Fear of Hugging

After Brooke’s intervention, I began to seek physical contact more and more from my friends. It was a balm, a blessing to my heart and soul, and something I desperately craved. In turn, hugging someone became a way for me to bless them—to lay on hands and whisper a prayer for their heart—and let them know that someone cared about them. When the concept of fear is introduced as a limit to physical contact, I wonder at the motivation behind that fear.

A girl with whom I was once acquainted shared the following concern with me: she hesitated to hug others because she feared they would get the wrong impression about her. Particularly if the contact would involve a guy, she was afraid that she would make them think she was romantically interested in them, and so she withheld. I can’t really fault her for this reasoning—it is a poor reflection on those who mistook her in the past, rather than on her personally—but it did sadden me. If people, particularly Christians, are interpreting the act of hugging as a romantic one, then we have a problem.

This problem, this fear of physical intimacy and openness with friends, has so many causes and so many impacts that it is difficult to discuss clearly. Allow me to resort to headings for the sake of clarity.

Problem 1: A fundamental understanding of what a hug is and is not

I tend to think of a hug as similar to the holy kiss mentioned in the New Testament of the Christian bible. It is a greeting, a connection, and an indication of a deeper relationship than a mere glance or smile can convey. We are part of a family, and therefore we should hug. Hugging helps communicate our familial relationship.

Hugging doesn’t just communicate relationship though–if that was its only purpose, we could just as easily wear name tags, or branded t-shirts, or just tell people, “Hey, you and I go to church together and therefore are part of the body of Christ and subsequently are similar to family.” Hugging communicates all this to the heart, to a person’s very soul, so they know it. It can be a means of communicating more clearly.

It is not, therefore, a sign of romantic intentions. A holy kiss is not a french kiss, just as a hug (even full body from the front–side hugs feel insincere and shallow and communicate nothing) is not like… I don’t know, giving someone a Valentine’s Day card, or sleeping together, or groping them. It is platonic, and we shouldn’t hug people intending it to be anything other than that, nor should it be interpreted otherwise.

Problem 2: A fear of conveying romantic intentions

If we fear physical contact because it may communicate a message we do not intend, then we need to learn how to communicate our intentions more clearly. You should already know whether you are romantically interested in someone or not. I tend to think that once you’ve made up your mind you are interested, you ought to come out and let them know (unless, of course, they are already in a relationship or have made it known they are not interested, in which case the point is moot–just treat them normally). Regardless, you control your own communication and means thereof, and hugging shouldn’t be a means of communicating romantic intent, as I’ll cover in the next section.

Problem 3: A fear of the interpretation of romantic intentions

Even if we do not intend to communicate romantic intent, the other person might interpret such. My friend, who was afraid to give the wrong impression to someone, ostensibly didn’t want to be a stumbling block to a member of the opposite sex, but I wonder if she really refused to engage for their sake or for her own.

Fear is never a worthwhile motivation, for it taints all that it touches, and in this case I think it was misplaced. You don’t fear that your brother or sister will interpret romantic and subsequently incestuous intentions from a hug, so why should your friend? The only reason is because that friend doesn’t know you well. If you have hidden away your true feelings so much that they might believe you have romantic intentions, then a problem exists in the relationship that must be dealt with openly and honestly. And if the problem has arisen through garbled communications (I have known many women who have no romantic interest in a man, but flirt nonetheless), then we need to re-examine our own words and actions to figure out where the misunderstanding originated.

We only have two choices: we can either let our fear keep us from blessing others, or we can share ourselves openly enough that the other person, in this case, knows that we only have pure intentions. Of course, that sentence is structured such to make the latter the only acceptable answer, which it is. We need to get over ourselves and build more intimate relationships.

SilverPen’s First Podcast

I’ve mentioned before (through MySpace and Twitter) that I have some interest in podcasting, but it was the somewhat indecipherable interest of a young boy staring at shiny things. “Why do you need that?” an older me might ask, and younger me would simply point and exclaim, “Shiny!”

There was no need to be met by podcasting, no call for me to do it or demand that I record my voice. But it seemed kind of cool, and I wanted to join the cool crowd who recorded things that were subsequently listened to on the Internet.

Of course, I never did it, because I had no content. What would I speak on? Who would care? What’s the point? All valid questions, and all made completely moot last Tuesday.

I was speaking on the subject of Romance at FnC (the college ministry I helped found a few years ago) and decided not to print my notes out. Now that I have a laptop capable of super-mega-cool things like staying-on-for-more-than-thirty-minutes, I thought I’d just use that instead of wasting paper.

And since I’d have my MacBook there, and Macs are known for their sexy audio capture and editing capabilities, I thought, “Huh, why not hit a record button before I start?”

And that is what I did. I cut out the very beginning when I was moving chairs and the very end, which were just weekly announcements. Other than that, it’s unedited, for which I partially apologize. Since FnC is somewhat discussion-focused, you can’t hear everyone on the track, and there are a number of clicks and claps at the beginning that hail from unknown sources.

In general, I was very impressed with the MacBook’s built-in microphone, and it was a pretty easy process. Publishing a podcast was less straightforward, but thanks to the Podcasting plugin, even that is relatively easy.

The talk was around 34 minutes, so if you’re interested in hearing me ramble about romance, movies, Arthurian legends, chastity, and purity, I invite you to give it a listen.

Available on iTunes and for local download [mp3 format] (though I really encourage iTunes as they have way more bandwidth than me!).

