The Art of Touching

A national telephone company advertises a long-distance telephone slogan, "Reach out and touch someone." Each day, we need to reach out and touch those who are close to us. All of us - young and old, single and in relationship - need touch. Actions, in many cases, communicate more than words. Physical contact is a prerequisite both for a healthy individual, and for a fulfilling, mature, loving relationship with a partner.

Our bodies require touch: it relieves stress; it makes us happier and healthier. In our fast-paced lives, however, we often forget the importance of giving and receiving affection through physical touch. We deprive ourselves of this very basic need. We also deprive our loved ones. I can't emphasize enough how important touch is in any of your loving relationships. We strive to diet, to quit smoking, to drink in moderation, and to exercise, in order to promote a healthy body. In my opinion, touching is the most vital gift that you can give and receive.

Touching promotes a healthy mind, body, and soul. I know, for myself, my days are extremely busy, and at times very stressful. I look forward to the end of the day, when I put my arms around my partner and touch her: It calms me, it relieves my stress, and it allows us to demonstrate our love for one another. When I go out and I see a good friend, I give them a hug: it makes me feel good -- and I'm sure that it makes them feel good, too. If you have young children, and you arrive home, they're excited to see you; in most cases, they want physical contact from you-they want a hug, a cuddle, and a kiss. It makes them feel loved and cared for, and gives them the security that they need from you. After a long, stressful day, that hug and cuddle, whether it's from your child, partner, or even a friend, is the best medicine you can give yourself.

You may be single at this time. Being single doesn't mean that you don't need touching and physical closeness in your daily life. Especially if you have recently ended a relationship, you may be missing the hugs, kisses, embraces and handholding that you once had. Your life and the world do not stop because you're not currently in a loving relationship - neither does your need for physical closeness and touching. Remember your priorities: it all starts with you loving yourself and taking responsibility for giving yourself what you need. I'm not talking about masturbation here (though that may be what some people need). The art of touching encompasses non-sexual as well as sexual touch. It's equally important, whether you are single or in a relationship, to get your daily allowance of touching. Demonstrating physical closeness with family and friends is one way to elevate your mood, allowing you to feel loved and fulfilled, while giving love to others. Try babysitting your niece or nephew, or maybe a friend's child. Young children love holding hands and being hugged or cuddled. This type of touching not only makes them healthier, but also does wonders for you. Also, going for a massage, a manicure, a pedicure, or even a haircut can provide the touching stimulation that our skin needs.

If you are in a relationship, both sexual and non-sexual touch are important. During the euphoric stage of a relationship, sexual touch predominates. You can't keep your hands off of each other. I think you all know what I'm talking about. In the beginning, sex is a very important part of your relationship with the other person. When mature love begins, non-sexual touch becomes more important, as touch takes on an additional meaning. While sexual touch can communicate sexual feelings, non-sexual touch can simply communicate your love, care, and affection for one another.

Physical closeness and touching stimulates the continued growth of your loving relationships. As our relationships progress, we sometimes begin to take others for granted; we simply get lazy, especially with our loved ones. When it comes to practicing the art of loving in your daily life, you can't be lazy or take anybody for granted, including yourself. Touching is an integral part of this art, which requires knowledge, effort, and, above all, practice. If you are in a loving relationship, make a concerted effort to touch your partner. Don't forget to hug and kiss one another before you leave for work, or when you return home. Take advantage of quiet moments during the day to give affection to one another. Hold hands in a movie, at a restaurant, or while walking down the street. Showering or bathing together promotes touching, and will give you physical closeness with your partner. Whether you are at home or in public, demonstrate physical closeness with one another. I'm not talking about public displays of affection that would make those around you want to yell, "Get a hotel room!" I am sure you and your partner know appropriate ways to be physically close in public, to show your caring and affection for one another.

