Something new is happening to me. I’m feeling an ache from an empty space in my life. The ache seems to be crying out for something I haven’t felt much desire in — well, forever?

I’m feeling a longing for affectionate, brotherly touch from another guy: a hug, an arm around the shoulder, a tight embrace, an encouraging pat on the back, a caring hand on my neck. And I have no idea why.

In college, I thought I was a physically affectionate person. Truth be told, I simply liked giving hugs and had little to no concept of personal boundaries.

This led to many heartbreaks, like with my friend, Roman. It also meant misunderstanding my love languages for many years.

I finally came to realize how much I valued words of affirmation and quality time. These two love languages speak so much to me. An intentional message or an invitation to be in someone’s presence fills me up incredibly. I get so much from simply being around another person.

Once these two languages were filled, I found myself needing fewer hugs. Sure, I still enjoyed hugs. And people closest to me always got hugs. But it became more about the relationship than the actual hug.

I spent more time learning about the five love languages, retook the test, and it was confirmed: physical affection was my number five.

Recently, though, I realized I had gone too far without physical affection in my life. My wife’s primary love language is physical touch, and I was actually failing to speak to her enough in that way. Convicted of this, I begged Lisa’s forgiveness and promised to change with her help.

As I started working on touch with her, I realized I had also neglected some of my close friends who enjoy physical touch. I told one of my dearest friends about this, and he agreed to help me with touch within our friendship.

Honestly, I began feeling pretty good about my progress with physical touch.

And then came the 2019 YOBBERS retreat.

I gained so much from our weekend retreat; it was truly a blessing. A lot of the guys there expressed physical affection as a primary or key love language, so I was really able to stretch myself.

Coming back from the retreat, I knew I’d be a lot more adept at speaking the language of physical touch.

But something else happened.

Returning home from the retreat, I began feeling something odd — like something was missing. I just figured it was the post-retreat blues, so I addressed it as such.

But as the weeks continued, this missing feeling grew. I began realizing these feelings as rooted in something deeper than the retreat.

I went to my counselor for insight. His thoughts were pretty straightforward:

“You seem to have opened up a part of your life previously closed. And now that it’s been opened, you don’t want to close it off again — which is healthy! Perhaps instead of looking at it as something you want, realize that this is something you need. You need brotherly physical affection in your life. God made you for this, and He wants you to have it.”

It’s one of the few times I was left speechless. I’d never considered that I — specifically, I — needed touch. I’d always considered myself pretty much okay without it.

But I couldn’t deny that the ache I felt was nowhere near a lustful desire, a feeling far beyond any post-retreat depression.

My counselor was right. I realized that I needed affirmation via physical touch from the men around me.

My brothers, fathers, mentors — I needed them to affirm me physically as loved, cared for, and respected.

“This retreat helped you realize that it’s okay to need this kind of affection. Don’t close it off again,” my counselor encouraged me.

So, I now find myself stuck in a new struggle: how do I go about getting this physical affirmation and affection? I’m not necessarily surrounded on a daily basis by physically affectionate guys. What does it look like to foster this need while respecting the boundaries of those around me?

And the bigger questions I’m facing: is physical touch going to leap above my other love languages? Will I become a physically affectionate person?

Where does physical touch rank among your love languages, and have you seen it move up or down the scale through various seasons? Do you receive enough regular physical touch, or do you find yourself lacking and yearning for it?

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  • Dean,
    Physical touch is big for me, probably tied with quality time as my top two love languages. I am grateful to say I get regular physical touch, from my wife, as well as my guy friends. I think one of my favorite places to be is snuggled up on the couch between my wife and one or two of my closest brothers watching a movie. This happens maybe once every 4 to 6 weeks or so.
    I have a couple of local guys who will give extended hugs. But most of those who I have that depth pf physical touch with live an hour or two hours away. So, there are times I feel like I miss touch. It has become a stronger love language, or at least, I’ve recognized it more strongly, since entering the side-b world. Before that, it was there, but I didn’t have much outlet for it except on rare occasions.
    To me, touch says “I love you. I trust you in this space. I care for you.”

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Benjamin. I experience a similar message from touch. I think for me it’s still tied to other love languages though because it can feel out of place if someone doesn’t express other forms of love to me. But I do indeed hear that same message.

      • There definitely needs to be other ways I am interacting with the person. Touch without actual personal relationship… Might be a bit like a cuddling one night stand. And that seems unhealthy to say the least, and potentially a gateway for unhealthier interactions and crossing lines in the future.

  • I’m an introvert. I’m surrounded by a translucent bubble of protection that activates to save me from touchers. Most of the time it works really well. It becomes visible at just the right moment so I can back away to prevent contact. Others don’t see it and move in for the hug. It’s kind of awful, but I tolerate it. Maybe I need to recalibrate my proximity detector.

  • I did the test. My scores were as follows:
    Acts of Service – 10
    Physical Touch – 7
    Receiving Gifts – 5
    Quality Time – 4
    Words of Affirmation – 4
    I wasn’t actually aware physical touch was such a great thing for me since I avoid it the most possible (mostly because of being part of the autistic spectrum) , but now that I reflect, yes, I would actually love to be able to feel good with being physical with people.

