#1015: Touching, boundaries, and compatibility

Hi, and thanks for an awesome and helpful site!

My situation: I’ve recently begun a new relationship, and am experiencing some…friction. I’m having trouble telling how much of the issue is incompatibility, and how much is me being “rusty”/ungenerous/inflexible, and I would love some outside insight!

A bit about me: I’ve never been a big dater, and being in a sexual/romantic relationship has never been a priority for me–I’ve been happily single for long stretches, including recently. I know that I have some real trust issues and some sensitivity around body image and bodily autonomy, probably stemming from “Stuff From the Past” (nothing deeply traumatic, but still stuff). I enjoy sex, but I’m not a big cuddler or casual toucher, and I am strongly anti-PDA.

My new date-friend is *much* more oriented towards physical affection: his actions make this clear, and he has straight out said that touch is his primary “love language”. The way this has been working out in practice is that we have fallen into a pattern where he is always instigating or escalating different kinds of touch, or talking about my body, and I am always shutting him down/pushing him away. Examples: we were in the midst of a conversation (that I thought was going really well! we were having an emotionally intimate moment) and he kissed me mid-sentence, before I could finish what I was saying…Or, he wants to rub my knee during the entirety of a hour-long car ride…Or talk about my “sexy hips” in a family restaurant at 2PM. Or make out in a public place. Even his “thinking about you”-type texts are always touch/body based–“Sending you big hugs”, “I wish I could see your pretty face”, “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses” (That last one I had a really visceral negative reaction to, and we did have a conversation about how tickling is NOT my thing…)

All these things make me *so* uncomfortable. I’ve tried to explain my boundaries/comfort levels, and I genuinely don’t think he is trying to make me uncomfortable, I think he just deeply doesn’t understand. To him, touch always feels great and is a sign of affection, compliments about my body are meant to make me feel good, etc. And he never makes me feel unsafe–whenever I have told to him to stop doing something, he stops right away. But I don’t like to have to keep saying “stop”! It feels shitty and mean.

I have also been second-guessing myself and my own feelings: I’ve definitely had the thought of “Don’t put your hands on my body in public like you own me” but I think that has more to do with my own current political rage, and less about him as an individual, and that seems kind of unfair? And then another part of me wonders whether I should be trying harder in general–maybe I’ve been single too long, maybe I’m too guarded, maybe I should learn to be more affectionate, maybe my hangups are getting in the way of me having something really nice, maybe my discomfort with touch is not a true preference but a result of all my past issues and it would be “good” for me to work through that a bit. Maybe it’s really sad that compliments about my body make me cringe, maybe it’s weird and cold and ungenerous of me to be like “touch me during sexy time, please, but omg can you just keep your hands to yourself when we are watching Game of Thrones?” Or, maybe we are just straight up not compatible and we will only make each other unhappy!

What do you think? (she/her pronouns are fine)


When I read that your new date-friend texted you the words “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses” I yelled “NO!!!!” very loud and brought my knees defensively to my chest.

Then I thought immediately of this video of a sloth petting a cat:

Video Description: Something I can only describe as “lite-reggae-jazz” plays while a sloth aggressively holds a cat and pets it.

Some people would love getting a text like that and they watch the video and wish they were the cat. Some people (I am one of these people and I suspect you are also one of these people) cringe into their souls at the thought of this much physical contact from anyone. It’s not good or bad to be one or the other, but each of us should find people who give us the right sloth/cat/Tickle?/NO TICKLE balance for us.

There is absolutely nothing wrong or “ungenerous” with being a little bit reserved around wanting to be touched or not liking PDA. Political rage and past experiences quite reasonably inform how how our bodies experience and interact with the world. Where is it written that you have to be fair about enduring stuff that you don’t enjoy? Not on Captain Awkward Dot Com, so, at least you’re in the right place.

IF there is any eventual “loosening up” to be done on your part (big if), it will happen someday, with someone else, a future, different date-friend who is not draped over you like a cape. You’ll have space to decide if you’d like to take his hand in a public square or snuggle in closer during a TV show.

Right now, your scripts are:

  • “I don’t like PDA.”
  • “Please stop touching me.”
  • “You know I don’t like that.”
  • “Ask first.”
  • “Please move your hand.”
  • “I’d like to be the one to touch you first.”
  • “I don’t like talking about sexy stuff in public places.”
  • “I’ve had enough.”
  • Him: “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses” You: “I never want that.”

None of that sounds particularly flirtatious or warm but the problem isn’t that you are somehow unloving, the problem is that he keeps pushing and pushing and pushing you until there is no room. You say he always stops when you ask him to, but one cool thing that people who actually respect other people’s boundaries do is gain some self-awareness over time, like, “She keeps asking me to stop doing that thing, so maybe I shouldn’t do that thing in the first place, or I should ask first!” and NOT “She didn’t specifically say stop, so I will keep doing the thing I want to do and as long as she doesn’t say stop it must be cool.” “My love language is touch” isn’t actually a reason for him to keep behaving this way when he knows that you don’t really like it. His love language is touch and your love language is being able to finish your fucking sentences and watch your Sunday night stories in peace.

I feel on some level he’s decided that your reticence is a “challenge” and that it’s his job to fix you and oops, here we go, my knees are up my my chest again and I’m in a little defensive ball on your behalf, like so:

Video Description: A jazzy soundtrack plays (what is with the music on these things?) while some jerk keeps petting a cat who doesn’t want to be petted.

You call this person a date-friend (love this btw, consider it stolen) and not the love of your life, so think about whether you’d like to play the rest of this relationship on Hard Mode, with a warm, possessive hand on your knee during every car ride and the prospect of “Tickles!!!” in every text.

If it helps, think of it as freeing him up to find a fellow sloth to date. Look how happy these dorks are!

Image description: Two sloths hugging tightly in an adorable ball of slothness with little sloth-smiles on their sloth-faces.


It is now time for the summer Captain Awkward Dot Com pledge drive, where I shake the tip jar in the general direction of all of you kind readers. If you like what I do here and are able to support the work, please visit my Patreon page or make a donation via PayPal or Cash.me. Thanks to your support, we’ve made the blog ad-free. My next goal is to take a sabbatical from teaching in 2018 and work on a CaptainAwkward book and other writing projects. Every little bit counts, and I’m grateful for it.

Edited To Add: Here’s an expanded, de-heteroified description of the Five Love Languages if you’re wondering what the heck we’re talking about Thanks @hypatiadotca/Leigh!

377 thoughts on “#1015: Touching, boundaries, and compatibility

  1. Other than the tickling thing, all of this is appealing to me and I like it. (My partner is a “love language is touch” person, too). So it just may be that you’re fundamentally incompatible and you both should be seeing other people who can appreciate not touching/touching as the case may be.

    1. A lot of those things sound appealing to me too (but definitely NO TICKLES ICKSHUDDER NO) but here’s an important thing- when I’m with people who I want to have touch me- I lean into the touch, I also initiate touching, I have “I want to kiss you eyes” when I’m looking at them… Like, there is recognized enthusiastic consent.

      In contrast, I went on a few dates once with a guy I had no date chemistry with and one time he gently and appropriately touched my back walking toward a show (this was like date 3) and I stiffened, and then there was no more casual touching.

    2. I feel like things can get misconstrued so I just want to clarify, I’m telling those anecdotes to express that touching is only ok in all circumstances when both parties are into it.
      I am mad that the partner is not following clear boundaries from the LW. I am not trying to suggest she should react differently in any way.

    3. Absolutely. What each of them wants (i.e., lots of touch v. minimal touch) is perfectly acceptable.

      The only issues for me are (1) he is not trying to compromise with her on this and (2) the tickling bit.

      I’ve a very, very pro touch person to the point where I would get massages every damn day if I could and have cuddle time with the husband for an hour at least. However, I have a strong aversion to tickling. I have an even stronger one to someone who sends a text like that to someone who has already demonstrated they aren’t into touch.

      Personally, if she were my friend, I’d tell her to dump him. They are fundamentally incompatible. He doesn’t want to compromise. He kisses her mid-sentence. He sent tickling email.

      Too many selfish boundary pushing incidents.

