My brother, Dean, recently wrote a post about his increasing proclivity for physical touch. I’ve known Dean for many years now, and I see the progression of his journey. It’s especially interesting in relation to my own journey with physical touch, because I actually find myself decreasingly needing — or even desiring — touch with other men.
It’s not completely gone, mind you. But the need/desire is considerably less. Sometimes to the point of recoil. Like I hug someone for a half-second, and I’m good.
It didn’t used to be this way. This is a fairly new development. I’m still unpacking the reasons, but I have some theories based on how my male friendships have transpired the last decade — many of them imploding.
Years ago when I first moved out of my parents’ house, I entered a scary new world of adulthood. Like a baby squirming from the womb without a mother’s arms to hold me close.
Hugs and holds with one particular new friend were indeed secure and comforting. I parted from his embraces immediately craving them again with the chill of the air growing between us.
And he’s just one friend among several from that time. And many others since.
It’s uncomfortable to recall these memories; for all intents and purposes, I was addicted to touch. I’d gone 20+ years without any meaningful touch with a male friend, and now I was gorging on it. I couldn’t ever get enough, hanging on like a life preserver in the rapids.
Emotional boundaries were crossed with one guy after another. That first friendship took a turn south for a long time.
I constantly looked for other victims to touch and be touched by. It sounds dramatic, but it’s not far off. I stared at men in coffee shops or at various faith/sexuality-centric conferences. I scoured Facebook pictures of acquaintances and friends-of-friends and daydreamed of prolonged touch with other men. Strangers.
I craved a long hug or hold or cuddles on a couch or even sleeping in the same bed with other men because they were hot or funny or wise or something else I felt I wasn’t — not because we were, like, you know, good friends who could appropriately and comfortably touch one another as some natural representation of their relationship, whatever that even looks like, whatever the right boundaries are.
Of course, in theory, I wanted healthy, genuine, “permanent” friends. But with each fizzled and failed friendship, I realized longterm relationships require so much communication, so much work, so much constant realigning. I obsessed over a quicker, easier rush of warm flesh melding with mine, regardless the relationship or consequence.
Gosh, I was unhealthy.
I want to give myself grace, though. What else do you expect from a lonely bullied insecure kid who always wanted but never had a best friend growing up?
Looking back on the last decade, my touch journey gives me the willies. I don’t like remembering the addicted, obsessed, carnal feelings I’ve felt for other men: strangers and especially friends. Friends who could have been stronger, longer lasting ones had I not treated them primarily as a catalyst for my dopamine and a filler for my starving heart. Again. And again.
After going my first 20+ years without any male peer touch, it’s safe to say I’ve now had more than my fill this last decade. I don’t wanna say I’m “over” touch now . . .
But I will say this: I’m eager to round out my other “love languages.”
Words of affirmation have skyrocketed up my rankings. My longterm struggles with self-worth feel more redeemed than ever as loved ones often speak truth and life and love into me. I’m so grateful for every syllable. I hope I return the truth and life and love.
Quality time is also huge. As someone who now makes his own schedule every day, I better recognize and appreciate the value of every minute, of someone taking time out of her schedule to share it with me.
Gifts and acts of service are still fairly foreign for me — both the receiving and giving of such. But I want to “practice” them. I want to be a more rounded human, a more rounded friend, someone more adept at meeting other friends’ primary love languages, however similarly or differently they compare to my own.
There’s more to physical touch than the fuzzy feelings of skin on skin. There’s deeper layers to friendship, I’m uncovering, and there are far more noble things to daydream about than sharing a bed with the attractive cashier (did I say that aloud?).
I want friends who I can call friends to the end of time. I want friends who also want to put in the work. The messy conversations. The exhilarating adventures. The shared journeying with Jesus.
I’m not interested in the short-term rush. I’m just not into that anymore.
I still have moments of craving touch with certain friends. Mostly straight guys. For all the reasons.
But even then, I find myself hungering for said touch significantly less than even a year ago. I’ve been building friendships with some pretty great straight men this year, meeting them in their love languages and, yes, sharing in some touch along the way.
