Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Physical Affection

An email I received earlier this month from a young lady in Mexico reminded me of something I’d long forgotten, and something I wish I’d been able to forget for many years after I first met Chris.  I became completely obsessed about it, to the point where it could have ended our relationship.  Of course, I’m grateful it didn’t, and I’m also grateful I had something to share with the young lady that I hoped would help.    

Her concern had to do with her girlfriend–that her girlfriend wasn’t as physically affectionate as she was and as she wanted her to be (for example, didn’t hug her as much).  And that she felt her girlfriend was essentially telling her she didn’t feel the same way about her emotionally, even though they’d been together for years.  Boy, could I relate to that.

When I wrote back the young lady, I told her that, when I was growing up, my parents never touched my sister and me, except to discipline us.  Consequently, I was starved for physical affection, for the validation that came from it.  I just wanted to be hugged.  Was that asking too much?  I wanted to know I was worth hugging, and thus that I was a worthwhile human being.  I wanted to know I made a difference to them for being here, that they were glad I’d been born.  But it never happened.

When I grew up and moved out on my own, I swore that, when I was in a relationship, I would be physically affectionate toward my partner.  I wouldn’t hold myself back from him.  I had this vision in my head that we’d hug and kiss all the time, because that’s what two people in love with each other do, right?  It’s only natural.  In other words, I wanted to make up for everything I missed out on when I was a kid.

Enter Chris.  He wasn’t raised in a touchy-feely family either; his parents had always been physically reserved with him and his sister.  When I learned that, I thought he’d be like me, needing to gain in adulthood what he'd lacked in childhood, needing to feel better about himself through the physical validation he received from me.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I was physically affectionate toward Chris all the time, it drove him crazy.  He even told me so.  He never came to me and wrapped his arms around me first.  And, when I held him, he was always the first one to pull away, like he couldn’t wait for the hugging thing to be over.  Each time it happened, I took it as yet another small rejection of me.  I became deeply hurt. 

This went on for years–yes, years!  I kept forcing myself on Chris (that’s how I saw it, anyway), because I was determined to soften him, because I wanted him to know he had a safe place in my arms to be himself, and I would never hurt him.  I thought, surely, he’ll come around sooner or later.  Surely, he’ll start to trust me and see my heart's in the right place.  Surely he’ll start to initiate hugs and not be the first one to pull away. 

Didn’t happen.  And we had lots and lots of talks about it.  He told me hugging made him feel very uncomfortable–even hugging me–and I told him I craved being hugged, it was very important to me, and I was determined not to perpetuate the poor example my parents had set.  I knew from the look on his face he wasn’t happy with that.  I also knew that, if I kept doing it, I could lose him.  I lived with the fear of that for years.  

It wasn't until some time after we'd bought our condo together that we had the talk that would change everything for me.  During that talk, I remember asking him, is it me you don’t want to be physically affectionate with, or would you be the same toward anyone else?   It was a big risk.  What if he’d said it was me?  The idea of losing him, especially over something like this, scared the hell out of me.  But I had to know.  I had to feel loved.      

Chris thought for a few moments.  I rephrased the question, hoping I’d say it in a way that helped him sort out how he felt (although I knew my first question couldn’t have been more direct).  Finally, he said what I needed to hear, one way or the other:  It wasn’t me.  He said he would feel the same way toward anyone else.  What an enormous relief that was, because I loved this young man so much, and I didn't want to lose him or the wonderful life we shared together. 

The rest took patience, lots and lots of patience (which, regretfully, I don’t have enough of at the best of times).  And the belief that, one day, Chris would feel more comfortable being physically affectionate with me, that he might even come to me and hug me first, and that, at the least, he wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable when I hugged him and would no longer pull away.    

I don’t know when things started to change; I’m guessing well over a decade after we met.  But, still, not as much as I’d thought they might.  Does Chris eagerly wrap his arms around me for no reason at all, simply because he wants to?  No, I wouldn’t go that far.  Is he more willing to hug me when I go to him?  Yes, he is, very much so.  And good news.  Whenever I hug him, he no longer pulls away.  In fact, he consistently keeps hugging me…until I let go of him. 

It’s easy to think love looks the way it does in Hollywood movies.  That, when we find someone, he or she will be all over us, hugging and kissing, confirming on every occasion that we are the only one for him or her.  That he or she loves us as much as, if not more than, we love him or her.  That’s the way it should be, right?

My experience tells me it's not always the case.  And I'm also here to tell you that, just because you don’t receive the degree of physical affection you think you should doesn’t necessarily mean the man or woman you’re with doesn’t love you madly.  Some people are just naturally more reserved.  Some people have different ways of showing their love.  And their ways may not be your ways, but, make no mistake, they're still there.  You just have to become more aware of what they look like.   

And don’t necessarily throw in the towel on something that doesn’t look the way you think it should.  I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d become so fed up with Chris that I’d put an end to our relationship, just because I thought I deserved to be hugged and kissed more than he was doing, and, by god, I'd find someone who gave me what I needed.  

