I so agree with Smita’s story!
“Until recently, I hadn’t realised or accepted how much I enjoyed hugs, cuddles and physical affection. And how much they meant to me. An arm around my friend at the theatre, random hugs, head on my shoulders, things like that.
I was hugged more in my first year of college than in the 12 years of school in UAE. I cannot deny that it took some getting used to, especially with the super huggers. Like my friend who hugged me 6 times in a day, every time we passed each other between classes, and we’d known each other for 2 days at that point. See, my family isn’t the hugging kind. My parents still shake hands with me when I visit. The little brother and I have just started hugging each other. With much awkwardness, might I add!
Hostel was an interesting space, both in Chennai as well as Bombay. There is a whole new kind of physical intimacy there. Sleeping on the same bed, sleeping ON each other, changing in front of each other are just some examples. The fact that I was a closeted queer woman didn’t really help i getting used to this. I was constantly afraid of being “mistaken” for a lesbian. Was my hand placed too low on her back? Should I not be lying this close to my friend? To say it was a confusing learning curve would be an understatement.
I was faced with yet another learning curve with my first few friends from different countries and cultures. When I met my friend from Bosnia for the first time in Malaysia, it took a few cups of coffee for us to reach the hugging stages, and a couple of drinks the same night before she freely kissed me on my cheeks. I blushed oh so furiously the first few times! In India, men think before shaking hands with women. In the Latin American and Spanish cultures, the introduction involves at least a hug. When this didn’t make me uncomfortable, the drastic difference in the way touch is perceived struck me time and again.
Perhaps coming from a hugging background would have helped. A lot of Indian families don’t hug, especially after the kids hit puberty. Anecdotally speaking, this seems particularly prominent among those from the southern states. And it’s worse for men in some ways, since male friends hugging each other is considered “gay.” Homosocialness helps women here.
I enjoy holding someone through a movie, or reading with my head on someone’s lap. I like bone-crushing-melt-into-each-other kind of hugs. When someone tells me that I have comfortable shoulders to rest their head, I feel flattered. Cuddling when sleeping comforts me. I wish touch wasn’t considered inherently sexual. Non sexual physical intimacy cannot become common soon enough!”