      1. Who kisses someone mid-sentence, anyway? (Aside from, someone who’s watched too many romcoms and taken them to be instruction manuals.) Even if you love getting random kisses, which I do, it would still feel like my thoughts and words were being ignored by someone who’s more interested in my body, and that’s never a good feeling. There’s a very strong “Who cares what you’re saying, shut up so I can enjoy kissing you right this exact second,” vibe to it.

        1. Er, well. I love to be kissed midsentence, and I’m not even a touch-is-my-love-language person. But I find the ‘words interspersed with kisses’ thing extremely romantic. Like, very very. Like, I have told partners to do it please.

          The problem isn’t that his way of expressing love is wrong. The problem is that he isn’t respecting her preferences and boundaries.

          (I also am that person who genuinely enjoys tickling. Nobody should be tickled against their will, but oh, I do love it. People are different; the problem is not their difference but their inability to respect other peoples’ differences and boundaries.)

          1. Right, but you’ve given permission by telling partners to do it, and you’re getting “words interspersed with kissing” rather than “I will kiss you because I don’t want to listen to you talking any more.”

          2. @sistercoyote–yes, absolutely. But I was expressly, explicitly responding to a “who does this, anyway?” phrasing.

            I mean, “What kind of person likes to be spanked? Who likes baby talk? What deviant enjoys group sex? Whoooooo could POSSIBLY like tickling?” And on and on. “What kind of crazy person likes this thing?” is a fairly terrible way to approach this topic.

            The LW doesn’t like it. That’s enough. We don’t need to go “what kind of broken human likes tickling” or whatever. And in fact, going there is intensely problematic.

          3. thank you for putting words to this thing. 🙂 I hope I remember them next time I see it elsewhere.

          4. Eh, I don’t think the issue is ‘what kind of person likes this’ so much as ‘what kind of person leads with this without asking.’ Plenty of people like to be spanked, but that doesn’t mean you should just start whacking away without determining your partner’s preferences.

          1. I said this upthread, too, but I’ll post it again:

            Hopefully heading off the inevitable “but I like baby talk sometimes” comments:

            1) I personally super do not like it.
            2) I guess some people do?
            3) If you like it, and you float this is as a trial ballon in a new relationship, know that that’s what it is. A trial balloon. If the other person responds in kind, great! If it gets shot down, desist henceforth!
            4) If you don’t like it, it’s okay to keep not liking it just ’cause other people do. It doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you or you need to lighten up or whatever. Believe your own squick when it comes to your own love life.

          2. “Believe your own squick when it comes to your own love life.”

            That one’s going over the mantle.

      2. uh oh. I’m definitely like the LW and the date-friend? I’ve been married to him for 7 years. I can’t/won’t just dump him. Halp?

        1. When he does it are you able to pick up his hand and move it away, or say “stop” and have him listen and believe you the first time without pouting or an argument?

          1. There’s definitely pouting, fewer arguments now. DEFINITELY mentions of ‘buuut touch is my love language’ as though because of that I owe him a certain amount of touching or allowing him to touch. Which I definitely feel much philosophical-political-rage-resentment about. I hate being on the other end of his feeling unmet, and I also hate having to explain that only my thoughts/feelings matter when it comes to what, when, how any part of my body will come into contact with any other thing. I love him, so ‘love language’ is in play, we have a wide area of shared values, we co-parent our pets as a great team so I don’t think ending the relationship is called for. But the whole ‘touch-no touch’ interface between us is exhausting for both of us.

          2. If this is a relationship you guys want to keep, it sounds like the thing to do is negotiate what sort of touches you are okay with, and for him to focus on those touches. My partner is both a touchy and a nontouchy person; he likes back skritches and such but doesn’t like PDAs, so we do that and I don’t expect him to walk hand in hand. I expect it’s going to be a lot easier for him to hear “I like this kind of touch” rather than nonono all the time. Do you like having your feet rubbed after work? Do you like sitting together watching tv? Find some touches you *do* like where he can have a reasonable expectation of doing this and not being rebuffed, and see how it goes from there. imo.

        2. “so I don’t think ending the relationship is called for”

          – There are no federally-mandated Noping-Out Regulations that you are required to meet before deciding that something is a dealbreaker, or that you no longer want to be in a relationship. If what you mean is “this thing is bad, but on balance I would rather tolerate it than give him up”, then hey, YOUR DECISION, nobody else gets to make that for you. But. That’s way different than falling into the trap of thinking that it’s not OK to leave unless there are particular cons that outweigh the pros by a particular amount.

          – “it’s my love language” is just the newest way of saying “but I have neeeeeeeds” or “baby, why you got to be so uptight”. In other words, it’s a dude insisting that his wants should trump your boundaries, and also rather curiously giving no fucks about what YOUR “love languge” is.

          – Pouting and sulking are not things a grown-ass human should be doing, ever.

          1. Yeah the “love languages” concept is a handy way to frame things when negotiating preferences for giving and receiving attention and affection, but the fact that somebody managed to identify your particular romantic M.O. does not mean that every partner automatically has to just shut up and deal with it.

        3. Bummer. It sounds like it’s worth it enough right now? If you knew how it would be 7 years in (with the pouting and exhausting efforts) when you were at date-friend level would you have persisted? or ended things?

        4. One thing I think gets glossed over by lots of folks and especially by lots of articles, quizzes, etc. online is that there really isn’t *only one* Love Language that an individual person can enjoy and appreciate! Even if Touch is his PRIMARY Love Language, there may be/almost certainly are other ones he would respond to. My spouse and I have taken a few classes on this, and it’s funny – our Languages don’t match up, but the *proportions* do. So he’s, say, 40% Touch, 30% Words of Affirmation, 20% Quality Time, 5% Gifts and 5% Acts of Service. I’m 40% Acts of Service, 30% Quality Time, 20% Touch, 5% Gifts and 5% Words of Affirmation.

          If you do want to keep and improve the relationship (and it sounds like you do!), maybe you can figure out other ways to help him feel your love, that don’t necessarily involve more touch than you want or feel comfortable with. You deserve to be comfortable too!

        5. This may not be helpful or applicable but! I’m the more physically affectionate one in my relationship and while my SO (of 7 years) has been swayed more to my side, he still doesn’t want to be touched as much as I do. I was able to take the rejection (because it definitely feels like rejection at first when your partner doesn’t want your platonic touch! Like perhaps I am a gross beast?) much more gracefully when he worked on giving more of a “hey, thanks but no thanks” loving kind of pass instead of “ugh NO DON’T TOUCH” recoiling. And talking more explicitly about when we’re both likely to want some space (working, while super into a show. Etc) and making purposeful time to be close in ways we both enjoy.

          On the flip side, sometimes he likes to smack my butt randomly (always in private though) and while I don’t particularly care for it, I will deal with it as a minor annoyance because he’s otherwise fantastic. And he accepts that if I get grumpy because he chose a bad time or whatever, that’s on his head and not mine! So if you feel like it’s a small thing in the balance of your relationship, let your displeasure at it shine free and they’ll probably learn sooner rather than later?

          1. Yeah, talking about it and getting it out in the open so you can together come up with solutions is a lot better than the whole touch-recoil-feel hurt thing. That stage of our marriage was No Fun; insisting on using our words rather than relying on mind-reading and shared assumptions has been a relationship-saver.

        6. Oh Lord, you’re me. Mine actually enjuys tickling, and I had to focus on going limp/not reacting to break him of that little habit. On the plus side, I’m pretty much un-tickleable now, so… yay?

        7. I’m the sloth and my husband is the cat. But although I confess to much pouting initially, I then dialled it right back. It helped that he was very clear that he did not like being touched under many circumstances. (Thinking of him as a cat definitely helped – and I’m delighted that the Captain has now given me the identity of a sloth.) I would ask for touch when I really needed it, and he would give it, and I wouldn’t sulk when it stopped.

          Gradually, over nearly 20 years, we have each modified our behaviour and met somewhere near the middle. Now he asks me for hugs every once in a while! Yay. I do think the sloth type person has to just drop it at some point, or they are never going to get what they want – free and willing touch.

        8. My husband and I are also in this position. He’s super touchy feely and I am not.

          Can I suggest a wee, pratical thing that works for us? When we are sitting watching tv etc, I sit in an armchair and he sits on the couch. He can’t reach me from the couch so if I do feel like being cuddly, I’ll go and sit beside him.

