People who dislike physical contact
March 22, 2020 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Hi all. I don't really have a question as such, but rather like maybe getting in touch with others who feel the same. It's, I really dislike physical contact. And so many people like it and I feel like I'm doing something wrong. Now I'm in my forties and I've had several long time relationships, and I'm just a dude who likes women, and apparently several of those women who are some of the best people I have ever met, have been silly enough to have reciprocated and we've had good relationships. So it's not like a sexual or an intimacy thing. As far as I can tell there's no complaints about that. But outside of it. Like, I want to stay away from all people unless I really like them. I'm also here in eastern europe and (south?) americans particularly are very comfortable with physical contact. But I'm not. I really really dislike it. Anyway this is not really a question but there are others like me right?
posted by Pyrogenesis to Human Relations (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
So to answer your non question, me too. I notice it getting more severe as I get older (I'm 41 now), and is exacerbated (I think) by having kids. The kids are so touchy feely that by like lunch time I am all physical contacted out and need to separate myself for a while. This causes my wife some unhappiness because she thinks I am rejecting her, but I am really not. I just need space.
posted by Literaryhero at 11:24 AM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am like you. Outside of a romantic relationship I do not want people touching me, have a hard time traveling to places where everyone is hugging all the time. Definitely don't want strangers touching me (never had a pedicure or a manicure, cut my own hair for years) and even a family member hugging me kinda makes me grit my teeth.

I have been this way since I was a very little kid - I have an early memory of tripping and falling and scraping my knee, and my mom came over to hug me to make me feel better but it really just made me feel more overwhelmed, so I was pushing her off me. She talks about it to this day, doesn't understand why I'm like this. When I was in elementary school I briefly was sent to occupational therapy to become more tolerant to people touching me but it didn't do much and we couldn't afford to keep going to that long term anyway.

Hilariously I am now a massage therapist so I touch other people for a living. But there something one-way-directional about that kind of touch that is an important boundary..much easier to give bodywork than receive it. I did not enjoy being in massage school and having to participate in labs/trades with other students, most of them just made me very uncomfortable despite their positive intentions!
posted by zdravo at 11:31 AM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of people who are stimulus averse for various reasons, it's not that unusual (and less so in this crowd) it's just not normative. I have some "sensory issues" and one of the ways it manifests is that certain types of touch feel like "noise" to me, it's hard to explain otherwise. So like if me and my SO are lying around, if he's sort of rubbing my arm it feels like he's yelling SKRITCH SKRITCH SKRITCH in my ear and it's not relaxing. Whereas if he just holds on to my arm and presses firmly, it feels great. So I like hugs and hand holding, but like someone who is one of those people who touches you a lot when they are talking? Can't deal. Spooning? Great. Someone brushing hair out of my face? Makes me super agitated. Hate showers (but take them, but hate them). Love baths.
posted by jessamyn at 11:37 AM on March 22, 2020 [16 favorites]

I've known a few people like you, mostly English as it turns out.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:49 AM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

My uncle had a story about his mother, my gran, in her 70s when he lived with her, just the two of them at home, he would have been in his 40s, the last child, who felt he had to stay with his mother to look after her. And she was a very active, loving, sociable woman but she couldn't bear to be touched, or to have someone behind her, or have someone peer at what she was reading or doing. She's on the couch, he's on the armchair beside, they're watching television. "Neil, would you mind just sitting on that chair over there instead? You're a bit too close." Several family members were the same, including the younger generations. It's a sensory thing.

