The lost art of touching, Part 2: Heightening your interactions and relationships

This is part 2 of the series on the art and power of touch. Part 1. This is a long post, so Save This Page at Del.icio.us for future reading.

A while ago, in the post on intuition, I described a woman that wanted to work with me and met up for a formal business chat. My intuition was flashing “danger!” – she seemed so “fake”. And yet, there was a moment I wanted to like her. It seemed like a biological urge that came up – telling me to like her. Why? She touched me in the right place. (Before you start snickering, she touched me in the elbow the “safest” place to start with a stranger. More on that later.)

But that proved to me the power of touch in social interaction. It almost overwhelms our logical mind, perhaps tapping into that primal need – the skin hunger we discussed in the first part of the series.

Let’s get a bit more specific in this post. We’ll start with the most common form of touch, go up the intimacy ladder to parent-child relationships, and then finally to the lover’s touch.

Handshake

The handshake is standard nowadays for introductions, greetings, goodbyes, and congratulations. Here are the basics – common sense, so I’ll just cover them in the barest detail:

1) Firm but not crushing. Grip them solidly by the palm, not the fingers.
2) Make sure your hands are dry. Wet handshakes are the worst.
3) Warm hands. Some people including me have freezing cold hands.
4) Solid eye contact.

Now on to the slightly less well-known stuff: Many people out there judge a person’s character by their handshake. A limp handshake suggests a weak will, and vice versa. I noticed my handshake naturally got stronger as my self-esteem grew, so I believe there is truth to this. There are exceptions, though people who perform delicate work with their hands might give a weaker shake to protect them.

Now, there are variations on the shake. Most of these are cultural – some cultures grab your hand, jerk up and down strongly once, and let go. Others are softer with multiple up and down motions.

Also, there are variations for male to female or female to female greetings. Some females found it weird when I reached out for a handshake in a casual setting (I have no idea why, if you do could you leave a comment for me?). So you have to just get a feel for the right thing to do, depending on how long you’ve known each other, the culture and the setting.

Sometimes, downgrading to a nod and a smile would be best. Other times, upgrade to a peck on the cheek and a hug. And even that is subject to cultural variations. Some cultures touch cheeks on one side and kiss air. Others kiss on one side of the cheek, and some kiss on both sides. In a business setting, though, a formal handshake almost always goes well.

While researching handshakes, I came across this interesting titbit. Handshakes developed from a custom in more dangerous times – it was meant to show that you are not hiding any lethal weapons. (Too bad my hands themselves are lethal weapons ask the last guy who smiled suggestively at me in the toilet.)

Angle of the palm
Now many body language experts claim the angle of the palm also shows the strength of your character. If you shake hands with palm down, you are the stronger of the two. This leads to people reaching out with their palms down, or they might engage in some silly power struggle to try to twist the other person’s palm up.

Maybe this was relevant years ago, but all I’ve met are weak-willed people who are overcompensating. Don’t do it. Stick to the four basics above; or even better work on actually being strong.

Grasping the elbow

Another thing people do is grasping the other person’s elbow as they shake hands. This often backfires – especially on a first meeting. Most people don’t expect it and it is a sudden intrusion into their personal space, which causes an instinctive reaction to withdraw. It starts things off on the wrong foot, so I won’t recommend it for most people. There are some who can pull it off well, though.

Touch between Parent and Child

Let’s move up the ladder of physical closeness – that between parent and child.

Let’s start with the youngest. Touch is vital for a baby. A baby and its parents are bonded by touch. And as we’ve discussed in part one, a baby that is not given tender physical care will be stunted emotionally, socially, and intellectually.

With parenting, both the father and the mother should be involved. Too often I see men not being tender with their babies. Maybe they think it makes them less masculine. Far from it!

According to Phyllis R. Davis in The Power of Touch(aff), another mistake is thinking that showing affection for the child spoils it. Spoiling a child comes from not setting boundaries in other areas but you can never hurt a child by showing it too much affection.

The last mistake I want to point out is that as children might begin to protest physical affection when they get older. Often they are afraid their friends might laugh at them. But the skin hunger remains – they still need to be shown affection. I see this with my ten-year-old nephew. The solution? Kiss and caress the child when their friends are not around.

Davis states that this is even more important as a child reaches puberty. Parents often stop showing physical affection as the touches could now be seen as sexual. When a daughter reaches puberty and develops breasts, for example, a father often stops his caresses even if it has always been confined to her hair. Puberty is already a difficult stage – and the withdrawal of affection simply leads to even more alienation. Some children might even see themselves as being “punished” for reaching puberty.

Romantic adult interaction

What’s next? The naughty-naughties! Let’s discuss adult and romantic touch in detail. Most touch between adults, whether platonic or romantic, starts out small, and climbs up the ladder of intimacy. The “ceiling” where you stop escalating depends on the relationship – are you platonic or romantic?

Davis gives a detailed list that makes up this ladder. It is mostly aimed at men and women, but I would say that same-sex relationships and platonic friendships are similar – just remove certain steps here and there, and be careful you don’t climb too high.

