Romantic Relationships: Touch Me, Please
Ah, affection. In my five-week experience of working through the self-help book, How to Be an Adult in Relationship: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo with my BF, we've reached the fourth “A” – my fave – “Affection.”
I was mostly celibate during my 20s for spiritual (cleansing the palate at the behest of an odd yogi), emotional (had some collegiate trauma-drama), and practical (where did all the hot guys go?) reasons. Though I missed the sex – I’ve always been a fan, with a bigger libido than almost any man I’ve ever dated – I really, really, really missed the affection. Petting, cuddling, massaging, hand-holding – all of it.
Without sex, I was perpetually low-grade cranky – even though I was living in Hawaii. The ocean helped (kind of like a full-body caress), as did backrub exchanges with friends, plus the many massage therapists and bodyworkers I visited in an attempt to tame my headaches and mysterious bodyaches. And yet, it lacked. As Richo writes: “The word affection comes from affect, feeling. Affection refers to closeness both on the physical and on the feeling level. Physically, it includes the spectrum of touch, from holding to sex. Affection is also a quality of feeling. In this respect it includes kindliness, considerateness, thoughtfulness, playfulness, and romantic gestures like giving flowers or remembering a special anniversary. Affection flows from a genuine liking of someone.”
And that’s what was sorely missing from these Splenda-like touches. Don’t get me wrong: I believe massage is a right that should be written into the U.S. Constitution. Daily massage. And paid rubbing is an essential service that should be accessible to all. But it's not a substitute for unsolicited, creature-based, from-the-heart affection. All sorts of studies have demonstrated that we need touch – preemies thrive on it; elderly stay youthful because of it; it makes pretty much everyone fundamentally happier. But I’m pretty sure touch that doesn’t, as Richo says, flow “from a genuine liking,” doesn’t have nearly the impact, the magical healing powers of a heart-based caress. “An affectionate touch or hug from someone who really loves us can penetrate our bodies and restore our souls,” adds Richo. “All our fears, no matter how deep, can be erased by a single, loving stroke.”
So now, in a real relationship again for the first time in more than a year (even in my dating phases I tend to take a while in between partners), I’m feeling my yearning re-abate, and that aura of celibate chill warm. Brad is affectionate as a Labrador Retriever. One of the first ways he touched me was a small, relaxed petting of the side of my head. There was so much affection in that small gesture that it melted me in a way I hadn’t melted in a long time. It was charged with lust, for sure, but it was also friendly and sweet and generous – a wagging Lab.
As I was writing this, Brad insisted that I get this particular notion across: “Affection is an extension of love. But it’s not the same as sex. It can lead to it, sex can have it in it, but it’s different.” True enough. And by opening this channel with a partner, I notice that I not only feel less achy and more sprightly overall, but I’m almost alarmingly more affectionate with friends. I’m finding myself giving extra squeezes, hugs, hand brushes, side pokes, and spontaneous backrubs. It’s kind of weird, and kind of cool.
Richo rather poignantly says that affection is “the opposite of abandonment and distancing.” And this makes perfect sense to me: The idea that I could be offering presence, an increased loving there-ness not only to my luv-ah, but also to other people, and, by not too great a leap – myself. By opening myself up through touch, I can actually become a channel for affection. Which studies have shown (and my body will tell you), is a major key to keeping that initial relationship magic alive, flowing and healing, for everyone it touches.