Disclaimer: I don’t know about other strugglers’ personal space, and I’m certain that some folks are uncomfortable with hugs and physical touch. In writing this post, I’m simply conveying my own desires and how they help and hurt my own walk with Christ.
Last night, I went with some seminary folks to a brewery here in town where they serve $2 pitchers on Thursday nights. It’s becoming tradition to sit and talk about one’s week over a glass or two of beer and relax with friends. The conversation is always animated and a lot of fun.
Two guys who are friends but whom I haven’t seen in a while were there. We got caught up on each others’ lives and laughed a little, talked seriously a little. At the end of the night, the two of them hugged me goodbye. Reader, that may seem like a small gesture to you, but it isn’t insignificant to me.
I didn’t grow up in a very touchy family. We didn’t hug a lot. I’ve watched another friend of mine interact with his family and his brother will be draped across him on the couch while they watch TV, or his sister will be sitting right up next to him, even when there’s a whole couch to be had. But because I’ve never really experienced that sort of physicality on a regular basis myself, I don’t touch people very often, if ever. It seems like a violation of their personal space or something. So often, when I’m in a social situation, I am standing there hoping someone will breach my personal space and make it socially acceptable in that moment to touch.
But I don’t give off cues to that desire, for a couple of reasons. First, it feels like it makes me inordinately needy. Second, I’m afraid it would be misinterpreted either by the recipient or by a bystander who knows I am gay as being an inappropriate gesture.
[Warning! Rant to follow:] On a related note, I scrolled through a ridiculous number of pictures on a google search just to find the one I used in this article. Every other picture I found was either poorly shot, awkward, sexual or had nothing to do with the actual subject. In other words, apparently not even the internet (and its users) seem to be able to separate out a hug between two men as anything but sexual. [End rant.]
In either case, touching another guy friend is not terribly easy for me to muster up the courage to do. For some reason or other, God seems to have designed me to process affirmation (even love) through means of touch. If a friend loves me and spends two hours with me but watching a movie on a separate couch, it takes a bit of work for me to feel loved. (As a side note, 2 hours is a decent chunk of time, so I usually get the message that they love me in that duration.) But a friend who gives me a hug causes me to feel loved almost instantaneously.
Going without hugs for any significant length of time causes me to feel anxious and isolated, even though I have a wide variety of friends. That anxiety and desire to be touched makes temptation very difficult to decline. Sy Rogers rightly points out in his story that to the person who is struggling, “bad love is better than no love at all.” The same idea applies to touch.
So my friends did me a wonderful kindness last night. I’ve been incredibly stressed of late with money, school, my brother’s wedding…just to name a few things. But I am thankful for the hugs I got last night and for the godly men (and women) God has put in my life lately. They are a means by which God shows His gracious provision to fight sin in my life.