‘She’s just so cold these days. You know me—that’s not how I am but I can’t even get a hug or a smile from her, never mind anything else. I’m a decent bloke. It’s not like I’ve ever cheated on her or want to leave, but I need a bit of warmth. I can’t keep living like this!’
Men need to be touched, too.
It seems such an obvious thing to say, never mind write an article about, yet that’s exactly what I find myself doing this week.
After ‘Touch Me… Please‘ found its way back to the front page of elephant journal once again, almost six months after it was written, there were still more comments and private messages from men saying how much they were touched by the piece.
Yes, there were still more comments from women than men, as the majority of my readers (and the majority of readers for material like this) are women. But there were definite themes through some of what the men wrote that have touched my heart, making me take my fingers to the keyboard again.
See, although we may think of it still in terms of women being more touchy-feely than men—being more in need of hugs and non-sexual intimacy—my experience has shown that this bias is not a fair representation of how things really are.
How much of what we expect, and therefore see, is down to social conditioning and upbringing? Do we encourage our sons to be physically affectionate? We may think it’s cute when we see two girls hugging, but what about boys?
And, despite the new-man movement, how comfortable is society with men being affectionate to each-other (or to women), without assuming there’s a sexual element to it?
Through the comments that emerged from male readers of the article, there were several things that struck me in particular.
Firstly, the reluctance to speak openly. While some men left comments below the article itself, more were sent as private messages with a palpable sense of relief at being able to ‘confess’ to the dearth of touch in their lives.
Is it still that difficult for a man in our society to articulate his emotional and physical needs for fear of how others might react? Does the image of the strong, silent, unemotional man still haunt our men so much that they feel somehow inadequate if they publicly admit to needing to be held and comforted too?
Or perhaps they are missing some of the skills that modern women tend to learn as part of their journey into womanhood—how to find emotional support through friends or therapists if necessary; how to develop the communication skills that allow their needs to be expressed and understood.
The second thing that struck me—not for the first time—is that women are as capable of being cold and unresponsive to their men’s needs as the traditional role assigned by society to men. And yet how many times have I heard men speak about their female partner’s coldness, about their unwillingness to even share a warm hug or to hold them in bed at night?
I know each relationship is different, and the normal reasons for withholding affection from a long-term lover usually stems from anger and hurt, but it still makes me wonder how far we’ve come as women if we are still as capable of inflicting the same injury on our men as they have traditionally inflicted on us?
Surely, through our past, we have come to a place of understanding that emotional coldness doesn’t lead to happiness?
(Not all the men who responded to the article were in this situation, though—some were single, divorced or widowed.)
And third, if you’re a woman in this situation it is relatively easy to find others who will understand and support you. There is much sympathy, and whole industries, devoted to women needing to be physically and emotionally nurtured, although finding a friend or therapist with the gift and ability to touch deeply may still not always be that simple.
And it may still be easier (and more socially acceptable) for men than women to find a temporary sexual partner, either by having a fling or paying for it, but it is so much harder for a man than for a woman to find the emotional and physical comfort that he may need outside of a sexual context.
In a world that still assumes men are after sex, it can be incredibly hard for a man who is only looking to be held not to have his motives mistaken or to be preyed on by women looking for sex and/or money.
Finally, it can also be confusing for the man himself when sex has been the way that men have traditionally found intimacy. The automatic response may be to look for sex rather than non-sexual touch, only to find that it doesn’t really lead to the sense of connection and fulfillment they are seeking at a deeper level.
Even short-term sexual intimacy can be wonderfully fulfilling if we bring to it the elements I mentioned in the original article (intent, presence, trust and love) but not when we try to make casual genital sex a substitute for meaningful connection and touch.
So, in an effort to create a world where both men and women are comfortable with giving and receiving affectionate touch, lets make the effort to drop old male/female stereotypes and accept that we are all human with the same basic human need for love and connection.
And perhaps those of us with keener communication skills and a greater willingness to love can gently lead the way for others into this territory.
(Originally published on Elephant Journal in 2013)