Noli me tangere (Don’t touch me) (But please do)

Something that stresses me out about every day life is how to greet people. Who do you kiss on the cheek? Who do you hug? Is it an insult to shake hands? Half the time I just stand at a safe distance and smile, my body language making it very clear that I have no intention of touching anyone.

If you know me in real life, you could be forgiven for thinking that I dislike touch. That I recoil from physical contact and would prefer to conduct my friendships at arm’s length. Nothing could be further from the truth. Touch is very significant to me. I remember a hug from a friend for ever more. One of my most treasured hugs was from an extremely un-touchy-feely friend, when we had just had some bad news. She spontaneously threw her arms around me and told me how sorry she was. It meant so much more because it was so rare. I love feeling physically close to the people I care about. Nothing is more wonderful to me than cuddling up on the sofa with my family.

So what is the problem?

I overthink things. I don’t spontaneously touch people. I always think about it first. By the time I’m done thinking the moment is gone, usually. Or it has become extremely awkward.

I can actually remember the exact moment this all became a problem for me. I was about ten and I had very recently become properly aware of the facts of life. I now understood, with burning blushing embarrassment, that kissing and cuddling had meaning beyond friendly platonic affection. At my parents’ annual Christmas party, a family friend came up to my Mum and me and offered to give me a kiss. This was purely meant as a friendly greeting, but suddenly everything clicked together in my head, in a totally paranoid way, and for one small moment I thought he must be wanting The Other Kissing. I was terrified and fled. He laughed, unaware of what had gone on in my head, just thinking I was his friend’s daughter being shy.

From that moment, I shied away from hello-kisses.

This is a long introduction to today’s poem, but I wanted to give you the backstory, otherwise you might read it and think I was molested as a child, which I most definitely wasn’t!


It was on the stairs
the offer of a kiss
a new awareness
coursed through me
cold fear
I turned and ran
from the friendly greeting
then and after
no way of unknowing
what I had learned
every touch now
laden with meaning
preceded by thought
by exclamation marks
neon signs
a spotlight.

If I could
I’d throw my arms around you
hold you safe from world and grief
show my love and friendship
cushion all life’s blows

If I could
I’d silence all these whispers
of too much, not you,
hold back, best not,
that keep me bound, away from you.

Until I can
could it be you?
Could you be the one
to open up your arms
to spell it out
“I need a hug
from you”

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013
Linking up to Prose for Thought.

Prose for Thought

13 responses

  1. For me confusion reigns more over one kiss or two as a greeting or farewell – the number of times I have been caught out by this suggests that it can’t just be me! I’m quite a tactile person but there are certain of my friends who I know find touch more uncomfortable or awkward and so with them I shy away from physical contact. Perhaps though they are more like you and overthinking (a feeling I know only too well) rather than unwilling.

    • I think the number of kisses that are culturally accepted as standard increase over time. When I was growing up in Holland it was 2, but by the time I left 3 had become the norm. Who knows, by now people might be up to 4 or 5…

  2. I’m just not a ‘kiss’ person, I find it really awkward to judge whether someone want a hug or not when you meet them, or even when they’re upset. I usually end up doing a bit of an awkward side hug!

    • I know! Part of the awkwardness is trying to work out whether the person would actually like to be hugged or not – I end up in the awkward side hug as well.

  3. *hug*

    I love your observation on life – the small things that we all worry about. I cringe every time I think about going to kiss on the cheek a male colleague from another organisation before I went on maternity leave, only he was going for a hug and I practically kissed him on the lips! Oh the shame!!

    I’m a hugger, and as I have got older I’m much more brazen about it. I just go for it.

    *kisses both your cheeks and bids you adieu* 😉

    • I have so many of those moments!! Which again makes me opt for the fold-arms-and-nod approach to be safe.

      And thanks for all the hugs and kisses! 😀 *blush*

    • It just goes to show that kids grow up on the inside much more quickly than we can see on the outside, and we should probably be a little careful how much we push them on social touch.

    • So nice to cuddle the kids. I loved it when my son got to be old enough to choose to come for a hug. He is very affectionate and will come up and kiss my shoulder randomly or my knee. Bit odd if he does it in public!

  4. I’m afraid I am a very touchy feely person and I forget that not everyone is like me. I remember being really embarrassed when I went up and hugged our local Vicar (he was also the Musical Director for a panto which I directed I hasten to add). He looked a bit awkward and I felt really embarrassed! What a great poem. A perspective I had never thought of before. Thanks for linking up xx

  5. (Just catching on blogs here, running perpetually a little behind on what everyone is writing!) I’m the same exact way – now. But I never used to be. And I wonder very often when that happened. I used to be the person who just hugged everyone everywhere (erm, I don’t think in a trampy way, I just mean I didn’t worry about it too much) and I was very physically affectionate with my friends. I’m not sure when that changed, and I think about this in general a lot: when did I start over-thinking all of these things? Again, I didn’t always do this, but I really do now, exactly how you described. I’m trying to let it go because when I step outside myself and see it from outside, the stuff I over-think seems really ridiculous. I was much more fun before. 🙂

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