Saturday, August 13, 2011

Some more thoughts on hand-holding

I don't own the rights.
Over at his blog 6 Stone Jars, Anthony Buono has an excellent reflection on the meaning and value of married couples holding hands. There isn't a thing on there I could contradict; I just want to tack on a few insights as a middle-aged, accidentally celibate man.

I'm an affection sponge. I like holding hands, arms around waists, hugs and light kisses. The best relationship I ever had was a Platonic friendship with a woman who was openly and unconsciously affectionate. Certainly it had its share of sexual tension, as do the bulk of relationships between unrelated men and women, but the tension was diffused and ameliorated through the affection. Were I ever to marry, I believe it would be with just such a woman.

The title of Buono's piece is "I want to hold your hand", which of course made me think of the Lennon-McCartney classic. It's miles, even light-years, away emotionally from Nine Inch Nails' "Closer (to God)". The former, despite its formulaic lyrics, is bright, right and noisily joyful. The latter has an eerily creepy beauty to its musical bed, but the lyrics are tortured, tormented, and dementedly scrabbling for some fragment of light. The Beatles song reaffirms the basic goodness of life and love through a simple gesture of affection; the subject of the Nails song reaffirms his despair through animal copulation even as he struggles to climb out of it.

The sad thing is, there are many people out there — especially (but not exclusively) men — like the subject of "Closer", who have no real openness to true affection, for whom sex is the closest thing they'll ever get to affirmation of their basic goodness. If you suggested to them, "Sounds to me like someone needs a hug," they'd sneer in disdain.

I don't own the copyright.
But holding hands goes beyond just the realm of romantic love. Consider the father holding the hand of his young son as they walk through the zoo, or the daughter as she leads her aged mother into church, or the two Arab friends as they walk down the street (or the picture at right of former President George W. Bush holding hands with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia). There are many relationships other than that between lovers and spouses where such simple means of contact communicates affection and trust, and not all loves have an erotic component (whatever the Freudians may say). But even something so simple and transitory as a handshake can break through walls in ways mere words can't.

Now, I don't necessarily think free hugs and promiscuous hand-holding would solve all our problems. However, I can't help but believe we would be a better society for it, that it would be much more effective and less problematic than a social code of sexual license. At least it might help us recognize that innocence isn't the same thing as ignorance.