The Defection of Affection

Have we forgotten the importance of affection? A quick embrace, an earnest hug, or the tenderness of taking someone’s hand?

In our week days that seem to drag on as we count down to the next afternoon off, the next getaway, the next morning to sleep late; in our schedules in which we allot 60 minutes for cooking and catching up around the dinner table and another 60 for homework and if we have the energy, 20 minutes for sex on Saturday night – have we lost the capacity for simple acts that bond us in a matter of seconds? Touching the shoulder, the squeezed fingers, lips brushing the back of the neck?

Reading body language

I mused on body language recently, in the context of a particular gentleman with whom I had a dinner date. Cutting to the chase, it was a pleasant evening, but his non-verbal cues were unequivocal; there was no responsiveness to my touch, and no initiation of any on his part.

After a very nice meal and conversation, there was no attempt at even a perfunctory kiss on the cheek as we said our goodbyes. He took off in his vehicle first, and frankly, the valet was more affectionate than my dinner date. The lack of even “normal” conventional touch I took as simple: he just wasn’t that into me.

So I wrote him off, sent a polite thank you email, and I was taken aback when he asked me out a second time. I am a toucher. I declined.

Divorce American Style

And now for a digression. Kelsey and Camille.

Perhaps Kelsey Grammer, leaving for his New York adventure, wanted Camille in Los Angeles while he lived on the opposite coast. Perhaps he already knew he was done with the marriage, and the imposed distance would seal the deal.

Perhaps all those months apart without any physical affection added to the gulf which, presumably, was already growing. At least, for him.

We don’t ever know what goes on behind closed doors – certainly not in another couple’s relationship. Frankly, I’m not convinced that we know what’s going on in our own marriages, so all of this is so much speculation.

And yet – don’t we all crave affection?

Touch me so I know I’m here

Isn’t a lack of affection both cause and effect in the disaffection that occurs in a couple? Isn’t being held, being kissed, walking arm in arm as vital to an adult as it is to a child? How can we feel acknowledged or valued without it?

In my own marriage, my spouse traveled. A great deal. Over time, I grew to hate it. How can you maintain a connection – physical or otherwise – when you’re living separately on a consistent basis, and when communications are cursory?

When I consider the particulars of what makes a man tick, I wonder even now how the man I married found our arrangement perfectly fine, though it was painfully problematic to me. Simple signs of affection were only part of what had gone missing in what I came to realize was something like marriage, rather than a true construction of life as a couple.  

Marriage needs affection

Couple having issuesAre there men and women out there who shun physical connection except during sex?

I imagine there are, but I’m not one of them. According to Psychology Today, we need affection in our relationships. And in this column on “Advice to Men,” examples of helpful affectionate touch cited include holding hands, walking arm-in-arm, a back rub – and all of it, not as foreplay. In fact, this Professor of Psychology and author writes:

I have had hundreds of women tell me that they don’t want their husbands to get all affectionate, to touch them, to get romantic — because the only time they do is when they are looking for sex… Why are so many men so affectionate before marriage, only to limit their affection as a part of foreplay after marriage?

I can only guess that men make the very same complaint; wherever the defection of affection originates, surely it snowballs and erodes the relationship for either gender.

Other days, other ways

Theoretically the phone, email, or once upon a time – letters – can keep communication alive, sustain interest, and reinforce romance. Have we forgotten the art of the love letter?

My mother’s parents wrote letters during World War II, when my grandfather was overseas. He returned to a strong marriage, resuming his life with his wife and children. Having read these letters, I can only imagine the way they nourished the love, hope, and commitment my grandparents felt for each other, and the commitment to marriage which remained until the end of their lives.

But it’s all so much more complicated today. Our expectations of relationship are askew. Our lives are over-scheduled. Marriages are all too often disposable. Our Hollywood examples may be plentiful, but we have only to look next door, or at the PTA, or across the conference table in our latest meeting to see exactly the same phenomenon.

Broken trust. Skepticism about relationships. A “take whatever you can get” mentality – on the part of men and women both.

Too much political correctness?

Another digression. Let’s talk about the American workplace, where I will be the first to say that I bristle at being called “honey” or patronized in any way. And yet, I miss the days when I could joke around with the guys – when the Sexual Harassment Police were not censoring the banter that was comfortable, acceptable to all, and just plain fun.

I remember a group of men with whom I worked for years. We were teammates, co-workers, friends. Yet we were required to stifle the playfulness that helped to fuel our work – and none of it was offensive.

Has political correctness also pushed us into a place where we’re afraid to relax, to touch an arm, to comfort a co-worker of the opposite sex or even of the same sex?

The defection of affection

Can you imagine not petting your dog, not hugging your child, not placing your hand on a friend’s shoulder in consolation, or a heart-felt embrace at great news?

Have adults lost the art of touching each other without agenda – as an act of spontaneous and affirming connection?

