I coined “quirkyalone” back in 2000 with a media-friendly definition. Quirkyalones are people who “enjoy being single (but are not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefer to be alone rather than date for the sake of being in a couple.” I have shared that definition everywhere from CNN, to USA Today, to this NPR in 2013.
That definition is great, but it’s just the soundbite version to scratch quirkyalone’s depths. For me and many others quirkyalone is not actually about being single at all, it’s an idea that is much larger than that; it’s about being connected to yourself when you are single or in a relationship. I must admit I get frustrated when people think quirkyalone is just about being single and conflate the two.
That’s one reason why, during the Tangasm Adventure, I was intrigued and delighted when Amanda suggested that we use one quirky connecting circle to each share our interpretation of “quirkyalone.” In a sense, hearing each person’s beautiful definition made me realize–OMG, the right people do get this is deep. Each person’s definition was unique, but they were all about a deep sense of home within oneself as a base for connection with others.
My definition that I shared: “If I take the pulse on quirkyalone right now, for me, it’s about freedom. Really feeling free to know who I am and what I want in my life outside of what it’s supposed to be. Honoring and respecting that, not rejecting traditional things, but really being in inquiry about what I really want. The piece that has become big over the last few years is the authentic piece, of being more vulnerable and real and having that come forward in all my relationships. There’s a big integrity piece. Being quirkyalone is about being honest, and the vitality that comes from being honest. It’s also difficult, it’s not an easy path, but it’s rewarding. My life is so different from many of my friends. I’m 40, I am writing a book about all my adventures and some of my friends will read that book and be jealous of me and I will be jealous of them sometimes, but my story is really true to me and what I chose.”
After I shared my definition each person in our group shared his or her definition. Here I am sharing four more with you via video and audio. Please enjoy. And I’m curious about your definition. Read below for how to share and join the conversation on the blog.
Amanda: Quirkyalone is about being yourself
Choice quote: “The alone part of quirkyalone doesn’t mean lonely. It means I’m happy being single, I’m happy being with somebody. The analogy to the tango dance, if you have two people who know who they are and who are independent and comfortable with who they are, the dance is going to be a lot more powerful than if you don’t know who you are and you collapse into each other without your individual structure.”
Jenny: “Entering into relationship with a lot more fullness and a lot more to offer”
Choice quote: “It’s a sense that you have to rely on yourself at all times, and when you seek partnership, especially romantic relationship, you do it for love and because you want to grow something . . . it’s really about being honest about what you want and how you pursue it. It’s only entering into relationship when you are doing it for true love and to have a great experience.”
Miles: As ancient civilization said, first of all be happy with yourself
Choice quote: “Quirkyalone is a connection to yourself that doesn’t mean being single. For me being quirkyalone means to have my own space and be really happy with that. If I have to force myself to be with someone because I need to, that’s not me. First, being very respectful for my own place, to know my quirks, and be happy with that, is a way of connection. As ancient civilization said, first of all be happy with yourself, try to understand yourself and it will be easier whatever comes. It’s not, I’m single, this is my flag, and I’m happy being single, for me, it’s I have my quirks, and this is really my space. I like to think of myself in a bubble, or a balloon, and there is a minimum space that is only mine, that I cannot share. If I am happy with that, then being quirkyalone with another can be possible.”
Nele: Quirky is being normal, being me. Alone means I allow it.
Choice quote: “Weird, or being quirky, is normal as I feel it. We say it’s different because it’s different from what we see around us. It’s being normal, being me. Alone means I myself allow it. I don’t need anyone telling me, yes you can be yourself. I can collect courage to say to myself, yes it’s fine what you do and feel good about it.”
Joseph Campbell is famous for telling us to follow our bliss. (Advice I can get behind.) He is also famous for his work in identifying the archetypal mythic structure in storytelling, the hero’s, or heroine’s journey, and the value of these journeys in our lives.
You can play the game of identifying the Hero’s Journey in popular movies like the Titanic, or you can find the elements in your own life. Each path is unique. He writes, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
If you are not a writer, these Hero/Heroine’s Journey concepts are valuable for you for your own life. And quite connected to quirkyalone. Especially for women. I’ve often thought that women more than men identify with quirkyalone because there are so few positive archetypes for a woman alone in our culture. And by alone, I don’t even mean single. I mean a woman who takes herself and her life seriously on its own terms–a life filled with meaningful quests.
