As a rule, I avoid close interaction with people, especially those I don’t know. But it turns out keeping people at a physical and psychological arm’s length is not the best strategy for survival as a human being. There is a lot to be said for the simple but intense experience of touch: a brush of fingers on a wrist, a hand on the small of a back, an arm around the waist, a hand on the stomach, a tight hug. There is a trust to be found in these intimate moments. They say “I see you. I’m here for you. You’re doing fine.”
This kind of touch and closeness is typically packaged in intimate (i.e. romantic) relationships. That probably has to do with the level of vulnerability that intimacy creates and supports: the societal contract says you may only appear to need or provide touch within the private space of a relationship.
In general, it’s considered weird to hold hands or cuddle with a best friend, and it’s considered normal to grow less physically attached to our parents as we grow older. That means the spaces and opportunities for mutually beneficial touch become scarcer as time goes by. It’s astounding when I think about how much support and nurturing twentysomethings (the ones I know, at least) really need. It is a confusing time, during which the probability of feeling fragile and lonely is very high.
This is a topic that can be discussed in countless different ways, but here’s how I’ve been thinking about it: I think, along with intimacy and trust, there is this need for some type of “testosterone presence” that is bubbling under my skin. I suspect if I just had one or two men in my life that I could have this trust and understanding with, I would be fine.
If I had that, then I would feel less jealous whenever I glimpsed couples’ intimate moments. Seeing the way a friend’s husband makes her a cup of tea, or gently squeezes her shoulder would not make me sad. I wouldn’t daydream about warm hugs from tall boys; I wouldn’t be so giddily envious of the way bachata dancers move together.
Someone might say “just put yourself out there!”, but they don’t know how terrifying that thought is to someone who does not “socialise” very well, and who is especially wary of vulnerability around boys. I see the problem (an insistent loneliness that seems to stretch wider and deeper by the day), and I have a solution in mind – but I am too afraid to take action. So the question then becomes: do I hate loneliness more than I am afraid of people?
I realise that I can no longer deny that I yearn for closeness. It’s several times a week now that I think how good it would be to have someone to hold and – more importantly – to be held by. As Clara says in Dis Koue Kos, Skat: “al waarna ek nou smag, is om ‘n slag styf vasgehou te word deur iemand groter en sterker as ek, iemand vir wie ek nie hoef te sorg nie, iemand wat ‘n paar uur lank vir my kan sorg”.
How wonderful it would be to have the option of retreating into someone else, just for a little while.