Starving for Love
I'm not sure who this post is meant to benefit, but I feel the need to share my experience. This isn't an intentional response to the "Me Too" campaign, but this realization surfaced for me only after the campaign came out.
Over the past two or three weeks, three men have kissed me. The first two I met at a hostel and the third was in my own house. 2/3 of these kisses were quite uncomfortable for me. Both were during goodbyes, when I offered a hug. I felt that they wanted to kiss me on the lips but I just turned my head and they kissed me on the cheek. The third kiss was planted on my forehead, which wasn't as invasive and was a little awkward in the way he grabbed my head to do it, but it was also reassuring that he wasn't trying to kiss me on the lips. Two of these men, I specifically told I was celibate. There are many nuances that made these two kisses uncomfortable for me, and a lot of it was the behavior and body language of the men leading up to our goodbye. But as I have introspected on these experiences, I found some deeper things at work as well.
I've grown up with physical intimacy issues. For years, I have felt that most physical contact has sexual intention and is swelling with sexual tension. This feeling has handicapped me in sharing intimate embraces with acquaintances, family members, and friends. Basically, I never hugged a woman unless I felt obliged to and always felt uncomfortable hugging men I wasn't sexually attracted to. I became extremely cerebral as a result - only relating to people through the mind. You could say this is a result of my empathy, which to an extent may be true. But, I think it runs much deeper.
As a little girl growing up, my culture taught me my greatest value was my body. And the female body is sexualized ALL OVER our country, in entertainment, advertisements, even within my own family unit. So, I guess it's no surprise that as an adult, I have this subliminal expectation that everyone is sexualizing me and if they want to physically interact, that means they want to have sex. You can see where my discomfort with physical intimacy was born. Could you imagine feeling like everyone you hugged wanted to have sex with you? Your mom? Your best friend? Your child? Can you imagine what it's like to feel uncomfortable when being held in innocent embrace? I over-analyze everything about the experience: where are their hands? How long is this hug? Do they feel my breasts pressing against them? Can they sense my discomfort? Are they going to take it personally that I don't like this? I only participated in hugs when I felt socially obliged, which influenced my overall relationship with any given person. Love became something I had to give, because if I didn't, the other person might think they're unlovable. It was exhausting.
This also put a tremendous amount of pressure on my romantic partner to provide all of the physical affection I need as a human being. I was needy in relationships, because I was starving for love.
Which brings me to Peru. When I was living in Peru, I was working intensely on this issue and found the community there provided a very healing experience for me. I started to open up, and to relax in sharing intimate platonic moments. I slowly even began to seek them out and initiate them. I guess it helped that my best friend there was gay, and everyone thought we were a couple. But, people kissed each other on the cheek as a greeting all the time and the longer I stayed, the more natural I felt physically interacting with others. The more I participated in this platonic touch, the more love I felt in my heart, for my community, for the planet, and for myself. And the deeper I sank into appreciation for all the wonders platonic friendship can provide.
These three kisses I experienced happened since I've been back in the States. I notice when I am home, that aversion to touch has resurfaced. And it's escalated. I can't sit too close to other people when relaxing. Any time I feel someone even looking at me, I feel like I'm being sexually objectified. It doesn't matter if it's a man or a woman. A man objectifies a woman presumably for his own pleasure and a woman does it to compare herself and really, her value to the woman next to her.
The question begs in my mind - why is my experience of touch so different when I'm in the States compared to Peru? It's not that I was never sexually objectified in Peru, I mean that did happen. But why was I able to relax into physical intimacy there and not in my home country? Why could I kiss friends on the cheek there without fear of being perceived as having sexual motivations? I'm not really sure what the answer is. But I do notice that our culture is starving for love.
I suspect I'm not the only American who has struggled with this kind of problem. I see the puritanism still very much present in American culture that shames the body as a filthy place. It is the puritan in us that is afraid of sending our children to daycare because they might be molested. It is the puritan in us that makes us suspicious of one another in such a way, that we become closed off to our communities. That's not to say there aren't creeps out there, with bad intentions. That's not to say you shouldn't be proactive in protecting your children. And that's not to relieve anyone who has committed a heinous act of responsibility for doing so. But, I think there's something to be said for all of the non-perverts floating around in this country that just want to touch and be touched - because that's natural for ALL human beings. We are afraid of initiating touch because of how we might be perceived as a result. We are afraid of comforting children that are not our own, because the parents might see and that little gremlin in their head will start to wonder what our intentions are. We are afraid of reaching out to a close friend of the opposite sex when we are devastated from a break up because they might take advantage of our vulnerability. We are afraid of hugging our friends because they might take it as some sign of sexual interest. Essentially, we are afraid of each other, and are teaching this to our children - who become adults like me, that experience touch as something suspicious.
There is a story of a woman in NY who opened up a cuddling business. She cuddles people, non-sexually, and her business exploded with success almost immediately. If you understand business, you can see how this proves there's an urgent need for non-sexualized touch. No business anywhere opens and has 1,000 clients in the first three months. These are the stories that inspire me, and let me believe we are changing. But the thought of going to her for a cuddle session still scares the shit out of me! I have no call-to-action to leave you with. Just the ramblings of a 29 year old American woman who doesn't like to be touched in the United States.