Maybe it’s not as much touch as my heart fully desires — but the process of building such friendships, one strong block at a time, brings my heart great joy.
We all need touch to some degree. Reminders of our shared humanity and this space we occupy. Touch is good. It is a good desire.
But let us not allow our good desires to grow twisted. Let us first stop and see the light of God in another’s eyes before we calculate what he can do for us, what he can give us, how he can or can’t heal our wounds.
I’ve been untwisting my physical touch desires for the last year, and it’s been a difficult reorienting, to say the least. But I’m breathing better than I have in a long time, and I feel good about the overall process.
Of loving others more holistically. Of drawing clearer boundaries, physical and emotional, and of bringing this twisted darkness to freedom and light.
Do you experience enough regular physical touch? What rounds out your primary love languages, and have you reoriented your desires for physical touch?
You bring up so any good points Tom, and I see some elements of myself in there. As much as I’ve talked about how much physical touch and cuddling have been great things for me, perhaps I can have an overreliance on it. Like sometimes if I’m talking with a new Side B person and I find out that they love physical touch I’m like “oh you like physical touch do you? Well let’s figure out a meetup… soon…” Now of course physical is never the sole reason I want to meet people (I’m far more interested in getting to know that person as a whole and bond with them), it can sometimes be a little too much of a driving force. But like you said, can I really blame myself? After a whole life of very little love, affection, or touch of any kind? It can make anyone a starving man scarfing down scoffing down eight meals at once.
Grateful for your perspective, Eugene. I think we come from similar backgrounds. I don’t want to downplay touch (hopefully that’s not how this post came across), but I know I’ve absolutely pursued relationships solely for the touch and warm fuzzies and not much else. That hasn’t been good or healthy or fair to the other person. Or to me, for that matter. With age and experience and lots of failure comes wisdom, though. Grateful for this new perspective as I, hopefully, build healthier relationships moving forward.
Yeah don’t worry, I didn’t think you came across as downplaying touch. Okay, maybe the title of the blog worried me a little. lol As much as we talk about emotional dependency on other people, I think sometimes we can have a dependency on touch its self. Very understandable why one would. But yeah, I’ve had my failures as well in relationships so I can only hope to just keep moving forward and learn as much as I can.
What you wrote sounds like you’ve found release which seems like freedom. And that looks like hope. It seems like you’re in a better place now and that’s something worth celebrating.
Definitely in a better place now that I’ve ever been with touch/friendship. Been a long road getting here…but I’m grateful for all the stumbles that have gotten me here.
Somedays ‘here’ is almost like home. Grace for the journey.
So much worth giving thanks for.
Grateful for this post. It helps me to be reminded that I’m here to love and give, not crave and beg.
Indeed, we all have much to love and give! I’ve long struggled to believe that of myself, hence a lot of craving and begging. I still have deep yearnings, of course. But I also know I’m here to love others and not just be a touch-sponge for others to soak into me all the time.
HOW DARE YOU.
Tom, thank you for this article and the timing of it. I can resonate with much of what you’ve discussed. Growing up, I also had a list of guys who were victim to my emotional dependency. Deep down we all just want to feel known and loved. There were many friendships I wrecked. It wasn’t until YOB that I saw what I was doing. My pastor has
Tom, thank you for this article and the timing of it. I can resonate with much of what you’ve discussed. Growing up, I also had a list of guys who were victim to my emotional dependency. I don’t see your wording as dramatic or too much because I would describe my experiences the same way. Deep down we all just want to feel known and loved. There were many friendships I wrecked. It wasn’t until YOB that I saw what I was doing.
