Touchy, touchy!
November 20, 2008 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I feel like I might be a closeted touchy-feely person. When I don't get frequent hugs/cuddles/human contact, I definitely feel the loss. Yet I find myself almost completely unable to initiate friendly contact with people unless we're intimately accquainted. How do I go about avoiding feeling physically isolated? Longer explanation, examples, etc. inside.

So, I'm recently single. My previous relationship was full of hugs and cuddles and lots and lots of physical contact, so I never craved touch. Prior to that, I was in an arts high school, where hugs were the standard greeting, and would often occur for no other reason than to express appreciation for something said in idle conversation. At the very beginning of college, before I met the ex, I felt very isolated and strange, and now it's happening again.

My roommate and I don't have a physical relationship, save the occasional hug when disaster strikes. His hugs barely qualify as such, since they're so flimsy. My best friend who is a good hugger is in Europe for the quarter. I'm making a bunch of new friends, and would like to make these relationships similarly touchy to the ones I had in high school, but run into some problems: I find myself almost entirely unable to initiate physical contact, and since all of these new friends are men, I don't want to give the wrong impression.

How do I fix this? How do I make touching people (and I'm talking anywhere from a high five to a hug) as unawkward as possible? I'm not looking to become one of those people who have no respect for others' personal space, but I'd like to do something to keep myself from feeling so isolated.
posted by coppermoss to Human Relations (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Google "cuddle parties".
posted by Solomon at 11:03 AM on November 20, 2008

I have a very similar desire / need for touch. I am also single and in college.

I found a few ways to get my human-contact quotient. First was making touchy-feely friends (I even "converted" some) but since I and most of these touchy friends are female, it might be a little harder for a man (as you mentioned).

Second, playing sports will get you some high-fives, some contact, some huddles, and maybe even a post-game hug. Plus, the endorphins produced during exercise will contribute to that same 'warm-and-happy' feeling.

Third, I joined a student organization (a co-ed service fraternity) that has an element of ritual, including standing in a circle joined at the shoulders and singing out song. Sounds very hokey, but it guarantees at least some contact and often dissolves into a hug-fest at the end. People in the group are generally very touchy anyway (maybe all that service?)

Finally, have you looked into massage? Expensive, but could be very worth it, and many colleges offer subsidized massage for students.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:06 AM on November 20, 2008

Wow you just described me. My last relationship was a five year long cuddle fest, and now, nada. Add to this that I don't like strangers touching me and I'm feeling you (heh, pardon the pun) on the whole "I want to be touched thing".

Nthing the "make touchy-feely friends" suggested by charmcityblues. What really helped me was I met a group of friends (mostly female) who were very touchy with each other - hugs hello, arm-in-arm walking, pats on the head when you're down, cheek kisses goodbye. Once my friendship with them was established, it helped alleviate the need quite a bit. It won't make it go away completely, but it does help to make you feel connected.

It's still going to feel weird in a way since there isn't a level of intimacy that you're normally used to in a relationship, but it's better than nothing.
posted by sephira at 11:35 AM on November 20, 2008

Cat? Dog? Teddy bear?
posted by Carol Anne at 11:35 AM on November 20, 2008

Get a snuggly pet!
posted by emd3737 at 11:37 AM on November 20, 2008

Are you a woman? Make friends with gay guys. Many are unabashed about being cuddly with women, because there's no sexual attraction. There's shouldn't be any awkwardness on your part, because you're not misleading them into thinking there'll be something more.

When I was in college, I'd constantly hold hands, hug, and sit on the laps of my gay "boyfriends." I even slept in the same bed with some of them. I had no intention of finding a romantic relationship at the time, and their boyfriends, if they had one, didn't mind our snuggling. It seemed to give the single ones what they needed as well. I imagine being gay in a small town can be lonely.

Caveat: I do not mean you should use people for snuggling just because of their sexual orientation. I happened to have a lot of gay friends, and it happened to work out well for both parties.
posted by desjardins at 11:39 AM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by phoenixy at 11:43 AM on November 20, 2008

Dance, dance, dance! Most universities have a swing dance club, folk dance of various kinds, salsa, etc., all with lessons and encouraging to newcomers. Cuts right through the awkward introduction part, since you've already got your arms around someone you might never have met before.
posted by nonane at 12:15 PM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

since all of these new friends are men, I don't want to give the wrong impression

Askme would probably be able to give better advice on avoiding the wrong impression if you would let us know what your gender is.
posted by yohko at 1:26 PM on November 20, 2008

Make friends with Europeans and Latin Americans (as in from Latin American, not Latin + American, although that might work too). I'm being totally serious.
posted by whoaali at 1:28 PM on November 20, 2008

I think that's why a lot of people have pets.
posted by theora55 at 1:28 PM on November 20, 2008

Response by poster: I'm female, and a pet isn't an option at the moment. Thanks, guys!
posted by coppermoss at 1:30 PM on November 20, 2008

This is totally me, except that I never had a relationship, which makes craving for touch a quest for fulfilling curiosity than just satisfaction. And yes, like you, I have trouble initiating physical contact with non-intimately-acquainted people. Hell, I naturally scoot an inch away from people who sit down next to me, unconsciously. That's how awkward touch can be to me.

