I had thought about reaching for my father’s hand for weeks. He was slowly dying in a nursing home, and no one who visited him — from my mother, his wife of 42 years, to my three siblings — held his hand. How do you reach for something that, for so many decades, hinted at violence and, worse, dismissal?
In the flickering gray from the old black-and-white movies we watched together, I finally did it. I touched my father’s hand, which I hadn’t held since I was a young boy. His curled fingers opened, unhinging some long-sealed door within me, then lightly closed around mine. Before I left, I did something else none of the males in my family had ever done before. I leaned close to my father’s ear and whispered, “I love you.”
Since then, I have learned that many middle-aged American men share this discomfort with reaching for another man’s hand. But experts say that nonsexual touching contributes to greater well-being.
Touch is the first, and perhaps most profound, language we learn when we’re very young, says Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Touch might have a more immediate impact than words, Dr. Field said in an email, “because it is physical and leads to a chain of bioelectric and chemical changes that basically relax the nervous system.”
迈阿密大学医学院(University of Miami School of Medicine)触摸研究所所长蒂芙尼·菲尔德(Tiffany Field)说，触摸是我们学到的第一种语言，或许也是最深刻的语言。触摸的影响可能比语言更直接，菲尔德在接受电子邮件采访时说，“因为触摸是身体性的，能导致一系列生物电流与化学变化，可以令神经系统从根本上得到放松。”
The benefits of nonsexual touch read like a 19th-century tonic advertisement, except that the outcomes have been scientifically vetted. Touch has been found, among other things, to reduce stress, heart rate and blood pressure. Touch has even been found to lower the level of cortisol in the body (especially in women) which, when elevated, impedes our working memory and, most critically, the immune system’s resiliency.
It should be great news that something free, widely available and lacking in harmful side effects is so good for us, but it gets ignored in a touch-averse culture like ours. Yes, Americans are generally gregarious but, unlike, say, Italians, Greeks, the French or Latinos, that friendly intimacy is largely limited to our mouths. According to Jay Skidmore, a psychologist, researcher and professor with Seattle Pacific University Medical School, “social-cultural trends in America have focused for decades on reducing touch.”
有这样一种东西对我们有这么大的好处，而且还免费、随处可得、无副作用，这本应是个好消息。但在我们这样厌恶触摸的文化当中，它被忽略了。是的，美国人通常都很合群，但和意大利人、希腊人、法国人或者拉丁美洲人不同，对于我们来说，亲密友好的关系主要局限在口头。西雅图太平洋大学医学院(Seattle Pacific University Medical School)的心理学家、研究员及教授杰伊·斯基德莫尔(Jay Skidmore)说，“几十年来，美国的社会文化趋势一直致力于减少触摸。”
Of course, it would not be surprising if recent allegations of sexual assault by public figures make people even more skittish about initiating or receiving physical contact.
Indeed, many men self-police their hands around each other. In younger men this manifests in the ubiquitous “No homo!” response if they accidentally touch another guy, and in older men it translates into the same awkward discomfort (read: fear) that I, and many men, experience when faced with reaching out to another male, even an intimate. Yet these reactions are a relatively modern phenomena. Men shared the same bed with strangers in early American taverns, and scholarship is unearthing letters — including ones from Abraham Lincoln — revealing how men sometimes nurtured same-sex friendships that were more emotionally and physically intimate in nonsexual ways than the relationships they shared with women. Some 19th-century tintypes, such as those collected in the book “Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection,” illustrate this.
事实上，很多男人都在严格监督自己，不让手碰到其他人。比如说，在年轻人当中，如果有人不小心碰到另一个人，对方往往会回答“我不是同性恋！”；而在年长的男人当中，它表现为伸手触摸另一个男人时，会产生尴尬的不适感（其实就是恐惧），我和许多男人都有这种感觉，哪怕对方是很亲近的人。然而这样的反应是比较现代才有的现象。在美国早期的小客栈里，男性旅客们得和陌生人睡在同一张床上。对许多信件的学术研究表明，当时一些男人之间的友谊虽然不涉及性爱，但其情感和身体的亲密程度堪与男女之间相当，这其中也包括亚伯拉罕·林肯(Abraham Lincoln)的信件。一些19世纪的锡版照片可以证明这一点，《兄弟情谊——男性情感影像史》(Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection)一书中收集了其中一部分。
The psychologist Ofer Zur notes that for most 20th- and 21st-century American men, physical contact is restricted to violence or sex. As the sociologist Michael Kimmel, who studies masculinity, said in an email, touch between straight men can occur only when physical contact “magically loses its association with homosexuality” — as happens in sports.
心理学家奥弗·祖尔(Ofer Zur)指出，在20世纪的大部分时期乃至21世纪，对于美国男性来说，身体接触仅限于暴力或性行为。正如研究男性气概的社会学家迈克尔·基梅尔(Michael Kimmel)在电子邮件中所说，在异性恋男子之间，只有当身体接触“神奇地与同性恋脱钩”时，他们才会触碰彼此——比如说在体育活动之中。
The fear that girds the lack of platonic touch among American men also fuels the destructive force of their hands, a 2002 study in the journal Adolescence found. Dr. Field was the lead author of the study, which looked at 49 cultures. “The cultures that exhibited minimal physical affection toward their young children had significantly higher rates of adult violence,” she said. But “those cultures that showed significant amounts of physical affection toward their young children had virtually no adult violence.”