My pastor has given the imagery of two people wading into the pool of water rather than diving into the deep end. While I’ve been frustrated with this, I do believe there is truth to it. If we start a friendship in the deep end, where is that friendship to go? If we start with physical touch, where does that physical touch lead? It can lead to things we don’t want it to. This leads to your point of looking at friendship in the long term. I did have a friend that I came out to who is straight that told me it would take him 5 years to trust me and didn’t understand how physical touch could be helpful for me. While I think there is some truth on each of our opinions, he wanted to wade in the pool while I wanted to dive into the deep end. Since then, I have realized that straight guys can only understand so much about me and to not expect more from them. Sure, take it as a case by case but don’t bark up the wrong tree. Respect the boundaries of the other person and if you need to move on to a different friendship, do so. We still communicate from time to time but the pain of rejection will always be with me in his response. I don’t hold that against him. We’re just different people with different experiences. I intentionally have not given up on him but don’t look to him to be able to fill my needs.
Having been in a relationship for 3.5 years and coming out of that, I longed for physical touch. In my journey I think I traded words of affirmation for physical touch. Deep down we want to be fully known and fully loved and I can understand that through physical touch but words of affirmation is what is lacking most in my life. I liked Jacob’s thought on having buckets for each of the five love languages. Usually my words of affirmation bucket has a drop in it if that. My parents would say they’re proud of all their kids but it’s not something they say to us individually. I would say that words of affirmation is greatly lacking in my family. The key to receiving words of affirmation is the need for intimacy and vulnerability. I want people to see how hard I’m working and say they’re proud of me. If I don’t allow them into my life, they don’t know and can’t say. I’ve isolated myself because I feel judged when I’m honest and vulnerable. It is also others realizing that even though something isn’t hard for you to accomplish, it may be hard for me and to be sympathetic to that. I’ve never cared for the men with the just do it mentality because it lacks any emotion. It isn’t helpful for someone who is a more emotional person. It’s just nice to know that you have people to support you and love you so that you can take risks in your life.
Thanks for this comment! The imagery about the depth of friendship being like a pool is something I really needed to hear, both for friendships with OSA and SSA guys. In the “real world” I don’t know many side B SSA guys. I’ve recently started attending a men’s group at a church in town and I shared about my struggles with SSA. The same night another guy also shared about his struggles with SSA. I immediately wanted to spend time getting to know him (just to know another SSA side B Christian) but in a deep way. We have yet to meet up outside of men’s group to hangout and I was getting pretty bummed about it. You comment helped me realize that (if this friendship is Gods will) then I need to let it pan out naturally and slowly progress!
I’m glad I could help! Wishing you the best when it comes to finding local community. I have made a few friends with other SSA brothers locally and it has been very life giving.
Wow, Josh, thanks for this look into your story. I also appreciate the pool imagery. I resonate with having or craving too much touch before the relationship warranted it (if ever it did). I know I’m all the wiser for those misguided friendships, and in a heartbreaking but genuine way I’m grateful. I feel all the more prepared for present and future friendships in this realm of touch. Never a guarantee of perfect success, of course. But better odds now…
Grateful for your presence here!
Physical touch for me has been tough! I had a really over affectionate Dad, and that sort of made me reject physical touch from guys and girls for a really long time. My primary love language for both men and women is quality time! There is nothing better to me than to sit and enjoy another’s company, losing track of time! Words of affirmation is next (especially with guys). I’ve always felt self conscious about my masculinity, so when another man affirms me it really helps me to feel known.
I once had a weird physical touch moment that actually damaged a friendship. In an attempt to show love through physical touch and to assert my masculinity I tapped a guy on the butt (as men do in sports, locker rooms, etc.). The guy was super weirded out by it, even though I’d seen him respond super well to other guys who did it. He didn’t even know about my struggle with SSA and in no way was this sexual. I felt rejected.
In my experience OSA guys don’t respond well to physical touch from SSA guys.
I feel you on the quality time and words of affirmation, especially from men. One of my guy friends texted me the other day that he was proud of me (“proud of you, dude!” was how it went), and I couldn’t stop smiling for a long while. So much power in the written and spoken word.
Thankfully, I’ve never had an OSA guy react poorly to my touch. I can’t imagine how hard that must be.
Thanks, Mike. It’s so vital to meet people where they are (as, hopefully, they meet us where we are). Love languages are such an apt way to do that. I pray I get better at meeting others in theirs as Jesus perfectly did.
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