In the end, Chris has given me all I needed, and so much more, for nearly the past twenty-two years.  I can’t ask for anything else.  I’m one lucky man, and I know it.  I'm also one grateful man. 


  1. I could relate to this story as well.
    I wasn’t raised in a touchy-feely family either. That made me liked the idea of living alone all by myself. Then i fell in love with him. When we walked, like on a park, he loved to hold my hand. But it felt strange for me. So i, in reflex, pulled my hand away.

    He would be sad and gave me silent treatment every time i rejected his romantic gestures. At one point, i then told him that i felt a bit awkward every time he held my hand. Fortunately, he understood. So he never initiated it again.

    I loved him very much at the moment but i never knew how to express it. And i was afraid that he might never feel it. So one night, on our way back home from local theater, while we were seating on the back seat of the cab, i held his hand and put it in my heart. I kissed it. And then i hugged him and whispered my feeling toward him to his left ear. He was shocked but happy.

    After i arrived on my home, he texted me that he felt so happy because of it. And i told him i was the happiest man in the earth because i got an amazing bf like him.

    From that night, i never felt awkward anymore with showing my affections in the public. In the end i learned a lot of things from him. And i sometimes still miss him.

    1. I like your perspective on this. You're the one who felt uncomfortable showing physical affection. You've provided some personal insight into why that was the case, and I know you'll help others see themselves in you.

      Your line "I loved him very much at the moment, but I never knew how to express it" is my favorite. I think we learn from the example of those around us, and, if we don't see physical affection–that is, if it's not natural for us to see it and participate in it–we don't know how to do it. And, even more important, we're too scared to take the risk.

      Your story is ultimately victorious. You took a chance, and it paid off. Often, that's all it takes. The courage to do something we ordinarily wouldn't, to be someone we usually aren't. When it comes to love, it's a chance we must take; otherwise, we'll never know how good it truly feels.

      And look at what you learned from doing it. Now, you're open to physical affection. And, not only to physical affection, but also to one of the most important and beautiful and comforting and validating aspects of love.

      Thanks for giving me and my readers your perspective. Together, hopefully we'll encourage others to take that risk, as well.

      All the very best.

  2. Thank you for being always there Mr. Rick. Days have been easier and tougher, at the same time; relationship wise it´s getting better, but family wise, worse. On the same note, I guess my crave will eventually be controlled, but at the moment, it still gets me once in a while. Like the reader, it really hits my when I´ve a romantic gesture and I get rejected, for some reason.

    I have been having the dilemma of just letting go of what I want and settle in my head that what matters is that my partner is there for me. Unfortunately, I tend to ask myself why, if there´s nothing wrong with me, as I´m told usually, why my partner thinks twice whether or not being affectionate in some form or fashion.

    I wanted to give a proper thank you note. I stumbled with this and I wanted people to know how nice you´re to all of us. I thank greatly what you do to each and everyone of us, the time and effort you put into, and the amazing heart you have.

    I guess, in the end, everyone of us will have to find their way; the only thing I´m sure is that I´m still looking for mine.

    Thanks Mr. Rick for being support and inspiration. Big shout-out to your partner Chris; same to every important person in your life.

    - The lady from México

    1. Marcela, it's so good to hear from you again.

      With respect to physical affection from your partner, it sounds like you still have some good days and some not so good days. I know our stories aren't exactly alike, but there are enough similarities for me to encourage you to be patient. As I recall, that's one of the suggestions I made previously. You know from the post above that patience made all the difference between Chris and me. In fact, it accounts for why we're still together today.

      And, Marcela, please be more confident. Please don't think, as I did, that if your partner isn't ready with a hug for you all the time, it means she doesn't love you, or she doesn't want to be with you. I did that to myself with Chris, and it drove me crazy for many years. In my case, the issue was more about how insecure I felt inside, and not anything Chris felt, or didn't feel, toward me. The fact you and your partner are still together says a lot. Go with it and see what happens.

      I'm sorry to hear things between you and your family are not good. If you ever want to share some of that with me, I'd be happy to read what you have to say. And I'd also be happy to help you through it, if I'm able.

      Finally, I just want to say how much I appreciate all your kind words. You are a very sweet young lady, and you really boosted my day when I read your post.

      Every time I receive a comment or email from a reader, who's going through a difficult time or who asks for specific advice, if I'm able to help in any way, I put the time and effort into it. That's important to me. What good is my experience if I don't share it? Like Dr. Maya Angelou says, "When you learn, teach." I've learned a lot about what it means to be gay, and I welcome the opportunity to share that with readers like you, in the hope it will make a difference.

      My sincere thanks once again for keeping in touch and for your wonderful comment. I hope to hear from you again. (And good luck with everything you're going through. It's all happening exactly as it should. One day, you'll look back on it, and you'll know I was right.)

      Take good care of yourself.