A Lack of Touch

I had a similar line of thought to Dr. Helen's over the last week, although in the end I rejected the idea that the problem she raises are particularly related to the problems getting so much media attention this week. For one thing, a large part of the don't-touch culture is pretty new; but the problems of Hollywood and powerful politicians being exploiters is not at all new.

Still, just because the one problem doesn't directly cause the other doesn't mean that it isn't still a problem.
We American men have a tragic laundry list of reasons why we are not comfortable with touch:
1. We fear being labeled as sexually inappropriate by women.
2. We live in a virulently homophobic culture so all contact between men is suspect.
3. We don’t want to risk any hint of being sexual toward children.
4. We don’t want to risk our status as macho or authoritative by being physically gentle.
5. We don’t ever want to deal with rejection when we reach out.
Number 5 is just something you'll have to get over in order to become an adult. Number 4 is just a misperception. Nothing better highlights how powerful you are than showing that you can use much less force than you are capable of using. The display of control demonstrates another strength, over and above the physical power of which you are obviously capable if you have muscles and big shoulders.

The first three are real problems.

I can attest that I spent the early part of my life bedeviled by the first one. As a teenager I couldn't figure out what was so wrong with me that I couldn't seem to attract a girlfriend. In fact, it was just that I was being so very careful not to offend that they didn't realize I was interested. This especially goes to touch, which is a primal means of communication that can't be set aside without damaging our health as human beings.

The second one is also a real problem. It wasn't until I started studying jujitsu in earnest that I realized how much fun it is to fight -- to spar, to wrestle, to grapple. I avoided all that as a kid most likely out of an unconscious fear that there was necessarily something deviant about it, and it was a real liberation to realize that you could go and fight just for fun. I had fought some serious fights, but realizing that it was good to just get out there and do it for fun was a kind of freedom.

The third one often prevents men from playing with children, which is bad for the men and bad for the children. Men play differently, and in ways that encourage boldness and learning to take risks and adventure. What do the men get out of it? A joy often otherwise absent from life.

I don't think these things actually relate to the issues of the day. I do think that they're really significant problems with our culture, and that men in general would be healthier and happier if we changed our views about this.


Tom said...

I think you're right. This is something I've reflected on as well. However, I'm not sure what you mean by "We live in a virulently homophobic culture". How do you mean that?

Grim said...

That's a quote from the Dr. Helen piece, which she was quoting from some third party. I'm not sure exactly what they mean by it, but I can say that in my youth any indication of 'gayness' was definitely frowned upon. I think it's less so now, but it definitely was a factor in keeping boys from being physically affectionate with each other even in strictly non-sexual ways.

Texan99 said...

No matter how hard the powers-that-be strive to normalize homosexuality, we still live in a culture in which the blowback for gayness is severe. For every progressive teacher who encourages a little boy to explore his femininity there are going to be 50 peers who are brutal to him about it. It's no piece of cake even for a grown man, comfortable in his skin, living among tolerant neighbors.

On the subject of being too polite to get across your message that you're interested, I want to suggest that not too many women want that kind of interest to be expressed by physical touch as a first step. If a guy makes it clear that he wants to spend time with her and is interested in what she has to say, she'd have to be dull not to catch on. Lots of admiring but respectful eye-contact can be added after a short while, followed by a frank expression of romantic interest in words, followed by the first kiss. Only then should you proceed to grab her by the ****. At that stage you can be pretty sure she won't take offense.

Grim said...

Do you really think that the first kiss should be the first instance of touch? That's the kind of thing I have come to doubt. What I think is that you might ask, much earlier, if you could hold her hand. I think you might offer her a hand, if she wants it, while you are engaged in rock climbing or mountain hiking or some similar activity. I also think you might playfully do other things, sensitive to whether she's trying to provoke you to go further and always of course sensitive to the reaction you get as to whether you're being encouraged or not.

The touch is an important part of communicating, in other words. The frank expression of romantic interest is smoothed for both parties by the fact that, really, you both already know. Then it's not as important exactly what is said. People get so worried about saying just the right thing in those circumstances because they're trying to communicate difficult feelings with words alone.

Well, this mostly matters for young people. Obviously those of us who are long-married know what to do. Still, we sometimes have to advise a younger person who is struggling. In your teens and 20s, this really is a struggle! There's worse advice than "Look her in the eyes," but I'm not sure that there isn't a middle step between that and kissing of, "Ask if you can take her hand, while looking her in the eyes."

Texan99 said...

You're right, I left out the hand-holding. Taking her hand, with or without verbal permission, is a fairly unmistakable sign.

Skia said...

Something I thought of when reading this was an often misunderstood quote from the sermon on the mount "The meek shall inherit the earth". Meekness isn't really appreciated in our culture and probably mostly due to misunderstanding. In studying the word in the original greek, meek wasn't weakness or timidity, but instead translates more as power under control. The imagery was more of a stallion trained for war.

Grim said...

I had not heard that before, but here is some documentary support for the argument. It's a very nice thing to know.

jaed said...

I don't think we live in a homophobic culture; we live in a culture in which close relationships are aggressively sexualized, so that any highly charged relationship is suspected or even assumed to be a sexual one.

This sometimes leads to very strange conclusions when dealing with historical men, from periods when people were less likely to make this leap that close male friends where actually lovers. (I remember a book or article declaring Lincoln was gay based on his close friendship with a man, "and they even shared a bed when traveling!!!!" Also the common tittering that Arab men holding hands while walking must be gay, hurrr hurrr.

Of course, a consequence of sexualizing all close relationships is that people start avoiding close relationships that aren't sexual, either because they're embarrassed at having people draw the wrong conclusion, or because they themselves have been so colonized by this false idea that they think it's somehow wrong to be close to someone who isn't your sexual partner. It's a very distressing thing.

Ymarsakar said...

Nice, colonizing. Mind control by humans for humans was never all that good of a project to study. Albeit very necessary for war.

As for Hollywood, I may or may not have mentioned their evil here in the years past.