by Kirsty Murphy
Olivia Newton John once belted: “Let’s get physical, I wanna hear your body talk.”
Unlike when I was a pre-teen, I am under no illusion as to what she means by those lyrics. Spoiler: it’s not referencing a spin class or hot yoga session. However, I have found myself thinking about this song increasingly more over the past few months. With a sudden lack of physical intimacy, I started to consider what physical touch truly meant to me. And reader, it was illuminating.
Before you write this letter off as a piece of pros that belongs on a racy subreddit, something that became quite clear to me during the first lockdown, is that physical touch and affection is a spectrum of emotions and acts that denote how we feel. It’s not just a thinly veiled metaphor as Olivia would lead you to believe. I was unaware how present it was in my everyday life. A hug, a reassuring touch on the shoulder, a cringey and accidental brushing of hands. It was positively everywhere. Brushing by people in busy crowds, sweaty bodies dancing. But as Joni Mitchell once said, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”
Damn right I didn’t, Joni.
I came to realise that a significant part of how I communicate and show my affection for others, whether it be romantic, platonic or familial, was through my actions to others. It was visceral. It was poking my friends in the face until they would yell ‘CAN I HELP YOU?’. It was giving my mum a kiss on the cheek everytime time we parted ways, and her reminding me to do so when I forgot. It was putting my arm around the shoulders of a romantic partner as we walked down the street, a casual indication that I’m falling in love. It was the playful, and not so playful, punches exchanged between my brothers and I in the kitchen. It was hugging your best friend so hard that the pain of their heartbreak would be outweighed by the tightness of your embrace. It was the firm handshake that screamed ‘give me the goddamn job’.
If you had told me a year ago that in a few months time physical touch would be scarce and a health risk, I would have asked you where your tinfoil hat was and/or asked what drugs you had consumed. It baffles me that this is the world we live in. A world where socialising is predominantly over video, and romantic endeavours are more likely to happen on dating apps. Gone are the days of giving someone a casual raspberry – if you don’t know what that is look it up – or kissing some in the club whose name you do not know. We’ve taken comfort in technology, in apps such as TikTok and Hinge, but a very confronting reality is that these things can only fill cracks, and not the chasm that has been created by being unable to be near other humans. I, for one, have personally decided to never go near a dating app ever again once we have a vaccine. I swear.
I’m sure at this point of my piece, it would surprise none of you to read that physical touch is one of my top love languages. Being near real life humans is how I gauge them. Being in someone’s kinesphere is how I understand a person. Their quirks, their body language, their openness. Not everyone likes physical touch, but I believe physicality is equally about the times we don’t touch and the times we do. These ~unprecedented~ times have shown us how important it is to be held and to hold. It has given me a new appreciation of it. If another human has let me hug them in the last few months, I have cherished that, as physical touch now comes with an extra layer of trust, of empathy, of understanding. I am now infinitely more grateful for physical intimacy, and when the time comes that it’s safe to disregard social distancing, to sweaty dance in a club, to cram into your favourite snug with a pint of plain, I guarantee everyone a stupendous hug from me. Olivia Newton John was right, I do, in fact, wanna get physical.