The other day I was at my local hair salon, I leaned back at a sink as the shampoo girl washed and conditioned and rambled on about her boyfriend. Shampoo Girl was massaging my scalp and I was nearly nodding off in blissful goosebumpiness, when a funny thought flitted through my sudsy head: This is the most human contact I've had since . . . since . . . my last hair appointment!
Under my closed eyelids, my eyes rolled in a moment of self-professed pathetic-ness. In a society where bed-hopping is practically a national pastime and people literally half my age make out in the food court at the local mall, the fact that I can count the time between mere hugs with weeks and sometimes months feels downright freakish.
It's not just the absence of kisses and caresses that feels strange. There are times I miss the most basic human contact—a hug, a hand to hold, a literal shoulder to lean on in tough circumstances. The kinds of physical gestures that communicate a common bond, and say, We're in this together. The kind that bring feelings of security, comfort, and unity in our increasingly independent, isolated society. The kind we singles often miss out on.
I grew up in a fairly tactile family. My dad would wake me up by rubbing my back for a few moments while I regained consciousness, and I'd often watch him rub my mom's shoulders or feet in the evening as we watched TV. There were always hugs goodnight. In fact, that's one of my favorite parts about going home as a grown-up—the return of goodnight hugs.
It's such a stark contrast to my typical touch-less existence. Usually I wake up in my solo apartment and don't talk to anyone, let alone touch anyone, until I get to work. Even Mr. Right, my finicky parakeet, won't let me touch his bright blue feathers. Obviously there's no physical contact at the office where I work, and barring any hugs hello or goodbye at any random coffee or dinner get-togethers after work, I often return to bed completely touch-free. Only to repeat the same the next day—or until my next hair cut.
Such is one of the unique challenges of the single life.
And this reality flies in the face of countless psychological studies that have been conducted over the past 40 or 50 years. Research conducted with babies, monkeys, the elderly, and people with chronic or fatal diseases show that positive human contact leads to improved mental and physical health. Some of these studies even go so far as to say that it's nearly impossible to be a healthy, secure individual without regular good physical touch. And the findings about the ill-effects of positive-touch deprivation are startling.
So what are we who don't have a spouse or kids to hug and to hold on a regular basis to do?
When I started asking some single friends this question, I was met with some creative responses. Some get manicures or pedicures for the hand and feet massaging often included. Others get massages—both for relaxation and for needed physical contact. A few of my friends have volunteered in the church nursery so they can snuggle the littlest attendees on Sunday mornings. Others find a similar outlet with nieces and nephews or by babysitting their friends' kids. And many of my friends have gotten pets to help with both companionship and cuddling needs.
I love these ideas. Unfortunately, none of them works for me with any regularity. I'm a pet-allergy-prone person who's away from home too many weekends to work in my church's nursery, who's too cheap to spring for regular manicures and pedicures, who's too modest to brave a massage, and who lives a few states away from my only nephew.
So every now and then when I realize the closest contact I've had of late is the handshake from my church's greeter the previous Sunday, I get on a hug-kick. Suddenly I start hugging all my friends goodbye after we meet for dinner or coffee or a brief chat about our weekends in the halls at work. In those rare spurts of physical contact I secretly fear they wonder if I'm dying and trying my best to make each goodbye meaningful.
But the other night I realized I've stumbled onto a few creative outlets for cozy, comforting contact. I was curled up on my usual spot on the couch, wearing my flannel pants and clutching a mug of steaming coffee. Oh my gosh, I thought. This is my snuggle time! Warm coffee, cozy pants and sweatshirt, big fluffy pillows on my couch, and a soft chenile blanket. I've often told friends that my love of coffee, especially in the evening, is more about the overall warmth and experience. "Like comfort in a cup," I've told them. Little did I realize I've been getting much-needed evening coziness by way of Mr. Coffee! Yep, just me and Joe (as in "a mug of") snuggled upon the couch.
But then on a random Saturday morning, curled up with all my creature comforts and my Bible, I found myself appreciating afresh God made flesh 2,000 years ago. When I read about Jesus touching his friends and those in need of healing, I'm moved by a God who traveled to earth to literally reach out with human hands to his fallen creation. I have a feeling that if Jesus walked the earth today, he'd be hugging on us single people. And I'm thoroughly convinced there will be much hugging in heaven. At least in my little corner of it.
But until then, I find my touch-challenged self more appreciative of my friend Kathryn's cashmere-like cat Harry, more enamored with my nephew's soft, pudgy hands in mine whenever I get to see him, more grateful for family hugs over holiday visits, more moved when we all hold hands to pray at church. And similar to loneliness, I'm trying to allow my occasional longing for human contact to remind me of my real root desire for closeness with my Heavenly Father—the kind of desire that will be met only when I can someday see him face to face, kneel in his presence, and feel his holy embrace welcoming me home.
Copyright © 2004 ChristianityToday.com