Annoying sensual quirks filter: Why does he rub me the wrong way?
October 20, 2009 6:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm female, just started seeing a guy, we're both in our thirties. We've made out a couple of times but are still fairly new to eachother physically. So far it's really nice, except for one thing: whenever, wherever he touches me, he does it in a repetitive circle. It never stops. And it makes me want to leap out of my skin and run screaming.

Example: When we're standing and hugging, his arm will be around me, not just roving around like arms do, but rubbing his hand in a big circle on my back. ACK. Or, when we're laying down his hand will be moving over my shoulder in circles. Wax on, wax off. Or, his hand will be resting on my cheek, but his thumb will be rubbing my temple in incessant circles. As long as his hands are going from point A to point B on me it doesn't seem to happen. It's when they stop to rest that he starts boring a hole into me. I have tried nonchalantly putting my hand over his, but he keeps wiggling underneath it!

I have dated other guys with the same habit. Why do some people do this? I otherwise really enjoy his touch. How do I (kindly) ask him to for the love of god STOP what is for him probably a sub-conscious motor habit? And does this drive anyone else up the wall like me?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think all you can do is brave up and just tell him it annoys you. I mean, maybe it'll sting for like 5 minutes, but it's better than a building silent resentment in your mind.

Or, you know, you could just learn to live with it.

My husband has a habit not unlike this that drives me up the wall. I've never said anything about it to him, and years later I still get annoyed.
posted by sickinthehead at 6:57 AM on October 20, 2009

Wait for it to happen again. Playfully grab his hand at the wrist, hold it still, and gently say "that's a little bit crazy-making, ".

Remember to smile, and keep it light. Done correctly, his response should be something like, "Really? My bad." He may even make a big deal of not moving his hands when he touches you for a couple days, playing the wounded male ego thing up. Let him. Keep it light.

After that, it should be fine.

posted by Pragmatica at 6:57 AM on October 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Save his ego - gently tell him that you have sensitive skin, and the repetitive motion begins to irritate your skin. Demonstrate alternatives.
posted by biggity at 7:02 AM on October 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Why do some people do this?

Surprise! Not everyone has the same preferences as you. So his previous partners may not have minded or may even have enjoyed and encouraged it. The first step in kindly getting him to change is to realize that he is not committing some sort of objective, universal error, but that he has been trained to act this way by others. And you can probably retrain him.

Rather than telling him what he is doing is wrong, it would be better to just gently redirect him to something else. Next time you are hugging, say "Hey, can you move your arms up and down instead of in a big circle? It feels a lot better for me." Repeat as necessary.

I don't recommend the "learning to live with it" approach. Really, this should not be a big deal.
posted by grouse at 7:02 AM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Tell him to cut it out. The sooner you tell him the better. Don't worry about hinting or being overly nice, be direct and clear. Then follow up with kisses or something so he doesn't get all sore about it.

But hinting is bad, it turns into nagging and frustration for both of you.
posted by kathrineg at 7:04 AM on October 20, 2009

Agree, and remember:
First: tell him how much you like .......... (whatever you like);
Second: mention the circle thing;
Third: repeat number one.
It would leave a better taste.
Good luck with you new date!
posted by 3dd at 7:05 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sexually (and with many other things), it tends to be better received if you ask for someone to do something, rather than tell them what not to do. "I think this, too, and that, and this other thing, and oooh, yeah, if you can throw in some of this other thing ..."

It doesn't matter if it is rats, pets, kids, or people — a focus on quashing a negative behavior doesn't always get you what you want, sometimes you just receive a novel negative behavior, of equal or greater irritance, in its place.
posted by adipocere at 7:08 AM on October 20, 2009 [8 favorites]

Instead of telling him what you don't like, tell him what you do like.

If you like a light back-and-forth brushing, instead of pressed circles, take his hand and use it to brush yourself the way you like, then tell him that it feels really good when he does that.

Or if you can stand any movement at all, take his hand and hold it still on your shoulder, and tell him, "Oh, it's so nice when you leave your hand on my shoulder just like that".

