It’s definitely both important and potentially difficult.
I consider it a testament to the qualitiy of my friends that kisses and cuddles are so prevalent in our greetings and farewells.
The idea that physical affection should be reserved for sexual relationships is to me an absurdity, and a dangerous one at that. In fact, I think as little as possible in terms of emotional connection and support, physical or mental should be limited to sexual partners. The more that is concentrated on one relationship, the greater the likelihood of power structures trapping people in relationships that aren’t functioning properly. The harder it is to assess the paths that should be taken.
If you rely on one person, or the hope of one person coming along, to provide you with emotional connection, then you are putting all your emotional eggs in one incredibly unstable basket.
This can lead to desperation in searching for Mr/Ms Right. Or if you’re already in something special, it leads to clinging on after the special thing is broken.
It’s dangerous. I believe in networks of friends. Networks of people. The promotion of compassion. Intimacy between friends. Slowly built so it is safe and non-invasive, but real and there.
Physical connection has a certain overriding effect. It is so useful and capable of being so gentle, real and solid. It’s like empathy, compassion and sympathy made into a physical thing.
Tai Chi teaches us to listen with physical contact. Okay, so that’s often with regards to Pushing Hands, where the final goal is sometimes defined as pushing the other person over, but the best way to do it is to be sensitive. Listen for the structure in the other person. And find the weakness (whether you’re providing support or trying to topple).
The eagle eyed among you may have spotted the difficulty coming.
Or those with any common sense.
Basically, there’s a fine line between contact and violence. A violation of someone’s personal space, before contact is even made, can be a violation. Added social pressure to allow contact then makes people feel unable to defend their personal space.
It’s a slippery slope.
At least normally when you’re intimate with someone whose a sexual (or prospective sexual) partner there has been some negotiation (for me, often in the style of a shy, awkward teenager).
And even that’s optimistic. Statistically, rape and sexual violence is most likely to be committed by a partner or former partner.
There’s a lack of openness that’s a part of the problem, and a set of assumptions about entitlement that’s an even bigger problem.
To encourage people to have more physical contact outside of relationships may just encourage/condone more of these pernicious violences (mostly to women).
This sort of thing cannot be resolved in 500 words. So many more words are needed.
Start talking about this kind of thing.
And tell the people you love that what’s okay is okay, and show affection to them, whether you’re sexing or not.
Talk about everything more.
Illustration by Adam.