Do you remember back in elementary school when everyone had cooties? Girls and boys didn’t touch lest a flesh-eating infection devour us all. Mind you, this was a particularly heteronormative affliction, but that’s beside the point. At least it gave us an excuse not to touch each other. And I hate touching.
My mom calls it being “tactilely defensive.” She’s an occupational therapist.
Symptoms of being tactilely defense:
Symptom 1: I avoid touch stimulation. Growing up, I refused to wear sweatpants or graphics on t-shirts because of the material on my skin.
Symptom 2: I display an emotional response when it comes to touch stimulation. Back in the day, I cried when I had to put on my soccer jersey because the shirt had that plastic material with my team number and name on it. This is also probably one of the reasons I hate sports.
Symptom 3: I have an averse response to non-painful touching. Primarily, I cringe when people hug me.
Tactile defensiveness is also a sign of autism in case you were wondering. That’s why my mom knows the term.
In adulthood, I’ve learned to wear shirts with writing on them without running off to the playground to hide and wail in a slide (true story), but I still don’t like being hugged. I duck away when people descend on me with open arms. I pull away when they embrace me. My body stiffens when I’m caught unaware.
There’s plenty of photo evidence of this. Sara loves seeing how far she can get before I flee.
Even when it’s on my own terms, e.g. I’m asked to get into a picture, I like to keep a 10-foot barrier and 20-foot-deep moat around me. See here:
I never thought this would be such a big issue, but 1.) You tell people you don’t like hugging, and they ignore this fact in subsequent encounters (or act like you need to be committed to an asylum), or 2.) People don’t know, and hugging is a social norm.
On the first point, my grandmother asked for a hug at Christmas and I did a side-hug/peck-on-the-cheek and she declared, “That wasn’t much of a hug.”
Me: “I don’t like hugging that much.”
Grandmother: “You used to like hugging.”
Me: “I think I was just too young to put up much resistance.”
Grandmother: “Well, you need to learn to like hugging.”
Me: "I also need to find a spouse according to you."
Worse is when people don’t know I don’t like hugging. I don’t mind reminding friends I’m not huge on hugging, but how many times have I met a stranger who initiates first contact with a hug? Okay, it’s not that many in the professional world (thank Gabriel for handshakes), but online dating: I could put together a photo stream of all my first dates with online strangers and how each and every woman swoops in for a hug like a vampire bat. Or the friends of friends who have “heard so much about you, let’s hug!!!!!”
My thing with hugging is, 1.) I don’t like it and 2.) I look like a rigor mortis corpse when I do go through with it. I basically regress to a petrified log that is balanced between your two arms inclined away from you.
Inevitably, it still feels more awkward to jut out my hand and interrupt the body-embracing. Like, this is our first meeting; I may be a prude, but can we keep the sensory stimulation to a minimum?
Please, get off.
GET OFF NOW.
And then, everyone – dates aside — wants to hug when we part ways. Can’t we keep our bodies apart? Serenity now.
With time, my expectations have adjusted. I’ve come to anticipate hugs as a greeting. And, in a few instances, I’ve even initiated the hug because that’s what millennials do. They f***ing hug.
Except when I go in and my partner transforms into a marble pillar and it’s immediately obvious they were not onboard for this physical contact.
Me: “Neither was I! I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to assault you like that. Trust me, I actually don’t like hugging. I know I just tried to smother you, but it’s really not my vibe. F*** the huggers, amirite?”
So f*** the huggers. Simply be glad I’m standing in your presence. No need to touch. Pretend I’m a museum piece. Then I think this friendship might work out.