Are you a touch-me-please or a touch-me-not?
Vice President Joe Biden has been in the news recently because he’s a handsy guy and he apparently smells women’s hair and some of the women are really uncomfortable with the whole thing.
And I have to say, the whole tenor of the news coverage leaves me…uncomfortable.
Full disclosure here. I’m a hugger.
Humans need touch. Babies who are left without cuddling fail to thrive. Scientists have studied hugs and they’ve found that hugs can affect your mood and your stress level in a positive way.
When you’ve had a tough time, hugs can heal when people just can’t find the right words. In fact, sometimes words do more damage because people say the wrong thing, or they try to fix the problem for you when all you want is empathy.
One immunologist says that our brains use physical experiences and objects as sort of memory anchors that affect us long into the future. They can be bad experiences, but the bonding ones – like hugs – affect us too.
Hugs can heal – but should we stop with all the hugging?
Of course, there are all kinds of reasons you might not like hugs. The hugger could be using the hug as a sort of power play—when the person doing the hugging is aggressive about it and uses it to make the person being hugged feel powerless. Or maybe you’ve undergone a trauma. For someone who has been abused, a hug can feel like confinement.
So maybe we should never hug. Or maybe never hug in the workplace
Because my need to touch definitely does not trump your agency over your body. You are the boss of your body.
But touch is human. It’s an instinct we have from birth.
I don’t think you can penalize someone for that instinct.
And that brings me back to the whole Biden story.
Women who say they were uncomfortable with Biden’s handsy style – and he was handsy with everyone, by the way – men, women and children – have the right to be uncomfortable. For sure. But did they tell him? Or did they wince in silence and resent him all these years? If they told him and he continued…then yes, let’s condemn him. Or now that it’s been all over the news and he says he gets it…let’s see if he changes his behavior.
But I worry a little that, by framing these women as “victims,” we risk demonizing all human touch. And that risks isolating all of us on little islands of touch-me-not. Even if we desperately want or need that touch.