Space Invaders (aka: A Touchy Subject)

A stranger hugged me yesterday. It was during the course of a group ELL conversation, and he was trying to illustrate some point. I stiffened, and patiently endured the awkward moment until the stranger pulled away. Later, he seemed to realize the faux pas he had committed and apologized profusely.

“It’s okay,” I assured him. But inside, I was thinking the opposite. It was really not okay.

I am not a hugger.

awkward-hugs

 

Not because I am cold and unaffectionate by nature. In fact, I am generous with hugs and cuddles with my kids, a strong maternal instinct at work. I offer the usual hugs and kisses to relatives or long-lost family friends when the occasion presents itself. But beyond that, I am not into being touchy-feely, preferring the safe virtual {{{HUGS}}} of internet peeps. (Even the obligatory handshake makes me want to reach for a bottle of hand-sanitizer, but that’s a different story).

Have I always been this way? It’s hard to say. I didn’t date at all in college before I met my now ex-husband. And when we married, I was the perfect gift — a chaste, untouched little Christian wifey. Just like that, I learned, my body was no longer my own. According to my ex-husband (and, apparently, the Bible), my body belonged to him, not to me. Translation: it was my wifely duty to do whatever he wanted, even when I didn’t like it or feel like it.

Unfortunately, I also learned that I hated sex. It was an always uncomfortable, mostly painful, rarely pleasurable event that I grudgingly accepted as my fate. The moment it was over, I couldn’t wait to scoot away to my own little edge of our king-sized bed, as far away as possible from the person who insisted on putting me through such torture night after night.

Okay, maybe torture is too dramatic of a word. But still, it was awful, and I hated it.

As the years passed, and nothing got better, I developed an aversion. Not only to sex itself, but to anything that might lead to it. That included kisses, hugs, and cuddling of any kind. But the bigger I drew my personal space bubble, the more my ex insisted on invading it. The more I expressed my discomfort with sex, the more he insisted we have it. The more we had it, the bigger my aversion grew. And so on.

Long story short, after seventeen years of yuck, I got divorced. (Happy ending).

But the aversion to being touched remains.

control yourself

I did learn, thanks to a fling with a guy we’ll call my “post-divorce experiment,” that cuddling, when it’s wanted, can be quite nice. However, something inside me freezes ice cold at the uninvited touch of another person. When other humans unknowingly step inside my bubble of personal space, panic boils up like a geyser, and I instinctively begin to search for an escape route.

So how do I avoid situations that may lead to the violation of my personal space? Maybe I should stop showering every morning. Maybe I could start a fashion line of barbed-wire accessories, and call it Every Rose Has Its Thorn. Or, more simply, avoid uncomfortable real life situations with strangers by staying home in my safe little cave, behind the glowing computer screen, where {{{HUGS}}} are totally acceptable.

virtual hugz

Viva la Vida Virtual (aka: Be There)

Our Wi-Fi stopped working yesterday for like, five whole minutes. In our house, that constitutes an emergency. “Fix it, Mo-oooom!” groaned my kids, who are convinced that I can now fix anything computer and network-related. “I was in the middle of a video game/homework research/Skyping with friends!”

tech addict kidsI’m pretty sure my household isn’t the only one like this. It’s a fact of life; we now live in a society that is oversaturated with tech. Wearable tech, smartphone tech, computer tech — it’s everywhere. And thanks to the IoT (Internet of Things), all of our millions and billions of tech devices can even connect to the internet and communicate with each other.

Ten years ago, when the internet had made the leap from a cool new trend to an everybody-has-to-have-it necessity, we all marveled and said, “We are more connected than we ever have been before.” Which was true. Only now, we are more connected than ever to the 100th power.

Or are we?

looking at cell phone

What does it mean to be “connected?” Is it really about the invisible streams of data — the googols of imperceptible bits flowing through the air, linking one computer to the next? Is connection the ability to trade emoji smiles and offer virtual {{{hugs}}} when someone is struggling? Are we more connected because of the speed with which we can post a pretty photo or meaningful quote, then click like on that of another fellow human being? It is amazing, isn’t it? We are now so connected, that we can share every bit of our lives without ever being in the same room. We can be there without being there.

And we forget.

staring at computer screen

We become so absorbed in our virtual worlds, that we lose sight of what it means to live a full and rich life. We’ve created a new kind of normal, in which we stare at silent photos of nature scenes and drool over plates of well-presented exotic foods. We huddle in groups, hunched over our phones, each chuckling at some private joke which doesn’t exist beyond the screen. We forget how he throws back his head as he laughs, eyes catching the light. We stop noticing the light and airy way she walks, as though dancing on tiptoe. The tiny details of the real world are faded, like an Instagram photo with a vintage filter.

We forget what it means to be there.

There, in the moment. When the dark clouds peel away, revealing a fiery red sunset. And the air smells so damp and rich with fresh rain that you breathe it in. And not for a moment do you think, “I must take a photo of this gorgeous sunset to post on Facebook!” Because you are too busy being there. Tasting that spicy shrimp, drizzled with garlic butter. Holding her hand as you stroll through the city, paying attention to the lines and curves that form each building. Listening to your daughter as she tells a funny story about what happened at school that day. Leaning forward, drinking in the details about the people who surround you. The fragrant smell of soap, mingled with minty toothpaste. The scuffed shoes, worn hands.

real connection puzzle piecesThe good parts of life that stoke your senses and settle in your memories don’t translate well across a fiber optic underground cable. They don’t always appear on screen. Ten years from now, you won’t remember the goofy cat video your brother-in-law’s cousin shared on your Facebook wall. Your text conversations and virtual adventures will be forgotten as quickly as PDAs. The things that will matter then are all around you now — live, and in 3D. Imagine! You can travel to countless new locations anywhere in the world. You can get up close and have face-to-face conversations with real, live people. You can be there. You can connect with the world at real-time speed, with no lags. What’s more, you won’t even need Wi-Fi.

real people talking over coffee