Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Are You Touch Deprived?

Here's one proven remedy.

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With the news of the awful UCSB/Isla Vista mass murder and the manifesto of despair left behind by the killer, the blogosphere this month has a renewed interest in the isolation of people in society.

While many factors that lead to such a senseless, heinous act, it does raise the question of what we can do to be more inclusive as a society for those feeling alienated. One simple way to bring people back into the tribe we call America is by touch. "We feel more connected to someone if they touch us," observed Arizona State researcher Laura Guerrero, author of Close Encounters, Communication in Relationships.

Unfortunately, in our hypersexualized society, touch has become a means to an end. "Players" use touch to see how much physical contact will be allowed, and if reciprocated, quickly achieve a hookup. The sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, and the daily drumbeat of teacher-student sexual misconduct stories in the news, have made Americans terrified of even offering a comforting hug for fear it will be misconstrued or lead to legal trouble. Mark Greene recently wrote in The Good Men Project of this societal taboo:

"We are not typically taught that we can touch and be touched as platonic expression of joyful human contact....And what if the lack of platonic touch is causing some men to be far too aggressive towards women, who, as the exclusive gatekeepers for gentle touch, are carrying a burden they could never hope to fully manage?...If men could diffuse their need for physical connection across a much wider set of platonic relationships, it would do wonders for our sense of connection in the world."  

We urge men and women to diffuse the need for physical connection across a much wider set of platonic relationships by one simple and easy step: Take social dance, East Coast Swing, Country Swing, Argentine Tango, salsa, or cotillion.

Don't watch other people touch on Dancing with the Stars—become your own real-life weekly dancing adventure and touch real human beings instead of a TV remote. Become a regular at a local dance scene or start a dance club at your high school or college. You will get that platonic touch we all need with 30 or 40 people in a single evening. You will learn that holding a person's hand doesn't mean it is true love or, indeed, anything romantic or sexual at all. You have to hold hands or be in contact side-to-side for five minutes or longer in a single dance. Dancing teaches the partners to be respectful and courteous, and that there are many transitions in touching another human being, from a strong lead to a playful spin to a gentle brush of a hand.

Dancing is a simple way to include everyone in our community and the easiest way to teach your children to understand how the daily practice of healthy platonic touch will give them a sense of connection in the world.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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