“I trust in a man’s platonic touch, and I believe that he will trust my friendly, warm affection towards him as well, without any sexual connotation”. How many women agree with the above statement? I believe the answer is–close to zero.
We live in a culture that puts no trust in men when it comes to physical contact. We tend to believe that they sexualize all their relationships with the opposite gender. They very rarely connect with other men as well, due to homophobic upbringing and the fear of being misinterpreted.
Therefore, the result is an inability to enjoy a simple human platonic touch, which is an essential factor for healthy emotional development in the early stages of life, as well as for the psychological well-being later on. Something as simple as a warm hug given to another human, without any particular reason can heal. Why are men afraid to connect?
Due to the fact that the rest of the world, especially women, do not trust men’s intentions, they grow and live with a burden of proving that they are actually capable of having a platonic relationship.
Being afraid that every type of physical contact, touch or word, never mind a hug, can be interpreted in the wrong way, men keep themselves on the side. The result of such behavior is complete physical isolation, which turns boys into less confident men with tons of emotional insecurities, which is not what a woman really wants and needs.
The comfort or contact
Many researches were devoted to psychlopedia, or the comfort and stimulation one gets from a human touch.
We all remember Harry and Margaret Harrow’s experiment with little orphan monkeys that were given two choices: a surrogate wire mother that provides milk or one covered in terry clothing. They all chose the second. It is in our human nature to crave for touch, as it offers a feeling of safety, protection and peace.
Why are man driven from that natural instinct? Because of homophobic feelings that many men are raised with and taught, or have developed towards life hood. For two men who experience a physical contact deeper than a handshake, like a warm hug or peaceful leaning towards each other, it takes only seconds before thinking about the possible meaning given to the act, the intentions from the other side, or the opinion of those nearby.
And there are many people that would witness that scene and conclude that these two must be lovers. Homophobic men are afraid of that, so they rather give up a comforting touch from a friend than get involved in something similar.
On the other hand, girls are much more socially and emotionally progressive; they are not afraid to be engaged in physical contact with another girl, and as we see more often, it is not perceived with repulsion or shock.
No physical connection during childhood
Many children were raised with the thought that a mother’s touch is something reserved for babies and toddlers only, while older kids and especially teenagers need to be strong and independent. A need for a hug from the parent would be classified as weakness. Raised in such an environment, children take it for granted that physical contact is something that they should restrain from.
The problem comes later in life, when the same kids have to engage in different forms of relationships with others, and different types of life situations. They have difficulties defining what is appropriate and what not, resulting in unnatural and weird behavior. Or even worse, they grow up incapable of building a healthy and loving relationship.
The only man-to-man relationship that society approves of is the one between a father and his young son, only until a son’s particular age. For many men, becoming a father is an experience that changes them as individuals.
According to a recent study, the hormonal balance of fathers changes as well, increasing the levels of estrogen and prolactin, making them calmer and softer. This is the moment in a man’s life when he freely experiences the heartening touch from his child, and the peace that comes with it. For many, that is a transformative moment, as they become aware of the comfort a touch brings.
Lack of human contact
The beauty of being physically related to your child ends when she or she reaches a certain age. The restrictions are certainly valid for boys; they start to lack a mother’s touch well before entering into puberty. From what boys are served since early childhood by their families and the society as a whole, it is very easy for them to come to very wrong conclusions: that all human contact must be sexual.
However, the biological and emotional need for closeness remain with these kids, and they need to find a replacement that will provide them with the comfort they lack. The replacement are usually the girls that are close to their age, and the outcome is premature entrance into sexual relationships when both parties are not ready for the same.
The “unisexualization” of the human touch will not occur in these men’s lives until they become fathers, and they re-enter the safe zone again.
The sexuality of a touch
The long years of judgement and prejudice have resulted in assumption that physical touch can only have a sexual connotation. Even if we don’t see it, other might, so better keep away from such a situation in order to avoid a sexual shaming. Consequently, a physical connection is established only with a boyfriend, girlfriends or sexual partners.
Apparently, in some societies, like those in America, this form of thinking is very common, well accepted among all the age groups. The issue raised is this: what effect does this kind of behavior have on our kids?
How can we stop the vicious cycle and teach our kids that hugging their friend is not a bad thing when they see no such examples around them?
The risk is upbringing generations that will be more and more isolated, and incapable of establishing human contact and healthy unsexual relationships.
The need for a real connection
After all the restrictions, judgements and rules that boys are raised with, they are expected to be capable of transforming into stable boyfriends and husbands that will physically and emotionally connect with their partners, with right dosage of everything. Pretty impossible, right?
Young boys are nurtured with the idea that aggressiveness is a symbol of masculinity, and gentleness, tears and show of emotions are reserved for girls.
They are taught how to be strong, and to speak of no need about human contact other than sexual. Consequently, they put all the expectations on that one relationship that is allowed- the one with their sexual partners. Suddenly, there is a too hard burden put on that relationship often resulting in anger, fear or disappointment.
The Value of Touch
The issue of handling the need for human touch is not only left with boys. The whole society faces this issue, men and women combined.
We have created a world in which there are hundreds of elderly people who live in loneliness, having no one to offer them a human touch. There are organizations that bring animals to elderly people homes, to compensate for the lack of human contact.
Why are we not there to give our old parents and grandparents the comfort they need? Because we are told that human touch is strange and creepy, and we avoid it at all costs, even though we need it ourselves.
Not only the family, but society as well imposes numerous limitation on how a man should behave. Unfortunately, as a culture, we have not taught to break the boundaries and accept diversities completely and unconditionally.
We still live with rules on how one should look, what is appropriate to wear, say or do, or which activities are suitable for men and women. Man are still expected to hide their vulnerabilities and to publicly present themselves as fearless creatures.
Every so often do men end up developing hostile and destructive behavior, even becoming aggressive towards women. Firstly, they find that behavior more suitable then gentleness, and secondly, they are damaged by all those limitations and restrictions they face.
The fear of judgement
Therefore, if we sum up all of the above, we can see that there are more factors that equally contribute to the status of the “touch culture”.
The fear of misinterpretation. Men are afraid that women categorize their behavior as inappropriate, and misinterpret a platonic touch for a sexual invitation.
The homophobia. Man are afraid that their relations with other men might me misunderstand.
The fear of losing the macho status. Many men think that others will perceive them as weak and that they lack authority should they express any form of gentleness.
The fear of being too close with their children. They are afraid that others might think they are slightly crossing a line.
So, practically the root of the issue comes down to one thing: the fear of what the others and the society think.
All of this sounds pretty scary and disappointing. Luckily, we can find comfort in a few changes that society has been experiencing recently. After decades of rules about men’s behavior, we have a newly created group of men that have decided to organize their lives, as they please, not as society thinks they should.
They choose to be stay at home dads, to take care of their kids and to build healthy connections with them. And most importantly, they have started to share their experiences, and the beauty and power they get from their child’s touch.
Taking the examples of those that have decided not to care about the public opinion, the limitations and the imposed right and wrongs we need to try to do it ourselves as well.
Let us admit to ourselves that yes, we need someone close to us, we need to offer and to be offered physical comfort. We need to learn to express what we feel, and not to be ashamed of it.
The reward is a happy and fulfilled life.