Don't Stand So Close To Me - 10.17.97|
My earliest memories of being very defensive about physical contact came about when I was in grade school. Granted, most kids get kind of nervous when a teacher is nearby, but I would become very uptight. This was an even worse problem if they put their hand on my shoulder when they were helping me or patted my shoulder if I had answered something correctly. I'm sure it was meant to be reassuring and calming, but I could never get used to it. If I felt a hand on my shoulder, my muscles would tense and although they were speaking to me, my thoughts were still focused on wondering when they would leave and go on to someone else.
If I try to look back for a cause to this defensiveness, I'm not sure that I can really narrow it down to anything specific. I had a fairly normal childhood, and although my parents were divorced, I still got plenty of affection from both of them. There were some very difficult moments, but I don't think that it tore me up that much emotionally. I think that one of the bigger causes of my defensiveness comes from some of the friendships I had when I was young.
One of my first real best friends was probably the cause of many of my fears of physical contact. We hung out all the time and had tons of similar interests, but there were still some major things wrong with our friendship. The main thing was that he always had to be the best at everything. I think there's a bit of competitive spirit in all good friendships, but ours was one of extremes. If we raced our bikes and I won, there was always an excuse. We went through it tons of times and I usually ended up just shrugging it off and agreeing with him that I was lucky in winning. The problem became even more compounded when we were around people, because there were actual witnesses of my winning. If I happened to win at something when other people were around, my friend would act as though it didn't bother him.
Soon afterward though, he would wait until everyone was watching, then he'd punch me in the arm or stomach. I've always been fairly scrawny, and he was fairly strong for his age, so it usually hurt quite a bit. Even though he usually apologized, I'm sure that it gave him some feeling of victory every time I winced in pain in front of everyone. I think I would have enjoyed having someone I could high-five in victory or even hug after an accomplishment. Instead, I had someone who would belittle me whenever we were in a group and they didn't get there way.
In a way, I feel that this friendship was probably partially a cause for my un-affectionate behavior. Even throughout high-school, the majority of my friends had always been into doing everything the 'macho' way. Slapping hands, bashing forearms, or an occasional punch were all considered congradulatory, whereas a hug or a pat on the back would have probably been considered queer. It really wasn't until my junior year or so of high-school that I had a friend that I could really open up to. We hung out all the time and even got to the point where we could hug on occassion.
In college, I found myself back at the start of my problems. I eventually gained quite a few new friends, but it always took awhile for me to get comfortable as to how much affection I could show around them. I eventually figured it all out and had quite a few excellent male friendships while at school.
The bigger problem came with members of the opposite sex. Since I had never really had any close girl friends (and didn't even go on a date until my senior year), it was really hard for me to get used to anything vaguely involved with females and affection. I remember being at a party my freshman year when I was hugged by a girl that I hadn't ever met before. Here was somebody I didn't even know doing things to me that I had never done before. It sounds really strange, but I winced almost the same as I had when my friend used to punch me. They were totally new feelings and I really didn't know how to deal with them.
It wasn't until my final year of school that I even felt like I was anywhere near a solution to this. I've had a few close friends of the opposite sex, but it's taken me a long time to get to the point where I can hug them or even open up to them with my feelings completely. It still takes me a fair amount of time to build up that level of comfort where I know that my expressions of affection won't be taken the wrong way. I'm still not a touchy-feely person of any remote sort, but I have gotten to the point where I'm more comfortable with expressing myself and (hopefully) knowing that I won't be taken the wrong way. It's definitely a good thing that I wish I wouldn't have let myself miss out on for so long.