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 some time back, 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
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?
In thinking about how men tick, I wondered 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.
Are 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?