1. Eye to Body – the “checking out” phase.
2. Eye to Eye – eye contact is vital for all successful human interaction.
3. Voice to Voice – talking.
4. Hand to Hand – a handshake including the lower arm up to the elbow, or extended holding of hands for lovers. Sometimes, when talking to someone, touching them on the elbow is a fantastic way to create a feeling of intimacy.
5. Arm to shoulder – expanding the zone to the upper arm. For platonic friendships, this could be the playful punch.
6. Arm to waist – a quick touch or prolonged cradling. This can be “guiding” someone as they walk past you, or for platonic friendships, more play-fighting.
7. Mouth to mouth – you’re out of the friendship zone!
8. Hand to Head – the caressing of the face, neck, and hair.
9. Hand to rest of body – you’re moving into the sexual zone!
10. Mouth to Breast no explanation needed.
11. Hand / Mouth to genital – see above.
12. Genital to genital – the birds and the bees.

In most cases, you have to follow this escalation ladder. It can take minutes to go from 1 to 12, or it can take months where you spend weeks stuck in one level. Note that you can sometimes also skip certain levels – but unless you’re a real charmer, it can lead to much discomfort and lawsuits.

In the bedroom

I’m no master swordsman but I’ll expand a little on sexual touching. Of course this is pretty general, and it doesn’t apply to everyone. Don’t worry, though, I won’t get too graphic! Please leave comments with your tips or disagreements.

There are many basic differences between the sexes when it comes to intercourse. These differences can lead to unsatisfactory intercourse, even when both parties are trying hard to please each other – they automatically assume the other wants what they want but that is not the case. Sometimes, these lead to misunderstandings and arguments – “men are all brutes who only want sex”, or “women are never satisfied”.

The differences between men and women can be explained, I hope, with the meat pie I had for dinner last night. No I didn’t go “American Pie” on it, if that’s what you’re thinking. Let me explain: On the packaging for my pie, there were two sets of instructions to heat it up – microwaving takes 4 minutes, and conventional ovens take 45 plus pre-warming and thawing.

Men in the bedroom

Men are like microwave ovens. My dinner was ready in minutes. I picked the microwave because all I wanted was to hear the “ding!” and to begin eating. It is the same with sex – most men get turned on in a matter of minutes, and all they want is the “ding!”

Sexual pleasure for men comes from a release of sexual tension. Too much sexual tension can actually be uncomfortable, hence the term “blue balls”. This accounts for why some men don’t care for the foreplay – they only do it because women like it. If it was up to them, everything would start from step 10 or more get to the “ding!” as fast as they can!

Women in the bedroom

Women, on the other hand, take much longer to get turned on. They’re like the conventional ovens. Sexual pleasure comes from the gradual build up of sexual tension from the heating up process, not from the “ding!” that signifies the pie is ready. Therefore, the 40 minutes, which was intolerable to me, might even seem too short for some women.

This is why the escalation ladder is so important – save the erogenous zones for last. Even better is when the tension builds up, drops a little, then builds up again. This creates anticipation and increases sexual tension, which is uncomfortable for men in large amounts, but is pleasurable for women. In practical terms, tease her erogenous zones, then drop down the ladder a little bit, then move it up again and take your time before giving them your full attention.

Women can also need emotional arousal before sexual arousal. This is why comfort, tenderness, and cuddling are often vital steps before sexual pleasure can even begin.

The best way I have found to describe this was from a fantastic little book called Mars and Venus in the Bedroom (aff). In a sea of mechanical manuals on position, this little gem describes the principles, guidelines, and psychology behind the sex so you can explore and enjoy it yourself. John Gray, the author, puts it this way: Women need love to open up to sex; men need sex to open to love.

This explains the stereotypical pursuit, where men chase women with promises of love, while women tempt men with promises of sex. This could lead most women to think that men are brutes that only want sex. Some are, yes, but not always. Let me explain. Most men don’t recognise their skin hunger, and the only way for them to feed the hunger is sex. Blame the social conditioning for this – any other form of skin satisfaction is not considered masculine. Sex often becomes the only way men can open their heart.

Further tips

I am a bit hesitant about going into too much detail here, so just a couple more tips.

First: Variations are important to prevent staleness. Vary everything. Vary the escalation speed. Vary the kiss, the touch, the location, the environment, the rhythm, the speed. How much and how often depends on the people involved. Sometimes you want variation in a single session, sometimes you want to keep the games predictable for a few days before switching.

Lastly, sex begins in the mind. The sexual touch, sexual thoughts, and sexually charged energy, described in Part One are often enough to give good sex. So give that a shot. Also remember not to give detached touches during romance –it makes people feel used and lied to. It is easy to tell when someone is just mechanically going through the motions in a cynical attempt to build their body count or fulfil their wifely or husbandly duties. Make an effort to genuinely get into the sex energy when you hit that level in the ladder.

What’s next?

Go forth and spread the love! Boost all your social interactions, heighten your friendships, show some affection to your loved ones, and enhance your sex life!