The (in)Formality of Touch


It’s not that I’m not affectionate, but I like touch differently.

My parents weren’t huggers and we didn’t use embrace as a way of reminding each other that we were present. We didn’t use touch to satiate sadness. My most vivid implementation of hugs were those that happened in church, and I feel like that isn’t a very good place to practice hugging. Nobody there hugs because they want to, they do it because you have to, or because someone in a pulpit wanted to get creative with that obnoxious, ‘tell your neighbor’ thing, when in actuality, my neighbor never had to tell me anything, I heard you when you said it the first time. Thank you.

I think, maybe unintentionally, I learned to link touch with formality, never with pleasure or affection.

I hug when I greet people, because that’s what we do. I hug when my friends leave my apartment and return to their cars slightly drunk, which is dangerous, and I always ask if they’d prefer to stay, but again, that’s just a formality, I’d prefer if they didn’t.

I shake hands when I meet an employer, or really anyone more important than me in a suit, not because I’m dying to shake their hand, but because it’s a formality.

Then it got odd.

Sex within relationships, which – and it’s going to sound weird – in most cases, I rarely enjoy, personally. Again, it feels like a formality. We’re having sex because that’s what couples do. They have sex. I wasn’t trained to enjoy touch, but mostly tolerate it.

I love accidental touch.

I realized this sitting on a packed bus one day, too close to the Indian gentleman beside me. The hairs on his arm tickled mine, and I felt like we were getting away with something. I collapsed drunkenly on a friend who supports my lanky frame so I don’t have to keep standing upright and faking sobriety at a party we’ve been at too long.

My brother sat directly beside me on a couch at a family gathering, and it felt strangely warm to not sit alone.

I love unplanned contact.

My tactile memory can still recall what the stubble of my last boyfriend’s facial hair felt like brushing on my nose, and that was a little more exciting than the first kiss itself, but evenings when he wanted to hold me while we flipped through Netflix felt clunky, the positions were awkward, and perhaps forced, and it was purely out of formality that I stayed quiet.

I love accidental touch.

While I scan videos on youtube of strangers sharing stories of things they’d do differently in their lives, I hardly even notice I’m running my hand up and down my hairy forearms, and when I consciously catch myself doing it, I don’t stop – it’s such a nice secret pleasure I get to share with myself on a Wednesday night.

The thick veins in my feet look like the exposed roots of a tree and I’ve taken time while writing this line to press them just to feel them pop back up again. I love accidental touch. And unplanned contact. I loved waking up with a person next to me who would let me feel the muscles in their arm while they caught an extra hour of sleep, and I hated when we arranged ourselves in sleeping formations overheating from frustration and this inconvenient position,

My goodness,

just stand still,

be present,

and let me touch you improperly,

or in ways that aren’t even sexy at all,

to remind me that I’m grateful to not be alone, today.

There is no need for words. Let’s not waste time arranging ourselves correctly. We can skip the formality.

6 thoughts on “The (in)Formality of Touch

  1. Really thought provoking and beautiful. I know exactly what you mean about formal touch, I had never made the link to those vacuous post-church “embraces”.

    I hope to brush by you some day.


    1. Why, thank you Pete!

      This piece was one of those, ‘wake up in the middle of the night to write’ pieces. and I can always be a little bit iffy when I drop the humor to try a piece with a little bit of insight.

      It was kinda gratifying to explore the sensation of touch. Essentially, I wanted to figure out why I don’t like it like others, but I realized I just like it differently, and that’s perfectly fine.

      Brush on by, whenever.


  2. I’m in love with this.. And I’m not sure if this is a black thing, but my family isn’t affectionate… We don’t hug or say, “I love you.” We don’t kiss each other or at least inform each other of such…

    But in relationships, I like to touch, but not so much affection is so foreign

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From what I’m understanding, lacking touch in families either makes kids crave it more, or learn to mark it as an unnecessary thing. I think I made it the latter.

      Of course, having been involved in churchiness growing up, I think I also grew up with this idea that touch was a sacred kind of communication, and the troublemaker in me likes the kind of touch that is accidental because it feels like i’m breaking a rule.

      It’s worth exploring and writing about.


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