Tuesday, March 13, 2007


After reading a couple posts about touching in a social context, I found myself composing long-winded comments which I decided to nix and post here.

amelia's discussion of types of touching on laughtear focuses on sexual touching versus purely platonic-social touching. This doesn't quite match my experience, but it was difficult for me to say exactly what about it bothered me. Then I remember this post by Miko on mindonfire which re-introduced me to the ancient Greek split concepts for love: eros ("... passionate love, with sensual desire and longing...") philia ("... includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity"), agape ("... feelings for a good meal, one's children, and the feelings for a spouse"). I really liked Miko's thought that relationships are a mix of the three types of love on various scales, and I wonder if we can apply that to touching too. The eros scale would describe sexual/romantic intent, philia would describe comradeship, and agape would describe friendship.

I don't know that I was ever a big hugger (outside of immediate family), but I've come around in the past few years. That being said, there's the peculiar set of unspoken guy rules that I'll try to speak about.
  • Don't hug one's married female friends too often (or too long!!!). No one understands when you look at them and say "Eros 1, Philia 3, Agape 7."
  • Do make sure to give the right vibe of non-romantic friendliness when hugging single female friends. Again, don't say "Philia 3, Agape 6," but it might help to think and project it. It's probably better to not come up with an Eros number for each of one's single female friends. Not just probably.
  • Hugging one's male friends too often isn't ok. In fact, finding some socially acceptable way to physically connect with male friends can be problematic. There's the Eros 1, Philia 7, Agape 2 fist touch or forearm-bump, but I'm not a fan. I've also never been a fan of the hip-hop hug (that's the handshake plus left-arm clap-hug; Eros 1, Philia 5, Agape 6) because it seems so media influenced, but maybe I should re-think that. Some connection is better than none, right?
I'm re-thinking several touching-related discussions I've recently had. One was on my discomfort with the "friendly massage." I was probably too focused on the eros scale and not enough on the agape. The "public cuddle?" Can't say my thoughts on it are changed, as the eros involved is difficult to deny. I had to re-orient my views on touching with respect to dance before this paradigm occurred to me, or else I couldn't have continued with it. There's a lot of touching in social dance, and it's critically important to approach it on the philia and agape scale, rather than with an eros orientation.

Ok, there it is, unfocused, and only slightly edited. John on touching.


  1. i wouldn't characterize my discussion of touch as being about sexual vs. platonic touching. rather i was thinking of my comments as an effort to point out that touch can be both sexual and platonic. i'm specifically concerned that people recognize that the simple existence of sexual potential in touch does not negate the possiblity of all other varieties of touch.

    i do like, and agree with, the notion of a continuum of these multiple kinds of touch and love. i think most relationships involve more than one variety of love; and many involve more than one variety of touch. a romantic relationship should, in my opinion, incorporate all the varieties of love.

    interesting thoughts. as usual.

  2. I'm not sure I totally by the compartmentalization of love's many forms in your dissection of acts of hugging.

    Some people also just feel more comfortable with physical contact. They're naturally more prone to huggage, without thinking too much about its symbolic implications.

    Others, meanwhile, don't mind the chance at some grope action off their platonic friends. No real intentions, just a short term thrill.

    Even the notion of a continuum, I think, fails to capture the elusive and utterly subjective, contextual meaning of a hug.

    And of course, I try not to overthink it. Most of the time, I just go with it. Eros, philia, and agape are felt at times we can't always predict. I don't think there's a hug-ology. Unless you're from the planet Vulcan.

  3. amelia: That really helps clarify your point in my mind. Thanks.

    craig: It's certainly true that there's infinite variety and context associated with any given action. But to the extent that language is an attempt to lock down the subtlety of experience, this attempt resonated with me.

    Also, there are certainly people who are more and less comfortable with touch, but groping off one's platonic friends?!