I can count the number of times I remember hugging my siblings on one hand, and hugs from my dad were, and still are, pretty rare. We say “I love you” freely and I have a great family, but we don’t casually cuddle or sit close together on the couch to watch a movie. Casual touch and (nonsexual) physical intimacy were a foreign concept for me; something I had to “navigate” as I got older.
Zac comes from a big family of huggers. Seriously, they. All. Hug. Even his youngest brother, who was 11 when I met him, greeted me with a hug the first time we met. Zac is also the oldest of five boys and they roughhouse constantly. It’s how they show affection. This makes Zac a very tactile person; touch is important and also very intentional for him. Physical intimacy is at the core of his being.
I learned about how to give and take tactile comfort from this infinitely patient man and the relationship we’ve cultivated together over the past decade. Every touch means something different: a simple hand on my hip to show support; a full body tackle onto the bed while we laugh and wrestle; knocking shoulders while we walk to the store; holding hands during scary movies. Casual and intimate touch with Zac is easy now and he’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a “rub whore” who needs touch all the time (he’s right).
While I will never be the person who initiates touch in a new relationship, I’ve grown comfortable with it over the past ten years. With new partners and friends, once we’ve broken the touch barrier, there’s nothing better than easy and familiar touch. I’m still awkward and overthink it sometimes (okay, all the time), but the difference now is I crave that physical connection and know it’s worth it to shut down that anxiety.
In the new COVID-19 world and after months of being sheltered in place and hearing all the reasons why touch is bad, however, I find that the thought of engaging in physical intimacy (sexual and nonsexual) or casual touch again scary, even with people whose touch I’ve missed for the past three months. As restrictions ease in the Bay area, I’ll admit that mixed with the excitement and anticipation of getting to spend quality time with my partners and loved ones again is a feeling of general anxiety over how to navigate touch. It’s almost like starting back at square one in so many ways.
I realized something recently, however: I’m not alone! There’s a new freedom to admit any awkwardness or anxiety I feel around touch because everyone else is nervous and unsure, too. We’re all relearning the art and importance of touch, and I’ve got this amazing network of people to fall back on as we continue to navigate the new normal together.