I feel I have reached a new frame of mind as it relates to my relationship with touch in my personal life. This particular blog will be my attempt to document what I have experienced, am currently experiencing, and also putting out into the universe of what I will experience in regards to touch in my life. I’ve always been intrigued by the spectrum of abundance versus scarcity in regards to different aspects be it money, opportunities, food, and also touch. I feel that sharing my thoughts of my journey thus far is super important to normalize more conversation around men and the role touch plays in our lives and mental health. I hope sharing my thoughts and feelings provides some value to this journey we share together called life. This blog is going to be very interesting as I’m taking on the role of a detective, putting together puzzle pieces of my past to make sense of these feelings inside of me as I’m writing this. I feel something is there, so let’s start digging, shall we?
To start from the beginning of this touch journey I’m on, I just asked myself the question, “How long have I known about my love languages?” So I did a search in my email inbox (because emails last forever right?) and I found the email where I first took my 1st love language quiz from October 30, 2013. So, for 7 years now I have known that my top two love languages are physical touch and words of affirmation; I recently just turned 35, so I was 28 years old at that time. I’m not exactly sure how I found out about love languages originally; I was most likely having an intellectual conversation with someone or reading something intellectually stimulating. The discovery of my love languages really started an inner journey of self-analysis of my relationship with touch throughout my life. This intellectual inspiration made me curious about psychoanalyzing why I (and many others) found kizomba to be so impactful in a therapeutic way.
For the love language skeptics, I do not believe that the love languages are the end-all-be-all for understanding love in life. However, this concept of the love languages has most definitely provided a very strong base barometer for myself and many others I know personally, along with sparking two big themes. The first theme is self-awareness through the curiosity of healthy introspection on how you desire to be loved. The second theme is empathy through realizing how someone you care for also desires to be loved. If you want to find out what your love languages are and/or learn more about the 5 love languages, you can go to www.5lovelanguages.com.
Learning about my love languages helped shine a lot of emotional light on why certain aspects of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood felt very dark and empty. When I was 28, I finally realized and could put words to the most meaningful ways I desire to be shown love: physical touch and words of affirmation. As I looked back at my childhood, I came to the ice-cold realization that it was empty of this love. Not only was it void of positive expressions of love, I recall a lot of negative expressions of words from insults and public shaming and also a lot of negative touch through being hit at home and also bullying at school. Introspectively, I discovered I had an inner desire to be loved through touch and words but also had some trauma around touch and words from my childhood.
The reason was always kind of ambiguous why I was going through my phases of depression, loneliness, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm. I can recall feeling like I was being punished, and not worthy of being loved. I can recall the physical representation of pain in my chest from the lack of love I felt. I can recall hoping for and writing about “an angel” to come and rescue me to finally show me what love is. I can recall many nights crying myself to sleep feeling alone and unloveable.
For the sake of not triggering myself too much, I won’t go into any specifics of my traumatic childhood events. I do feel safe saying that, no, I didn’t have a smooth childhood. However, I also realize that many people have had rougher childhoods than mine which could mean we require different levels of healing. I also don’t hold bitter feelings towards my parents because when I discovered the concept of generational trauma, it made me wonder about the love languages of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents on my mom and dad’s side and whether those love languages were known and if they were met at all. I give a ton of credit and gratitude to both of my parents who had and raised EIGHT KIDS (of which I’m the oldest).
Today I realize the root cause was a lack of love specifically through my preferred love language of physical touch. My first experiences of positive touch came through salsa dancing. During my first year of college, I met a cute Puerto Rican girl named Erica. She was in love with salsa and at the time was mourning the passing of Celia Cruz.