Be sure to show him that you like it--guys love to know how to make their partners feel good.
posted by surenoproblem at 7:11 AM on October 20, 2009

My partner, when we're holding hands or his hand is on me, twitches his thumb repeatedly. It becomes annoying. For years I tried the "putting my hand over it to still it" technique with only limited success. Recently we had a conversation about it and he didn't even realize he was doing it! So a subtle hand-pressure "please stop doing that" did nothing, because he didn't realize he was doing anything to stop.

He is a tiny bit defensive about it but Pragmatica's approach is a good one--address it in a light tone when it's happening. If he's doing it without realizing it, you may both just have to learn to live with you reminding him that it's happening again; that's what my partner and I are doing now.
posted by not that girl at 7:12 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Act like its you--"the whole circular hand motion thing drives me crazy--not a good kind of crazy. I think I must have had a bad experience on a tilt-o'-whirl back there."

Humor and giving them an out gets you through this sort of thing everytime.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:16 AM on October 20, 2009

In my experience, a friendly "Hon, can you quit that?" never fails.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:20 AM on October 20, 2009

I have a thing with repeated rubbing in the same spot. It drives me absolutely bonkers. So when a beau starts it up, I kindly tell them "Too much rubbing drives me nuts. Can you do it like this?" and then I'll give him a big hard snugly hug. Seems to work OK, and every time my boyfriend gets a craving to rub on me, he'll do it a few times and then pull me into a hug. Much more pleasant than being rubbed raw.
posted by caveat at 7:21 AM on October 20, 2009

I would really recommend just being forward and open about it. Think of it as a kind of practice for future annoyances that might come up. It's better to start the open and honest communication now then try and bring it up later. Imagine if however long down the line you start to have sex and there's something you really don't like that he does often. You want to be able to bring that up, right? So start with this. It's small, he shouldn't get offended, and it will start you on a good path in your relationship.
posted by plaingurl at 7:24 AM on October 20, 2009

Wow! I thought I was somehow "special" (as in especially annoying) because I called out my husband about drumming his fingers on me when he touched me. It's good to know that other people have touching pet peeves!
P.S. He dealt with it pretty well when I told him that, at least in part, it was my quirk that I didn't like being touched that way.
posted by lleachie at 7:27 AM on October 20, 2009

An ex used to scratch at me. Once, in a fit of pique, I mentioned that I wasn't a dog and didn't have fleas. Crude, but effective.

I don't advocate this approach, but something a bit milder.
posted by Solomon at 7:36 AM on October 20, 2009

for the love of god, speak up. nothing sucks more when the other person doesn't tell you for ages that the little thing you do and would have no problem at all not doing finally made her boil over and dump you. or something else. he can't read your mind. nobody can. he means well. be nice about it, smile but do say that you don't like this particular habit. do it for everything else as well and encourage him to do the same.

one thing to keep in mind: when you do criticize something in a person you like, be nice and reaffirm you do still like them. don't want him to get insecure on you.
posted by krautland at 7:37 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a very interesting situation.

Personally, I would love to know if I'm doing something irritating. Whatever it is.

At least then I am aware of what my significant other likes or doesn't like upfront.

And we can then decide if we can live with it or one of us has to change.

Even if you tell some people in a nice way, people can get really defensive and angry and feel like their ego is hurt. But I really think this is very immature. Two adults should be able to communicate about this issue in a nice way and get results.

My ex used to do certain touches and was a huge issue for me. I couldn't take it because it just seems so simple and it made me more frustrated because I felt like she was doing it on purpose.

But I guess its a habit certain people can't break.

No amount of feedback helped and she often felt insulted. I wouldn't feel insulted if she requested something similar to me: don't talk so loud in the morning, etc...

It can't work both ways.

You may annoy him in some way. Are you prepared to listen to his feedback? I hope so.

Trust me, if this isn't resolved it can do damage over the years. At least for me it did.
posted by simpleton at 7:39 AM on October 20, 2009

I tend to have very "active" hands, so I have gotten occasional feedback from partners. Sorry, but girls are soft! The handholding thing that was mentioned by not that girl sounds like something I'd do. It is really an unconscious thing, so it took a girlfriend mentioning it for me to become aware of it. With your guy, once he is made aware of it, just a little squeeze or shrug should work to remind him that he is doing it again.
posted by orme at 7:42 AM on October 20, 2009

"How do I (kindly) ask him to for the love of god STOP what is for him probably a sub-conscious motor habit?"

