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Opinion | Americans, It’s Time to Get Comfortable With Platonic Touch

Shortly before the pandemic started, I ended my travels with a move to Alaska to write. Though the local “hunker down” soon hampered my ability to build community, I’ve learned that I don’t need legions of people to feel connected. During my time on the road, I stayed with dozens of couples and families who made me feel at home in their city. So when I settled in Anchorage, I sought similar housing, eventually ending up with a young family of five who also valued living in community. Between living with them, finding a few walk buddies and maintaining one friendship in which we never stopped hugging, I feel pretty content most weeks. Having fewer relationships allows me to invest more deeply and consistently in others, while limiting the possible spread of infection.

Touch within my relationships varies with each person’s comfort level. Almost from our first meeting, my youngest housemate (now nearly 3) took a liking to me and has become one of the most physically affectionate people in my life. Her mother and I hug mostly when we sense the other needs comfort. When vaccination brought up her fear of needles, we got both our shots together so she could hold my hand for the jab.

Returning to — and expanding — touch may feel weird at first. And we’ll need to be sure to ask each other, “Are you OK with this?” To find the right balance, we could learn from both the youngest and the oldest around us. One of my favorite parts about living with young children is how freely they can show delight when a loved one arrives. When you’re not even family, it feels amazing to see a child light up at your presence.

With adults, that might look like a greeting I got at pickleball recently, from a semiretired friend whom I’d not seen in several months. “I’m vaccinated!” he cried. “Are you vaccinated?” As soon as I nodded, he grabbed me for a bear hug and kissed my neck (before doing so a second time later, he asked if I was OK with the hug).

As this pandemic has painfully shown us, none of us lives and breathes apart from others. With masks, we’ve rightly sought to limit our bodies’ potential to harm. But post-pandemic, we need to recover our bodies’ capacity to comfort, help and heal each other.

Anna Broadway is working on a book about the experience of being single in countries around the world. She is the author of Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity.

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