This pandemic has been tough on all of us. As I reflect on the effects of COVID-19, I notice that it actually did not create many new problems but has amplified ones that were already there.
One of the pandemic’s impacts on my life is the lack of physical touch, though in reality I was already lacking in that department.
Even before the pandemic, I lamented the fact that I did not have much physical touch with other people. Once a week I shared handshakes and hugs at church. I depended on those exchanges of touch each week.
Once a week was not enough, though.
Physical touch isn’t even one of my love languages, but it doesn’t have to be. Humans are meant to have regular physical interaction with others.
When the pandemic started, I became acutely aware that physical touch would be more rare than it already was in my life.
The first week church was canceled, I was devastated by not being able to shake hands. The first couple months of COVID-19 were especially difficult, because there were so many questions about this coronavirus that nobody took any risks.
And I had no physical touch whatsoever.
I started keeping count of my times with touch after my first handshake early into the pandemic. Seven.
I’ve experienced physical touch a total of seven times in almost a year.
Two of those seven times were for a medical examination: one by a nurse and one by a doctor, so it was their job to touch me.
Another time of touch came when I ordered firewood at the beginning of winter, and the guy delivering the wood seemed oblivious to this worldwide coronavirus, and he shook my hand, and I was so happy that he did.
I also experienced three really meaningful touches this year. One was on a visit with my mentor.
He said, “I know we are supposed to keep our distance, but I can tell you need a hug.”
And he was right. I did need a hug. It took everything in my power not to break down and start crying.
Another time, I was having coffee with a friend, and she immediately gave me a long hug. Another person stopped by my office once and also gave me a hug.
Another time of touch came from a family who needed someone to watch their puppy; it rested on my lap for hours. That physical touch wasn’t even from another human, yet it was so meaningful.
Now things are back into lockdown where I live. I cannot even see people, let alone touch them, and it is taking a toll on me.
In this Christmas season, I’d normally see my family and play with my nieces and nephews. But not this year.
I’m guessing that a lot of our readers, especially the ones committed to singleness, are experiencing something similarly difficult this holiday season.
This is not what the single Christian life is supposed to be like. We are not supposed to be isolated like this.
But I remain hopeful. This has been a long year, but I know things will change.
Part of the reason why I believe things will change is because we are united with Christ. We are a part of the body of Christ, a community. Even though for some of us it is just a spiritual community right now, it holds the promise of a physical community.
I want to close with a message for our straight/OSA readers (I’m guessing there are at least a few of you out there):
You need to help stop this problem. Like I said, singleness in the church was a problem even before the pandemic.
A lot of single gay/SSA Christians deal with isolation, loneliness, and lack of physical touch. It seems, however, that many of our churches just expect us to fix that problem ourselves.
My denomination just released a document on homosexuality, and they have recommendations for gay/SSA believers to follow. One of those recommendations is finding communal living situations.
My first reaction was: I’ve been trying to do that for years! Do they think I haven’t been trying?
The basic truth is that we need churches to be just as active in finding community for us as we are. We cannot do it on our own.
And we need straight single people involved in those communities as well. It shouldn’t be just for the gays.
When the pandemic is over, I do not want things to go back to normal. Normal wasn’t good for me either.
I want community. I want consistent physical touch.
This has to change.
Are you struggling with isolation or lack of physical touch during this coronavirus pandemic? Was isolation a problem even before the pandemic? How can we begin to eradicate this isolation moving beyond COVID-19?
I am married and still feel this. Even before the pandemic i struggled with wanting more physical touch from the guy friends in my life. I was overseas when the lockdowns started, and was in a strange situation where I was quarantined with about 30 other people upon returning to the states before we went our separate ways. Those two weeks i dreaded the end, because I knew it would mark the beginning of a long season without much touch from my guy friends. It’s been a hard year.
Thank you for this post, Will…
In the patristical tradition, it is said that flesh is axial for salvation (“Caro salutis est cardo”). In fact, Christ is the embodied Father’s arm that holds us. Its is poetically by a Brazilian theologician who said that the touching hand heals us, once it takes caresses, brings confindence back, offers warmth and express care (L. Boff, free citation).
Happy 2021 for all YOB
Oh yes I’ve been really struggling with the lack of touch this year as you can imagine. Its been pretty brutal. I’ve at least been able to have a few moments of physical touch with some Yobber friends but those have been few and far between sadly. I’m hoping that’ll change this year.
Thanks for the post, Will! I agree that the straight church has to help stop this problem. We are so far from that reality though. Thank God for your voice and others like Richard and the 4Ts. Small pockets in Christendom are awakening to the need and the years of neglect. Thank God for that puppy! One has to wonder how many men in the church were prompted by the Holy Spirit to reach out to you in a tangible physical way only to reject that due to awkwardness, fear, and faulty theology. I am struggling with isolation as well. And I am embarrassed to say it as I am happily married with a passionate physical relationship I greatly enjoy. However, prior to 2020 life-giving physical touch from men (mostly YOB friends) was a regular part of my life, and it has been sorely missed. This past year the incidents could be counted on one hand. One was particularly memorable though. Over the summer, during a brief drop in Covid intensity, a YOB friend visited us. Just prior, I had injured my back doing lumber work in our forest. I was very uncomfortable and tight. The pain had ruined a trip to Glacier NP the previous week. Anyways, one night after dinner my friend offered a back massage, and it quickly broke through the tightness and the protective over-correction in the muscles. That began the healing. I do pray you find community and that consistent touch.
Thanks for putting words to this, Will. I was actually keeping track of this very thing earlier into the pandemic, realizing I hadn’t been hugged, let alone touched, for months at a time. Probably the only time I’d had such a touchless, hugless stretch since I was in college. Definitely hope 2021 brings more meaningful/regular moments of touch. I like how you mentioned touch isn’t even among your top love languages, and yet you still need it. We all do.
The second part of your post hits closer to home as I figure out where my life is going beyond 2021 living-wise. I get a lot of satisfaction and solace living alone, but I also feel an increasing nudge to live communally, certainly as the years go by. I don’t know what to do with this for now, as I don’t just want to jump into an unwise or improper living situation with others. But I feel the tension of where I am and where I know I need to be.
You hit the nail on the head, Will. I feel like the burden has always been on the SSA community in the church to “fix themselves” so to speak, when really we need help! I think the part of the problem is that in many churches the topic is avoided like the plague. I’m right there with you in the lack of physical touch department, and for me it is my top love language. Luckily I have a job where I have to touch people all day (physical therapist) so I’m blessed in that sense.
Yes, yes, and yes. In a normal year I feel touch-deprived. At the beginning of the pandemic I was already asking myself how much longer I could go. Then the pandemic hit and… well I’m not dead yet! I confess I do fear how much the pandemic has normalized even less touch in our communities.
The church has such an anemic view of physical touch. I think the vast majority of our men need to learn how powerful and important their touch is. One thing I keep trying to remind my community is that if they’re withholding touch, they’re not loving like Jesus! Since touch figures prominently into so many of his stories of ministering to people.
I didn’t pay much attention to physical touch until this pandemic started. Yes, the occasional hug from fellow church members meant a lot, but I also have a family that has always been huggy. When the pandemic hit things got rough though… as I felt the weight of the pandemic, I also realized how much I missed physically embracing my family and how much I really needed that touch. I realize that the opposite is also true – others need us to embrace them. If we have learned anything from our distance from one another during this pandemic, let us grow in connecting in a more physically space.