          This doesn’t solve all the ‘don’t touch me’ issues, but we communicate about these in other ways. This is just one way of us arranging things so that I don’t have to verbally express stuff all the time. I’m all for communicating in a relationship but sometimes I’m just so tired I don’t want to talk through my emotional state and my current comfortableness with being touched. Therefore, I sit in the armchair and he takes that as a previously agreed upon sign that I do not want to be touched.

      3. It sounds like he doesn’t actually *care* that he’s making her uncomfortable, or is blaming her for “reacting incorrectly” to his physical attention. Either way, doesn’t sound like somebody I’d date.

    4. My last few relationships were with guys that only touched me when sex was happening. It made me feel really awful and unloved. My current boyfriend is extremely touchy and I realize what I was missing and I’ll never go back to a relationship with no physical affection. Apparently, I’m a touchy person.

      Neither is wrong, but it’s very hard to be fulfilled and comfortable if your touch and affection levels do not sort of line up. I need physical touch to feel loved and I would make someone like LW supremely uncomfortable. That’s not fair to either party.

      1. Yes! I even managed to convince myself, when with non-touchy partners, that I was, like, proving to myself that I trusted in their love and affection, and that was a good thing. Or something. I would tell myself things like “I don’t need _____” and think that we were somehow better or stronger because we didn’t “depend” on things like that.


        And then I started dating someone who actually LIKES physical affection and it’s like a whole new world. Like, waitaminute I’m allowed to want things even if I don’t need them.

      2. Ugh, in a relationship that turned physically abusive, one of the warning signs was that he was affectionate to start with, but later stopped any touching except for sex, then only wanted insta-sex, then it had to be insta-sex that had no possibility of gratification for me whatsoever.

        And of course, talking about this with him would result in him acting as though he had no idea what I was talking about.

        He had such a convincing good guy act, made all the more bewildering by his actually having been a good guy. Lesson: When people choose to change for the worse, believe them.

  2. LW, as someone whose primary love language is touch, and who was recently in (and more recently out of) a relationship with someone who has a very low tolerance or desire for casual touch/PDA/cuddles, I recommend seriously considering the Captain’s closing words.

    I (believe I) did come to a point where I was able to automatically respect my partner’s boundaries without having to be reminded of them constantly, but honestly it sucked to not be able to express and receive affection in my preferred manner, and I felt ensmallened. I finally had to admit that I was just not compatible with this person. I am a “draped over them like a cape” kind of partner and I am much happier in a relationship with someone who also prefers that level of contact. It sounds like the two of you are just incompatible — you will probably be happier with a date-friend who does not primarily express affection through touch, and it is also likely that your date-friend will be happier seeing someone who is more contact-centric.

    1. This was my first reaction too. I like touch and don’t like being grabbed in public, too, but at the same time, I feel bad for this guy. Since you guys are just starting out, it seems like it would be easier to just stop now rather than go through a few months of this.

    2. Agreed. I would LOVE a touch-centric relationship like what the LW is describing (and I am in one). But LW not only does not love it but actively dislikes it. That is valid. That is fine. But probably neither of them is ever going to truly feel like their needs are being met unless it comes at the cost of the other’s needs. It’s simple incompatibility. I’d cut it off now while you’re in the early stages. Go be free and find someone who doesn’t want to touch you all the time.

    3. Yes, this.

      Not wanting to be touched is an entirely reasonable want to have, but it’s veryveryvery unlikely to result in a mutually fulfilling relationship when the other person doesn’t feel connected without frequent casual touch. That does sound straight up not compatible. Dating is great because it allows people to discover these things before making commitments.

      I’m touch-oriented, but it requires some navigation of trust gates to get to the point where I’m comfortable enough to want touch from someone specific. I have many good and close friendships without much touch, but my ideal position for watching the Great British Bake-Off with my significant other is snuggled up if the temperature allows. But trying to get more touchy with me than I’m comfortable with, sounds like failing the trust gates, and the trust gates slamming shut.

      1. Sometimes it’s not something you can learn ahead of time, though. We…had children. The kids are great! it also turns out that the children often make me touched out completely, to the point of flinching and jumping if touched, by the time my spouse gets home from work!

        you can imagine the wonders it does for our relationship.

        1. So. True. On the bright side it isn’t forever .. the kids will stop draping themselves all over you and you’ll be looking for snuggles from an adult again.

    4. Yeah it is both sad and heartening to read a letter where 1) the problem is SUPER REAL and 2) nobody is the asshole. Good luck OP, and may you find the physically reserved human of your dreams for dating!

  3. I’m a cuddlebug with people I trust. Nonetheless, I wanted to curl up defensively at some of the things your date-friend is doing. I don’t want to people to touch me for more than a minute when I’m in a car. The tickling text – noooo. The kissing when you hadn’t finished your thought would have me yelling at my partner because NO. So – no, you are not being unreasonable! And even if you were being out of the norm for physical touch, you’re still allowed to like what you like and dislike what you dislike. As someone who will legitimately complain about being cuddle-deficient, I’m 100% on your side.

    1. Another person who loves physical affection and is a hugger with friends coming in to say that I was also curling up at some of this.

    2. I’m much the same…. still, there seems to be a thread running through all the date-friend’s actions, in that they’re so focused on meeting their own needs that they’re running roughshod over the LW’s. I’ve always kind of been of the opinion that if I have to tell someone not to do something I actively dislike more than a few times, they really just don’t care about me that much. For example, anyone who has known me for more than a month or so would *never* try the touching while driving thing-I am a gearhead who takes driving very seriously. Distract me while driving, and you’ll be lucky if all I do is refuse to ever let you in my car again. You’re welcome to think that I’m overreacting and all, but I was taught to drive by my parents, who actually did some competitive motorsports, and that in a car, you do not mess with the driver, period.

      But back to the LW’s situation… I’m just getting the feeling that th friend isn’t taking the LW’s requests particularly seriously. I don’t know if they just can’t wrap their head around the idea of someone not being cuddle-crazy, or what, but I’ve been in similar situations. People seem to miss the point that it really doesn’t matter if you can’t understand the big deal with casual contact–you’re still making my skin crawl. Polite people with good manners don’t do shit that makes someone uncomfortable; whether or not their viewpoint makes any sense.


    (I’m trying to figure out what about that text message skeeves me out so much. I think it’s because tickling is (in my experience) virtually always done without consent? And I’m not even a person who categorically dislikes being tickled as a sensation!)

    1. For me I think it’s the tonal dissonance that makes the text so unpleasant – the cutesy phrasing describing something that the LW finds deeply off-putting.

        1. I occasionally have a tummy, mostly when I’m having a conversation with a dog, a cat, or my four-year-old niece. Otherwise I have an undifferentiated brain suitcase with legs.

          1. I am laughing so hard at the “undifferentiated brain suitcase with legs” phrase. Brilliant!

          2. “Otherwise I have an undifferentiated brain suitcase with legs.”

            AHAHAHAHAH*cough* excuse me *giggles some more*

            I don’t take issue with the terms “tummy” or “belly” in a family/close friends/lovers situation, but then again, I also enjoy some ridiculous stuff.

            I’m a touch-centric person (I would also classify my primary love language as touch), and I feel like the LW and her partner may just be too seriously mismatched on this issue to stay together.

            She’s having to constantly reject his overtures, he’s constantly pushing her boundaries, and I don’t see a “happy medium” evolving where everyone’s wants and needs are being met.

            As someone who has been the more-touch-centric partner (although I *do read signals!!!*), it can hurt to feel constantly pushed away by someone who wants less physical intimacy and contact.

            I suspect that they’d be happier apart.

          3. I am astonished that people keep dodging the fact that this narrative, here in this set of comments, specifically, continually portrays a set of consensual sexual behaviors as bad and wrong and “icky.” And it’s okay because hey, we all know that specific sexual behavior is gross!

            I’m sorry, I’m out. Captain, I don’t mean that as a criticism of you. But it’s really telling to me that we here are only okay with sex if nobody says “tummy.”

          4. We are clearly not seeing this the same way. Perhaps another time another thread another day.

        2. I’m a huge fan of touch in a relationship. I hug friends. I do the European kiss greeting with some.

          The tickling her tummy bit? Oh, hell no.

