Consider This: The Meaning of Physical Touch in My Life As a Single Woman - Verily

Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman's life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we're considering the role of physical touch in the lives of single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other's experience. The reflection from a married woman can be found here.

Physical touch of any kind is not a constant in my daily life.

Over the past several years, my career has taken me away from my family and around the country—moving from one big metropolitan area to another as I take on new jobs or roles. I love the adventure. It allows me to experience new things in new places.

I get to meet people and form new friendships, but that takes time. And with a busy work schedule, I don’t always have much extra time or energy to put into friend making. I have made some amazing friends in the different places I’ve lived, but distance makes them hard to maintain when I move away. And I have to start all over.

Moving every year or two has not been great for my dating life, either. I haven’t set enough roots or met the right person for a long-term relationship.

So all of this said, especially when I’m caught up with work, I can go an entire week or two without so much as a hand on my shoulder.

It’s easy to ignore the lack of touch when you’re busy and content. But sometimes, you just need a hug. Or any touch of consolation, reassurance, acknowledgement, or love—a gentle hand on your shoulder, a teasing tap. Maybe you had a bad day or are just feeling lonely. It seems simple, but touch can be hard to come by without a significant other, family, or friends around.

The challenges of physical touch in dating

When it comes to dating, the desire for physical touch and the lack of its consistency in my life has complicated decision making. I’ve found you can give in to your desire for physical touch, but it doesn’t always lead to a meaningful relationship. More often than not, the distraction of physical intimacy actually makes it harder to form a real connection—and can also prolong a relationship, serious or casual, that isn’t right.

There’s a difference between compatibility and chemistry. Yet they’re easy to confuse. Take these examples:

Dragging it out: I stayed in my first serious relationship, that objectively I knew wouldn’t work out long-term, because I didn’t want to give up the hand-holding, tight embraces, make outs, close dancing, and other intimate things. I liked—and longed for—the attention, both giving and receiving it. This may seem shallow, but given our hormonal inclination toward touch, it makes sense. It took me a while to realize that it was our chemistry that kept our relationship going, not our compatibility.

Zero physical intimacy: I once dated a guy (let’s call him Paul) who after about five dates, did nothing more than hug me. I was surprised and a little impatient, thinking, What was his deal? What’s he waiting for? It didn’t end up working out, and it was probably the easiest end to a dating relationship I ever had. I was definitely attracted to Paul, and not just physically. But the absence of intimate touches made it a much less emotional and difficult end. There were no love hormones involved! Physical touch is an important part of dating, but this just shows that it’s easier to let go without much of it!

Too much, too soon: In direct contrast, I later dated a guy (let’s call this one Jeff), whom I had a heavy make-out session with on our first date after a night of bar-hopping. We continued to do intimate things on the following few dates. Then Jeff texted me, saying he didn’t think we should continue seeing each other. This hurt more than other endings because of the intimacy we had reached in such a short time. Oxytocin had done its work on me. If I had taken it slow, my emotions wouldn’t have been as heightened, and I wouldn’t have been invested so early on.

Regretfully, there are other dating fails in my past like these. For the time being, they did satisfy my desire for romantic physical touch. Some lasted a few dates, others a few months. They were great while they lasted. But when he or I broke it off, I ended up feeling more lonely than before.

Fostering connection in a season of singleness

The truth is, the experience of living without consistent loving touch can be isolating. But trying to make it happen in mismatched dating relationships (as I’ve done) is also lonely, in the end. If it isn’t a fully compatible connection, it won’t truly satisfy you. So what’s a girl to do?

Sometimes, it’s simple touches that mean a lot—like greeting friends and other important people in my life with a warm embrace and saying goodbye the same way. Growing up, I rarely hugged my siblings or even my parents. They were always around—sometimes more than I wanted them to be! But now, every hug, head on a shoulder, playful punch, or hair stroke means so much more. I’m much more liberal with how I show my affection and love for them and my friends, through touch.

This might sound funny, but probably one of the most effective ways I’ve found to satisfy my need for physical touch is adopting a cat. Just being able to pick her up for a cozy hug, stroke her soft fur, and nap with her by my side has eased my need for physical touch. I definitely don’t treat her as a substitute for a person, but we have our own kind of relationship where touch leads to loyalty.

Touch is one of our innate senses as humans, so we can’t exactly stifle it. In the seasons when we may not feel like we have enough of it, we can foster intimacy and find meaning in other areas of our lives.

Time spent focusing on other relationships in your life, your career, hobbies, and other things that make you happy isn’t insignificant. Not only is it good in and of itself, it helps manage the lack of physical touch—and to prepare for a healthier romantic connection when it comes along.

Do you have an experience about physical touch you'd like to share? Tell us here and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.