A big part of the problem for men is how they handle that 21st-century scourge that kills men younger than it does women: stress. Women employ a tend-and-befriend approach that invites confidence in and cooperation with people who can help them externalize their struggles and find succor.
Not men. When faced with stressors, they tend to turn cowboy, growing stoic, emotionally withdrawn and, too often, isolated. (It’s true that, unlike men, women receive higher levels of oxytocin — the calming, bonding hormone and neurotransmitter — when they are stressed, which enhances their ability to cope. But research shows that men’s, as well as women’s, levels of oxytocin rise when they receive affectionate touch from their partner — and that with doses of oxytocin through the nose, fear is reduced and degrees of trust, generosity and empathy rise.)
If this cowboy approach strengthened men mentally and emotionally, it wouldn’t be a problem. But the weight of having to suppress stress and the resulting emotions that are perceived as unmanly — “gender role stress,” Dr. Zur calls it — doesn’t make men more resilient. It makes them more vulnerable, triggering anxiety and depression, he says. It also prevents them from feeling that they have permission to seek mental health help. A 2000 studyby U.C.L.A. researchers finds that “Men are more likely than women to respond to stressful experiences by developing certain stress-related disorders,” such as hypertension, alcohol and drug abuse.
There’s a reason the majority of clients seeking private services from the nascent professional cuddling industry are overwhelmingly male, straight, educated, divorced and in their early 50s. Just as a crushing number of white working-class men are succumbing to opioid addiction and suicide, these men are also suffering emotionally.
They are a population Kory Floyd, a professor of communication at the University of Arizona, had in mind when he wrote about “affection deprivation” in a study of more than 500 participants, published in 2014. Dr. Floyd studied the effects of what he calls “skin hunger,” discovering that people who experience this phenomenon were, among other things, more lonely, depressed, had less social support, experienced more mood and anxiety disorders and an inability to interpret and express emotions. This lack of affection correlated with a “fearful avoidant attachment style,” the same reaction so common in affection-deprived children from orphanages — and in many men. Dr. Floyd said in an email that men are “more likely than women to report that they received less affection from others than they wanted.”
2014年， 亚利桑那大学(University of Arizona)传播学教授科里·弗洛伊德(Kory Floyd)对500多名参与者进行研究并发表论文，在文中提出“情感剥夺”概念时，他所考虑到的正是上述群体。弗洛伊德研究了他所称的“皮肤饥饿”(skin hunger)的影响，发现存在这种状况的人有一些共性，包括更为孤独、抑郁、缺乏社会支持、经历过更多情绪与焦虑障碍，并且没有能力解释和表达情感。这种情感匮乏和 “恐惧回避型依恋模式”相关，在孤儿院里缺乏关爱的孩子身上非常普遍，然而也存在于很多男性当中。弗洛伊德在电子邮件中说，男性比女性“更有可能声称自己从他人那里得到的感情比希望得到的少。”
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that a 2011 study from the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that among more than 1,000 heterosexual middle-aged and older married couples in five countries, hugging and kissing were more central to the happiness of men than they were to women.
或许正是因为如此，印地安那大学金赛研究所(Kinsey Institute at Indiana University) 于2011年发表在《性行为档案》(Archives of Sexual Behavior)上的一项研究就不足为奇了。该研究对5个国家的1000多名异性恋中老年已婚夫妇进行了调查，发现拥抱和亲吻对于男性的幸福感来说，比对女性更为重要。
But some young British men are going back to the future. A study published in October in Men & Masculinities found that the 30 heterosexual undergraduate males interviewed felt safer cuddling, hugging and, especially, confiding in platonic male friends than they did with their girlfriends. These “bromances” provided less judgment and increased “emotional stability, enhanced emotional disclosure, social fulfillment, and better conflict resolution, compared to the emotional lives they shared with girlfriends.”
但是一些年轻的英国男性正在走向未来。今年10月发表在《男性与男子气概》(Men & Masculinities)上的一项研究称，受访的30名异性恋本科男生认为，同柏拉图式的男性友人亲近、拥抱，尤其是向他们倾吐心声，比和女友一起做这些事更安全。和他们同女友的恋情相比，这些“兄弟情”之中没有太多评判，并且能够“巩固情感稳定性，加强情感表达，增进社会满足感，更好地解决冲突”。
Recently, I had a few beers with a new friend. (My wife initiated this, knowing I’ve been feeling lonely since we moved to another city.) From the start we went deep, swapping stories about our fathers and the struggles of growing up in a culture that still holds male sensitivity in contempt. “Women have it right,” I said, talking over loud pounding on the nearby kitchen door that apparently had stuck. “They find friends or sisters to talk with when things are rough,” I said, as our server finally broke through the door.
When we got up to leave, I did something I rarely do with even close friends: I hugged him. For the second time that night, a stuck door opened.
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