If you need physical closeness-a hug, a snuggle-communicate your need to your partner. If a hug is all you want, clearly communicate this. So often, the desire for physical closeness gets misinterpreted as a desire for sex. If your partner is tired and interprets your touch as a desire for sex, it may result in your partner pulling away from you -- which, in turn, may leave you feeling rejected. If your partner frequently thinks that you want to have sex, when in fact you don't, he or she could develop performance anxiety. By not clearly communicating your needs, you risk losing both sexual and non-sexual intimacy with your partner. It's not uncommon for one partner to need more physical connection than the other. Its very normal: we're all different, with different backgrounds, experiences, and needs. Nevertheless, people are often afraid to talk about the subject of touching in a straightforward, honest way.

So often, an attempt to communicate one's needs turns into an attack: "You never hold my hand anymore!" "You're more interested in holding the remote control than me!" "As soon as your body hits the bed, you're asleep in thirty seconds. Why don't you hug me and hold me like you used to?" This type of communication doesn't work. All it does is put your partner on the defensive. Solutions can only be reached through clear communication and compromise. It's so much easier and kinder to ask calmly for what you need, rather than make demands and accusations.

When you aren't communicating clearly and aren't getting your needs met, all kinds of thoughts start going through your mind: "He doesn't love me anymore." "Is she fooling around with somebody?" "I must not be attractive anymore." Your partner, on the other hand, may feel inadequate or guilty for not giving you what you need -- or may believe that you are too clingy or dependent. This may lead your partner to question his or her love for you, or level of commitment to the relationship. You both begin to feel insecure, and the degree of trust you feel for one another diminishes. The domino effect comes into play: all of a sudden, communication comes to a standstill. Fear that the love is gone and the relationship is ending adds to the anxiety, further fueling the fire of anger and resentment between you. This is not melodramatic. Many relationships fail today due to misunderstandings that stem from miscommunication about how we want, like, or need to be touched.

When touching between two partners stops, it is clearly a sign that the relationship is in trouble. I feel that it is important, in the early stages of a relationship, to openly discuss you and your partner's individual needs for physical closeness. Discuss your likes and dislikes in regard to being touched. What a relief to remove all that ambiguity! Knowing what your partner likes and dislikes is important information. Taking the time to gather this type of knowledge builds the foundation of your relationship, allowing you and your partner to rise in love together. The physical closeness of touching connects two individuals in a unique way. It provides emotional warmth and reassures you both that your feelings for one another have not changed. The practice of touching one another daily reinforces and strengthens your relationship. It is the conduit between two individuals that allows them to connect as one.

Pondering the art of touching brings me back to an experience I had. I was spending American Thanksgiving one year with my friend Issa from Florida. Her whole family -- which counted four generations -- was there for this celebration. The aroma of food was not the only thing that permeated the air: As this family reunited for this special day of thanks, the love that the family members had for one another filled the space. Once dinner was concluded, I walked from the backyard, where dinner was held, into the house. There, I discovered the first generation of this family, Issa's grandfather and grandmother, sitting quietly together on the couch, holding hands, and watching their family through the sliding glass doors. It was such a beautiful sight to see this elderly couple in there 90's still so much in love with one another. Clearly, the love that filled the air that day was a result of this couple's love for each other.

It's amazing that after 70 years of being together, this couple still openly demonstrates their love and affection in front of others. I feel that we need to set aside our fears about showing affection in public. There's nothing wrong with holding hands as you walk together or giving your partner a kiss in a restaurant. Physical closeness, touching in public, reinforces your oneness. It's a statement that tells your partner that you are proud to be with him or her. After the euphoric stage has passed and you have entered a more mature phase of the relationship, it shows your partner that your feelings of love are still present. It tells the world that you are a couple in a secure, loving relationship.

Many people are afraid of their need for physical closeness. They fear their need to be touched, and try to deny it. Many people think that, other than with a lover, to demonstrate or receive physical affection is a sign of weakness. I hate genderizing, but men, put aside your machismo: you're human, like the women in this world. You need to be touched and have the ability to demonstrate physical closeness with your family and friends. By recognizing the importance of touch, we are giving ourselves something healthy that we require, and strengthening the relationships we have with family and friends. Practicing the art of touching prepares us, so that when we have an intimate, loving relationship, we recognize the importance of demonstrating physical closeness and emotional warmth with our partner.


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