  • I still kinda freeze from intentional physical touch from guys but find it deeply satisfying when it happens unintentionally, somedays it just gets me feeling more human. A memory I’m still grateful for was coming home really beat on the train and falling asleep and my head landing on the guy next to me and he didn’t mind or nothing. I guess that doesn’t have much to do with your post and is kinda low bar, but I do have a question. At the end of this journey, the hope is we get new bodies for our next one. Do you think touch will have a place?

    • I agree that I prefer to touch to be less planned and more organic. I’ve never been a fan of asking for a hug or a touch. I’d rather it come from genuine care.
      I think touch will have a place in the after life. I don’t know how — but since it will be a bodily resurrection, I presume that the ability to connect with someone through physical contact will be possible.

      • There’s gotta be touch, like when Jesus invited Thomas to touch him. I was thinking more about would touch be a love language like you write about, that it could be something pure and good. I’m kinda hoping when we’re there all the stuff that makes it less now will be gone.

  • Because of how it had been warped in my life, I fought to avoid physical touch as much as I could for a long time. It was really valuable to me deep down, but because I had sexualized it, I didn’t think I could have it without getting lost in it. Like you, Dean, I thought I’d just be fine without it and moved on. But I found that I was able to experience physical touch in healthy ways this past fall, and it has totally jumped the line. I would have ranked it last for me for most of my life, but now it’s probably second right after quality time. It hasn’t really been a part of most of my relationships, so I find myself craving it at times now. And the more I experience it, the more my body can recognize that it doesn’t have to be sexual. It’s been incredibly freeing.

    • It is indeed freeing when you can experience healthy touch that isn’t tied to an obligation. Avoiding transactional aspects of touch is healthy. I’m sorry your experience has left you in a similar struggle to mine but I am thankful you are striving to work through it.

  • Thank you for sharing your story, Mike. I am so sorry you went for such a long time without experiencing caring physical affection. I pray Jesus provides the healing you so desire soon.

  • I can totally relate, Dean. I’m an acts of service guy (shocker, enneagram 2) and then physical touch. I thought for so long that I would have to hold other men emotionally and physically at arms length because getting close was too risky. Since learning more about my SSA and reframing it as basically an attachment disorder, I feel liberated to pursue healthy touch but unsure how to get from A to B. The YOB retreat sounds like such an awesome experience. As a married man like you, my wife is understandably wary of me getting snuggly with another guy but is trying to understand. Also finding the bandwidth in my life between work, wife, and kids to develop and sustain the kind of intimate male friendship I long for is extremely challenging. How are you navigating the time aspect and trust with your wife aspect?

  • Physical touch has always been extremely important to me – especially after growing up in a family and church culture where physical affection between men was looked at with suspicion. A “firm handshake” is not even close to the right amount of physical touch!
    Because of that, it’s always been somewhat of a fine line to walk. Male physical touch is so necessary, but I tend to shy away from it out of fear. It gives me such an emotional high that I’m almost immediately attracted to the person (romantically, not sexually, thankfully) and tend to fixate on them. Which isn’t healthy, and is only compounded by the fact that I never recieve male physical affection. It ends up being a vicious cycle of touch->longing->fear of going too far->pushing out all physical affection->craving touch but not being willing to ask for it.
    Recently, though, I’ve been trying to focus more on getting regular touch, so that it becomes more normal and not something I fixate on. I feel like if I make it less “exotic” and more of a normal thing, it will be a godly fulfillment of my basic need, rather than a gateway drug to fulfilling that need in places I shouldn’t.
    Wow – I didn’t mean to write a book! Hopefully my rambling mess makes sense.

    • You did great – it made a lot of sense to me. I also grew up in a family and church culture that was the same way. My family was extremely formal and even a pat on the back was never done. Thanks for sharing…it resonated with me! Blessings to you, brother.

  • I enjoyed reading your excellent post. Having never been in any kind of relationship, I honestly don’t know anything about the love languages and will research this some more.
    I can honestly say it’s been about 20 years since i received any kind of meaningful hug from anyone. As I thought about it, I find myself getting teared up…I trust in heaven, in our new bodies, hugs will flow freely!

  • This post has garnered much discussion! It must be something many of us mull over. The other week I was went for a quad ride with one of my best friends who is very much a dude’s dude. I sat behind him, we were touching the whole time as i had to use legs to squeeze him so i didn’t fall off! It was great, we talked the whole time and it was a natural organic experience, i felt very connected as a man. I thought of our wives, our friendship, and so on. There was a moment where my mind wanted to wander to other places but I was quite easily able to bring myself back to the truth of what this experience was, and enjoy it very much in a wholesome way. I was very grateful to have had this kind of moment, physical touch doesn’t happen often enough for me with men. I pray for more.

  • I’m right there with you Dean. I need that physical touch. I’ve always been a hugger and someone who just like to show his emotions that way. But yeah, that’s one thing that I haven’t really ever had, especially among my guy friends, the few that I even have. I guess you could say I’ve become more guarded in this regard, especially in this day and age where a hug could be looked at as something inappropriate. For me, a handshake is fine, but I’ll take a hug any day of the week.

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