Anyways, cuddle parties are a great idea. You can also cuddle a friend's pet; don't need to own one. Heck, when you're saying goodbye, see ya later, to a friend, regardless of gender, just hug him, "Okay, see ya!", big smile. That should at least give you a nice brief moment of human warmth. Although I'm not sure if this is acceptable past college-age.

Also, people from different cultures approach touch differently. I've seen Middle Eastern guys give each other brotherly hugs and even pecks on the cheek, so check it out.
posted by curagea at 2:05 PM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second whoaali's suggestion. Mrs.Kik has the same desire/needs.
So when we moved to a Latin American country, she was thrilled, as the level
of touching/hugging here for regular activities is high!
(I find it a bit overwhelming) but I guess for you it might be perfect. Get some
mexican, chilean, colombian girlfriends.
posted by theKik at 2:14 PM on November 20, 2008

Are you a woman? Make friends with gay guys.

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:52 PM on November 20, 2008

Oh, also, I've shaved my head a couple times (mohawk, sides crew-cut length) and that's invited a lot of head rubs.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:54 PM on November 20, 2008

anitanita's boyfriend contributes:

I agree wholeheartedly with nonane's comment above about social dance. All social dance (whether it be swing, salsa, tango, or whatever) creates a safe space for contact in which the rules for asking and agreeing to the embrace are somewhat agreed upon. Personally, I am partial to argentine tango (important note: NOT ballroom tango, which is totally different) - argentine tango has its roots in African and Italian traditions which result in a dance that is very close and danced very well, becomes a kind of walking embrace. A continual hug, if you will, in which both partners are free to modulate hugging distance however they want to. Almost every large city in the U.S. has an argentine tango community, it's there if you look. Good luck. Have fun. Happy hugging.
posted by anitanita at 7:48 PM on November 20, 2008

Don't underestimate the idea of being upfront with your male friends. "I love hugging my friends, are you ok with that?"

I doubt you will get a negative response, and this sets the expectation up front (i.e. "This doesn't mean we're hopping into bed together!")
posted by Nixie Pixel at 8:27 PM on November 20, 2008

Best answer: My immediate social circle is pretty huggy. The rest of the world, less so. A few friends of mine, when they meet someone new, just ask — "Hug or handshake?" or "Are you a hugging person or a non-hugging person?" or something like that. Ask it casually, the same way you'd ask for any other social preference ("Do you go by Christopher or Chris?" "You wanna get coffee or beer or what?") and abide by the preference people express, and you'll start finding that at least some people ask for hugs, and at least some of those are really good huggers.

And I'll second social dancing. Lots of friendly but non-sexual touch there. Ballroom and tango are touchier than swing, and just as common on college campuses as far as I can tell. In my experience contra dancers are especially huggy, but most places the contra community is pretty middle-aged, so they might not be what you're looking for.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:07 AM on November 21, 2008

Best answer: Well, it´s a lot easier to ¨not give the wrong impression¨ if you start off giving hugs to men when you are in a group of other people, especially if there are two or more friends of yours that you can hug. You can also say ¨I´m so glad we´re friends! Can I give you a hug?¨ Another way to start in with hugs is to do a half hug with one arm around someone´s shoulders, similar to how you might pose for a photo.

You should keep your hands higher up on the other person´s back, closer to the shoulders than the waist, and avoid moving your lower body closer to theirs during the hug.

If this is all too much and you want to start off with a very small bit of touching that has nearly no chance of being mistaken for something else, you can do fist bumps when you are departing.
posted by yohko at 9:48 AM on November 21, 2008

I am not a touchy person, but huggers always trick me with the handshake->draw forward->one armed hug move. It's like the judo of touchy-feely. And then once there, it's really not so bad. After a few times, my pavlovian response is to move in for the hug instead of the handshake.

Also, to "not give the wrong impression" just talk through the hug. "Hey *hug* so good to see you *release* new glasses?". As long as you don't breathe that into their ear, the dual stimuli disrupt whatever receptors are in use during long drawn out silent hugs.
posted by syntheticfaith at 11:38 AM on November 21, 2008

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