Learning to love physical affection

image by soofiya.com

“How yuh so cold man?” are the words of my mum every time she attempts to hug me and I playfully decline or give her a half-hearted church hug. The truth is, for as long as I can remember, I haven’t been comfortable with physical affection from anyone but romantic partners. The cause of that is likely linked to some earlier experiences with touch and is for me and my therapist to dig through, however that is my reality. For as long as I can remember I have rejected all hugs, I’ve playfully spudded my best friends as a greeting, felt awkward when I or someone else starts to cry (anticipating the obligatory hugs that tears bring) and declared jokingly to any new person in my life, “I’m not a hugger”.

Earlier this year, I started a new job alongside another girl around my age who definitely IS a hugger. She’s a lively, bubbly and affectionate young woman and I feel like Daria in comparison (if you don’t know about the cartoon character Daria, stop reading immediately and go and do your research). My aim is never to be something I’m not and quite frankly I enjoy my dark, dry humour and detachedness but this experience and the contrast between our personalities has really highlighted my discomfort with physical contact.

“For as long as I can remember, I haven’t been comfortable with physical affection from anyone but romantic partners”

Now here’s the real issue: I have been single for two years and seven months and for MOST of this time I’ve been really SINGLE™ (with the exception of a six-month whirlwind relationship). 

There are two main types of singledom for heterosexual women: “single and ready to mingle” which is an absolute blast, you’re free and living your best life and then we have “SINGLE”, in which you are so uninterested in guys, normally based on past experiences, that you find yourself having withdrawn completely from romantic or sexual interaction with them. For the best part of the past two years and five months, I’ve been SINGLE™. Now, all who know me know that I’m a feminist to my core. I don’t believe any of us needs a man, though I have enjoyed having one previously and would like to have one in future. The issue here is that science proves that we do need physical contact with other humans for our emotional and physical wellbeing. If our only source of physical affection is from romantic partners, being SINGLE™ gets stressful real fast.

Hugs can instantly boost your levels of ‘the bliss hormone’, also known as oxytocin, which can heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger”

Until recently I didn’t consciously notice the lack of physical contact I’d been experiencing; it had become normal to me. My epiphany came after recently beginning to date again and finding that hugs had a WILD effect on me. I found myself grinning and craving cuddles 24/7 (and also finding that along with cuddles came other long-forgotten sensations, due to a different kind of drought attached to being SINGLE™), so I decided to hop on Google and work out what was happening to me.

Hugs can instantly boost your levels of “the bliss hormone”, also known as oxytocin, which can heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger, increasing feelings of optimism and trust. Some research suggests that hugging boosts self-esteem. From birth, we are wired to experience touch as confirmation that we’re loved and special. These associations of self-worth and touch remain embedded in our nervous system as adults. Hugs can even have a positive effect on the immune system, causing individuals to experience less severe symptoms of physical illness.

While it may be uncomfortable at first, I feel my aversion to physical contact is something that I must push past for my own good”

This discovery has highlighted to me a lot about my previous relationships and how I likely held on and put up with too much because they were my one source of physical affection. This is not only negative for me, but an unfair responsibility on my partners and likely put a strain on them. It is also probably a huge contributor to the pitiful state of my emotional wellbeing post break up.

So for these reasons, I’m now accepting consensual hugs from family, friends, colleagues, dates and associates. While it may be uncomfortable at first, I feel my aversion to physical contact is something that I must push past for my own good. Those who know me will definitely be amused and confused by the drastic change but I vow to push through the awkwardness and hug all those who are willing (and clean) at any given opportunity! 

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