’t mind navigating dark spaces if I’m familiar with them, because my hands and feet tell me where I am. If I were to go blind, I might be upset, but I’d quickly adapt. (I would like to know how touching someone’s face helps a blind person visualize it, but it’s not like I can walk up to people and ask to touch their faces.)
If I’m told not to touch something, it drives me absolutely nuts. I become obsessed. What does that thing feel like? I have to know! Fortunately, my desire to follow the rules is stronger than my desire to inspect. Usually. So the Mona Lisa would be safe with me. Probably.
I absolutely love holding my husband’s hand. I adore sincere hugs. I love baths because they feel like full body hugs. Walking barefoot seems like the ultimate luxury to me.
Am I weird, or is this normal? Does this resonate with you, dear reader? If it does, I’d like to shake your hand.
A friend of mine turned me on to the book 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Have I read it? No. I’m already overwhelmed without adding another book to my reading list. But the subject intrigues me quite a bit.
I have always noticed that people have very unique ways of expressing love and also of feeling loved. I think it’s important to know what signifies love to your partner, so you can express it in a way that means the most to him or her. It’s also interesting to examine what equals love to you, so that you can see when someone is expressing love to you in a way that you’re not noticing.
If your partner’s love language is touch, for example, and he touches you a lot, that’s his way of expressing love, even if your language is different. Learn to appreciate it. And touch him a lot. And tell him what means the most to you.
Here are the 5 types of love languages that Mr. Chapman has identified, in no particular order:
Acts of Service– This is the one I relate to the most. Having someone do something for me when they can see I’m overwhelmed is practically an aphrodisiac to me. Want to show me you love me? Do my laundry! My boyfriend recently went to my house and left some chicken in the fridge for me so that I wouldn’t have to make lunch for the next day, because he knew I’d be exhausted. That moved me to tears.
Quality Time– Pay attention. Listen. Focus. If you want someone to feel special, just be there.
Words of Affirmation– Some people feel most special when they hear “I love you” or “I’m proud of you.”
Physical Touch– We’re not just talking sex, here. This means hand holding, or even just resting your hand lightly on your partner’s arm.
Receiving Gifts– This isn’t about being a gold digger. This is about being really touched by the effort it takes to obtain or make the gift, and the thought you put into determining what that person would like.
This is a fascinating avenue of inquiry. If you want to know what your love language is, take the test here. You may learn quite a bit.
I don’t know if Mr. Chapman gets into this in his book, but there are also a lot of toxic “love” languages out there. Here are a few I’ve seen:
Feeding– When food equals love, it tends to bring on health issues. I’ve seen many mother’s do this. “Eat hardy!” “Did you get enough to eat?” “Let me make you your favorite cake.” It’s a form of love, I suppose, but it’s very destructive.
Jealousy– I’ll never understand people who actually enjoy it when their partner is jealous. “He must really love me if he gets that upset.” That’s not love. That’s a warped control dynamic.
Teasing– It may start off as cute and funny, but over time it can evolve into insults and cruelty. Again, not the best path to go down.
What makes you feel most loved? Let me know in the comments below!
If Jerusalem has taught us nothing else, it’s that people take their boundaries very seriously. We like there to be a clear-cut distinction between what’s ours and what’s yours. Make no mistake: We don’t really forgive you your trespasses. History bears this out.
Because of this, it should come as no shock that we also have boundary issues on a personal level. Actually, no, man, I do NOT want you touching me without permission. Don’t act so surprised.
In fact, I don’t want to be “accidentally” elbowed in the elevator. I don’t want to be patted on the shoulder. I don’t want any unsolicited hugs. I don’t want to be forced into inappropriate conversations any more than I want to be forced into inappropriate corners. I don’t want to be followed or harassed or intimidated or taken advantage of or hooted at or tooted at. I don’t want to see your private bits, either digitally or in person. I don’t want to be called honey or sweetie or darling or dear. And my eyes? They’re up here.
Here’s an idea: if you want to do something with me, just ask. I’ll let you know. Is that so hard? And in the meantime, keep your freakin’ hands to yourself. It’s just that simple.
So, pay attention. There will be a test later. And I don’t grade on a curve. This is a Pass/Fail proposition.
A friend of mine told me about this article on the Mother Nature Network about why dogs don’t like to be hugged. Basically, many of them see this as a form of aggression, and it makes them nervous. It does go on to say, though, that not all dogs are alike. But it gives you advice to determine how your dog is feeling about the subject.