Ask him, kindly, to stop. Don't make a big production out of it. Don't drop it casually into a conversation over dinner. Wait until you're alone, before the "fun" starts and tell him nicely that you like all the other stuff, but there's that one thing that bugs you. Then jump him to reinforce the idea that you are into him -- just not this one habit.
posted by jzb at 7:45 AM on October 20, 2009

Why do some people do this?

Tactile sensation. There's less sensation coming through a stationary hand; it's like looking out the window of a car that's not moving.

Just tell him matter-of-factly that this annoys you, and be warm and smiley about it. Not everybody likes the same things.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:30 AM on October 20, 2009

In my experience, a friendly "Hon, can you quit that?" never fails.

Srsly. Don't overthink this.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:44 AM on October 20, 2009

I've had a girl tell me she didn't like some of my "moves". It's not a big deal. It wouldn't hurt to bring some sugar with the medicine but either way.
posted by Wood at 8:45 AM on October 20, 2009

You tell him lightly, with humor, exaggerating your reaction 'oh my god if you don't stop that I'm killing us both', in a non-sexual moment.

At least he's not blowing in your ear. shudder
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:00 AM on October 20, 2009

Surprisingly, most guys are not experts on women. We need to be told what to do and not do.

Be brave, be kind. He may just be expressing nervous energy, or think you like it. If you let it continue and don't tell him, it's your problem, not his.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2009

Just tell him to stop doing it.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:08 AM on October 20, 2009

Next time it happens, let it go on for a few minutes then say "OK, now counter-clockwise" and after a few "Now back and forth". Repeat every time he engages in this behavior. This will at least draw his attention to it and and maybe he'll draw his own conclusions. But I'm also really passive-aggressive.
posted by syntheticfaith at 10:09 AM on October 20, 2009

Do not make up a weak excuse like "I have sensitive skin" (bullshit detector flaring). I say go with "that's a little crazy-making" coupled with a warm smile and the expectation that he will also find it funny. And if he pulls back completely out of embarrassment or whatever, say "woah woah, don't stop altogether" apologetically, so that he knows he is wanted.
posted by molecicco at 10:22 AM on October 20, 2009

Just tell him to stop.
posted by xammerboy at 10:59 AM on October 20, 2009

What does he say when you ask him to please not do that? Or please do something else?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:20 AM on October 20, 2009

I just said this the other day, "You really love doing that to my back, huh?" He said, "What, you don't like it?" There is your opening. Just say something like that and guaranteed he will become aware of, if not sefl-concsious of, that behavior.
posted by GeniPalm at 2:04 PM on October 20, 2009

I think people do this because they want to touch the other person while preoccupied with something else, and they either don't realize they're going in a circle, or if they do, they don't stop to think that it irritates the skin.

To be honest, I'm not sure how helpful I can be because I don't know why you don't just say (not meanly, laugh about it), "Ack -- sorry, you were going in a circle and it was numbing my skin." My husband accidentally does this from time to time if we're watching a movie or something, and he just says, "Oh, sorry," and does something else without taking any offence. My husband doesn't take offence at much of anything, though.

Even if your guy seems sensitive there's no way around saying something though. Some of the less-direct suggestions above strike me as passive-aggressive and I don't think that's something you want your guy to have to worry about. For example, if someone said to me, "You really like doing that, huh?" it would strike me as way more mean than simply telling me that I was irritating your skin, plus it would leave me temporarily bewildered and stupid-feeling while I tried to untangle what you meant by it, and then once I guessed that maybe you meant you don't like it -- I couldn't really know -- I would have to sit there and wonder whether I should stop or not, then I'd probably stop but feel weird and bad and uncertain. Then later I would question whether I want to be in a relationship with someone who, because they can't simply say what they mean, leaves me to suffer the emotional brunt of their issues instead of learning to speak up. Instead of being comfortable with that person, I'd have to be on guard for passive-aggressive hints and parse every tiny bit of conversation that I'm doing something wrong, and no one wants to have to stress over guessing what someone wants.

