On this rainy Wednesday, I’d love to ask a question I’ve been curious about: Do you kiss or hug your friends? Or are you happy to not be so touchy? I probably land on one extreme…
My friends generally fall along a spectrum: some aren’t touchy at all, some will give the odd hug, and some are very physically affectionate. What about you? Other than with my husband, kids and mom, I’m not naturally that touchy with people — I don’t instigate it — but I really like when others are.
After all, it feels really good! Playing with each other’s hair, getting a quick shoulder rub, walking arm in arm on the way to dinner… It’s all so endearing and lovely when it feels right to both people.
Affection can be person-specific, too. Although my friend Susan isn’t physically demonstrative with many loved ones, she holds hands with her bestie while walking down the street. “We live 3,000 miles apart, and when we visit each other, I’m just so happy to see her.”
Of course, friendships — and their norms — can change through different life stages. “My touch-y peak was in high school,” says Lina, a therapist and mom of two in Westchester. “I was always linking arms and lying on the couch entwined with people, but I don’t have the same closeness with my current mom friends. I miss it.”
My friend Gemma, who considers herself a “toucher” at heart, agrees. “When I’m social these days, we’re usually at a restaurant, and we’re rushed since we have kids to get home to — we don’t have these long luxuriating times together.” But she says she still loves putting her head on someone’s shoulder, or playing with someone’s hair, should the opportunity arise. “And fairy tickles!” she adds. “You put your arm out, and your friend tickles the inside, and maybe you watch Notting Hill.”
When you’re not getting as much physical affection, has your body ever noticed it? I remember craving a hug when I moved to a new city after college. I actually fantasized about the physical pressure of platonic arms around my shoulders. Edith Zimmerman wrote a recent story for The Cut about how she wants to reclaim sensual pleasure among friends, in part because she needs it. “My life has been pretty solitary lately, and it can be weird to go for so long without being touched,” she explained. “It’s also weird to realize I’m sort of keeping track. Does a handshake count? A one-armed hug? I hugged a few people lightly at that one party…”
Maybe touching — or not — is a cultural thing? I’m a mix of Midwestern and English and didn’t grow up hugging or kissing many people other than relatives. But others do. “In Brazil, you kiss everyone you meet, and Brazilian hugs are stronger and longer,” says my Brazilian friend Gisela. “When I moved to New York, I bumped into a fellow school mom and went to hug and kiss her and she almost leapt back.” But after 12 years in the States, Gisela has acclimated to less frequent social touch. “When I visit Brazil, I now find it weird that I have to kiss everybody. At a dinner party, I’m like, there goes my next half hour!”
A few years ago, I read a fascinating 1960s study, in which psychologist Sidney Jourard studied conversations around the world between friends in a café. Americans, he discovered, touched only twice during the interaction. The French made contact over 180 times. (!)
After four decades, I’m getting into it. Recently, my friend Gemma returned from a long work trip after we hadn’t seen each other in forever, and she texted to invite me over: “Let’s eat and drink and fall into each other’s arms.” Honestly, nothing sounded better.
So, I’m curious: How often do you touch your friends? Has it changed? Do you wish you had more? Less? Please weigh in, I’d love to hear…
(Top photo from Insecure; bottom photo from Friends.)