Our culture is filled with stories of the hero, and not the heroine. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is tempted by sirens and Penelope waits at home for his return. In Harry Potter, Hermione is a sidekick. Other powerful male wanderers with wisdom to share: Jesus, Jack Kerouac, the Buddha, and so on. The list is endless. Who are the women? The woman herself does not go on a meaningful journey for her own sake, and if she does, the conclusion usually revolves around finding true love. (Think most romantic comedies or even the conclusion of Eat Pray Love.)
These are our culture’s stories, and our cultures stories reflect us. Justine Musk, a writer and creativity-inspirer, speaks in this TED talk about “the art of the deep yes” for women. What she calls the “deep yes” is self-worth–the idea of saying a big yes to yourself and what you are capable of in this life. This deep yes has all too often been lacking for women. This deep yes is what you need to embark on a heroine’s journey.
As Justine notes in her excellent talk, “Modesty is a feminine virtue.” Women are expected to have low self-esteem and put ourselves down. Playing yourself down is a strategy for getting people to like you, to make yourself “relatable.” Heaven knows I’ve done that. As she notes, women are usually the “wives, girlfriends, mistresses, vixens, femmes fatales in someone else’s epic story–usually a guy.” So what if you are the heroine of your own story? You as a woman are already stepping outside the cultural paradigm.
Writing about my own “heroine’s journey” in my new book Wet has been so powerful because I knew I was directly struggling with the dominant idea that a woman’s primary role in life is to be a wife and mother–an enabler of others. To take the position that I could go on a quest for myself, and what I might bring back as an “elixir” for myself and others, has been quite radical. And fascinating. And great.
So that’s why I am so interested in the Hero’s/Heroine’s Journey. I’m interested in it as a writer, and I’m interested in more women seeing themselves on the path of a heroine’s journey.
There are still a few spaces open this Saturday, August 2.
Click HERE for class information for this Saturday’s live class on The Heroine’s Journey in San Francisco at the Writers’ Grotto.
Several people have written me to say, Hey, I don’t live in the Bay Area, would you do this class online? If you are interested, let me know, and if there’s a quorum, we’ll get that going.
I was really happy to participate in this HuffPost Live interview on how we address women. Being asked whether I am a señora or señorita here in Argentina has me pondering again ma’am vs. miss and why we women are asked these questions and referred to by our age, marital or virginity status. I’ve blogged here and here about how our language shapes gender and our perception of ourselves. It’s time we have one word to address women–maybe when we are all Ma’ams then the sting is gone. Or when we start to respect older women then being ma’am will truly feel like respect. It might be time to think about shifting our language. France and Germany have!
Are you really going to ask me if I am a señora or señorita?
Here in Argentina, people kiss when they meet. Even men kiss each other. It’s lovely. I’m a fan of human contact and the kiss is nice in comparison to a distant handshake. I was doing business with a “señor” (a man) who was hiply dressed, about 35 or 40, when we kissed cheeks, and he asked me, “Señora o señorita?” This is the equivalent of asking “Miss or ma’am?”
I gave him a puzzled expression in return.
He asked, “Tenes novio o sos casado?” “Are you married or do you have a boyfriend?” If the answer is yes, that would make me a señora, and if not, then I would be a señorita. Señora and señorita can also refer to age or sexual experience (when you are no longer a virgin you are a señora). Most likely it refers to marital status.
I sputtered out, “Me parece raro” (“That seems strange”).
I felt on the spot. Maybe it was a question to break the ice and get to know me but it wasn’t really that kind of situation. I would be in and out of the office in five minutes. What would I say, I’m a señora, since I’m 40 and not a virgin, but I’m not married, so by his definition I would be a señorita? My brain crashed since I don’t fit into either box and I don’t think he wanted to hear all the details of my dating life. So we got over our awkward moment.