I checked the date of Celia’s passing, July 16, 2003. I graduated from high school in 2002. My birthday is in December so I won’t count 2003, 2002 - 1984 = 18. I started dancing salsa when I was 18, damn. Going back to when I first learned kizomba in 2012, so 10 years after that. Very interesting, not sure where this is all going yet but let’s keep digging…
So, back to Erica. In order to try to impress her and get her to notice me more, I showed an interest in salsa dancing and music. Enough to where she burned me a salsa CD (yes, that’s what we did back then LOL!) with some of her favorite songs. I started taking salsa lessons every week and going out to Club Tropicana (which is still open today if I’m not mistaken). Partner dancing quickly captured almost all of my free time, and one of the huge reasons for this was that it was the perfect ice breaker for socially awkward lads like myself to interact with the opposite sex. It was also a source of positive touch, and as I got better and progressed with my dancing skills I received lots of positive words of affirmation. Long story short, I never caught Erica’s eye, but I did fall in love with salsa dancing and through building a new social circle in partner dancing, I met my first girlfriends.
My first romantic relationships in my early 20s were awesome in the sense of finally giving and receiving regular positive touch, from snuggles, holding hands, hugs, and obviously more sex. These relationships helped break the story I had created in my head about there being something wrong with me and therefore unloveable. During the course of my first few romantic relationships, the bubble of the fantasy of finding someone you love who loves you and “Voila! life is perfect” was definitely popped. When I first started out I was completely clueless about good communication skills, boundaries, triggers, unhealthy attachment, the different types of intimacy, and the list goes on and on (and I’m still growing today on how to improve loving and being loved). During my early adulthood, I made an incorrect association between romantic relationships and getting my touch needs met. Romantic relationships are just one of the many ways to go about creating meaningful relationships in your life that are “touch positive”.
So after 10 years of dancing salsa and some intimate relationships, I discovered kizomba and experienced a different kind of connection that I had not felt before. Through kizomba, I found a sense of belonging, worthiness, and a deeper level of platonic physical intimacy; and the kizomba connection was filling my physical touch love tank more than salsa. I took my first kizomba class around June 14, 2012 (this happened at the first bachata/kizomba festival in Houston, Texas that was organized by Jorge Elizondo) about a year before I discovered my love languages. In November 2012, I was offered the opportunity to teach kizomba locally through a dance studio called SSQQ (I give all the credit to Linda Cook who hired me for my first teaching gig) and that sparked a whole new passion for teaching dance.
To show how hard I fell in love with kizomba at the beginning: I took my first kizomba class in June 2012, was offered the opportunity to teach kizomba locally in November 2012, for my 28th birthday in December of 2012 I spent a month in Europe to go to a kizomba festival in Madrid, and then bounced around Slovakia and Austria scouting out more and more kizomba socials. Kizomba was touching parts of my soul that I didn’t know existed. I also discovered many other people who fell in love with kizomba were experiencing similar strong therapeutic benefits. I’m finding a theme of curiosity in different areas of my life, so naturally I started to survey my friends who danced kizomba.
Through the survey I took of my kizomba circle at the time, the results I uncovered were not exactly what I was expecting to find. I was expecting the results to show that physical touch was the top love language of anyone who was addicted to kizomba. What my results actually revealed was that physical touch and quality time were the top two love languages among the kiz addicted. There were even some dancers that didn’t have physical touch in their top two love languages at all, which was super eye-opening for me to find additional ways that dance can be a healthy source of love in our lives. After conducting this survey, I was inspired to continue to research and dig more into this topic of touch inside and outside of the world of kizomba.
One aspect I was made aware of through dancing kizomba was that it is natural and normal for me to desire positive touch in my life; it did not make me less of a man. This was huge for me also realizing that I can count the number of times I’ve hugged my dad with one hand. Again, no harsh feelings around my dad because I also wonder how many times his dad hugged him, and onwards down the lineage of our generations. Recently, there has been a lot of conversation around the touch needs of boys and men and society’s tendency to immediately label touch between two men as homosexual and a man touching another woman as a threat or sexual. Now, combine this with all of the stories of the Me Too movement and one can find themselves in a tough position to find the balance between normalizing healthy touch between us for our mental health while also protecting safer boundaries to prevent sexual misconduct. I don’t have the answers mapped out yet however, I hope that this blog is a small step in the direction in the goal of finding that balance.
