She Said, He Said: Work through touch depravity that comes with online dating
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
Physical touch is my love language. I’ve always used it as a way to test my level of interest in a guy — resting my hand on his leg, casually leaning up against him, even initiating the first kiss. That touch, and his response to it, was often my chemistry litmus test to assess how close I wanted to be to someone. But now with online dating, I’m struggling to gauge my interest in them. Even when I finally get to meet some of these guys in person, physical closeness is still off limits. I’ve cycled through half a dozen guys in the past few months and am feeling more confused than ever. I want to be in a relationship but I don’t know how to get there when I’m 6 feet away. Help!
Signed, Out Of Touch
Jeff and Lori: Before COVID, you could get a temporary fix to the physical, emotional and egoic needs from a one-night stand, albeit without much depth. Casual dating arrangements worked pre-pandemic because real connection and emotional intimacy was available through friends and family, and many singles could get by with a little boost from a near stranger. The changes we’re seeing due to COVID go beyond an increase in virtual dates. At the core, this pandemic has created a dearth of intimacy and affection, and more pressure is being put on to potential mates and relationships to fill the gaps. While singles are being more selective about whom they engage with, there is also an overall increase in singles pursuing committed relationships. Cuffing season has been extended this year through winter and into the foreseeable future.
Jeff: If you’ve relied solely on physical touch as a strategy to attract guys, you may have been selling yourself short this whole time. You may be operating from the perception that most of us are primarily interested in sex. While there may be some guys who fit that stereotype, there are more of us who really value someone who is interested in our minds. I know, hard to believe, right? We want validation that our ideas and perspectives are interesting and worthy. We want to know that you think we are good people and that you respect what we do with our lives. It’s easy to attract a guy with the physical elements of flirting. The more challenging (but much more rewarding) task is to get him interested in you for your deeper attributes like your beliefs, compassion and worldviews.
I’m curious if you are using a guy’s response to your physical flirting as a mirror to gauge your own value. If he responds positively to your advances, then you feel more confident in who you are and that you’re “good enough” to continue the pursuit. But this confidence is paper-thin. It doesn’t reflect anything more than your ability to create a spark in a relatively Pavlovian setting. By connecting on a more personal and emotional level, you’ll see an image of yourself that is much more authentic to who you are and what you hold to be true.
Lori: There’s no doubt that the process of hooking a mate has changed greatly for almost everyone out there in Singlesland. But your question also alludes to an ever greater potential for future dating success. Let me explain. If so much of your focus on compatibility has stemmed from physical chemistry, I wonder how many successful long-term relationships you’ve had. The reality is that fireworks fade for every duo (or trio if that’s your thing) and what holds relationships together for the long-haul is the bond; that connection that is forged through common values, goals and dreams, shared interests, hobbies or humor, and the feeling of having each other’s back. My heart goes out to you and to everyone who is feeling COVID’s amplified effects of loneliness. But there’s an amazing opportunity here for you to experiment with your approach to dating and to focus on the power of feeling known rather than being touched.
In the meantime, touch depravity is a real thing for many and can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress and even difficulty sleeping. Even though there’s not a real substitute for affection with another being, there are a few things you can do to ease the discomfort including dancing, sleeping with a weighted blanket or body pillow, and warm baths.
Jeff and Lori: There’s no question that the pandemic has turned dating upside down and we really have no way of knowing when it will get back to “normal.” Regardless of your love language, COVID is providing a great opportunity to get out of old dating habits and to practice new ways of connecting for when the world opens back up to you.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column. For more relationship advice, subscribe to our “Love Matters” podcast on iTunes.
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My name is Lee Mulcahy. As y’all know, I love and am devoted to this community. I’m grateful for so many things.