Buenos Aires is a quite sophisticated city. Forty-eight percent of the population is single, without partner. So this is not some traditional place where very few women are single. I was taken aback by the question, though I’m sure he meant no offense. But on a deeper level, the language of polite conversation does not have us ask the same questions of men. We don’t ask that about men, now, do we? Señora o señorita, ma’am or miss? We just say señor. Or sir.
An Argentine female friend Virginia playfully calls me “Señora/Señorita” when I see her in the stairways of the tango school where I study. She has the right idea. Better to use both than to choose one since this question presents another false dichotomy of womanhood, like the virgin/whore, slut/prude, good girl/bad girl. All dichotomies that exclude parts of who we are.
In the United States, women are called ma’am or miss. That dichotomy is usually more about age than relationship status (or in the South, respect). I’ve written about the vexing issue of “ma’am vs. miss” years ago and gotten many comments from women of all ages who don’t like either appellation. I’ve learned a lot from the comments that have poured in on that post. Certainly it’s possible to take “ma’am” as a sign of respect for your experience. But there is something inescapably matronly about the term, and matronly is not how I or most women like to think about themselves. It would be different if “ma’am” meant worshiping the wisdom of an experienced woman. Maybe we should reclaim “ma’am” to mean wise, experienced, radiant, self-possessed woman.
Language shapes how we see the world and ourselves.
I am reminded of a question posed by Andreas from German during our quirky chat on healing single shame. He asked if women feel single shame more acutely than men. Well, of course we do, when we are put on our spot to define ourselves to complete strangers (do you have a boyfriend?) one necessarily feels there is a right answer, even if you are not sure what the right answer is.
Men are not asked whether they are married in a simple business transaction. Marriage is not as baked into a man’s identity. It was an innocent question, but the mere continuation of this señora/señorita distinction in language speaks to a deeper tendency for people to judge women on the basis of their fitting into relational boxes, rather than seeing them as independent entities, as we see men.
We hopped right on to the business at hand. He probably thought I was strange for giving him all those strange looks and telling him his question was “raro.” So be it. Señora, señorita, ma’am, miss, let’s call the whole thing off! Or let’s change their meanings.
What does being gay have in common with being quirkyalone? They are both ways of being that don’t fit the social script. The still pervasive “how it’s supposed to be.”
We’ve been talking a lot about releasing the shame of long-term singlehood in order to make yourself more free and available to connect in a healthy relationship (and even to know how to talk about your history when you start dating someone).
Hot on the heels of our chat on single shame last week with Sara Eckel, I was so moved and struck when I saw this video of Ellen Page talking to Ellen DeGeneres about her coming out as gay in a powerful speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive Conference in Las Vegas. I loved how their conversation turned to the power of releasing shame, for anything we feel ashamed about. We all have our secrets.
Ellen DeGeneres: “How do you feel since you have done it (coming out)?”
Ellen Page: “I knew I would be a happier person. I knew that I was going to feel better. I did not anticipate just how happy I would feel. In every aspect of my life. Just an ease and a comfort. It’s really been quite extraordinary to feel the shift. And it was pretty much overnight too.”
Ellen DeGeneres: “It’s because you’re releasing shame. It doesn’t matter what it is, what you are carrying around as your secret, everyone has something you are carrying around that they are ashamed of. To carry around shame, first of all causes disease, it’s a horrible thing to be ashamed of yourself.”
I’ve been so inspired by the reaction to this issue of the shame of long-term singlehood that I want to incorporate this topic into a new quirkyalone/quirkytogether group coaching program. If you are hiding anything about yourself and thinking someone is going to reject you because of whatever your “thing” is, the best way address this is to practice sharing your story with others. There is nothing more healing than being witnessed.
In this new group coaching program, I want to share with you everything I have learned about quirkyalone and quirkytogether over the last ten years since publishing Quirkyalone, with the intention of helping you create more ease and comfort in your life–especially in the areas of dating and relationship.
If you have been held back by any feelings of shame about your story around being single, this is going to be an amazing chance to work through that sticky stuff with my support and the support of others going through the same thing. If you are interested in being part of this, be sure to sign up here to get on the priority list.