To share and spread my curiosity and experience on touch I have done two podcasts on touch and dance, both with the lovely and eloquent Emily Bartholomew. The first one was about the 5 love languages and kizomba and the second was on the topic of how dance challenges our idea of male platonic touch in our society.
Through my curiosity to understand the power of touch more I discovered the 5 love languages initially and later I discovered concepts like skin hunger, cuddle puddles, oxytocin, the wheel of consent, touch therapy, etc. I titled this “essay” around the spectrum of scarcity and abundance because of a realization I made after I attended an authentic relating workshop around touch and consent in June 2019. When I scrolled upon the Facebook event it definitely piqued my interest as I’ve heard so many examples of mishandled situations around touch and consent in various dance scenes. I decided to attend to become a better instructor, event organizer, and advocate for positive touch through dance. I feel the topic of consent is also super important to better understand what men and women feel and experience as we are re-navigating how we handle our boundaries in a wide variety of relationships.
The touch/consent workshop was hosted by Eli Slater in Austin, TX. The creator of Authentic Relating is Sara Ness who also lives in Austin, you can find out more about her at https://www.authrev.com/thealj/.
The touch/consent workshop was super eye-opening on many levels. A very cool aspect of the workshop was a deeper sense of empathy by delving into the inner motivations and levels of satisfaction of “the toucher” and “the touchee”. For example, let’s say Heather wants to give Matthew an unsolicited back rub. Is Heather touching Matthew for her own pleasure or are her motivations more to please Matthew? Does Matthew give consent to Heather for the back rub because he really loves back rubs, does he not have a preference either way where back rubs don’t really do anything for him but he accepts Heather’s offer to be a good friend, or does Matthew really not like back rubs but doesn’t communicate this to Heather to not be rude at Heather’s offer for a massage? Now imagine a scenario where Matthew is asking for a back rub from Heather. As you can see there are many “consent possibilities” and without self-awareness, empathy, and good communication skills, you could find yourself in situations you’d rather not be in. I feel this knowledge/awareness of consent can empower us to create ideal scenarios of touch that are mutually beneficial for everyone involved. WOW! Afterwards, my mind was in a whirlwind of time travel as I attempted to recall my own inner motivations with interactions of touch from when I was a child to an adult and if I had an idea of what my partner was thinking and feeling.
The question that woke my spirit up and put me on a path of even fathoming the idea of touch abundance from this workshop was “What kind of person would you be, if you got all of your touch needs met?” I’ve always been very into personal development so my imagination went wild imagining the version of myself with highly reduced levels of stress and anxiety, the eradication of loneliness in my life, higher levels of confidence and self-esteem, my triggers put on the fast track to healing, and being my own best friend without having to fight myself through self-sabotage. I began to ask myself how much touch do I need/desire in my life? How much touch would be too much? What types of touch did I need/want? And how frequently?
To begin to answer these questions, I reflected on my behavior from a young adult to now and I started to see patterns of coping behavior with the goal of creating opportunities and investing in relationships that were sources of positive touch exchanges; however these were also stemming from a source of lack. If I were to use a food analogy, a person would see and treat food differently if what they were used to was starvation versus always having a fridge full of food. A person who was food starved would constantly worry about their next meal and wonder how long they will need to suffer between meals. They would be accustomed to higher levels of hunger. The person who has always had a fridge full of food still gets hungry, but there is peace between meals and there’s never any suffering through high levels of hunger as they can access their food when desired. The challenge for me recently has been to become aware of my touch scarcity thoughts/feelings/actions, stepping into my higher sense of self-worth, and choosing to embrace and practice thoughts/feelings/actions of touch abundance.
