Growing up in a big, Latin American family, I developed a concept of personal space that’s a bit different from that of other people. I’m used to people pressing lips to my cheeks in greeting. I don’t bat an eye if a stranger hugs me like we’ve known each other for years. I hardly notice when my brother plops his legs onto my lap, or when my mom blusters into my room and makes her home on my bed while chattering away about what happened at work, or when my dad slings an arm across my shoulders mid-conversation with one of my uncles.
The language of my household is one of casual touches. Well, and Portuguese. But, of the two, it’s the former that I’ve been aching for ever since I started college.
I don’t think I quite realized how much my freshman year. Everything about going away for school was a novelty, and there was so much to do that I was kept busy enough that I didn’t have time to dwell on things. It’s only now, my first semester of sophomore year, that I’ve settled into the college routine well enough for things to slow down. For me to have more time to think. And towards the beginning of October this year, I had a startling thought:
When was the last time I got a hug?
The answer had been August, when my parents dropped me off at my dorm for the school year. I had gone a whole month without a single hug.
This isn’t because I’m a loner or anything. I’m actually surrounded by a lot of really awesome, nice people. But, it’s like there’s this unspoken aversion to touch that prevents us from showing each other the casual affection I’m so used to at home. Not that I’m expecting people to be as touchy-feely with me as my family is, but even brushing by someone’s shoulder seems like some sort of social taboo at times.
As a result, I can go entire days without touching anybody in any capacity. And that’s really messed up.
Human beings are social creatures. Being isolated has detrimental effects on our mental health. And it’s not just emotional isolation that can hurt us—the physical can hurt, too. Psychological evidence suggests that not touching others can also hurt our mental health.
Every time I go home from school, I feel like I have to recover from being at school. Not because my classes are hard, but because I need to catch up on all the touching I didn’t get while here. And I don’t think I’m the only one feeling this way. I think it’s just that it seems like an awkward topic to breach. But, I feel that everyone would benefit if we opened dialogues about this. Slip more casual touches into your interactions, and ask your friends for hugs. They probably need one as much as you do.