Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
In preparing to write about the lack of gentle touch in men’s lives or the touch factor as my ex would call it, I right away thought, “I feel confident I can do platonic touch, but I don’t necessarily trust other men to do it. Some guy will do something creepy. They always do”. Quickly on the heels of that thought, I wondered, “Wait a minute, why do I distrust men in particular?” The little voice in my head didn’t say, “I don’t necessarily trust people to not be creepy”, it said, “I don’t trust men”.
In my Jamaican culture it is taboo for men to be seen hugging each other, if you did, you were seen as a queer. There is nothing derogatory going on in my head, I am making a point about the touch factor what I was brought up to believe.
When I was young I cannot even to this day remember my dad or mom hugging me, so one day I had to ask my mother, ‘why did you not hug me as a child?’ her answer shuck the very ground I was standing on, “you did not like hugs”. Really mother? I think men and women back in the days were taught that boys needed to go in the bush and attend to the goats and chop wood, while the girls stayed at home cooked and were allowed to look cute. It is okay for girls to hold hands and giggle with each other, if boys did that they would be sent to the dark room.
We collectively suspect that, given the opportunity, men will revert to the sexual at a moment’s notice. That men don’t know how to physically connect otherwise. That men can’t control themselves. That men are dogs.
Because I always enjoyed a woman’s company I would be seen in the company of many of my girlfriends, we are close to this day, however I was told that I was a Casanova, there are people who refer to me as a flirt, never was, I am not and I will never be.
Accordingly, it has become every man’s job to prove they can be trusted, in each and every interaction, day by day and case by case. In part, because so many men have behaved poorly. And so, we prove our trustworthiness by foregoing physical touch completely in any context in which even the slightest doubt about our intentions might arise.
We crave touch. We are cut off from it. The result is touch isolation.
And where does this leave men? Physically and emotionally isolated. Cut off from the deeply human physical contact that is proven to reduce stress, encourage self-esteem and create community. Instead, we walk in the vast crowds of our cities alone in a desert of disconnection. Starving for physical connection.
For those who have experience divorce but would love to enjoy the company of a friend, to be hugged and to be appreciated, we sit in the dark and cry a million tears, hoping that one day we can see some light again, some jump the gun, forgoing healing just to fill a void that otherwise will never be filled because of social stigma – that too is a disaster.
The Comfort of Contact
How often do men actually get the opportunity to express affection through lasting platonic touch? How often does it happen between men? Or between men and women? Not a hand shake or a hug, but lasting physical contact between two people that is comforting and personal, but not sexual. Between persons who are not lovers and never will be. Think holding hands. Or leaning on each other. Sitting together. That sort of thing. Just the comfort of contact. And if you are a man, imagine five minutes of contact with another man. How quickly does that idea raise the ugly spectre of homophobia? And why?
While women are much freer to engage in physical contact with each other, men remain suspect when they touch others. There is only one space in our culture where long-term platonic physical contact is condoned for men, and that is between fathers and their very young children.
I would observe them my brother and his son and sometimes I envy, but the envy doesn’t last for very long and so I can sit back and appreciate them. Then I observe as the boy grows bigger the dynamics of their relationship changes, there are a number of things that is contributing to that synergy but that is a discussion for another time.
A Lack of Physical Connection
As a young child and as a teenager, contact between myself and others simply didn’t happen unless it came in the form of rough housing or unwelcome bullying. As was mentioned before my mother backed off from contact with me very early on, in part, I think, due to her upbringing. I can only guess that in her parent’s house physical touch was something for toddlers, but not for children past a certain age. Add to that, the fact that my father was absent due to working 12 hours every day excluding Sabbaths (Saturdays) and then again he too left home as a teenager, you can well imagine he wouldn’t know a thing about hugs.
This left me with huge insecurities about human contact and the touch factor. I was well into my twenties before I could put my arm around a girl I was dating without first thinking, how is she going to react to this. To this day, I remain uncertain about where and how to approach contact with people, even those I consider close friends. It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s just that it remains awkward, odd. As if we all feel like we’re doing something slightly…off?
The touch factor
Is it any wonder that sexual relationships in our culture are so loaded with anger and fear? Boys are dumped on a desert island of physical isolation, and the only way they can find any comfort is to enter the blended space of sexual contact to get the connection they need.
This makes sexual relations a vastly more high stakes experience than it already should be. We encourage aggressive physical contact as an appropriate mode of contact for boys and turn a blind eye to bullying, even as we then expect them to work out some gentler mode of sexual contact in their romantic lives. We are still asking the questions, why is domestic dispute so high, why are men like dogs, why are men sometimes so aggressive, what about the lack of the touch factor, why are our women going to women to be understood, why? If we do not start taking care of our boys the questions will continue.
It is time for us to pay attention, so men start hugging your boys even if it is awkward you are saving your little man for a great future experience.