After I read this article, I was completely reassured that my dog Quagmire loves to be hugged. In fact, he will throw himself into my arms and bury his head in my neck at every opportunity. He’s a snuggle addict.
And then there’s Devo. Sweet, beta-dog Devo, my long-suffering best friend. When I hug him, he goes right to submissive pose, and he kind of makes this “oof” sound. On some level, I guess I have sort of known all along that it’s not his favorite thing, but… I love him so much! I have to hug him!
But do I, really? I mean, how inconsiderate. So now, I scratch him in his favorite spots. I tell him what a good dog he is. I throw the ball for him. And when he lies next to me I enjoy it, but I resist the urge to wrap myself around him like a blanket. It’s not easy. But in the few days that I’ve made this change, I can already tell he appreciates it. Now if I could explain to him that I don’t like my forehead licked, we’d be on the same page.
Sometimes the touch you’re giving isn’t the touch that’s being received. That’s the case with humans and animals alike. True love means taking that into account. Give it some thought.
One of the many ways we explore the world is with our hands. Before buying an item of clothing, it’s not unusual to touch it first to see how it will feel against one’s skin. On the darkest of nights we extend our hands in front of us in order to avoid bumping into things. We probably run our hands though our hair a hundred times a day. (Go ahead. You know you want to.)
But touch can also be reciprocal. There’s nothing quite as disconcerting as discovering that the touch you are giving is not the touch the other person is receiving. That’s happened to me several times in life. I once reached out to pat a friend’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort her, and she recoiled and said, “Don’t touch me!” Another time I went to hold someone’s hand, a thing I’d done with this person dozens of times before, but on this day he was just not in the headspace to do so. Another friend enjoyed being touched, but had been beaten so often as a child that you had to make sure he saw it coming or he’d flinch.
And then there are those times when you touch something expecting a certain sensation and you get another one entirely, as when you think something will be cool and it burns you. Electric shocks are like the anti-touch, as is being stung. Injuries to the hand can feel like a reproof.
Is there a word for that instant of giving a touch and then receiving something back? That moment of exchange, when you are either accepted or rejected, hurt or comforted? If there isn’t, there ought to be. That thing, that transition, that interchange is what allows us to thrive as living creatures. Without it we wither and die.
The other night I met a friend at Seattle’s Royal Room to hear Leah Tussing, an amazing blues/jazz singer. She and her band were wonderfully talented and it was a very lovely way to spend a rainy, blustery evening.
The Royal Room itself is a comfortable, welcoming venue with good food and a relaxed atmosphere, but it was the company that made the event great. I also got to meet some new friends and that’s always a pleasure.
All evening I got to watch my friend and her boyfriend interact, and it reaffirmed my faith that love can be magical. The way he looks at her, like she’s the most wonderful, amazing person on the planet, gave me hope that someone would look at me that way again someday. I miss it.
She also hasn’t been in the best of health this month, and he’s been taking amazing care of her. That feeling of being with someone who has my back like that is another thing I long for. I was beginning to think it was a figment of my imagination.
And the affectionate touches? I will never EVER take a touch for granted again, as long as I live. A touch can mean everything. You don’t realize it until you’ve lost it. Believe me.
Do I sound like I am feeling sorry for myself? On the contrary. That evening gave me hope. I left there feeling all warm and fuzzy, and very happy for my friend. Now I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for me. Anything is possible.
According to an article I just read in Global Post, “Physical touch stimulates certain hormones that are essential for child development… premature infants who are touched regularly display 47 percent more weight gain… Physical touch has a powerful influence on brain function and mental health.”
I really never thought about the importance of touch until I moved to Seattle, where I don’t know a soul, 7 weeks ago. Since I’ve been here I haven’t been touched, even in the most casual of ways. I’m starting to feel as if my skin is going to atrophy, like one day I’m going to wake up and my skeleton will be exposed. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but you get the point. I need a hug.
Thank God for my dogs. I’ve been cuddling with them so much lately that they’re starting to get uncomfortable. “Here she comes again. Brace yourself.” I can’t even imagine how I’d cope without them.
I hesitate to put myself into the dating world in this state. I might very well attach myself like a barnacle to the first serial killer who crosses my path. I now understand how people get sucked into cults. If Charles Manson were to hug me right now I’d fall madly in love.
A long distance friend of mine sent me some hug vibes the other day. That counts for much. But still, I may start stumbling in large crowds so that someone will offer me a hand. Any port in a storm.