Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2012/ Untouchable


When I first started this website in 1998, one of the first entries I wrote concerned hugs and touch. In that entry, I lamented that I did not know the difference between innocent hugs and sexual ones. Fourteen years later, I still don't understand the distinction. I still crave to touch and be touched. But as I go through life I experience human (or even feline) touch less and less. I can go for weeks without touching anybody. I joke that the only time I am touched is at Canadian Blood Services, when the nice nurses take my blood pressure and scrub the crook of my elbow before plunging in the needle. But it's not much of a joke. In addition to being unfunny it is fairly close to the truth.

I mean, out of social convention I shake hands with people. That has no particular emotional significance or resonance. Occasionally I receive touches in other ways that are more troublesome. People will offer me a hug, or they will touch my back or shoulder as a comforting gesture, or my knee will accidentally (or "accidentally"?) brush against that of somebody I am sitting with. Given that I have described these touches as "troublesome", it should come as no surprise that I tend to react poorly to such human contact.

My thoughts and feelings around touch swirl around and around and around in my head, which is why this entry has stoppered up my blog publishing for a month now. Every time I try to write this essay in a particular direction, I reread when I have written, chastise myself for being stupid/naive/selfish, and then get stuck again. (Sure enough, I can feel that process in motion right now.) So how about a brain dump that does not even pretend to be coherent or consistent? Then we can pretend this never happened and just stare at the floor in awkward silence if the topic comes up again.

My first response to being untouched is that it's okay. I still carry the (possibly apocryphal) image of untouched orphanage babies in my head, but unlike those orphanage babies I have not yet curled up and died.

My second response is that I feel like curling up and dying. When my stupid cravings for touch rise up I feel empty and deeply unhappy. As usual, this is my mind playing tricks on me. I have been deeply unhappy for a long time, and that unhappiness is intensifying as the years go by. But my mind is grasping for external solutions to my problems, and there are no external solutions to be found. I am going to stay unhappy until I do the internal work to be less unhappy, and since I am ridiculously unwilling to do that work, I am likely going to stay unhappy for the rest of my life. Being touched on a regular basis is not going to cure me; I will just find something else to crave.

My third response is anger at my body's treachery. Some of my cravings for touch have to do with touch. Some are no doubt proxy cravings for sex and companionship. I hate that I have to constantly battle my treacherous biological urges for relationships and procreation, and I hate that I cannot trust my own feelings. My conspiracy theory is that touch leads to hugging leads to kissing leads to sex leads to distorted judgement leads to mortgages leads to children leads to mind control leads to enslavement, and that is a slope I would rather avoid. As a result, I feel especially uncomfortable when people I find attractive touch me, even though those people have no motives beyond touch, and even though those people are usually in life situations where there are no chances for us to tumble down that slippery slope together. Even though the people who touch me might have innocent motives, I most certainly don't, and I know that I cannot be trusted.

My fourth response is shame, because I cannot (or will not) accept touch with gratitude and equanimity. Instead I display discomfort, which makes the nice people who are touching me uncomfortable too.

My fifth response is a different kind of shame. I have so much privilege and live in so much comfort. People in my community have died unexpectedly, or gotten sick with no prognoses of improvement. People I know have gotten bad medical results that means they will live in increasing discomfort for the rest of their lives. People (and non-people) suffer and suffer and suffer. What right do I have to complain about anything, nevermind something as shallow as being untouched? (This, of course, is a despicable self-indulgent technique that shallow depressed people use to make themselves feel worse. That is a reason for shame as well.)

My sixth response is self-reproach, because this problem is both stupid and in my head, and because I am not willing to put in the work (or perhaps take the SSRIs) to turn touch into a non-issue. There are forms of touch that don't trouble me -- handshakes, petting cats -- so it's clearly not the physical act of touching that is the issue here. Do I really want to go through the rest of my life untouched? Is that something to list as an accomplishment in my life?

My seventh response is to hope that these cravings go away on their own, perhaps as a function of aging. Just as people stop craving sex once they turn 40, maybe the desire for touch abates as well.

My eighth response is a kind of relief and gratitude. There is no question that life is a lot simpler (and less expensive) without human relationships, and touch is a form (however mild) of human relationship.

So for the time being -- and perhaps for the rest of my life -- I remain largely untouched, and largely untouchable. Maybe that is okay. Maybe that's not. As of now, the results are inconclusive.