My ability to sleep over the past few months has been just about nonexistent, and I’ve been spending a lot more time browsing Reddit lately than I used to. I ran across two posts that stuck with me for separate yet intertwined reasons.
The first was a post on r/AskReddit where someone asked sex workers to tell the stories of their saddest encounters. I read many of the provided stories and their replies, and the most consistent theme was people calling on the worker to provide basic, nonsexual comfort. There were stories of people just needing someone with whom they could cry, widowed people going on dates with workers to remember what it was like with their deceased love, people spilling secrets about themselves they couldn’t tell anyone in their life, and receiving physical (and again often nonsexual) comfort in response. In many ways, the workers provide the same safe space as a therapist would, with the addition of being able to provide perhaps what most of us truly need: physical affection.
The answers I read were predominantly in regard to male clientele, as were the comments which were below them. Countless people lamenting their lack of access to affection, their inability to feel safe expressing their feelings, the life changing moments when a partner or friend gave them a hug and they realized the importance of it. There were plenty of other genders represented, but I mention men because of the rarity with which they can be affectionate with one another in the same way that other gender identities can. I think and hope the stigma against it is changing for the better, but with many things in our world, change is slow, and people suffer in the meantime.
My social psychology professor several years ago told us a story of a man who traveled to another country (I cannot recall which), where it was common and entirely acceptable for people of any gender to walk down the street holding hands, where affection was not restricted by social convention and stigma. On returning to the US, the habit of bestowing affection upon his friends was so great that he had to reteach himself that it was no longer appropriate to hug or hold hands with his male friends. As someone who loves physicality but is extremely uncomfortable asking for or initiating it, this place sounds amazing, and I’m sure many others would agree.
This is a very nuanced situation, and please forgive me if I am not writing eloquently or if I’m neglecting information. These are simply my thoughts as they have flowed over the last while.
This issue does extend beyond men, of course. I and probably many of you who read this feel the same need and loss for the lack of it. It’s incredible to me that so much of this society craves and enjoys physical affection but also fears to or cannot find it. Not everyone is in a position to offer touch to someone else, but even those who are, there is so much holding us back. We are dehydrated and desperate for water, but we are too worried about drinking it when it’s available.
What is my overall point with this? Well, isn’t that just a question I ask myself ten times a day!
Ultimately, this thread both made me feel lonely but also recognized. Remembering that my feelings are never unique to me and that there are an unbelievable number of people out there with the exact same thoughts can sometimes be helpful. It mostly made me wish I could go hug every person in the thread, but I am certain that that feeling was also not unique. I hope that it inspired even a single person to offer someone a hug, a hand, or even just a safe space to talk. After all, there are plenty of people who do not want or need physicality for any number of reasons, but that does not mean they may not need verbal or other kinds of support and appreciation. Always seek some kind of consent and be respectful that other’s needs can be very different from your own.
This leads me into the second thread I read, which I won’t link here. A teenage girl posted about how she was feeling lost and meaningless, like she had no purpose in her life or in the world. It was on a subreddit intended for people to seek parental support and kindness from strangers. An Internet-dad replied ever so thoughtfully to this girl, telling her that even the tiniest of acts can make big differences. He encouraged her to keep a positivity journal where she could write down every time she made someone laugh, smiled at a stranger and received one in return, helped someone pick up a dropped object, etc. He told her it’d be a way for her to see how many small impacts she has on the world around her and how they add up without her noticing.
It caused me to reflect upon the times, of which there are so, so many, in which someone performed what to them was probably a small act but which to me made all the difference. I sometimes feel like small acts mean too much to me, as if their importance to me would not equate to that same act being important to someone else. That’s quite selfish and arrogant in some ways, though, and it’s mostly a justification to degrade my self worth and lessen my own perceived value.
Kind acts matter. They can take any form or any size, but never should they be viewed as meaningless. It is perhaps hard in the moment to think of offering a compliment as important—it’s something some people just do naturally—but if you question if you should do or say something, if you should offer a kindness and if it will be appreciated, know that it often will. There are times when it won’t, of course; everyone has different things they appreciate or times when they appreciate them. I encourage the rejection of a single kindness to not dampen your willingness to offer them in future. Easier said than done; I know.
Check on the people in your life. Nobody is immune to hard days, weeks, months, or even years. The quiet ones can be struggling just as hard as the vocal ones. The ones who check on you might need someone to also check on them. The ones who seem the happiest can still be hurting. Offer a small kindness, no matter what form it might take. Read up on love languages to see ways that appreciation can differ from person to person (they can be used for more than just romantic relationships). You may not have the energy to do any of this now; I know I sometimes feel like I don’t, either. But just like with the first thread causing me and undoubtedly many others to reflect and perhaps reach out to someone, I hope that this post can inspire even just a single person to do the same.
I offer virtual hugs to any that want them and thank you for reading. 💙