”...the part I actually find hard about being single is that I never get touched, and this is always overlooked and undervalued.”
I ran across that statement in a story at Medium written by Emma Lindsay who is, gleaned from her story titled Being Single is Hard, much younger than most of us who hang out at this blog.
But she's writing about something that affects elders at least as much as people her age. In the past, I've called it “skin hunger.” People also call it “touch hunger.” The meaning is obvious – the primal need of all humans (and, probably, some animals) to be touched, one living being to another.
When I last wrote about touch hunger here, I quoted my friend Ken Pyburn who had explained to me that it is
”...the idea that when, through death, divorce or other circumstance, we live without a partner in old age, we can feel our skin longing, even aching for the touch of another person.”
It can be a sexual longing or not. There is a poignant observation from an old woman, Estelle, who took a class about how to write sex scenes from reporter Steve Almond. He describes her first essay:
”What emerged was miraculous: a heartbreaking scene between an elderly couple in a museum,” explains Almond.
“The woman is full of suppressed longings. She fantasizes about going back to their hotel room and lying back on the bed and letting the man part her legs and her sex. She can’t express these desires out loud, though, so instead, when they get back to their room, the sexual act focuses on the man and his failure to achieve an erection.”
The woman, half a century older than the other students, was shy about reading her essay aloud, but she got through it. And then, as I said in that previous post, Almond's essay really got interesting:
“After she finished reading,” he continued, “Estelle glanced around the room sheepishly. I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:
“'I came here today because I want people to know that elderly people still have desires. Nobody wants to think about it. But we do. I live in a retirement community where it’s mostly women and the men are sort of beat up. But we still have needs. We still need to be touched.'”
Yes, that is so: “We still need to be touched.”
It starts in infancy – babies do not thrive if they are not touched and held – and the need doesn't go away with age.
Some people have been attributing a growing prevalence of skin hunger to fewer people choosing marriage, preferring to live alone. Others believe a great deal of the problem is a result of technology and
”...the disconnected lifestyle a majority of the population leads. In America, work life and student life is often demanding, allowing little time for intimate, one-on-one periods with friends, family and loved ones.
“When individuals do find time to be around loved ones, exhaustion or unhappiness frequently stall or prevent intimate interactions, both of sexual and nonsexual nature.”
I'm not certain I buy that explanation in general, but my reluctance doesn't make the the need less real.
In the past, I have found solace in massage. That hasn't been possible for the last 11 months due to recovery from surgeries but I'm about ready to get back to that once a month or so. Here is something new (to me, anyway) going on to deal with this hunger - professional cuddlers.
At the website of one such enterprise, you can book a cuddler or learn how to become one. Here is a short video from the co-founders of The Cuddlist:
Without being able to explain the reason, I am more comfortable with a masseur or masseuse but that is undoubtedly an individual choice.
I've lived alone, now, for decades and what I have missed during all these years is not the sexual touching as much as the casual touches of two people long familiar with one another – a pat on the shoulder while passing by, holding hands on a walk, the warmth of another person sitting or sleeping next to me.
But, as I am suddenly and acutely aware after the death of Ollie the cat last week, our pets go a long way to helping meet this mutual need.
What's your take on this?