Isn’t it only logical and advisable that we should bring at least as much affection to a life partner as we do to a friend?


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  1. says

    BLW, I love this: “We don’t ever know what goes on behind closed doors – certainly not in another couple’s relationship. Frankly, I’m not convinced that we know what’s going on in our own marriages.”

    It goes further. Pirandello said (I’m paraphrasing): Someone is living my life, although I haven’t met him.

  2. says

    Affection used to be a point of contention in my marriage. I am not affectionate with my husband, but he thrives on touching and being touched.

    Therefore, I’ve had to retrain myself to see moments where affection is needed or would be appropriate. It was hard at first, but it seems that affection builds on itself. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes. I am hopeful that it won’t always be something I (sometimes, now) have to think about it.

    Strangely, I am overly affectionate with my children. Why is that easier for me?

  3. says

    It’s very hard for me to be spontaneously affectionate. Even as I was growing up, my parents learned not to kiss me, ever. Am I weird or what? At least I can recognize it! And I do make an effort to hug and hold my kids because I certainly feel the emotions that inspire touch. My brain just short-circuits when it comes to acting on them.

  4. says

    I’m sure we’ve all read, or at least seen, articles about the studies that have been done that indicate touch is very important. A Hug a Day, so to speak. For me, I don’t need fawning or tons of attention, but I do need a friendly/affectionate touch now and then. I am fortunate because I get that from my Hub. I am also fortunate because I have cats and dogs that curl up with me, that give me “kisses” and I love when Lily the kitten curls up right next to my neck at night. It’s that contact.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You raise several interesting points, Carol. The Hug a Day. (I’m feeling a need to renew my plan for that “free hug” service.) But also – our pets. Think about how affectionate people are with their cats and dogs, and they are frequently less so where their spouses. Alarming, don’t you think?

      Free Hugs!

  5. says

    I can imagine not petting my dog, not hugging my child, not placing my hand on a friend’s shoulder in consolation, and a heartfelt embrace at great news because I am living it. And let me assure you — it’s hell!
    By nature, I am an extremely affectionate person but the privilege of reaching out, touching, holding, hugging, stroking, petting and feeling was cruelly taken from me when I was left paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident some years back.
    Physical touch, affection and intimacy are basic human needs. There is nothing more satisfying than feeling the love and warmth of someone you love deeply as you grab one another in a tight bear hug or the passionate kiss which awakens the butterflies in panicked frenzy or the comfort as you hold your child to remind you of your powerful maternal instinct. There was a time in my life when I took all of that for granted. Now, most people are too afraid to touch me.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      We do take so many things for granted, don’t we. And likewise, scramble our priorities. Your last remark – that most people are afraid to touch you – touches me. I have a friend who lives with chronic pain and while it reduces many options in his life, it doesn’t preclude some measure of sensual and sexual touch. It certainly doesn’t preclude affection, and yet that is, as I understand it, the net effect.

      Tracy, Thank you for sharing with such openness.

  6. says

    I am definitely a toucher. With family, with coworkers even. Not in an intimate way but if there is a need for a hug I am there. I think we need a little more here in the US… everyone is too afraid.

  7. says

    “Touch me so I know I’m here.” I love this.

    Touch seems so full of agendas, so fraught. Especially with new folks. But, the simple true relationships I can count on are built on touch. I love how a simple squeeze can convey more than words.

    Some days I am touched too much. Climbed, grabbed, yanked, desired. It’s good to remember that this excess is really a gift. Although, sometimes I just want my body to be my own. (This week, my two year old has clung to me nearly 24/7. Sensory overload.)

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You’re right, Kate. There can be excessive touch, unwanted touch, inappropriate touch. But there’s so much more good touch that affirms and reassures and yes – reminds us “we’re here.” (I do recall the days of 2-year old sensory overload! Wishing you a breather on the weekend!)

  8. says

    Touch can carry so many nuances: tentative or measured in delicacy, firm and reassuring or firm and threatening — however it comes across or is intended, it can transmit so much.

    I was particularly struck by your description of the man who would not touch. It felt almost hurtful, that implied rejection! (Even if he didn’t mean it after all … ?)

  9. says

    I believe affection is crucial in a relationship. I recently read something suggesting that people in comas sometimes detect a loved ones touch even though they may not be able to express it. The importance of touch I believe breaks up the induced coma of our own lives.

  10. says

    A friend and I were in the process of establishing a relationship, although we had never been intimate or even kissed. The situation was complex (typical for me), and we had soon to be separated by time and space. On departure, I asked, as a seal of our affection, if I could place my hands gently on her breasts. She agreed.

    Some years later, when the relationship was agreeably concluded but we were bound as good friends forever, I said that I wished to seal this new passage either by a gentle kiss on her lips (something we had done often, and often less than gentle) or by placing my hands on her breasts. She replied “I don’t want to mess my make-up; my breasts.” The relationship was thereby over; the friendship and trust continues.

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