As with everything published by me, this podcast is licensed under a CC BY-ND-NC license.

PS There was also a request for the notes I used during this talk. I’d recommend holding off on reading them until after you listen to the podcast as it totally ruins the surprise 😉 But if you like, you can get a PDF copy of them for your perusal.

This subject will be the focus of a chapter in my upcoming book, Common Thoughts.

What is Love?

This question was posed on Writerface.com and I thought I’d share my words on the subject.

Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.
— G.K. Chesterton

In The Once and Future King, Arthur learns of the bestiality of men by studying with Merlin. We are wicked, cruel creatures, akin to ants and not geese, whose joy is derived from battle and dominance. What is more astonishing to Arthur is that those who want to fight are not the ones who get hurt. The knights in their fine armour and atop their mighty warsteeds rarely receive more than a bruising and are ransomed back to their family. Meanwhile, the peasants and militias are rounded up to fill out the army, to create a jolly good show, and are slaughtered en masse.

This all seemed horribly unfair to Arthur, as I’m sure it does to you, and so Arthur devised a cunningly romantic plan. First, he decided that the key to stopping the senseless violence inherent in the feudal system that surrounded and embodied his kingdom was to give some sense to those aggressive emotions. To that end, King Arthur formed the Knights of the Round Table. The august individuals who sat at this table represented the most honourable and chivalrous of knights, not because they were truly all that honourable or chivalrous, but because Arthur essentially tricked them into channeling their might into right.

The job of the knights was to patrol the kingdom and discern where might was being used to bully and harm innocent people. In this manner, the knights could go about bashing heads, but would be constrained to bashing the heads of people who deserved it. Unfortunately, this plan was not suitably romantic enough, and the knights found themselves bored as peace began to take hold in the kingdom. Before long, they were returning to fighting one another.

So Arthur dreamed up another plan and set his knights to the quest for the Holy Grail. By command of God, they were to traverse the land, fighting all manner of monsters and demons to discover the grail from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. This should have been perfect, because of course the grail didn’t really exist, or at least it did not in England.

You see, T.H. White was working with an older definition of romance, one steeped in the genre of romance literature and one which I find infinitely more appealing than “enjoying someone’s company” or, “respect, time, and space.” In romance literature, the focus is on the unattainable. Romance is about a quest, and its goal is one that cannot be fully realized.

There is something beautiful and poetic about this to me. Love cannot be grasped, only given. We cannot truly love until we have been truly loved. And above all, the quest never ends. The heights of love are uncharted and always over the horizon, always beyond the compass point, and so we venture on to see what we can see.

Moreover, romance and love inspires us to be greater than we might otherwise be, to become better men and women for the attainment of a higher goal, whether that is the love of an individual or becoming worthy of finding the grail.

Unfortunately, we are often too shortsighted to recognize the need for it. Love is not, when it comes right down to it, horribly complex, and so it took a simple man like Arthur to say, “No, this should be no more!” Arthur observed that there must be a better way, and set forth his knights upon that path.

Maturity leads us to the path, romance spurs us upon the quest, and love is the ultimate reward that is always just out of reach. It is a heart bursting with yearning, a gift that never exhales or ends, and a promise eternal.

How We Met

The first question we were asked when I introduced Matthew to someone new was, “How did you two meet?” When I answered, they would “aww” and smile and sigh. For a lot of people, the most romantic part of a relationship is the beginning. They feed on stories of indifference turned to affection and then commitment. They wonder how the “magic” happened to their friends and where can they find some?

This theme is played on in countless novels, movies, and magazines. In fact, most media stop the story right after the first kiss. Girl meets strange boy. Girl and boy become friends. Girl and boy discover they have fallen in love. Sometimes, girl and boy get married. The story isn’t how the girl and boy work through difficulties and grow together as people, it’s how the girl and boy discover love at all.

I felt like everytime I was asked how I met Matthew, I was marking myself on some spreadsheet titled: “Ways to find your significant other.” For most of my peers, the options were the same: school, church, work, friends . . . All of the couples I know met this way. But I know even more single people who go to the same places and haven’t met anyone. Or, they meet someone, but it doesn’t work out.

But what about the “magic?” There must have been something different about Matthew on that day, something to show me that this was “the one.”

To be honest, there wasn’t any magic when I met Matthew. I thought he was nice. I didn’t think anything else about him for about five months because I was dating someone. I had no way of knowing that the dark haired boy I talked philosophy with on Tuesday nights was my future husband, just like I had no idea that the boy I went ice skating with and took choir with would not be. The magic came later, after we were a couple. When we looked back onto how we met, that day seemed to stand out more than it had before. We remembered it differently. We made it special.

I think what is truly magical about meeting Matthew, is that out of all the people I met at church and in school, he is the one that became a story. At the risk of taking all the joy out of love-stories and sounding completely un-romantic: Matthew was just one of many until I chose to date him. I had several “crushes.” There were things about him that I just didn’t like. But we dated, and we kept dating. We dated purposefully and searchingly. We asked ourselves, “Will this work?” We fought. Eventually, it became apparent that we had something “special” and we were committed to making it last.

I could say to be patient, there is someone out there, wait for “the one”, but that would be a lie and would not help. I don’t know if there is someone for everyone. I do know that there are a lot of people in the world, and probably quite a few of them would get along very well with quite a few others. The possibilities for love are endless. It really is all about what you want.