Our quirky chat about single shame last week was so amazing and deep I needed to let it settle into my body and soul to write up this post for you. I feel so blessed that we were able to have this healing conversation. I chose the topic because I have noticed the question as a theme in my private coaching and in the questions that I get from readers:
“I haven’t had a boyfriend or girlfriend in five (or ten) years (or ever). what does that say about me? When I start dating someone, how do I talk about my relationship history (or lack thereof)?”
I invited the genius Sara Eckel to join me because she’s written so beautifully about this dilemma in her Modern Love essay and her book It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. When she was first dating her now-husband Mark, Sara agonized about when to tell him “the truth.” (She hadn’t been in a relationship for nine years.) In the end, he didn’t care. He was happy he hadn’t had a boyfriend because she was available for him.
Watch the video and you’ll see her read from the beginning of her original Modern Love essay where she reads about always hating that question, “How long has it been since your last relationship?”
She writes about the feeling of being grilled with such beautiful precision: “It seemed so brazenly evaluative—an employment counselor inquiring about a gap in your résumé, a dental hygienist asking how often you flossed.” I shared my own story of trying to spit out the truth to a boyfriend that my longest relationship had been nine months, and it took me a full half hour to get those words out of my mouth. When I did, he was shocked that was the thing I had been trying to tell him.
Our discussion was beautiful and we had great questions from quirkyalones around the globe. I knew this chat would strike a nerve and be healing and it was. I want to share with you my biggest takeaways from this deep chat and I hope what you will take from it. My intention here is that all of us quirkyalones shed the shame and own our stories.
We are the harshest judges of ourselves.
Shame is so heavy for us.
When you tell someone your shameful “thing,” there’s a good chance that person will likely shrug their shoulders and say, that’s it? (Or maybe they won’t. They judge you. So that’s not the person for you.)
Sara’s advice, “Whatever you are feeling ashamed about, sharing it with someone really helps.”
We also need to realize how we are buying into a societal idea that something is wrong with us if our lives don’t follow the prescribed path, and it’s our responsibility to evaluate that idea and discard it if it actually doesn’t serve us.
Ultimately what we are talking about is owning your story. Brene Brown teaches us about the courage that is required to be vulnerable (and live a joyful life). She writes, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Don’t be like the writer who believes only the one bad review.
If a clueless stranger or friend makes a hurtful comment like, “How is it possible that you’ve never lived with a man?” or “I don’t get it, you’re great, how come you’ve never had a long-term relationship?” Don’t take that to mean that everyone thinks that way—or that no one will want you. Sara and I are both writers. We know that tendency to believe the one bad review. Don’t generalize and read into people’s minds thinking you won’t be wanted.
Women and men both feel this pain, but more women feel it.
One great question that came in during the chat was from Andreas in Germany. He asked if single shame affects women more deeply. I wrote in my book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics there are more positive archetypes for male aloneness like James Dean and Odysseus.
Women tend to be more deeply worried that lack of relationship experience. However, both Sara and I get emails from men, and I have male coaching clients. We know men feel this pain of being judged too. The Internet is full of posts with headlines like: “Red flag, is it a bad sign if someone was never married by middle age?” “Is there something wrong with a man over 40 who has never married?” But it’s also true that for men singleness may be viewed more simply as a choice. Men simply don’t have the same level of sexist junk aimed at them, whether that’s the “old maid” stereotype or the virgin-whore dichotomy that leaves a sexually expressed woman worried if she’s a “slut.”
People often assume the fulfillment of a woman’s true identity comes through relationship (marriage and motherhood) whereas for a man his first fulfillment comes through purpose (work). So if you’re a woman and you haven’t had much long-term relationship experience so far, it’s easy to feel you have failed at being a “woman.” Women also tend to be more self-critical (women are almost twice as likely as men to develop depression) and women internalize societal messages more deeply. So our job as women is to question those societal ideals and not let them affect the way we view ourselves. We need to investigate the ways in which we are buying into messages that are just going to make us feel bad—and choose new mantras and messages for ourselves.
Open yourself to believing the opposite can be true.
One of the most powerful tools I use in my coaching practice is derived from the work of Byron Katie.
Byron Katie encourages us to always ask whether the opposite could be true of the things we are deeply invested in believing. In this case, I encourage you to question your belief that being single for a long time makes you unattractive.
