skin hunger – our need for physical intimacy

I love massages!! Any kind. Feet. Head. Crazy Thai ones where they stretch and contort your body like a pretzel. Soothing oil ones with dolphin music playing. I like getting my nails done. I love getting my hair washed or done. 

I love physical touch. It’s a weird statement to make but an acknowledgement of truth that is perhaps more pertinent in context to my status as a living-alone Single. Ultimately, all of those things above are more than just self-pampering, they’re a means to have my skin hunger somehow satiated. 

Skin hunger is a need for physical touch – not necessarily sexual in nature. It is a studied phenomena in psychology. Unmet skin hunger has been associated with failure to thrive in babies and infants, and increased anxiety, depression, stress and sleep dysfunction in children and adults. Each individual will have a different level of skin hunger and consequently, the absence of physical touch will be felt more acutely by those whose need is greater. 

Some stages and styles of life are innately more rich in physical contact. Living arrangements that involve others will almost always include physical touch – perhaps of an intimate or sexual nature, maybe because of the presence of small children being nursed, held and wrestled with, or even in the more incidental contact that happens as people work together in the kitchen or move around each other in the bathroom. Certain work environments are more physical – various fields of medicine and therapy, working with children, or coaching certain sports.

Physical touch affirms my presence. It is one thing to grasp my own hand or rub my own neck – but it is different to experience those things externally. It’s a tangible recognition that I hold a place in the physical realm; that I relate kinaesthetically to other people and things around me. 

Physical touch releases hormones that increase wellbeing and decrease stress. 

Physical touch communicates non-verbally a sense of belonging and connection. 

What does physical touch look like for a Single person? 

How is skin hunger appropriately satisfied in non-sexual or romantic contexts?

As I mentioned, I am a physical touch kind of person. I’m likely to grab your arm while I’m talking to you. I will normally go in for a hug and a cheek kiss when greeting someone I know. I love love love (love love) holding babies – especially soothing them to sleep. I love little person hugs and high fives. I even like the absent minded touches kids do when they’re talking to you – playing with your hair or leaning against your leg. I love big hugs from big people – I make sure my Dad gives me a couple every time I see him. For some, pets are a large part of their skin-hunger-meeting regimen. 

Skin hunger is connected with our need for intimacy and equally needs to be met in healthy and helpful ways or we will find ourselves seeking to satisfy it inappropriately. Identifying the degree of skin hunger we feel is important to being able to manage it intentionally. 

What does that look like for you? Or for those in your world? 

friendship that goes the distance

After knowing each other for 25+ years, going to the same church for 16, being travel buddies for 7 and housemates for 5 – my best mate Jacqui (aka, Jac, Jacster, Bert to my Ernie, radio call-sign Cuddly Bear) moved overseas in March 2014.
Many sad faces.

We navigated the transition and now, 2.5 years later, we’ve settled into a new kind of friendship. While we were always confident we’d be able to sustain a long distance friendship we have both been pleasantly surprised to see our bond strengthen and grow.

Here are some things we’ve learned along the way.

Jacqui’s 3 tips

  • Know where your friend is!

The more you understand the context in which your friend is doing life, the better you’re able to share in the journey. It’s a huge blessing that Kim has been able to visit me, see where I live and work, and meet my friends and wider community. Though it’s not quite as good as her re-locating and living with me, having her understand so much of my life now is probably the next best thing.

If you can’t visit, make the effort to get to know about their new home, ‘meet’ the people in their world, ask for photos of the chaotic traffic they encounter. And if you’re the one who has moved away, make sure you stay aware of the place, the people and the circumstances that your friend is still living in. Keep asking the questions that help you stay connected to their world.

  • Don’t expect your friend to guess how you are!

Don’t you just love how a good friend will know exactly how you feel without you having to say a word? Physical distance is a pretty significant barrier to your typical cues of mood (like facial expressions, tone and body language) so it’s unfair to presume that your friend is going to know how you’re feeling and why.…unless you tell them. Resolve to always answer the, “How are you?” question honestly. Help your friend out by removing the guess work, by being open with where you’re at and what you need from them.

  • Decide not to be jealous.

Life is better – and certainly way more fun – with friends! Be a part of helping your friend to thrive in their new/changed environment by encouraging them to invest in new relationships. Be secure enough to know that it won’t change the depth of your friendship. It may even be that your own circle of friends is expanded as a result (I’m convinced that some of my new friends like Kim just as much, if not more, than me)!

Kim’s 3 tips

  • Don’t wait for BIG news – share ALL the news!

Keeping up with the little things is how our friendship remains current and connected. Rather than waiting for the time to write a big long email or to have an extended call/Skype, dropping a quick ‘hello’ message or update on a situation as it’s unfolding is far more reflective of ‘normal’ friendship and keeps one another in the loop.

FaceTime while you’re preparing dinner or doing other things rather than waiting for uninterrupted time (if it’s hard to find) – ultimately, it’s those ‘real-life moments’ that are most absent from long distance friendships and technology makes it possible to experience them together.

  • Don’t rain on the other’s parade.

When something significant happens in each other’s life it’s easy to go straight to the “Oh, I wish I was there!” or “I can’t believe I’m missing this!” This can seem like an expression of connective longing and missing but really is just a big buzz kill. I know you miss me, but isn’t this exciting?! Celebrate first. Champion each other publicly. Don’t make the other’s success or joy about your disappointment or exclusion.

Jacqui and I agreed to assume that we’re ALWAYS missing each other – we only need to express that when doing so is helpful – like when something particularly poignant is happening or when that feeling is overwhelming (refer Jacqui’s second point).

  • Develop new traditions and fun ways to interact.

We make a point to share random ‘awkward moments’ or laugh out loud experiences as soon as they happen. We send links to random vines or gifs that remind us of each other. We have a note book that we each write in and send back and forward with others who are travelling to and from Thailand (we tried the post but it got stolen so now we only trust personal human couriers). It is essentially writing the story of our friendship over this season and it’s fun to read back on it each time it arrives on our side of the world. We celebrate birthdays and important events with secret deliveries or surprises through third parties. We are one another’s number one fan and champion each other whenever the chance arises.

Long distance friendships are hard to sustain but relationships that matter are worth it. Some greater intentionality, adjusting expectations and lots of communication and it’s possible that, like us, you find your friendship bond continuing to strengthen.