Touch Me Not: How to Date When You Hate Physical Affection

Love and Sex

Touch Me Not: How to Date When You Hate Physical Affection

Illustration: Arati Gujar

I’ve hated being touched for as long as I can remember. Growing up, family gatherings with more than 10 relatives under one roof were the stuff my nightmares were made of. The mere thought of them rushing in to hug me would immediately send me scurrying in the other direction – sadly, all exits points would be blocked by my noisy relatives. So I’d awkwardly smile and reluctantly give them a side-hug, hurriedly doing a five-second mental countdown before freeing myself of their clutches.

Initially, I didn’t think much of my obvious discomfort with physical affection; maybe I was just allergic to over-enthusiastic relatives. Over time, I discovered I was the exact opposite of Katrina Kaif gyrating to “Zara zara touch me”. Where other people experience butterflies in their stomach at the thought of cuddling, I only cringe. Just my luck, then, to land a family of huggers and friends who hold hands and high-five more often than the number of flops in Uday Chopra’s career.

For a long time, I thought that I’d survived the worst. And then I started dating.

What no one tells you about dating as someone who hates being touched, is that you will have no choice but to constantly be on alert mode. It’ll feel a lot like being an out-of-place cactus in an overcrowded local: There’s absolutely no way you – or anyone around you – can feel comfortable. The hardest part is explaining to people that it’s not a condition or a disease: It’s not like I don’t want to express affection. It’s just that my body is still trying to find a way to.

What’s worse is that a lot of dates tend to take my hesitation with physical intimacy as a personal insult. Or worse, as a challenge.

Like Mia in Princess Diaries, even I’d imagined that my first kiss was going to be magical. Except it was the worst, for reasons beyond my control. Even though I’d naively believed that I was ready for it, the constant anxiety coupled with the fear of being touched made me shiver and keep my eyes open until my boyfriend had to ask me not to. Not only did it completely take away the spontaneity and charm away from the much hyped “first kiss”, but I also didn’t have a good time. And the worst part is, how I felt that day is how I continue to feel about kissing.

In the age of puppy love and innocent teenage romance, this discomfort with physical affection didn’t affect the outcome of my relationships as severely as it does now. Back then, we were all just curious kids having fun and having a boyfriend was a big deal in the first place. At that time, nobody was looking at intimacy as a contest.

But now, when we have willingly adopted the “DTF” lifestyle, physical intimacy is the end-all of dating. Apps might have democratised dating, but for someone like me, it’s especially hard to get into relationships when you’re unsure about what you’re ready to do and how far you can go. As I found out in the last few years, I could be ready to kiss someone but at the same time be extremely uncomfortable about him being on top of me. It’s an unfortunate reality but normal declarations of love like an affectionate peck on the cheek, consensual foreplay, or something as lovely as holding hands with a crush, fails to elicit any feeling other than fear.

What’s worse is that a lot of dates tend to take my hesitation with physical intimacy as a personal insult. Or worse, as a challenge. It’s resulted in a string of bad experiences that ensured that I look at my inability to display affection as a defect.

It’s only in the last four years that I’ve started warming up to the idea. Now hugs don’t scare me — not even with men (although I’m much more comfortable around women). But I also can’t help but compensate for my lack of physical affection by emotionally showing people that I love them. Over the last 10 years however, I’ve realised one thing: Sex might be out of my reach, but hugs can be more therapeutic than I’d guessed.