          That isn’t about touch v. not.

          Every man I’ve ever known who was a tickler was also an a**. Many of them sexist and abusive.

          It’s not that tickling can’t be a great part of a consensual relationship between adults. It’s just that it so often isn’t. (So, please no pushback about consensual tickling b/c that’s not what’s being described here.

          Tickling is a power-play in many cases.

          In my state, there is caselaw that says tickling a child can be abuse in certain contexts.

          This is a huge red flag for me.

          1. In my state, there is caselaw that says tickling a child can be abuse in certain contexts.

            Out of curiosity, if you’re willing to say, which state?

            Because tickling, in my family? Was absolutely abuse.

            (I really hope my coding works because I ahven’t tried before…)

          2. “Every man I’ve ever known who was a tickler was also an a**. Many of them sexist and abusive.”

            Yep. This. LW, your visceral negative reaction is SO shared, even from people whose love language is touch.

          3. You are so right on about tickling. My dad, who was actually a pretty decent and loving guy, (albeit replete with a lot of old timey gendered thinking and an alcohol problem), would tickle me until I could not bear anymore and would start to cry. In fact, it seems that many of the adults in my family went through a period of doing this to me, once the word got out that “Seventies hates to be tickled and overreacts and oh isn’t that the funniest thing! ” It got to a point that I started to have this recurring dream of a big bad wolf coming to the door, promising not to tickle me if I let him inside the house, and then doing so, vigorously.

            And yes, guys who persist in tickling when you’ve made it clear you don’t like it are generally a giant jerk package.

            I remember telling one dude that he ever tried to tickle me, I could not be responsible for my physical reaction, and he might get hit in his boy bits. Not on purpose, but because I tend to flail about wildly when I am under attack like that, and will do pretty much anything to make it stop.

            I’m gratified that we live in an era now of so much more awareness of bodily autonomy and consent. There was some bullshit when I was growing up. There still is, but it’s a bit better. My youngest is even less into touching and hugging than I am, and I learned a lot from him, being his mother. That kid was born with a sense of boundaries.

          4. @sistercoyote

            I can’t tell you where I am without potentially doxxing myself.

            TW for those touch averse: stop reading now. Please.

            If you google tickling + abuse or tickle torture, some very interesting (but very distressing) results come up.

            The Han Dynasty used it. The Japanese learned it from the Chinese imperial overlords. kusuguri-zeme or “merciless tickling” was codified in the law.

            The Nazis used it, particularly on gay men.

            I know cops in the US once used it as an interrogation technique b/c it can be excruciating, but leaves no marks.

            Sexual abusers and child abusers use it as a grooming technique.

            I’ve seen it come up in DV cases. It’s difficult to get judges to understand that a husband can use it to torture his wife, but some judges will get it. (This case involved 2 men, so it was even a higher hurdle).

            Bullies use it on playgrounds b/c it doesn’t leave scars and they can easily claim it was done with consent or with good intentions. Too many adults think of it as harmless fun.

            I also have some friends into BDSM and it’s very definitely something hard doms use. While it is consensual, the point is that it’s consensual torture to the sub.

            Yes, it can be playful and fun for both parties but only if there is enthusiastic consent. In many cases, it’s done b/c there’s no consent, but it’s easy for the tickler to deny any wrongdoing.

          5. Whoa.

            I am a woman who actively enjoys being tickled.

            I am also a woman who has only had bad experiences with polyamorous men. (As another commenter said, I suspect sarcastically, HIGH FIVE!)

            In a lot of states, polyamory is, at best, Frowned Upon and can get you into serious shit during divorce proceedings.

            I… just… what? Those of us who like it should stop it because it freaks some people out and parts of the USA are against it? If that was the rule we went by, the vast majority of BDSM would be off the table.

            Please don’t tell me that my partners are probably abusive because you don’t personally enjoy it. Please. It’s actively dangerous to me to have that idea spread.

          6. @Turtle Candle

            I’m glad it works for you.

            Here’s the But.

            You have given your permission, or at least enthusiastic consent.

            No one is talking about banning tickling.

            I asked Aveline to expand on “Tickling as Torture”, and they did.

            In literally every instance cited, the tickling was not consensual. For the LW, tickling is not only not something she wants to do, it is something that actively set her hackles up.

            Do you see a difference?

            My mother used to sit on me and then tickle me until I couldn’t breathe. I never consented and in fact frequently shouted STOP until I couldn’t anymore.

            You do you; like I said. I’m glad tickling is a consensual activity with your partners that you enjoy. Everyone should be able to have that, don’t you think? Consensual, mutually enjoyable, activities?

          7. The number of times I couldn’t get past the “St-” in “Stop!” because I couldn’t take deep enough breaths as a result of an otherwise trusted person *overriding my central nervous system for their own amusement* and declaring that I must like it because I’m (involuntarily) smiling/laughing.

            No. Just, no.

            I like small, light, brief feathery tickles occasionally; but oh, tickling can be a fraught business.

          8. I appreciate that this tickling thread exists.

            The issue with tickling is that it has a widely-held reputation as harmless fun no matter what the power dynamic, so that the lines between consensual and nonconsensual tickling are culturally blurred. That’s why (even though there’s plenty of good as well) it’s important to talk about the downside and I’m glad it’s happening here.

            I was lucky enough to read some really good advice on tickling/not tickling children when my child was an infant, and I’ve gotten to know the difference between good tickling and bad tickling for children. (Once I had to ask a friend to stop tickling my toddler. I explained to her that it was overstimulating and I could tell it didn’t feel good to him anymore. She was very surprised but receptive. After she left my kid was distressed enough to want to talk it over with me kind of wide-eyed. “Why did she do that?”) I used to not tickle at all. Then I found that very, very brief tickling (mostly just the threat of tickling with a genuine gentle poke here and there) was something my kid enjoyed, you could tell be the quality of his laughter, by the fact he was actually smiling… by the fact that he said “again!”

            I share this in case there’s anyone else with kids out there. My dad used to tickle us kids and the hard and fast rule was we couldn’t tickle back. It wasn’t bad enough for me to consider abuse but it was definitely one of the ways he asserted his power and it continually crossed the line from “this is fun and exciting” into “this is giving me a knot of tension in my chest but what can I do about it?” My dad had good intentions–and probably some subconscious desire to take out his own tensions–on us. I think it’s important for parents to understand it has both a good and a bad side, and it’s definitely a place where respect for boundaries plays out.

          9. @Turtle, I know this has been addressed downthread but I think you should look at your kneejerk reaction to criticism of tickling without prior consent as potentially abusive, because:
            -hitting, choking, spanking, controlling a partner’s free time/whereabouts, yelling, name-calling, and body shaming can all be part of a consenting, healthy, BDSM relationship (and may be part of yours!) but you don’t seem to have a problem when people say that these behaviors are all red flags absent some prior agreement.
            -Why is tickling different for you?

          10. My mom, growing up, used to get tickled by adults so much she would wet her pants. It was humiliating to her but the adults would always read her “stop!” as part of the game. So when we were kids she was always insistent that we only got tickled if we wanted to. As I recall I mostly liked tickles. I don’t now, but no one tries it on me now!

            My kids LOVE tickles. They never want me to stop! But I always make sure to give them a break any time they are giggling too hard to breathe, and when they can breathe again they have to ask for more tickles. I just would hate to tickle them more than they wanted, and with tickling it’s just so hard to tell if they like it or not.

        3. I have a friend who will ask how my “tum tum” is (I have a stomach disorder) and it just makes me ick all over. Like, wtf dude?
          Whole scale-of-thing, not a big deal, but whyyyyyy?

          1. Not telling you how to run your relationships, but if it were me, someone who insisted on referring to my stomach as my “tum tum” would be rapidly downgraded to a Super Small Doses Friend, if not booted out the airlock of the FriendShip altogether. (shudders)

          2. Oh, it’s really NBD. Really good friend. It’s just one thing he does, everyone has something, right? I’m sure if I said something he wouldn’t.