So some of my siblings are touchy-feely, therefore their adult children are, and it becomes a whole peer-pressure thing, almost competitive. Yet I've noticed that the young parents with an awareness of bodily autonomy for their little children have stopped forcing hugs on all and sundry, thank goodness.
posted by glasseyes at 12:00 PM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sensory processing might be a helpful search term.
posted by aniola at 12:03 PM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

And what is called a pampering session with grooming, makeup, manicures etc is something I'd hide in a cupboard to avoid. I've had my hair done at a salon twice in my life (England & Nigeria) and both times found it unpleasant - much easier to tolerate the barber with his clippers.
posted by glasseyes at 12:05 PM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm in this cluster of people. I'm not clear from your question about how you feel about touch within romantic relationships (tolerate it, like it?) but I am basically: I love and have great capacity for *certain* sorts of touch within relationships (cuddling and handholding which are mutual, plus almost any kind of "me touching the other person") but almost no tolerance for other kinds of touch. Unlike some people, I've always been fine with touch within professional contexts like a haircut or medical care and even enjoy getting a massage. I think the key is that that is very directed, generally leans more toward "deep/firm touch" than "light touch" and there is an innate boundary because of the context.

I've become more OK with how I am and have sometimes told people (customers and coworkers) off for touching me if it is more than what they needed to get my attention. My perspective is that I get to make decisions related to my body and if you have chosen to touch me unnecessarily without permission, I'm not gonna yell at you but I'm going to be firm and not bend over backwards to avoid hurting your feelings. But I live in the US and was raised with the explicit concept of a personal space bubble and also move in circles where consent is a big thing, both of which strengthen my convictions.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:14 PM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah I don't really like to be touched in certain ways. This was a big deal at the start of my current relationship because my partner is touchy feely but we adapted by figuring out what kinds of touch I can stand (light touch bad, firm touch better).

Deep tissue massages make my body feel great, but I don't find them relaxing. The little light circles the aesthetician draws on my temples when I get a facial, or that little leg massage at the end of a pedicure, drive me up the wall.
posted by muddgirl at 12:39 PM on March 22, 2020

"Twenty inches from my nose
The frontier of my person goes,
And all the empty space between
Is private pagus or demesne.

Stranger, unless with bedroom eyes
I beckon you to fraternize,
I warn you against crossing it:
I have no gun, but I can spit."

-- W. H. Auden. Also very English!
posted by clew at 12:47 PM on March 22, 2020 [9 favorites]

Thanks all. One thing which we seem to share and which I found surprising and didn't realise, is the light touch. The one in passing, like a social convention. I now realize that's a pretty important difference. That light touch is the one I dislike.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:02 PM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I keep telling these Midwesteners (where I live) that they're gonna get decked one of these days. They're so incredibly lassiez-fare with the hands. I guess I'm just the fish out of water, although I've been to known to say GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME (and then they're aghast, and I'm the weird one).

I've been to NYC five times and no one's ever even bumped into me. Heaven!

Seconding exploring sensory processing disorder, though.
posted by Rumi'sLeftSock at 1:15 PM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am not a touch person. Not sure if I'm the same as you, but I dislike touch from almost anyone except my romantic partner, mainly it feels too intimate. Having said that, my partner likes to cuddle up to me, and also sometimes rub eg my arm. Both of those things I can tolerate for a while but become overwhelming (or with the rubbing, literally irritating my skin) much sooner than he would prefer.

I have upped my tolerance for hugs through exposure, and am happy with haircuts and massages. But still dislike touch in general.
posted by plonkee at 3:21 PM on March 22, 2020

There are many cultures where physical contact between people is much more limited than Western/European. Many of my friends with east Asian backgrounds for example rarely hug each other and certainly never kiss on cheek as greeting.
posted by smoke at 5:27 PM on March 22, 2020

Similar story, and used to be a remedial massage therapist until I realised one day that **I just did not like touching anyone anymore**. Nor, being touched by anyone other than my partner - thank the catholic church for that one.

There were other reasons for stopping massage (a few injuries), but the sensory aspects of it were becoming too substantial to ignore. Some of my clients wanted deep, intense treatments that made me feel like I was violating them, even though they had consented.

Then, some retail work, and there is a thing that some people do that's a tap on the arm to indicate appreciation or thanks or solidarity or ?? Creeped me out a few times.

So, OP, you're by no means unusual. I grew up a bit touchy-feeley but have definitely grown out of it.
posted by flutable at 7:23 PM on March 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

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