Where's the Party?: Allison P. Davis
New York magazine|March 15 - 28, 2021
Are You Ready to Be Touched? Reintroducing the thrill of casual physical contact.

JUST TO TORTURE MYSELF, I recently clicked through an online slideshow of parties from before the city shut down. A collection of black-and-white photos of people at clubs and bars, on dance floors and dark street corners, their bodies all so close together I instinctively worried they were a new crop of superspreaders, until I remembered the timeline. Looking at them, I realized I’d forgotten the diversity of ways people can touch people. Did you remember that you could grip the back of someone’s neck so hard your nails could make half-moon indentations in their skin? Or that you could let the pads of your fingers explore the rough terrain of someone’s elbow, or press your knee against a knee, snake a leg around a leg, put your lips to the arch of a foot, lean your whole backside against someone else’s frontside? You could playfully tug, gently pinch, or brusquely squish, nuzzle your face in a beard, and all of this could happen spontaneously, without underlying pandemic anxiety?

In the days since, I have had the most persistent fantasy: I’m at a crowded bar, so surrounded by people it takes 35 minutes to get a drink, but I don’t care because of the flesh. As I wait, a person I am with, or maybe a stranger—all right, it’s a fantasy, so definitely a stranger, and not just any stranger but a stranger I would try to make out with in a corner later—needs to get by, so they put their hand on the small of my back and lean in toward my ear to murmur, “Can I squeeze through?” Help me.

Lately, there has been a constant “this time last year” loop reminding us how long it has been since we’ve hugged a stranger, or gotten a massage, or grabbed a forearm for emphasis in conversation. It has been long enough that I’ve started holding my own hand in my sleep. Every night, I go to bed with my hands on each side of my body, and by morning, I wake up with my palms together, my fingers intertwined, skinstarved to the point of self-love.

There’s actually an official term for what I casually call skin hanger. Psychologists refer to it as “touch starvation.” Humans are wired to touch other humans; when we can’t, deprivation results in the usual litany of bad things: stress, anxiety, depression, weakened immune systems, disrupted sleep, and mind-scrambling horniness.

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