Don’t touch me

We live in an age of nutrition labels. Everything is bottled, tagged, and explained in thoroughly researched articles and books. It drives me crazy enough when they take over food and strip away the nature in it molecule by molecule, but when they set in on the human person too, I can hardly see straight. I thought about this in particular when some friends first told me about this up-and-coming trend, a trend that’s growing particularly among young singles in urban areas. Are you ready for this? They’re called “cuddle parties.” (Also known on some websites as “snuggle” parties, but it’s the same idea.) You can read about them here:

Surely there’s a better, more natural way to come into contact with your fellow human beings. With all our knowledge about health and wellness and the whole psychosomatic human person, we can be so narrow in our focus. Sure, non-sexual physical touch is important for our well-being, but if you have to wander into a party full of strangers all draped across one another in order to find it, maybe you’re missing a large part of the point. Maybe, in fact, you’re missing the whole point. Isn’t it all about community? Touch should spring naturally from knowledge of the other person; you’re not supposed to sequester it like a daily dose of vitamin D. Certainly physical touch, whether sexual or not, should never be used as a therapeutic pick-me-up. I don’t hug my friends in order to get my touch quota in for the week, so I can be sure I’m at my optimum level of well-being. It’s a gift I give to someone I know and love, and a gift I receive from them.

Still, these cuddle party people have hit on a real lack in this single life–part and parcel of the whole “alone” bit is a decided lack of physical contact with other people. I mean I shake hands occasionally, and dole out and receive the occasional hug, but I can go literally for days without touching another human being. And that is a problem. It manifests itself differently in different people, of course, but it’s a problem across the board nonetheless. For those of us who tend to be slightly more aloof, the lack of contact makes us more stand-offish and closed in on ourselves. For the more outgoing, the lack of contact can be really depressing.

Don’t worry: this post is not to be read as a suggestion to start hosting cuddle parties in the D.C. area. Far from it. Rather, I wonder what specific actions we Christian single adults can and should take (or what actions some already are taking) to deal with this specific lacking in our lives, without stripping physical touch of its real meaning. In what places and settings does healthy physical contact come up naturally? Is this a problem that can be addressed, or is the lack of touch just part and parcel of the modern phenomenon of singleness? I’m no expert–I have no answers, I can only pose the question. But I’d be interested in what others have to say.


4 thoughts on “Don’t touch me

  1. Oh geez, a cuddle party huh? Yep, pretty contrived, but ya know, I agree with you because I do see a need for some sort of ‘permisson’ to touch our fellow human beings. When I hug, I give big whole body hugs, some people say I give bear hugs. I don’t want anyone to doubt that I really do want to hug them, not just lightly touch them on their back with my hand.

    Getting back to the point, human touch is NEEDED by most people. Lack of touch does contribute to depression, I’ve experienced this personally. It’s especially difficult for single guys to get enough human touch because guys don’t hug or cuddle with other guys often. (I don’t think I’ve ever ‘cuddled’ with another guy, with perhaps the exception of a camping trip that was freezing and everyone cuddled together for warmth)

    As for suggestions, I’d volunteer movie nights at home with friends and yeah, suggesting a little touch with the express purpose of touch, not of ‘giving hints’ or showing who you feel closest to. Yeah, I guess it sounds a little like a cuddle party, but at least it’s with people you know.

    I think, as virtueous catholic singles, it’s difficult to get enough touch because anything longer than a few seconds can be interpreted in more intimate ways by different people. I guess, in the end, the answer is to find a few close friends who you really trust and ask them to spend some time touching; whether it’s leaning against each other’s backs while you read, watching a movie together on the couch sharing a blanket, or going swimming together and horsing around (like kids); these are things I’ve done with friends that have turned out well.

    Don’t know if that helps at all. Good luck fulfilling your need for touch!

  2. Maybe you have to consciously put yourself out there to offer that hug to someone you consider a friend? I’ve noticed that city people don’t hug very much, and I’m not sure why that is. However, while I notice, I don’t generally do anything about it. This is probably because, even though I’m outgoing, I have abnormally low needs for physical touch (I don’t think extroversion vs. introversion has much to do with how much touch you need/want). I’ll often consciously decide to give someone a hug, because I think it right, rather than just spontaneously do it like many others. Also, unwanted/unexpected/inappropriate touch is one of the things I’m most sensitive about, so you news about “cuddle parties” filled me with horror! I think it’s a really bad thing, because, as you say, it brings to a completely casual level something that should be reserved for family and very close friends. And does it need to be said how bad this trend is for male-female friendships/relationships? Making cuddling a casual thing could lead to escalation of other kinds of physical affection when and if a romantic relationship develops, which would endanger the chastity of the parties. I think the bottom line is if you are single and have no family or very good friends nearby, you may have to content yourself with casual hugs until you make those really good friends of the same sex that you can snuggle up against (if you are a girl) or horse around with (if you are a guy).

  3. Wow, Mary Beth, what a thought-provoking post. Awesome insight pointing out the mistake of separating the human need for physical touch from the relational, interpersonal context in which it should naturally occur. I wonder if the increasing cyberization of human relationships is one force at work in the inception of Cuddle Parties. Facebook, email, and phone conversations (although they are good in many ways) are no substitute for face-to-face friendship, in which healthy non-romantic physical touch is possible. I would hazard to say that while many of us have regular contact with friends/family through these digital means, blessed but rare are the single adults in urban areas who have multiple close friends they regularly see and interact with in a heart-to-heart manner. Such is a situation where I can picture exchanges of meaningful physical affection occurring between two singles. I’m not too creative in coming up with other situations that wouldn’t be weird. : ) Sylvia, I like how you put it: “if you are single and have no family or very good friends nearby, you may have to content yourself with casual hugs until you make those really good friends of the same sex that you can snuggle up against (if you are a girl) or horse around with (if you are a guy).” Phooey on the strange phenomenon many singles experience of being far away from people who love you! It takes a lot of time and effort to make close friends. Anywho, on the lighter side, for a fun, non-sexual source of physical touch between men and women, dancing is a beautiful solution. : )

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