Thursday, November 13, 2008

Do You Wanna Touch?

Dirty World - Traveling Wilburys (mp3)

We humans are touchy creatures. We're touchy about people touching us, and we're touchy about touching other people. If our skin (and nature) is sensitive, it's especially alert to having the right or wrong people making contact.

For better and worse, I'm a touchy person. There's something in me that feeds off making physical contact with friends or acquaintances when I'm in conversation. It's not a necessity, and I won't go out of the way to feed some desperate need. But all things being equal, there's something empowering and energizing about making (non-sexual, non-aggressive) physical contact with another person. A hand on the shoulder. A pat on the back. A slight pseudo-punch on the arm. Or, in the rarest circumstances, a hug. Yes, hugs are very, very good, but they can also be horrifically awkward if done in the wrong circumstances, so guys tend to go with the "Half-Hug," also known as one arm around the shoulder with both males facing in the same direction.

On Wednesday night I was out with a group of female coworker pals, and the touchy nature of coworkers was the center of discussion. One of our coworkers has a habit of touching both male and female coworkers in very awkward ways. Nothing criminal, mind you, just icky.

A finger "tickle" above the beltline. The smirking tug of a ponytail. A very brief back/neck rubbing. We were criticizing these things and the awkward feeling they create, and my guilty conscience was going haywire, because he's only slightly more touchy than I... but I have the benefit of being scrawny and pathetically harmless-seeming while he's larger and gives off that slightly icky vibe.

When I confessed my fear of hypocrisy, my perceived harmlessness and secure marital status seemed to be key factors in why my attempts at touch were not taken in the same negative manner.

In the rational part of my mind, I get it. Most of us have this electronic security system in our bodies, and that system goes off in different ways when different people touch us. As healthy and beneficial as hugs can be, in theory, some hugs do nothing but cause that security alarm to blare inside us. I'm fortunate that my touchiness doesn't caure that alarm to go off in others very often. That I'm making contact in very obvious, non-sexual ways does not, in and of itself, exonerate me.Nor does the fact that my aim is true and my intentions pure, because in these matters, motives are meaningless and perception from the touched party is everything.

Still, it does make me just the slightest bit sad for my touchy coworker. He wants his touch to be healthy the way hugs are healthy. I doubt -- although I can't be 100% certain -- his intentions are any more nefarious or lecherous than mine, but something about his approach sets off those alarms.

We all need human touch. We all need hugs. Those of us who get more hugs and have more physical contact with our counterparts and allies tend to live healthier and happier lives. It sucks that some of us are ickier than others. Unlike the fairy tales, sometimes frogs are just frogs. They'll never turn into Prince William (or, at left, Vladimir Putin).

Sometimes we feel icky when someone touches us because our bodies are smart, and sometimes they react in a defensive way because of concerns much deeper than someone's size or looks.

And sometimes, unfortunately, life and the human response system just ain't fair.

"Dirty World" is from the Traveling Wilburys' debut album and can be found on iTunes or's site. "Carnival Game" is from Cheap Trick's 1997 eponymous album, and I could only find it on iTunes. It took a lot of willpower to post none of these songs: "Human Touch" by Springsteen, "Human Touch" by Springfield, and "Do You Wanna Touch Me?" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

1 comment:

The Big Nichols said...

Nice to see someone finally addressing the "awkward man-hug," something I've been unofficially studying for years.