Perhaps there are many Marks out there who would be happy you are available.
A male quirkyalone friend delighted me with his perspective (so different from what many quirkyalone women assume): “While it’s a generalization, and everyone’s different, I really don’t think any men I know would care that a woman hasn’t lived with a man or had a long-term serious relationship with someone before, and it would actually be a turn-on that they haven’t. No one likes to picture past significant others of a person they’re dating, plus if it works out you get to experience something for the first time with someone. I can’t speak for the women’s point of view re: a man’s history of singledom, but I’ve never had a conversation with a male friend where we were at all concerned about a *lack* of significant history of someone we’re dating.”
Remember everyone has their “thing.”
I always remember an episode of Ally McBeal where Ally and Robert Downey Jr.’s character are falling in love. She feels the need to spill all her flaws in a waterfall of self-criticism. “You know I’m vain, and self-absorbed, and difficult,” etc. etc. etc. Somehow we feel the need to confess this stuff about yourselves. You better know my flaws!
Daniel Jones, the editor of the Modern Love column, and author of the new book Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers) has read a mountain of personal stories about dating and love. One common theme: people worry that something about them is deeply unacceptable. Sara met a woman on book tour who thought that “thing” was being vegan. For me a long time the “thing” jumped from my long-term singlehood to the fact that I like to travel. Or that it was that I let dishes pile up in the sink.
Funny how creative the mind can be with coming up with an unacceptable “thing” about ourselves!
We are “thing” machines. What’s yours? Name it and set yourself free. If you confess your “thing” to someone else, they might laugh at you thinking it’s unacceptable. [You could even post it as a comment here.]
Sara’s advice: “Remember your date probably has a ‘thing’ too that they are worried about.”
You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
You don’t have to explain yourself. When random people ask you why are you single you can say “I don’t know.” Part of self-respect and owning the worthiness of your own story means practicing a kind of containment where you share what you want to share.
You have nothing to confess to a new date either. When you start dating someone new, you don’t have to “hide” your relationship resume (or lack thereof), but you also don’t have to confess it in the first, third, fifth, or seventh date. Confessing implies there is something wrong with you. It’s natural that someone wants to know about your story, but their interest doesn’t mean they are prodding for your “fatal flaw.” Online dating may encourage a consumer mentality, but that’s not the way it works when you are getting to know someone who is really interested in you IRL (in real life). You can let your history come out and unfold as you get to know each other as the facts and intimate stories of your life emerge.
You could even be proud. Or at least view your history neutrally.
Long-term singlehood is a relatively rare phenomenon in part because few people still make the choice to say no to a mediocre or not so amazing relationship at 29 or 31 or 36 and hold on for what they really want. It’s easy for most people to call this “picky”—maybe it means intuitive. Maybe it means high standards. Maybe it means you’ve been busy. Or maybe you have no idea why. Being quirkyalone isn’t a higher calling than being a serial monogamist or a committed single, all paths are equally valid, but you have permission and encouragement to see your choices as courageous.
On the other hand maybe you have been single for a long time and it’s not completely by choice, it’s because you walled yourself off or didn’t have the courage to put yourself out there. Maybe there’s something very deep from your childhood that you didn’t quite figure out yet or you never saw intimacy modeled in your family life, so you have no idea how to create an intimate long-term relationship. That’s challenging, but there’s nothing wrong with that either. We all have issues to work through. Learning how to be intimate and to be in a healthy relationships is the work of a lifetime. No matter where you are, you’re on a journey.
You can see your history neutrally as what has happened, nothing more nothing less. Mindful meditation can help you with this process, as Sara mentions in the chat. If it’s your desire to date, you can make the choice to learn how to date and be in a healthy relationship and practice relationship skills. I emphasize this with my clients in my my private coaching that you can develop these skills no matter where you are in life and use them to improve all your relationships, most fundamentally your relationship with yourself.
This chat was cathartic!
Here’s an email I got after the chat. I’m sharing this with Susan’s permission because she wants to own her story and so you can get the vibe of how emotional this topic is for her and many people.
