I know you’ve been dying to hear about my Murica trip, and what better place to begin than here, with #1000Speak, and this month’s topic of LOVE? For it was love which inspired the trip and started it going; love which sustained it and kept me going; and love which was the central theme of the whole thing. I use the term ‘hardwired heart’ to express that although everything had occurred in the World Between the Wires (until then), the love is real and true and vibrant. And it really is.
It’s also a bit touchy-feely, and that’s what I’m writing about today.
So here’s the thing – being English, I have a cultural repuation to uphold of being stand-offish and slightly austere in manner. Sterotypically we’re a prim and proper people, more given to pats on the head, shakes of the hand, or tiny-hug-air-kisses (when pressed (and only if female)) than any of the full-body-contact that the more excitable nations go in for.
As such, I was initially concerned that I was going to undergo some kind of culture-induced freeze-up when I arrived, and be utterly incapable of making physical contact without feeling vastly uncomfortable and out of my depth. [It’s worth noting at this stage that there are a very small number of people in my life with whom I’m comfortable being physical; all but two are my family, and of those two, one is more crash-test-dummy/scrum-buddy (we play netball together – a British non-contact sport – where usually one of us ends up bruised or bleeding and yelled at by the ref) than anything…yaknow…mushy.]
Thing is, though, that secretly, deep down, I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who hugs – not just the little silly air-hugs, but real, PROPER hugs – and who is completely comfortable (when invited) with that level of closeness. I just didn’t know whether I had it in me, and it really bothered me in the weeks leading up to the beginning of the trip. I didn’t want to let my friends down by being a frigid disappointment if they were huggers and I was…well…not.
I was so lucky. SO lucky. Because the first person on my trip IS a hugger. She yelled with excitement, flung herself across the airport at me, and flew into my arms, burying her face in my neck. In the face of such incredible exuberance and the immediate dose of the aforementioned full-body-contact (excitable, see?), my inner-hugger was whisked from her little English-imposed isolation bubble, and freed, embraced the moment, the experience, and the friend.
And that was that. I was unlocked. I was a hugger from then on.
Not only a hugger, either! Where it was fitting and appropriate, there was further contact, each within the parameters of the different friendships I had built. Some of my favourite moments, and most memorable moments of the entire trip were the ones where I was in contact with another person, and whilst I’m happy to share my experience of some of those moments, I won’t say to which people they belong, because I kind of want to keep them a bit obfuscated, out of chronological order and cherishable through being just between me and each of them.
❤ That big first hug which nearly sent us both sprawling on the floor. Walking and talking and stumbling in the dark because we were so close together that any step out of unison tripped us, but laughing and giggling because it was so delightful to be *here* and be together and know that we are each as completely the self we’ve shown to each other as we hoped. I love you.
❤ Even bleary-minded, it was lovely to hold you and continue our conversation whilst stroking your hair and your arm. You seemed so tiny and fragile, and yet completely comfortable with me, and you’ve told me since that not all people are like that, but we SO are…truly. Holding you close and massaging the knots in your back and knowing I was helping, because I could feel them gradually release. Hanging onto you for dear life as I panicked and cried for upcoming loss, and how you knew, and you comforted me. I love you.
❤ Not expecting (either of us) to be so comfortable with the other; stroking arms, being wrapped around; small moments of holding or closeness. Times in the dark, under the stars, talking and snuggling in for warmth. Traveling, both crowded over one phone to see, legs propped up on the rail and touching because of the proximity of the entire journey. Sleeping gently, tangled, where we’d run out of words and out of energy, still holding hands. I love you.
❤ Your excitement to see me, and a big hug, which you waited in line for. Getting to snuggle in before bedtime and join in with the ritual. Putting my arm around you as we walked, and trying to impart worldly wisdom, and probably failing horribly but trying anyway. You holding my hand all the way on the car trip to swap me to the next person, even when you fell asleep. I love you.
❤ A few, HUGE hugs, and lots of twinkly grins. The assurance of knowing that you felt comfortable in my presence and that I didn’t drain you. And the knowing that to me, you felt like normality – like I belonged. Laughter in the presence of shared pain, binding us with memories beneath our skin. Your hug holding me up when a storm of emotion broke me into a thousand pieces, and your hand holding mine, anchoring me from being swept away entirely by its waves. I love you.
