Imagine yourself in the following situation: You and a stranger are having a heated argument. Tempers are rising, and with them the decibel level, until you are practically shouting at each other. Realizing things are getting out of hand, your opponent interjects, “Hold on — let’s try and calm down.” It doesn’t work. You are still furious. He or she then leans forward, puts a hand on your arm, and says, “Wait a minute.” Suddenly, for some reason, you feel powerless to continue screaming. Your anger abates and you concede, perhaps even resentfully, to the suggestion.
Now imagine yourself at a checkout counter. You always dread entering this store because it takes so long to get out. Today is no exception — you have been waiting for what seems like an eternity to pay for your purchase. Finally your turn comes. You hand the slow-moving cashier your money. Usually you have to pick up your change off the counter, but today the cashier places it in your hand, and for a brief moment you feel the warmth of his or her hand on yours. Outside afterwards, you sense something strange. For some reason, you’re feeling more warmly toward this store than before.
One more scene: You have just finished dining at a restaurant. The service has been exceedingly slow. Your waiter, Dave, finally brings the bill. “Hope you enjoyed your meal,” he says with a smile and a parting pat on the shoulder. Watching him return to the kitchen, you suddenly feel a surge of generosity and leave a far bigger tip than you had intended. On your way out, you comment to the manager about how little waiters earn for working so hard. “It all depends,” he replies. “Take this new guy, Dave. We don’t know how he does it, but he pulls in at least thirty percent more in tips than anyone else.”
In each of the above incidents (all based on true stories), you have fallen prey to one of the most subtle yet powerful forces in human relations: Touch.
Notice, incidentally, that not once was the contact sensual or even affectionate. Still, touch had an undeniable effect. It awakened within you warmth and receptivity, conscious or unconscious, toward the other person. Even when devoid of desire, touch left you feeling distinctly closer and more connected.
Touch could be called the Superglue of human relations. Take two clean surfaces, and Superglue will immediately stick them together. Touch between people works the same way. Take two people unopposed to feeling closer to one another, and touch between them will do the trick: Presto, they’ll feel closer.
If even a simple touch can make this kind of impact, imagine when it’s coupled with a healthy dose of physical attraction. A ripple of warm feelings can become an emotional tidal wave.
Make yet another leap of imagination: You are eating at a cafeteria table with several other people. Among them, sitting quite close to you, is a person of the opposite sex to whom you have long felt attracted. Because you have seen no indication that he or she feels anything similar towards you, you have held back your feelings, silently suffering the agony of unrequited passion. Then, without warning, he or she turns in your direction, smiles, reaches for the salt, and happens to touch your hand. Were you to be instantly transformed into Barbra Streisand, you might actually be inspired to burst into ecstatic song, celebrating the tingle, the sparkle, the glow created by that touch (which you are convinced couldn’t have been accidental); rhapsodizing about how the world has become so alive and shining; and finally descending to a dramatic climax in which you proclaim: “SUDDENLY, NOTHING IS THE SAME!!!”
Yes, maybe I’m exaggerating. And so, perhaps, was Streisand, when she recorded “He Touched Me,” the very song described above. But “He Touched Me” appears on an album of her greatest hits, so everyone apparently knew what she was singing about.
Now return to yourself, and imagine your reaction if this person to whom you’re attracted were to give you something even more enjoyable than just a casual touch. Barbra Streisand, move over!
Why is such a simple, pleasurable experience misinterpreted as something more in many people’s minds (particularly women’s, as we’ll see later)?
If you want something badly enough, you can fool yourself into believing you have it, even when what you have is only superficially similar. God created us to feel, when we’re single, the ache of incompleteness. Consequently, one of our strongest desires is to experience the wholeness that comes from being genuinely close to another person. Because you want to be close, and physical contact makes you feel close, you are liable to believe that you are close — while, in fact, feeling close and being close are quite different. Touch can blur your perception of reality to the point where you mistake skin-to-skin contact for a heart-to-heart connection, leaving you with delusions of intimacy where no true intimacy exists.
Anything this powerful has to be handled carefully. Superglue can join two pieces of a broken plate — or two of your fingers. Similarly, touch — and particularly the “more than casual” kind — will make you feel closer to someone, irrespective of who he or she is and whether a real bond is ever likely to develop between you.
If touch were commercially produced and packaged, the following would be printed on the tube in bold red: “WARNING: USE WITH EXTREME CAUTION. Bonds instantly and indiscriminately.”
The instructions would be equally unequivocal: “Use only after marriage. Touch will then express and cement your genuine connection. If used any earlier, touch will generate feelings of closeness with no basis in reality.”
And that is playing with fire.
Reprinted from “THE MAGIC TOUCH” A Jewish Approach to Relationships by Gila Manolson. Available at www.gila-manolson.com