Just want to say thank you so much for the Single Shame chat. I will admit the tears were flowing at times, but in a cathartic way. I wrote that first question (Sue C.), and the answer was healing—to realize that I am the one heaping the shame and feelings of inadequacy onto myself. I think it’s time for me to stop doing that.
I found it funny how when Sara was answering my question, she referred to mindful meditation. I just starting taking a meditation class last month (and am about to leave for class in a few minutes). If feels like I am starting a new personal journey, and I love it when the different threads come together.
By the way, my name is Susan, not Sue – again, that’s me trying to hide lest I be exposed as that perpetually single person. But as you said, I have to own my story. So Susan it is.
Another women left this message:
Hi Sasha! I just watched the Spreecast chat. Wow. So real. So honest. Thank you. I felt like I was having a deep conversation with good friends.
In the first part of the video I felt like saying: “But there IS something wrong with me.” Because I feel I know why I am single, it has a lot to do with how I was brought up. There is a lack of trust and fear of risking my heart only to be hurt, and shame for being imperfect. So I just haven’t bothered. But maybe it’s not that simple, maybe the story I have been telling myself is quite heavy-handed on the self blame, a bad habit. The facts are that I have been single for 7 years. Be it circumstantial or my own doing.
As the conversation went on, the perception of my situation morphed a little in my brain. “Maybe it’s just something that happened” doesn’t sound so implausible anymore. This new outlook is one of the roots to the self-acceptance you mentioned in the video. It makes everything (my damn story) so much more palatable.
I LOVE the idea of the group coaching! I am signed up to your list already so I will hear about it 🙂
Next week I’ll be going back to Boulder, Colorado to participate in what might be the quirkiest conference in the world. It’s called the Conference on World Affairs, but it’s really a weeklong conference on everything under the sun: the arts, media, science, diplomacy, technology, environment, spirituality, politics, business, medicine, human rights, and so on.
CWA is a community-driven conference. Students and community members of CU-Boulder choose 100 writers, artists, scientists, journalists, businesspeople, and so on to invite for a week. Community members house us and feed us and students drive us around. It’s a percolation of people and ideas. This is the third time that I have been blessed to be invited. . .
Tinder and Sexting: The Evolution of Dating
Being Fearless in Your Work and Life
Sex: Just Do It (or Not)
The Radical Notion That Women Are People
Hi, Mom and Dad, I Majored in…Now What?
TALK AND PLAY Rhythm and Movement
If you’re quirky and you know it and you live in or around Boulder, I’d love to meet you. Come to one of my panels and introduce yourself.
I got this fantastic message and wanted to share it with you as inspiration for your local community.
“You have inspired me to spread quirky and unite my hometown. We had give quirkysingles unite for dinner on February 14! My name is Lizz Berry, the one on the right in my photo. I’m from Eau Claire, WI. After a divorce about a year ago I found the Quirkyalone book in the ‘single again’ section at my library. On February 14 I asked one good friend out for dinner, she in turn invited another. We met up for Mexican food and 2 for 1 margaritas! Laughs were had.
I mentioned the concept of quirkyalones and they all related, all of them near early 30s and unmarried, career oriented or travel types. We are having a QuirkySingles open forum discussion on nutrition at the end of March too at a bookstore.
One thing my single friends and I have talked about is why we as single gals only get invited to hang out with women. Sometimes we need man contact too. We’ve started saying, ‘Gosh I just really need some Mantact right now…or I could really use a man hug.’ We have invited several guy friends to the next hangout. Platonic coed singles events are rare in our town.”
Don’t forget I am hosting my own quirky co-ed party tomorrow night (Thursday, March 6) in San Francisco. It’s a private house party where I’ll share my love and knowledge of what’s special about dancing tango in Buenos Aires. The party starts at 7:30 and I will give a brief lecture at 8. We’ll drink wine, listen to tango music, and socialize.
I did an Internet interview about the Quirky Tango Adventure today and we spent a lot of time talking about the “tangasm”! I cannot guarantee you will have a tangasm on the Buenos Aires trip but it is quite likely.
If you want to come to the party and learn what a tangasm IS, then be sure to RSVP to my email and I’ll send you the party info. See you there!