❤ Getting to help sing you to sleep, because you asked for me to be there, and joining in with such a treasured, close moment. Hiding under the blanket with you as you told me about your favourite Youtube channel and had your drink before bedtime. You lifting my top to show off my abs to your friend, and your giggles when I picked you up and weight-lifted you. Hugging you after we played at the park together, and your smile, and you telling me you loved me. I love you.
❤ Standing on your toes, being held close, and hearing your instructions whirl incomprehensibly through my brain as you tried to guide my hips with yours so that we didn’t just fall down; me laughably hopeless, and you just laughing and carrying on, spinning me into bravery I didn’t think I had until you showed me it was there. I love you.
❤ How you fit perfectly next to me, arms encircled, and how we could walk together, maybe to anywhere. Napping and being snuggled close, having fallen asleep talking, again. How you didn’t know until then, but I did, that you’d feel like home. Stroking your arm and holding your hand at every opportunity, and dancing together because it was fun and silly and nice to do. Skyping our third, binding the three of us in close moments the world will never see, but which we will always remember. Being snuggled next to you in the dark under the night skies, as the water faintly echoed the music we were playing on your phone, and talking for hours, just holding one another close and sharing deep thoughts and shallow ones. Holding your face when your world turned to storms, and hanging onto you until your head was above the water again…and you holding my face when my world turned to storms, wiping my tears with your fingers, telling me to smile for you, and kissing me goodbye. I love you.
❤ Small contacts, but a few good hugs, and the memory of your eyes widening with surprise and delight as we came in and woke you to let you know I was here. The two of us larking on the playground and showing off to one another, and then jumping together on your trampoline, because it was fun and we could. And knowing that I would miss you like crazy, and you telling me you’d miss me, too. I love you.
❤ A MASSIVE hug hello, and then silliness later, with a backdrop of Instagram and larking around. You wrapping me up in an urgent hug as part of my world fell apart with grief, and you steadying me and guiding me out. How you held me until I could breathe properly again, and how you let me talk. And how very much I needed you right then, and that it almost made the heartbreak of the next, worst moment fade by surpassing it. I love you.
❤ Jammed together in the big bed, laughing, and you suddenly draping your legs over mine, for warmth, and that just being a *thing* as we all talked. I love you.
❤ Holding your hands as we jumped and posed for photographs, catching our toes against each other in the hot sun. Dancing and twirling with you under the fairy lights, and doing martial arts kicks, for giggles. You climbing onto the bed and bombarding me with toys, and us playing til everyone was awake. Hugging you in the restaurant when you told me you’d miss me, because I knew I would miss you too, so much. I love you.
So many experiences, so many people, and so many more examples I could have shared where the thing which made the difference to the encounter was touch. Wanted, warm, responsive touch. Close moments between close people, cementing relationships with skin-to-skin and oxytocin (that powerful bonding hormone we can’t manufacture nor get any other way than being in touch with another person, who we like).
And it’s an amazing thing, that oxytocin, and perhaps why touch is so very important in human relationships. It has been demonstrated to deepen trust between people, and reduce anxiety. It increases nurturing behaviour and strengthens our ability to empathise. It can calm our heart-rate and according to co-sleeping research, helps children to develop as their body mirrors and responds to its mother’s. It is often called upon when babies are born prematurely, and skin-to-skin holding is recommended to help the baby grow stronger. Its most well-known as the hormone which increases connection and bonding between lovers, and mothers and their children but perhaps that is because of the naturally higher incidence of contact in these circumstances. It is certainly and most definitely pro-social, though, and occurs in relationships where trust and close contact are involved.
And I can vouch for the sheer delight of repeated hits of it. Truly. Extremely. SO good.
So how about that Village?
It’s not going to be always and everywhere appropriate to introduce an element of physical contact, but even in small ways, where it is appropriate and it does fit – don’t shy from it. We’re social creatures, and we need to know the warmth of human touch because without it our brains just don’t do so well. Anxiety and fear and mistrust can all be mitigated by oxytocin, and my goodness, couldn’t we all use less of those!
Where the Village is broken, this might be something that could fix it. And where it ain’t broke, it can only make it stronger.
So get out there, and get in touch.
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