            He’s one of the few friends who was really concerned about the weight loss due to the disorder, as opposed to complimentary. I had so many versions of “OMG, you’ve lost a lot of weight. You look great.” [expectant pause while they wait for me to tell them my secret; I respond with some kind of flat “I have a chronic condition, it makes me feel terrible.”] they nod and say “As long as you’re healthy!” [ummmm…. “I have a chronic condition, I feel terrible.” They awkwardly extricate themselves from the conversation]. Even after mentioning to my family that this was upsetting, my sister greeted me at Christmas with “You look so great [realizes what she just did]… I know you said you hate it when people tell you that, but you look really great.” (I had just spent two days in bed) I respond with a headshake and demand she hand over the baby (her youngest). I’m just saying, I’ll take a tum-tum over that any day.

        4. Eh, I use infantilizing language with my partner sometimes (in our case, usually silly nicknames). Like ashbet, I don’t necessarily take issue with it — it can be an expression of tenderness. I think the main issue here is that the LW and her date friend’s preferences are so mismatched. He could definitely be making a bigger effort to anticipate her boundaries, but ultimately, like other people said, I think the main problem is that it’s going to be hard for them to reach a compromise that makes both of them happy.

          1. Hey sometimes I head-butt Mr. Awkward like a wee little mountain goat in the privacy of my own home. And yet, lots of stuff that would be cool for other people is a HARD PASS for me and it’s good to learn where your own lines are. If the Letter Writer is squicked out by this, that’s important information, and “it’s cool when other people do it” isn’t the most important information even if it is true.

          2. Cap, no offense meant, but when people are actively espousing the idea that people only do certain physical/sexual acts because they’re abusers, it’s actually important to push back against that. And that’s what’s happening here. “People only tickle because they’re secretly abusive” is like “people are only into BDSM because they secretly want to beat people up” or “people are only into polyamory because they want to take advantage of women.” It’s not just wrong, it’s dangerously wrong, and it actively removes agency from women who do consent to it.

          3. @Jennifer: ““it’s cool when other people do it” isn’t the most important information even if it is true.”

            You’re right, and I apologize if I’ve contributed to LW’s discomfort.

            I was feeling a little defensive when I posted. I can see now that you (and other people in this subthread) meant “I really really don’t like X!” with your comment, but at the time it came across to me as “ewww, what deviant likes X?”, and that made me feel not great.

            That said, of course we are here mainly for the LW and LW, if this kind of stuff makes you uncomfortable you absolutely do not have to endure it or train yourself to like it. Your boundaries are important and I’m sorry your date-friend keeps trying to push against them.

            Also I will try to avoid commenting out of defensiveness in the future.

            Also also, the head-butting thing is adorable. 🙂

          4. @Turtle Candle Yeah, I’m a little put off by the hostility of some of the comments. People are asserting quite freely that there are nefarious motives at play here and that this, that, and the other are all signs of abuse or otherwise unhealthy interaction. And based on the information we have, there is just no need to jump to that conclusion. The simple fact that LW does not enjoy the interactions as they stand is enough. We can support and validate that without painting the date friend as a creepy abuser.

          5. @Turtle Candle:

            Sorry, have run out of nesting. Turtle Candle, I’m trying to reply to this post of yours:

            ‘Cap, no offense meant, but when people are actively espousing the idea that people only do certain physical/sexual acts because they’re abusers, it’s actually important to push back against that. And that’s what’s happening here.’

            No. It isn’t. I’ll try and keep this as brief as I can because I appreciate we’re within about a hairsbreadth of completely derailing this, but it bothers me *greatly* when someone so completely misunderstands/misrepresents what’s being said about something, so I want to at least have a shot at clarifying.

            This subthread was started by someone (Aveline) who spoke of her personal experience with ‘ticklers’ and specifically clarified that she was *not* talking about consensual tickling. Other people have chimed in with their own personal experiences of tickling being used as abuse against them. All of this, of course, is in response to an OP whose date-friend not only sent her a text about tickling without checking that she was OK with tickling first but did so in the clear knowledge that she doesn’t like being touched outside sex – and that obviously isn’t a consensual situation.

            Unless I’ve really missed something here (and if I have, I apologise here and now), nobody has said or implied at any point that tickling is only done by abusers. This conversation has been about how non-consensual tickling can be used as abuse or just as a red flag, in response to someone who had a non-consensual text about tickling.

            I completely agree with you that we shouldn’t dismiss all tickling as abuse and that in fact it would be outrageous to do that. That just is not what is being said here. When you claim that it is, then – albeit not deliberately – you’re misrepresenting what has been said.

            (I’m going to add that I have a daughter who *loves* being tickled and that we have, between the two of us, set up ways that she can enjoy me tickling her with full ability to stop me whenever it gets too much. I also have a son who hates being tickled – for him, it definitely would be abusive. No contradiction. Just two different children with completely individual preferences.)

        5. I have the same reaction to “tummy” between two adults as I do to an adult who says they “have to go potty” when there are no children around.

          1. Same. See also adults using “sammich,” “jammies,” “pasketti,” or any of those other “kid words.” Total pet peeve of mine.

          2. No joke, even when I was a kid, when my mom used the word “sammy” instead of “sandwich” I would actually push the damn sandwich away and refuse to eat it. I don’t understand how Brits stand it with everyone talking about their “veg,” “choccy,” “holibobs,” and the gen million other baby-ass-sounding words peppered throughout their lexicon.

          3. @strawberries and raspberries If it makes you feel better I’m from Britain and have never heard of holibobs and very rarely hear choccy. Veg is used fairly frequently but just a shortening of vegetables, not as a cutesy word.

        6. That’s immediately what I thought of, “isn’t ‘kissing your tummy and tickling’ something you do to distract babies while you’re dressing them?” No, thank you, sir.

      1. To me, using cutesy language that is generally used with a child or a pet combined feels like a doubling-down on the lack of respect for the LW’s boundaries. LW expresses touch boundaries repeatedly. Date-friend pushes boundaries in person and expresses a desire to push boundaries really far *while using diminishing language* to express that desire. Regardless of whether or not you enjoy baby-talk / cutesy language, once it’s in a boundary pushing context, it becomes creepy. Particularly in the context of tickling, which far too many people do to children with zero regard for their consent.

        1. Thank you for articulating what I felt but couldn’t find the words for, Goodnight! It’s one thing to use infantilizing language as an endearment to someone to whom you otherwise show respect. To use it *specifically* when one is trying to push a boundary, however, reads to me as if they’re saying, “You are not an adult. Therefore, you do not get to set boundaries with me. I can do whatever I want to you, just as a parent can do to a small child… because you do not deserve, nor will you get, an adult’s right to make their own choices.”

          Even a child should have the right to make their own choices about their bodies in ways which don’t inadvertently leave them unsafe or unhealthy, of course! I’ve got two kids and they learned very young that “Enough!” made tickling or any other just-for-fun touch stop instantly, reinforced by a statement of, “Okay — your body, your rules.” But since a large percentage of people consider children to be obligated to obey adults and endure anything an adult wants to do to them, using language which makes them seem like a child precisely when you’re pushing the limits of what you’re allowed to do to their body is VERY nasty tactics.

          AT BEST, I think that they’re not only incompatible, but that this guy also has a lot to learn about respecting boundaries before he is ready to be involved with anyone. He’s stopping in the moment when he’s asked, but he is not learning what not to try in the first place from previous experience, and he’s terrible at asking for consent BEFORE taking action, even when he knows his partner has not been comfortable with many things he has tried before. At worst, he’s not just incompatible with her and clueless, but subtly and deliberately trying to wear her down and get what he wants even though he knows it is not what she wants. Which would make him a complete asshole.

          1. I was gaslighted around tickling from an early age. I never liked it, and I would clearly express, “Stop, I don’t like it,” but my mom would literally say, “Then why are you laughing?” and keep tickling me.

          2. You’ve analysed it beautifully. It’s perhaps easy to start acting like that when what one considers a need isn’t being met. But to keep going, despite constant reminders that one’s behaviour is not welcome, is not good at all.

        2. I legitimately think this is why we use diminutive language with actual young children in the first place – the same creepy tactic to ignore/violate boundaries, because lots of people don’t think the young get to have boundaries, because rampant adultism in our culture.

    2. The language also strikes me as rather infantilizing, in my opinion. Every time someone who is trying to flirt with me starts treating me like a small child, my shoulders go up around my ears.

