Don’t@Me: Don’t Even Ask to Touch Me

Being Asked for Hugs or Handshakes is Uncomfortable and Unnecessary

Graphic Breea Kobernick

No one should be straight up touching anyone at work or at school, ever.

We assume, then, that requesting consent is the natural solution.

I’m here to say that’s still painfully uncomfortable for a lot of people.

Plenty of people might want to skip out on hugs and handshakes. Not everyone is comfortable with physical contact, especially with someone of another gender.

I would prefer to be stung by 10 wasps than be put in a position where I feel obligated to cross my physical boundaries.

Some people have religious constraints, some people are just at a point where any physical contact is a nope, some people are survivors of physical or sexual assault, and none of them should feel the need to disclose those things to anyone.

I’m certainly ready to get called everything from frigid to a variety of gendered slurs, but I’ll take that over having to continue internalizing the painful discomfort and social anxiety that coercive physical contact has caused me.

It takes a lot of audacity to assume that these things are someone’s obligation to tell you, and it takes even more audacity to put them in a position where they feel like they have to tell you.

Imagine how awkward it is to reject physical contact without providing a reason; it looks rude to leave someone hanging, right?

Now, imagine how awkward it is to feel the need to provide a personal reason to avoid feeling rude or offending someone.

Imagine how awful it is to be in a position to have to choose between those two feelings in a fraction of a second as someone approaches the borders of your physical boundaries.

Being asked for a handshake, a hug, or any other kind of physical contact by someone that is not in my close circle of friends and family puts me in a terribly awkward position.

But then, being asked by someone I am not close to for physical contact implies that I should justify my refusal, to avoid appearing rude.

I would pick the comfort of one survivor over the egos of 100 men, regardless of how deadly that could be.

There is a legitimate fear of retribution many women feel when rejecting men; a quick Google search for “woman rejects man” will determine whether I’m overreacting.

This, folks, is a fear that explains why some people don’t want to leave the house, go to class, or go to sports classes.

I haven’t set foot in my favourite yoga studio since their male instructor adjusted my pose without asking me.

For the inevitable few people looking for a reason to blame me, because of course soulless people like that exist: imagine being in downward dog, purposely toward the back of the room.

Then imagine having someone you can’t even see grab your hips, step on your hands, and hoist you buttocks up higher while you can’t even move away without hurting yourself because they’re on your hands, so shocked you lose your breath.

Imagine that happening to a survivor or someone who has lived through any kind of gendered violence, and ask yourself whether they should be put in that position at all.

Many studios now have signs people can put by their mats advising the instructor not to touch them for adjustments, to only verbally correct them.

Some people’s traumas have to be reopened constantly by “well-meaning strangers,” but why do we care more about the feelings of the latter?

What about the feelings of the person who just wants their space, unquestionably?

The default should always be no physical contact unless it’s painfully obvious both parties are okay with that.

Weird, sweaty, lingering handshakes and hugs that feel forced, where you can smell the aftershave of someone invading your space, are just unnecessary.

No one should feel rude, or like the bad guy, for refusing to open their physical bubble, especially without prior indication of physical warmth.

Overtly asking for physical contact puts someone in a corner, in a fight or flight position, the flight option being to just give them what they want and run.

That seems more like a pickup artist tactic than a genuine social skill.

The next time you meet someone new, ask yourself if you know them well enough to be sure they want physical contact.

Muse on the possibility that maybe they’re too afraid of offending you to refuse, or maybe they feel more afraid of disclosing why they don’t want to than just biting the bullet and getting it over with.

Ask yourself, then, if this is the kind of impression you want to make on someone, and if it’s worth prioritizing your own comfort over theirs.