So yes, it can be uncomfortable to tell someone they're doing something wrong, but that's what adults do. Whatever you do, don't pile more problems on the guy because you can't bring yourself to be honest because you won't be helping yourself in the long run. These things always seem like a bigger deal than they actually are once they're over and done with, so barrel through the two seconds of awkwardness -- if he even takes it badly, which he won't if he's mature -- and you'll be fine.
posted by Nattie at 3:42 PM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Show him this thread. He'll see how crazy other women are driven by their men and won't feel like he's the only jerk out there.
posted by digsrus at 5:16 PM on October 20, 2009

My boyfriend did something like this (still does sometimes). I have discovered, however, that not telling people that things are annoying does not make them go away, so I told him. Probably around 100 times, whenever he started to do it again without really thinking about it.

I didn't take it personally, and I don't think he particularly did either (I hope!).

I know how it makes you feel like you want to crawl out of your skin--even just thinking of it makes me feel a little enghy. But the best way is to just say it (catch him while he's doing it): "You know, when you rub me in circles like that it kind of drives me up the wall--I like you and all but I can't really stand it when you do that. Can we try something else?" And then hopefully you will get into a conversation about what you do like and feels better. He probably thinks that it's just innocent (or not so innocent but I hope you understand my drift) touching, and probably is barely even thinking about it. Is he the kind of person who jiggles his leg or fidgets when he's sitting around? Get some routine to let him know when he's doing it without having to say something every time, and just . . . don't be afraid to let him know. Just make sure that he gets that it's this one little thing and is not actually a reflection on him in general.
posted by that girl at 6:18 PM on October 20, 2009

Seriously, just ask him not to do it anymore. When my husband and I first started dating, I was not a super touchy feely person and it drove me crazy when he rested his head on my shoulder or kept his arm around me too long or whatever. I just told him that it bothered me, told him why it bothered me, and he stopped. THAT easy. Now that we've been together for several years, I'm completely comfortable with the closeness, but he still does not do any of the things that previously irritated me. And we're both fine with that. Honestly is totally the best policy. And can often lead to marriage :)
posted by echo0720 at 7:45 PM on October 20, 2009

My husband's quite a bit taller than me and he likes to drape his arm around my shoulders when we walk but to do it involves him kind of leaning on me and putting weight on me. I have a bad back so it starts to hurt pretty quickly. What I did to start off with is just shake my head no and go "uh uh" and held his hand instead. I didn't want to discourage him from being affectionate - I liked it, but I didn't want to make a big deal of it either, so I offered another alternative. Later when he asked I just said, you know how I have a bad back, well when you put your arm around me, you lean your weight on me too and it hurts, I prefer it when we hold hands. He understands. It doesn't have to be a big deal.
posted by Jubey at 8:27 PM on October 20, 2009

Why do some people do this?

My boyfriend does this and I actually like it and encourage it. I like it the most on my arm or on my back, he likes me to do it to his head. Maybe his last girlfriend was like me. It's such a trivial thing that I don't know why you can't just tell him to stop it. Say something like "Hey babe, I'd prefer it if you didn't move your fingers or hands around in a circular motion when you touch me. I know it sounds weird but it kind of drives me crazy."
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:28 PM on October 20, 2009

My husband does a similar thing, and eventually I told him that I find it much more soothing/relaxing if he keeps still. About a week later he told me about how he finds it much more relaxing/soothing to have me rub the back of his hand or shoulders instead of staying still there :)

We still forget and get it the wrong way around occasionally, but now we just say "hey, that's what you like, remember?" and tease each other about it. Sometimes people just do to you what they'd like for themselves - it's a minor complication of the 'do unto others' rule.
posted by harriet vane at 1:08 AM on October 21, 2009

Sometimes my partner of five years will still touch me in a way I dislike. I either make a noise and pull away (and say Bad touch!) or I grab his hand and show him how I LIKE to be touched. It seems to work pretty well.
posted by medea42 at 10:37 AM on October 21, 2009

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