      1. +10000

        I hate being talked to like that or called “baby” or “girl.” I’m almost 50. I’m not your baby and I’m not a girl. I also haven’t had a tummy in 40 years.

      2. I mean, but, baby-play is a thing that adult humans consensually do. I am not sure why it’s Wrong in a way that, say, spanking, or polyamory, is.

        1. Whoops, I goofed up the phrasing. I meant to say: I am not sure why it’s Wrong in a way that, say, spanking, or polyamory, isn’t.

          1. I guess I put tickling solidly in the same category as spanking and polyamory — they’re all things that you really can’t *assume* any given random person is okay having done to them/with them.

            There’s a difference between someone saying to me, “I want to [tickle/spank] you” and “Are you interested in [tickling/spanking]?” The latter puts the other person’s desires first, and puts me in the unpleasant position of needing to jump immediately to defending my boundaries; the second is an invitation to a conversation where I can start out with my boundaries.

        2. I am going to say this again:

          If you are into baby play (or insert whatever it is here) it is your job to bring that the fuck up in a way that your partner can understand what it is you’re after and make a decision about whether they are into it, too. If you try to work a little bit into your romantic life and you don’t get an enthusiastic response, STAHP.
          If you are not into that, being reminded that some people are into it doesn’t mean shit re: your decision about whether you are into it.

          The people reading this who are into lots and lots of cuddling (or, what have you) are capable of understanding this. One person’s “Yikes, nope!” reaction is not a general judgment on the practice, nor however is it an invitation to discuss how great it can be. People can be good people and really incompatible. In cases of romance, especially in early dating, I am like “Viva incompatibility! Let it all come out now, so people can make good decisions about whether they want to bail or work on it early on.” Ticklers/Ticklees = find each other. Low-touch people = find each other. Maybe ace-maybe-bi-ladies–who-want-low-key-snuggles = find each other.

          Turtle Candle, you and I aren’t arguing, don’t worry! This is good prep for teaching film classes and getting beyond “I like it/I didn’t like it” in discussions.

          1. Thanks for this. I actually had a partner who was into baby play but who REFUSED to bring it up like an adult and just kept trying to slip it into otherwise unrelated conversations/encounters. It was incredibly off-putting, not because I wouldn’t have gone for it (it’s not my thing, but it’s not something I’m horribly averse to if someone else is into it) but because he kept approaching it in a way that was clearly about trying to circumvent my boundaries instead of asking for what he wanted directly.

        3. Neither Zombie Bunny nor Aveline said it was “WRONG.” They said they didn’t like it. You get to do you, but they get to do them.

        4. I never said it was per se wrong. I just see it used frequently to dehumanize by people who do not get consent from their target.

          Also, are you really saying that spanking or polyamory are wrong? B/c that’s to me is wrong.

          Anything two (or more) consenting, enthusiastic, capable adults want to do is fine by me.

          My issue is that a lot of these things are power moves inflicted upon people who do not consent.

        5. It’s not Wrong, but unless you think it would be okay to surprise someone with a spanking or just go out and start dating someone else without discussing it with your partner, the way datefriend is approaching it is definitely Wrong.

    3. For me it just reads as really infantilizing. I am so-so on casual touch – I like to cuddle at home and hold hands maybe in public, but PDA beyond that would not be for me. But that text sounds like describing what you do with a cute toddler, not a sexytimes date friend. (I mean, clearly *some* people do that with sexytimes date friends! Which is totally fine as long as both people are into it! But that text would be a huge N O P E for me.)

      1. Tickling is often a power play. It’s very, very different than most other forms of touch.

        1. Also to add this: tickling is like spanking or biting or even anal sex. If it’s done by consent ahead of time it can be great for both people. If it’s done without express permission, that’s a party foul worthy of considering dumping the offender. If it’s done over express objection, It’s an automatic dump for me.

          1. Agree with this. My SO has a lot of body-horror issues, that extend to him hating being pinched, tickled, poked, etc. While I’m not generally an affectionate/touchy person (except with people I really love and trust, like my SO) I grew up in a playful household where tickling and playful poking was normal. But all that meant was A: I felt horrible when I poked/tickled him the first time and he reacted badly and B: I made a conscious effort to STOP DOING IT because why would I want to deliberately upset this amazing guy?

            I later found out his abusive ex would pinch and poke him to deliberately give him panic attacks. Sometimes, unwanted touch is downright sadistic.

            Sometimes I slip up and accidentally give him a playful poke, but I back off immediately and apologize. A small part of me wants to tickle him, but I know he hates it and it upsets him so… I don’t? Because I love him? And he’s not a conquest and I’m don’t have a point to prove be deliberately making him uncomfortable?

            LW, I feel like your date-friend should’ve gotten the hint by now. He fully understands you don’t like being touched and *just doesn’t care*. Even if your dislike of touch is rooted in Past Traumas, he’s not entitled to details to make you statement of “Please don’t do that” suddenly valid. He’s concerned with what he wants, not with what makes you comfortable. He’s literally ignoring your “no”. ABORT.

      2. This text is infantalizing: NO DOUBT. I have no argument there.

        As with all of us, my views on this matter are very much influenced by my experiences. My reflexive response to tickling is usually to clamp my arms down and put my head down to diminish my available surface area. This happens without a lot of conscious intention on my part. A tickle that really gets a rise out of me will then usually be someone who snuck up on me and touched me without warning and, necessarily, without getting consent beforehand.

        For me, a relationship where someone doesn’t have to get specific consent for every time they touch me is actually REALLY FUCKING INTIMATE, and implies a really high level of trust. My mom, who I hug more than I hug any other person, still asks every time she touches my head.

        *Assuming* that degree of trust at the beginning of a relationship strikes me as profoundly icky.

        I think that’s probably what’s getting me here, at a more basic level — the gap between what the datefriend here is *assuming* is okay and what he’s actually checked in with the LW to make sure is okay. It’s like my dude is interacting with an imaginary person who has the same preferences that he does and not the LW at all.

        1. Also, you don’t start any baby talk or similar potentially problematic “terms of endearment” via text. You do it in person where you can see the reaction of the other party.

          I know people who do this. I know people who use racially problematic terms or terms like “bitch.” This is ok if there is consent.

          Not ok to do over a text where you cannot see the other party’s reaction.

  5. I have to say, this letter actually makes me feel a lot better. I have a huge aversion to being touched. I don’t mind hand holding, and when my kids were younger I was a big hugger/cuddler/kisser with them. But as they’ve gotten older, I’m no longer physically affectionate with them. I don’t like to cuddle in bed with my husband (after sexy times). Even having his feet rub my leg annoys me. And to be honest, I’ve always felt like a cold-hearted freak about this. Like, I’m not an affectionate person and my poor family members are stuck with someone who doesn’t care enough about them to be touchy-feely. Intellectually, I know that people fall on a spectrum as far as craving physical contact, but I’m literally off the far end. So while I don’t have a solution beyond finding someone who is very understanding and/or shares the same level of physical need (as in, zero), at least you (and I) can be consoled by the fact that this is clearly not a weird flaw but rather just the way that we were made.

  6. There are other people you could be dating who don’t like touch either. No reason to try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

  7. “Maybe it’s really sad that compliments about my body make me cringe, maybe it’s weird and cold and ungenerous of me to be like ‘touch me during sexy time, please, but omg can you just keep your hands to yourself when we are watching Game of Thrones?'”

    Dear, dear LW. Wanting to be in charge of when and how you get touched? Is not weird, cold, or ungenerous. Needing a partner to respect your boundaries? Is not ungenerous. Your preferences for physical touch and lack thereof do not say anything about you as a person. If they work for you, that is good enough. If they do not work for your partner, then you may be incompatible. But yeah this whole post had my shoulders up around my ears like STOP TOUCHING MY KNEES NO TICKLE JUST NO
    Like if this guy needs to touch that much, maybe he should get a really cuddly dog. But even that dog would have times and ways it didn’t want to be touched and he is just going to have to learn to live with that.

    1. Yes. I’d also point out that there are two issues here.

      (1) Does she have some aversion to touch rooted in abuse, body issues, etc. that is ultimately unhealthy for her?
      (2) Dude’s lack of respect for her stated boundaries.

