Clint Edwards says it’s not socially acceptable for men to long for platonic touch, even from their wives, without being seen as weak, clingy, or effeminate.
I published an essay in Scary Mommy awhile back titled, “Why a mother doesn’t want to be touched.” In it I discussed how my wife sometimes gets touched out. We have three small children (8, 5, and 11-months), and after having them cling at her all day she wants nothing but to sit alone, without something clinging to her body. This places Mel and I at an impasse because sometimes, at the end of the day, I just want to be held. This element of the essay really rang true and the post went viral.
However, there was one paragraph that really got readers chatting in the discussion section.
“After working 14 hours, the one thing I wanted was a kiss and to hold my wife. When I was in my 20s, this usually meant sex. But now, in my 30s, I’m more interested in simple physical contact with my wife… I feel a deep comfort in Mel’s arms. There is also something about being at work, sitting across from people, chatting, legs crossed, arms folded, handshakes, and formality that makes me long for some form of real physical contact that I really only get from my wife.”
As I read through the comments section, I was a little surprised. Readers described me as clingy, or needy, or demanding because I wanted to kiss and hold my wife of ten years after a long day. One reader even said that it was not my wife’s job to validate my confidence and that if I needed to touch someone at the end of the day I needed to get a dog. The truly sad thing about this comment is that I think it is just as appreciated for a wife to help a man feel confident, as it is for a husband to help his wife feel beautiful. Not to say that either are an obligation of marriage, but they are both appreciated, and can lead to a wonderful partnership of respect and support.
As I read through the comments, I thought about an essay on the Good Men Project titled “The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer,” where author Mark Greene discusses how the absence of platonic touch in men’s lives makes men “feel physically and emotionally isolated.”
The sad fact is, as a man, it is not socially acceptable for me to long for simple platonic touch, even from my wife, without being described as weak, effeminate, or clingy, and reading through the comments on my essay only confirmed this. I am supposed to be strong and calloused, and longing for touch from another person should be strange and suspect and a chip off my masculinity. Men hug at a distance. We touch in slaps and fist bumps, never getting too close. Anything more is suspect. I think Greene said it best in the below list:
We American men have a tragic laundry list of reasons why we are not comfortable with touch:
1. We fear being labeled as sexually inappropriate by women.
2. We live in a virulently homophobic culture so all contact between men is suspect.
3. We don’t want to risk any hint of being sexual toward children.
4. We don’t want to risk our status as macho or authoritative by being physically gentle.
5. We don’t ever want to deal with rejection when we reach out. (And in our touch adverse culture that is the most likely outcome.)
If I were to describe my love language, it would be touch. I was nearly 30 before I began to understand this. And right now, my only real outlets for platonic touch are from the embrace of my wife or my children. (Though, I suppose, according to the above commenter, I could also get a dog.) This creates a frustrating dynamic in my marriage, especially when my wife is touched out from being clawed at by small children all day, and I come home from work longing to embrace my wife.
With my essay going viral, I have received multiple messages from readers telling me that they have the same problem in their marriages. Wives mentioned that they don’t want to be touched at the end of the day, while husbands with an equally long day with no physical interaction want to be held.
From many of the messages I received and comments I read, this doesn’t seem to always be an issue of sex. Yes, many female readers mentioned not wanting to have sex with their husbands because they were touched out, but a surprising amount of men said that they just want to be embraced by their partner.
One husband, I will call him Jim, said, “For better or worse, I’m a very physically affectionate person with my wife and that’s a part of how I show my feelings. But she’s not, especially after a day with kids hanging all over her. I’m willing to bet this is true for a lot of couples.”
I think Jim is right.
I think that many married men long for platonic touch, but feel socially unable to express that need, so it is expressed as feeling rejected. It comes out sideways in frustration and arguments where a man might sit silently, feeling a longing for something that they struggle to define, but is in fact the simple pleasure of an embrace. This is particularly apparent in the lives of married men with small children where the mother becomes, as my wife puts it, touched out.
I’m not sure if all men share my same longing for touch. But what I do know is that I am not alone. There is a dichotomy of touch in the lives of married men, and it is a sad fact of a social construct that leaves men feeling ashamed of longing for a simple embrace. I’m not saying that if you are a man and you don’t long for touch there is anything wrong with you, but what I am saying is that feeling the need for platonic touch is okay. You are not alone. It doesn’t make a man clingy, needy, or weak in any way.
The first time I discussed my need for touch with my wife, I struggled to get it out. I tripped over my words. I’d been married for years before I mentioned it to her. And thinking back, it’s sad that I had to feel ashamed of something as basic longing for touch. It is a simple need of all humans, men and women, and discussing this need openly with your partner is essential. As Greene states:
“Ultimately, we will unlearn our fear of touch in the context of our personal lives and in our day to day interactions. Learning how to express platonic love and affection through touch is a vast and remarkable change that has to be lived. But it is so important that we do it. Because it is central to having a rich full life.”
Indeed. “Touch is life.”
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Photo: Zuerichs Strassen/Flickr