Touch-starvation is an epidemic, especially in the U.S. and the U.K.
Are you touch-starved?
Here are some symptoms.
–You might have trouble sleeping through the night.
–Or feel irritable.
Does this sound familiar? I have certainly experienced all these symptoms when I don’t get enough healthy, affectionate touch.
Here are some fascinating research tidbits from the UC Berkeley positive psychology research center Greater Good on the science of touch:
–“A recent study has found that when librarians pat the hand of a student checking out a book, that student says he or she likes the library more—and is more likely to come back.”
–“Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health has found that getting eye contact and a pat on the back from a doctor may boost survival rates of patients with complex diseases.”
–“The U.S. and the UK are particularly touch-deprived. In the 1960s pioneering psychologist Sidney Jourard studied the conversations of friends in different parts of the world as they sat in a café together. . . In England, the two friends touched each other zero times. In the United States, in bursts of enthusiasm, we touched each other twice. . . In France, the number shot up to 110 times per hour. And in Puerto Rico, those friends touched each other 180 times!”
A dearth of touch in our lives can leave us anxious. Unsettled. And insomniac. I’ve certainly experienced terrible insomnia during long periods of singlehood, and when I get more touch, my sleep improves.
So how do we address a lack of healthy, affectionate touch in our lives? We don’t need to hire a professional cuddler. Yes, professional cuddling services exist in our touch-starved society, a sign of how desperate we have become in our hurtling-toward-Her digital society.
Here are a number of ways to address touch starvation, no matter what your relationship status:
–Hugs with friends or family can do the trick. Hug for twenty seconds. At twenty seconds, we release oxytocin, the hormone of well-being and bliss.
–Simply make yourself more available for giving and receiving a friendly pat on the back with friends or family, or snuggling while watching TV.
–Create a non-sexual cuddle buddy relationship. You might be surprised by how twenty minutes of snuggling affects you.
–You can even go to a cuddle party (I have attended TWO cuddle parties, and I will be writing about that in another post).
–It’s never a bad idea to get a massage.
–Dance tango. Research has found that weekly tango lessons can alleviates stress, anxiety and/or depression even more than a meditation mindfulness practice. I love the idea of meditation, but it’s never struck me as very pleasurable. Tango is pleasurable.
I’ve experienced a dramatic health and mood change after I started tango in 2010. Before I discovered tango, being single would leave me with not enough touch in my life. After I started dancing tango, my terrible insomnia that had started at age 30 improved. I could sleep through the night and wake up pleasurably after a night of dancing. I’ll be honest. In my first weeks of dancing tango, I exclaimed to a friend, “I think this might be better than sex!” Pleasure cells has been woken up all over my body. I floated down to breakfast feeling like a different person.
A dance of hugging and walking
Why did tango make such a profound impact? Tango is a dance based on hugging and walking. Hugging for 20 seconds or longer increases oxytocin (the cuddle hormone of well-being and bliss) and slows the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, especially in women. This banishes stress. When you dance tango for a night, you hug for far longer than 20 seconds. It might be an hour or 90 minutes cumulative over a night of dancing, so you can just imagine what that much oxytocin can do for your well-being. We’re talking tangasm. Yes, it can be that good.
I share all this with you for a few reasons. One, to encourage you to increase affectionate touch in your life. Two, to give you some context for why I love to spread tango with people who are not already part of this dance. I believe that tango is truly life-changing and life-affirming. This dance can give you such a dose of affectionate touch and love outside of a romantic relationship. For those of us in touch-starved countries like the U.S. and the UK, we desperately need hugs and affectionate touch to keep us balanced, happy, and sane.
Author of Quirkyalone and To-Do List, a life coach living in Buenos Aires working with women and men worldwide who identify with my quirkyalone concept of not settling in life or love. Representing the quirkyalones since 2000!
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Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Her work as an author, life coach for women and entrepreneur has been featured everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to CNN and Vogue.
In her well-loved newsletter going to thousands of women and men who identify with "quirkyalone," Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women (and a few self-aware men) get clear on their goals and achieve them while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.
Through Solo Chica, Sasha is creating a whole new way for women to travel solo with confidence and local contacts to support them for transformative cultural experiences.
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