How to be affectionate
Our culture places strict limitations on touching behavior. Our social consciousness limits our touch to socially acceptable and symbolic occasions. Yet, we need touch, and unless we've been seriously deprived, we enjoy touching and being touched. We trust this channel of communication. Thus, we find ourselves hooked on the horns of a social dilemma which severely limits our touching behavior.Touch plays an important, if ambivalent, role in our lives. In groups, touch exercises elicit widespread positive responses that illustrate our deep yearning for physical contact. They also cause fear. In workshops for singles on touching, I lead groups through a number of touching behavior to more tender and intimate nonsexual touching. I usually work with large groups and try to see to it that everyone participates in the exercises with a partner, since I feel that directly experiencing the power of touch is the best way to learn about it.
I ask those without partners to raise their hands so that they can find someone to pair off with. Invariably, it is the men who either don't raise their hands, or seem unable to make the effort to pair off until I help them do so. During one workshop, I had made the rounds of the room a number of times, pairing off people, when I noticed a man way in the back, leaning against the wall. He was good-looking, young, and obviously trying to be inconspicuous. Since everyone else was paired off, I asked two young women if they would include him in their group. They agreed.
Tenderness touchThis particular exercise involved placing both hands lightly and gently along the jaw and chin of one's partner and then smiling softly into the other's eyes. I call this face-cupping the "tenderness touch." At the end of the exercise, while the partners discussed how this felt physically and the emotions it engendered, I checked back with the threesome. The women said the young man watched, touched each of them and then just disappeared. They were concerned that he had felt rejected in some way.
I found him again leaning against a back wall. I didn't speak but just smiled, reach out, and cupped his face tenderly. Within seconds, tears began running down his face. A little later he told me that no one had touched him tenderly like that since his mother had died. We talked a few minutes about his need for touch and his avoidance of it because it was so emotional for him. Afterwards, he eagerly participated in the rest of the workshop and left beaming.
This incident illustrates the immense power of touch and its connection with love. In our interpersonal relationships, we demonstrate love by tender, gentle, warm touching. We show love through affirming, encouraging, supportive words; however, we trust demonstrations of love most when they come through the medium of physical touch. We have a widespread, deep yearning for touch.
Cultural limitsUnfortunately, our culture places strict limitations on our touching behavior. Our social consciousness limits our touch to socially acceptable and symbolic occasions. Yet, we need touch, and unless we've been seriously deprived, we enjoy touching and being touched. We trust this channel of communication. Thus, we find ourselves hooked on the horns of a social dilemma which severely limits our touching behavior.
One area where touching behavior is limited is in public displays of affection. Some people practice it, and others don't. Some onlookers love it, while others see it as disgusting, or at least inappropriate. With adults, public displays of affection, unless enacted in "legitimate" situations such as greeting and leave-taking, often trigger feelings similar to the reaction of children watching their parents hug and kiss. Because of the intense emotions involved, children will turn away from such a scene or try to break it up. Adults often react the same way. Affectionate behavior confronts some people with their aloneness - an unsettling reality at best.
Sometimes onlookers reject public touching because anything beyond a handshake or a back pat takes on sexual overtones in our society. Sometimes there are sexual overtones, and then onlookers, sensing a marked difference from merely affectionate or friendly touch, feel like voyeurs standing at an open bedroom door.