Keep in touch, make contact, only connect

A proper hug, with a simple, kind, loving intention, is the best prevention for loneliness

The best medicine

We use these words as metaphor. We don’t actually mean touch each other when we say ‘keep in touch’; we don’t mean touching someone when we make contact with them… EM Forster’s epigram “only connect” was his suggesting nothing more than a cerebral connection: no actual touching, thanks.

And that’s where we’ve gone wrong.

Cats have no hang-ups about being in touch

Cats need no excuse to cuddle up together

This is the first of a series of posts about touch, connection, contact, being hands-on. Touch is one of the three keys to curing loneliness – and for that matter, solving many of our human ills and failings.

Gerry Pyves, who trained me in bodywork techniques (aka massage), told us on our first session that he strongly believed that if everyone had one hour of massage every week, the NHS would be redundant. It sounded pretty outrageous at the time, but as I learned and observed and listened and read and experienced, I became convinced that he was right.

Massage – expert, intuitive, safe bodywork – does far more than make you feel relaxed, or smoothing out knots in muscles. It affects your mind as much as your body, and long-term can bring about radical changes that would amaze anyone who isn’t in the know.

More than massage, touch is the most neglected and misunderstood of our five senses, but one of the most important. Touch is critical in the very early stages of life, and probably the last sense we relinquish when we die.

But the matter of touch, or the lack of it, never comes up in discussions about loneliness. I’ve been monitoring this for 18 months – I have a Google alert for the word ‘loneliness’ and must have read hundreds of articles, blog posts, papers and studies about the subject. The only time the importance of touch has been implied was in short articles about someone inventing gadgets to hug you – most recently a vest which will ‘hug’ you when your beloved is away. But these are mechanical solutions, which don’t provide the living energy we need.

There is more than enough evidence – despite the lack of research into the sense of touch in mammals, let alone humans – to show that a key cause of loneliness is the lack of touch, and not just the lack of social activity. The sad irony is that the simplest of touches  – putting your hand on someone else’s shoulder, arm, hand – is the most effective way of dismissing loneliness. It needs no words, no explanation, no expertise – only a kindly intention. It’s not dangerous or expensive; it’s free, simple, and universal.

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6 comments on “Keep in touch, make contact, only connect

  1. Jan says:

    Touch …? OH YES!! Massage … ? Nooooooo!!!! ;o) Personally I LOVE a ‘touch’ …. the very best touch can come from a complete stranger .. it happened to me last week …. I took my elderly mother for a morning hospital appointment – I was in uniform as I’d worked the night before and had not yet been to bed. Small talk during the appointment with the staff (who of course all understand ‘nights’) led to one nurse simply touching me on my arm ….. That touch said .. “I know what it’s like to work nights, I know you can’t always get your sleep because life is still there, I’ve been where you are, you’re doing a fine job, take care of yourself, you’re not on your own” …. it just said “keep up the good work … good for you” … It was enough to keep me going for some time to come. Definitely a ‘connection’. Massage however …? It’s probably a failing in me but far too intimate for a stranger – I’ve only ever had one and didn’t enjoy it at all!!! x

    • Arabella says:

      Lovely story, Jan, thanks. Isn’t it amazing how much can be communicated with a moment’s touch? There’s so much information conveyed through the lightest of contact – we humans can be very subtle and perceptive through touch where we are thick-skinned with words… As for the massage, it sounds like you had the wrong person for a first experience. You can have a fantastic massage in five minutes, fully clothed! When I’m next over, maybe…?

  2. Dion Burn says:

    Sometimes, I think touch is all I’ve ever been ultimately after, yet it’s been virtually reduced to taboo in this society that is afraid to do anything wrong or offend anyone.

    • Arabella says:

      Thanks, Dion – you’ve summed up the problem very succinctly. It’s crazy, what we’ve done in the name of ‘rights’. What are we doing to ourselves??

  3. Ruth says:

    Brilliant Arabella, Connie’s dad (when we were still communicating reasonably!) said he thought part of his difficulties came from his mother having TB when he was born so for his first 3 months he was in a cot in a nursery, being held to be fed and put in a pram to go out with his dad a few times a day and that was all the physical contact he had. He is still not a well man.
    Rob Plant Simply Massage near Bradford gives AWESOME massages-very focussed and caring-but completely professional.
    Dipping my toe into the dating arena again though, I am concerned that guys call themselves “tactile” as a euphemism for “when can we have sex?”…so then I back off any friendly contact so as not to mislead then…

    • Arabella says:

      Poor little boy – poor adult. I wonder if much research is being done into childhood touch and its effects – I’d bet my last quid on lots of mental health problems or syndromes disorders etc having their roots in lack of touch as much as anything else. Thanks, Ruth. x

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