      She may or may not to work out her issues with touch with a therapist. But even if she’s touch-averse for a reason that is not healthy, dude’s being really disrespectful and trampling all over stated boundaries.

      That isn’t about touch good v. touch bad. It’s about respect.

      1. I could have written this, and I’m just real damn sensitive to touch. I am indeed a cat. Nothing about this read as unhealthy to me, and she specified no abuse. Me personally, I’ve always been like this.

      2. As someone who has worked through trauma based touch aversion and is now very physically affectionate with my current partner, I can tell you that progress only happened at all because she was patient, clearly and immediately respected when I asked not to be touched for any reason, and checks in often about my comfort level with any given touch. We dont have to check in as often now that trust has been established, but if she had taken it upon herself to “help” by deciding it was a problem I needed to fix (by being touched) instead of a normal thing she was happy to work with, I probably wouldnt have been comfortable with any touch, ever. It was clear that my boundaries about touch were/are not problems and that the goal of respecting my boundaries was for me to be comfortable in the moment, not to “fix” me and get rid of them. Those boundaries existing is not a problem in itself and did not need to be worked on unless it was something I was worried about and wanted to change.

        My point is, sure, maybe LW has a traumatic or anxious base for not wanting to be touched, but it isn’t relevant. Respecting your partners wishes is always good form, and putting it on LW to “heal” by not having those boundaries anymore isn’t helpful if there IS trauma and she DOES need and want to heal. It’s really only issue 2! If issue 1 does exist, 2 is exacerbating it and is the thing that needs addressing.

        1. My girlfriend has specific issues about being touched. Hers are from past trauma. The answer isn’t for me to get her to “work past it.” It’s for me not to touch her in those ways. Would I like to be able to do those things? Sure, but that’s not an option here. I can date her, or I can look for someone else who likes those things. Two decent choices. “Have that with this person” isn’t available, and “pressure her to do it anyway” would be wrong. It also wouldn’t work.

      3. Come to think of it, if she doesn’t like being touched because of trauma or body-image issues, doesn’t that make it even more important that date-friend treat her boundaries with absolute respect? Pushing on someone’s boundaries is only going to make things worse, that’s the absolute last thing I would do if I wanted to help someone get comfortable with touch.

        1. Yeah, this “you must have been abused if you don’t like to be touched, so we must teach you to heal you” stuff is really disrespectful, but even if the person had been abused some casual random person touching you isn’t going to heal you. You need expert professional care.

          Same goes for phobias. Exposing someone to a phobia isn’t going to make the phobia go away; it’ll make it worse.

      4. Like, and if she does have unhealthy touch issues, this dude is gunning to make them WORSE.

  8. Man, is it just me or is “love language” getting overused to the point where it is a legit weasel word that people use to demand things? I’m thinking of that recent “did my boyfriend steal the boat stuff my dad sent me?” reddit thread where the boyfriend had thrown a fit over not getting a good enough birthday present because “presents are my love language.” Now we have it again – “welp, it’s just my love language, nothing I can do about it!”

    1. It’s a more positively framed version of the “I’m an asshole, that’s just who I am!” deflection of criticism

    2. Trigger warning: marital rape

      I read another book by the “love language” guy about things he wished he knew before marriage. One of the things he learned after he was married is that you shouldn’t force your wife to do sex-things that she didn’t want to do. (The whole book was pretty cringy – dude cam from a very conservative, religious background.) I asked my friend who listens to Rush Limbaugh everyday if he also thought it sounded like this guy was admitting to marital rape, and he was horrified too. (I was so shocked that I thought I must have misread it.) Soooo, pretty sure this guy rapped his wife on the regular. I’m glad he stopped, but I definitely would not take relationship advice from him.

      1. Eugh! I feel like it’s a tool like any other…a hammer can be used to pound a nail or destroy furniture for instance. But yeah…using it as a “it’s what i need so if you love me you’ll give me my love language version of it or you don’t really love me!!! is gross

    3. Any good phrase or framing can be used for bad. “Think of the children!” “I have a right to free speech!” and “I didn’t mean to hurt you!” are all phrases uttered by heroes and abusers alike.

    4. It’s a useful/beneficial concept for communication between people acting in good faith (i.e., if my partner’s love language was words of affirmation and mine was touch, we could talk about how each of us could do small day-to-day gestures that made each of us feel loved.)

      With that said, it’s NEVER a license to force your preferences on someone unwilling. Sounds like some people are misusing the love-language concept to make demands or justify bad behavior.

      It’s like “honesty is good, but Radical Honesty is often used as an excuse to be an asshole.”

      And, yikes, that’s skeevy as hell about the marital-rape thing :/

      1. Yeah like…I see it as a useful tool to tell me how to be better to the people I love (like, I know Jane is all about words of affirmation, so I make a special effort to remember to say it out loud when I think Jane did something amazing or looks really pretty or whatever. I know Joe’s LL is gifts, so I try to make notes when he mentions something personal that gives me a good gift idea so I remember it later. Etc.) It’s insane to me that people are using it as a reason to demand things their partner isn’t comfortable with.

      2. It just goes to show you… I foun love language super helpful for understanding how other people were communicating love with me (my mom loved foisting junk on me, but reading about “gifts” as a love language helped me understand her intentions of gestures of thoughtfulness).
        Selfish people gonna frame things in terms of their wants and needs to the exclusion of others’.

    5. Right! Yes, I’m not ok with “love language” implying “ideally you would speak this language too!”–to be super literal for a second, I’ve had like… a lifetime of dealing with language stuff, not only because I’m a person who merely exists in this world, but specifically quite oppressive stuff where people would make assumptions about and make demands on my language, as if my family wasn’t human until they spoke English perfectly. It went beyond understandable practicality; it became a condition for making us worth engaging respectfully, with very few people willing to muddle along and meet in the middle.

      Obviously it’s really not the same, but it did make me think a little bit of that in terms of how people are just throwing that term out there without thinking of the bigger, unfortunate implications. Basically, yeah, as with every tool, it stops being a useful way to frame our preferences when it simply becomes a series of demands to be met.

    6. not just you. My dad decided presents aren’t HIS love language, so NO ONE gets any presents!

      1. Ugh. My mother is the opposite, and will try to foist random “gifts” om me constantly. And they’re rarely things I would actually want or use. Also, random gifts from her mostly make me uncomfortable because it feels like favour sharking to me. But despite politely declining and explaining these are not things I would want or use, many times, it still seems to surprise her every time I say no, and she gets upset and aggressive and tries to manipulate me into taking them. :-\

    7. There are a lot of people who overuse it and who have no familiarity with the source. The book (which is very heteronormative) talks about how it’s important to recognize your own love language but also to recognize your partner’s and to try to learn to “speak” it. E.g. if you are a person who normally expresses love via acts of service, but your partner is someone whose primary way of feeling loved is receiving words of affirmation, the way to make your relationship stronger is to make an effort to give them those words of affirmation (and also for them to learn to recognize your acts of service as signs of love). It’s not supposed to be a free pass on just doing whatever is easiest for you.

      Having said that, some love languages are more compatible than others, and some are easier for some people to learn. If you are a physical touch person, and you’re with someone who’s not, they can make an effort but it may never feel natural or good to them (the latter is more important) and you may never get the amount of touch you really need/want to feel good in the relationship.

      1. I echo this, having read the book, and having attended a pre-maritial course based on it. One’s love language is definatley not a free pass. The concept is to identify yours and learn your partners – and than discuss together how you will BOTH give and take to ensure that each other’s needs are being met.

        And it’s not always easy to learn to respond to someone else’s. My mother in law is a gift giver and loves receiving gifts as her love language. But I’m a tightwad and I’d rather perform and act of service (my love language). It is so hard to fork over money for what I feel are frivilous gifts but the more I do it, the more I see what it means to her. She asks for my gift ideas and I always say, “MOm if you could just take my kids for a few hours so I can have some me-time” She finally gets it that I don’t need more stuff – I need the act of service (babysitting). We have a great relationship because we’ve learned to respond to what each other needs.

        If you cannot fathom doing this with your current partner, LW, there is absolutely no shame in calling things off. It would actually be fairest for BOTH of you!

