I didn’t give the hug any thought ahead of time. It was instinctive. The woman was experiencing a difficult moment and I said something supportive. Tears welled up in her eyes and she said she was about to cry. So I reached out and gave her a hug.
I felt the warmth of her skin against one of my hands. My other hand felt her shoulder beneath her shirt. She pressed her body into mine and she squeezed me tightly as she hugged me back in appreciation. And then it was over. It took no more than a few seconds.
But I’ve been thinking about that hug for the last couple of hours.
The woman isn’t a close friend. I’ve been seeing her occasionally in business for the last few years and we’ve chatted casually about our personal lives. But nothing more than that. We’re the most casual of acquaintances, but we shared a nice hug in a way that was appropriate to the situation.
I’ve been thinking about that hug for the last couple of hours, though. It’s not because of any desire for her in particular. It simply made me incredibly conscious of how starved I’ve been for human touch.
We don’t touch one another that much in our culture. That’s especially true for men. In the last couple of years, we’ve reduced person-to-person interaction even more because of fears about spreading germs. We see people less often than we used to. We touch one another even less frequently than we used to.
What’s more, most men in our culture have come to see touch in a very simplistic way. If a man touches a woman, it must be sexual. If a man touches another man, there’s fear that it would be taken the wrong way.
As a result, a man who isn’t married or at least romantically involved might not feel the touch of another person for years. That’s been true for me for a long time. And this brief hug just reminded me how hungry I’ve become to hold a woman’s body and to feel the skin of her skin on mine.
Touch can be wonderful when it turns in a sexual direction, but it can be just as important and wonderful when it’s simple touch and simple holding. Without denigrating the sexual variety of touch in the least, what I’m talking about here is primarily the simple process of touching another person — and holding another person — who you happen to love.
I don’t normally think about how much I miss touch. I think often about missing someone and wanting someone, but the simple experience of hugging someone who means nothing to me awakened realization of hunger — a powerful and unsatisfied hunger to touch and to hold.
The small touch I had this afternoon was enough to make me consciously realize what was so obviously missing. But that small touch was nothing compared to what it would mean to hold and to touch a woman I do love and care about.
It’s hard to put that hunger into words. It goes so much deeper than my rational brain can express in words. It’s a deeply visceral craving for something which I need just as much as I need food and water. And as I sit here a couple of hours later, I can feel something like a dull hurt from not having it.
I’ve always understood how much I need touch, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been as conscious of that need as I am tonight. As much as I crave touch, though, I don’t want it from just anybody. I know that.
I want touch from someone who loves me and wants me. I want to touch and to hold such a woman in gentle and loving ways — but like a starving man who drinks in her physical affection in order to survive.
When I don’t have this touch for a long time, I eventually get numb to the need. It’s like a defense mechanism to forget how badly I need it. But each time the need is awakened, the hunger rises powerfully again inside my body.
We all need the touch of another human being. And some of us seem to need it even more than others do.