In summary from last June, I took the Authentic Relating touch workshop, hosted my kiz festival, and then hit the ground running in July with back to back gigs traveling across North America. During all of this the idea of touch abundance stayed lingering on my mind. The first weekend of August I’m back home to rest from the festival and 3 trips, I ended up getting very sick. I went through blinding migraines, fevers, body sweats, nosebleeds, and chest congestion for almost a week. Not only was my body suffering, I was also in an emotionally sensitive place. My sickness occurred at the same time as my 10-year open heart surgery anniversary and also a decision to cut ties off with some relationships that were not mutually fulfilling. I can recall lying there feeling horrible physically, and feeling lonely emotionally and really really craving someone to hold me, logically understanding I didn’t want to get anyone else sick. I feel that my touch journey is very much a part of my heart’s journey over the past 10 years since my heart was literally stopped and physically opened.
During this period of illness, I felt so horrible that I was actually inspired to write a pretty raw poem (not sure if I will ever share the complete poem publicly).
An excerpt from the aforementioned raw poem I wrote when I was feeling the worst I had felt in a while:
- Driving down the streets of loneliness, over bridges of hope, through fogs of depression
- Avoiding crashing down into the dark seas under me, I can hear the suicidal tidal waves below
The poem started off very dreary and dark, matching the way I felt inside, but after some time I noticed a change towards the end of letting my emotions flow from my soul into that poem. I seemed to naturally steer my mind and emotions into taking the emotional and physical pain and discomfort to derive some inner resilience, deciding to ascend towards feelings of worthiness, self acceptance and love versus allowing myself to descend into darker feelings and thoughts which I did many times before in the past.
It felt good to get my darker feelings out of me and give wings to the more positive thoughts in my mind to help me recover and bounce back to more optimistic territory. After I started to feel healthier physically and emotionally, I decided to start to work towards a more touch-abundant life. I started to put the self-worthiness habits into practice in my journaling, where I focused my attention throughout the day, and also with proactively creating mutually beneficial touch-positive opportunities in my life.
One of the first habits I’ve been developing that I feel has been super beneficial to my goal of touch abundance is getting weekly massages as a good base amount of positive therapeutic touch. I also traded worrying about finding my next opportunity of meaningful touch to being proactive about investing in relationships that were mutually “touch positive”, expressing more gratitude around positive touch experiences in my life, and spending more time envisioning myself basking in the warm soothing energy from overflowing opportunities of positive touch in my life.
The result of this work was that September, October, and November ended up being 3 of the most emotionally enriching and positive touch-abundant months I’ve ever had in my life. The massages have been very helpful physically to keep my body limber and loose to continue all the dancing I do. Mentally, the massages have helped decrease stress and increase feelings of self-worthiness. Intimately, I noticed some shifts in my personal relationships to be able to co-create safe spaces where authentic intimacy could blossom. Sexual experiences also felt more wholesome and genuine, sprinkled with more laughter, and driven more by spiritual/energetic/intellectual alignment. I probably sound crazy saying this but after great sex of this kind, I feel inspired to say, namaste, “The Divine light in me acknowledges the Divine light in you.” Has anyone else felt that way? I’ve never experienced an overflow of touch to where I didn’t feel the need to pounce on top of the next touch opportunity, and where I could also start to savor and be more mentally and emotionally present in those experiences. Out of personal curiosity I took the 5 love languages quiz again and I was shocked by the results at the end of November.
For the first time ever, physical touch was NOT in my top two scored love languages. Is this a representation of a shift from living in touch scarcity to touch abundance? I believe so and I’m excited to continue this touch journey of mine as I become more self-aware, and more lovingly accepting of myself and of my past. I notice myself more mentally and emotionally powerful in my decisions to be more inclined to embrace worthiness over shame, an open heart over a closed one, accepting my strengths and flaws over judging myself harshly, developing habits of self-love over not honoring my inner well-being, and living from a place of touch abundance over touch scarcity.