I wonder if you've come across the idea of the Five Love Languages? If you're a regular churchy type person then I'd be surprised if you haven't at least heard of them because they seem to be all over the place! They are outlined in a book by an American author called Gary Chapman and you can find out more here - www.5lovelanguages.com
When I first read the book I admit I was pretty sceptical. The premise is that there are 5 main ways that we give and receive love, and that every person has 1 primary love language, that is 1 preferred way in which they receive love. I couldn't really imagine how that could be true - how could every human being on the planet fit into 1 of these 5 categories and conform to 1 of these patterns? Well, needless to say, it isn't quite as straight forward as that, but nevertheless as I read the book I had one 'aha!' moment after another - it really did make sense!
The Five Love Languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. I'm going to blog about each of them over the next little while, and ponder a bit on how we might be able to give and receive love in each of these ways - and how being single might impact on that.
Although it isn't my primary love language, I'm going to start with Physical Touch. The reason for that is that the idea of blogging about the love languages came to me yesterday as I was having a back massage! I absolutely LOVE having massages, but until a couple of years ago I'd only ever done so a few times. But then I had a bad car accident and, although fortunately I was unhurt, a kind friend gave me a voucher for a massage to help me relax and recover. It was lovely, and the salon 'just happened' to have an offer on at the time where if you paid for 4 massages you got 6. I paid for the course, and by the end of it I was hooked! They have such offers on regularly, and I've been booking them ever since. Every time I reach the end of a course I tell myself it's an outrageous extravagance, and I can't afford it, and I'm going to stop, but then every time I book again! It really helps with my shoulders, which have been dodgy and painful for years (the physio even said I should keep going!), plus it's lovely and relaxing and feels like such a treat!
Anyway, as I was lying there having the massage, I began to think that actually it's quite a weird thing to do. I was practically naked, and somebody I didn't know was rubbing oil onto my back and running her hands all over it! As a single person, that's far and away the most intimate touch I ever receive. Perhaps if you're in a sexual relationship and used to being naked in front of someone else, and to intimate touch, it feels less of an issue - but after all it is still a complete stranger that's doing it!
In spite of the slight oddness of it though, I still really enjoy it (I just find it's best not to over analyse it or it would weird me out - a bit like when I go swimming and think "essentially we're all just in our underwear in front of a load of people we don't know"!). Yes, I enjoy the relaxation of it all, and the lovely smells, and how chilled out I feel afterwards - but I also enjoy the touch. It's good to be touched by another human being once in a while!
For single people (I guess most particularly those who live alone, and don't have kids) lack of touch can be a real issue. I imagine if you're single and Physical Touch is your primary love language, that could be really hard, as you would potentially feel very lacking in love and affection.
This has surely got to be something that, as Christians, we can do something about! Lots of churches have a custom of 'sharing the peace' which can be anything from a handshake to a hug to a peck on both cheeks - but (if you want!!) can be a good way of receiving some appropriate physical touch.
[Of course, it can also go the other way, as evidenced by this conversation in the Vicar of Dibley:
David Horton: Am I alone on Sundays in preferring not to shake hands with the malodorous creature in the next pew?
Jim Trott: No no no no... I quite like that bit.
David Horton: Let alone kiss them?
Jim Trott: I love that bit!]
I know that several days can go by when really, I've barely touched another human being. I might have touched hands with the person serving me in the supermarket, or brushed past someone on the street, but there's been no 'real' touch - no affection, no validation, no warmth. It then feels really good when someone hugs me, or gives me a kiss on the cheek, or puts their hand on my arm as we talk (someone I know that is - it's not so great if a randomer does it!). Some people can't bear physical touch, of course, so there's an element of permission-giving required here too.
But perhaps we could all think a bit more about how to bless our friends whose love language is Physical Touch, and how to make sure we ourselves receive enough touch so that we know we're loved. And I think I'll carry on booking those massages...!
If you're in any doubt as to the power of touch, take a look at this -