        1. I don’t know if they still make these, but years ago “coupon books” for acts of service were a thing. If she really needs to give you an object she can wrap up with a bow on gift-giving occasions, maybe she could make coupon card for acts of service she’s willing to perform and wrap those up for your present, and you can cash in the coupon when you need/want the act of service.

      2. This is an aside, because it doesn’t really have to do with the LW’s problem, but… one of the other things I noticed about that book is that it makes no distinction between the ‘language’ someone understands best, and the one they speak best. I’ve got a significant discrepancy between what it feels right to me to do in order to show other people my love, and what it feels good to me to have other people do to show *me* *their* love. A lot of people I’ve spoken with say the same. The author completely misses that pretty obvious concept, as far as I can tell.

        My stepmother, who’s a psychiatrist, said once that even though Freud got almost everything wrong, just coming up with the terminology by which we could begin to discuss the mind was useful, and led to other people getting things more right. This guy and his love languages may be somewhat similar — they’re inaccurate in several ways, and as they stand they’re dubious advice; but they may help point the way for other people to reach relevant truths, because they give us a framework to discuss things in.

        They have never been, however, and will never be, an excuse to violate someone else’s boundaries because My Language. Ever.

    8. I read it as an innovation on the (now thoroughly debunked) idea of “learning styles”. Granted, I don’t think the entire framework is without merit, and “love language” is probably a more accessible phrase than “normalized methods for demonstrating affection specific to one’s subculture and particular personal history”, but I do commonly see it abused by jerks to make demands, much like “friendzone”. For one thing, it’s learned, which means it can be modified or at least modulated. If someone doesn’t want to modify zir behavior, breaking up is the right thing to do – one doesn’t get to demand the other party adapt to zir desires just because one has desire.

      1. @johann7: Huge tangent, but I’m curious about what you say about learning styles being debunked? Don’t want to derail thread but if you happen to have any useful links then I’d love that!

        1. I think johann7 is referring to this article or similar. (I’ve seen one study that went into more detail, but found the setup highly dubious: it didn’t sound as if it actually catered for learning styles, it just threw a lot of resources at students.)

          To what degree one can tailor teaching – much less classroom teaching – to different learning styles is a different discussion (and a useful one to have; maybe on the forums?).

          Personally, I think knowledge of one’s learning style is a hugely useful tool; it allows me to seek out certain resources (books, courses, teachers) over others; it explained that some people really DO learn from situations that made me go ‘but I cannot learn ANYTHING like this’ (‘just copy me’ exercise classes: my kind of hell) and equally explained why I found some skills easy and intuitive that were presented as ‘this is really difficult, only a very few really talented people can acquire this skill’ when… ‘really talented’ is not how I would describe myself.

      2. For me, ‘learning styles’ were a way of realising how I learn best (and worst), which gave me the ability to find resources to learn several things I’d been struggling with (programming). I find it an exceedingly useful framework, and I give the stink-eye to the ‘thoroughly debunking’ studies I have seen; I did not find them credible in terms of what ‘learning style x’ actually _means_ in practice.

        (A better example as a forerunner is the whole Mars/Venus divide: men can’t help grunting, it’s their nature’. I’ve also heard ‘I’m just a very touch-y person’ as an excuse for attempted boob-grabbing long before ‘language of love’.)

        The love languages thing sounds like another useful concept for people to become _aware_ about their subconscious reactions to their partner’s behaviour; how they say ‘I love you’ and when they _hear_ ‘I love you’. I’m finding it more romantic when my partner takes out the trash than when they buy me flowers; now I have a better way of articulating WHY. And, like learning styles, I think that you can learn to be fluent in one or more languages, you may have a strong or weak preference, but you probably cannot change your fundamental make-up, and that’s good to realise, particularly in the first flush of love where you really really WANT to make things work.

        Whether one *can* work it out depends a lot on whether the other party accepts that *your* preferences are different and operates on consent: if I want to touch a lot (give gifts a lot, whatever), but you’re uncomfortable with that, I won’t do it. If the LW’s ‘new date friend’ doesn’t respect her discomfort, that’s a NOPE.

    9. I know that there must be some people out there using this language for good, but I feel you on this. The only people I know who use this language are using it to justify some Messed Up Shit, and I cringr whenever I hear it. Then again, I cringe whenever I hear any language that’s used to categorize people into big boxes (“tactile learner,” “introvert,” “ENTJ”) based on some subset of behaviors because I dislike reductionist systems and think it’s dumb when people need to justify their needs this way.

  9. LW, you say that this is a relatively new relationship. This is what early relationships are for: figuring out fundamental incompatibilities! This allows you to end the relationship before it gets long and attachments get heartbreakingly hard to break. It sounds like both you and your date-friend would be far better off trying to find folks who are more aligned with your own “love languages” instead of constantly having a back and forth about it where you will both feel uncomfortable and frustrated.

    1. I totally agree. You each have priority level 1 feeings about touch, and it’s not fair of either of you to ask the other not to like what they like, and need what they need. I’m glad this came out in early stages. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t get better. Hopefully you both learned something here about what you’re looking for, and can move towards it.

  10. I … am so uncomfortable *for* you, LW. You leave a lot out of your letter, but I’m wondering what it is you like about this person. It seems like there’s a lot of negative feelings and not a lot of “but [date-friend] is incredible in all these other ways and here’s why I adore them and etc.”

    Something to consider – For reasons related to my own history, people in my life have often come to me with a list of behaviors that make them feel unsettled, uncomfortable, and unsafe in their relationship and ask me, “is this abuse or am I overreacting?”

    The first part of the answer is that those are two totally different questions. A behavior doesn’t have to be abusive to be reason enough to get out of a relationship if it’s making you uncomfortable and upset more often than not. There are lots of things that fall short of “intentional” or “malicious” that are perfectly good reasons to break up with someone.

    The second part of the answer is, why do you need me to call it abuse? If I told you it was, would you leave? If I told you it wasn’t, would you stay? Oftentimes it’s more about needing to call it abuse so they have permission to do something about it – when in fact they could do something about it regardless of what we call these behaviors that make them feel unsafe and miserable.

    I see a lot in your letter of “is this me, is this politics, is this my fault,” etc. My sense is that you’re in a similar spot – that if someone told you it wasn’t you or something extraneous, that it was definitely him, you’d leave. Just like in the above example, where we assign blame and intent hardly matters. If you’re at the point where you’re just looking for confirmation that your prolonged discomfort is a big enough deal to get out of that relationship and look for a better one (if you want to! or maybe you don’t want another one, either way), then you have permission. Not from me or anyone else; it was always there. It doesn’t matter what we call it. You don’t feel good in a context where you should feel good, and that is enough.

    I’m sorry this happened. It’s exhausting and terrifying to have someone push your boundaries all the time. I hope this gets better!

    1. laurencleansup…where were you when I was miserably married. I felt like being miserable wasn’t a good enough reason to leave. He didn’t drink, gamble, or hit me, so I didn’t have “permission” to leave. It didn’t help that my family strongly discouraged me from leaving. In fact, when I finally *did* leave, my dad said to me “You should go back to him. You are too fat for anyone else to want you.” At that point, I fully believed that I would be alone for the rest of my life, but had come to the realization that even if that were true, it would be better than spending one more day with my husband. And, of course, it wasn’t true.

      LW…yeah…this doesn’t sound promising. I’m a touchy-feely person, but I have weird issues around my stomach (I’m very self concious)…anyone who dates me learns very quickly that my tummy is a no-touch zone. After expressing that, any purposeful touch in that area is met with a lightening-fast reflexive tiger scratch, followed immediately by an immitation of a curled up pill-bug. Even reading the quote of the text that said “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses” made me involuntarily shudder. (and I’m not adverse to tickling). There are plenty of people out there who will be more compatible in the PDA department.

        1. jennylinskyb…oh, that was the first and only time I ever dropped an F-bomb on my dad. We were on a boat, so I couldn’t physically leave, but I just said F you, and went and sat on the other side of the boat. It was actually quite liberating to have my dad say that out loud, because it was quite a subtext in my life and in my marriage, but it hadn’t been so explicitly stated. I was like…oh, right…THAT’S one of the reasons I stayed in my miserable marriage for so long…I was getting the message loud-and-clear that it was either stay or be alone forever, and that was just B.S. I’m so glad every single day when I wake up and I’m not married to him any more. Any time I’m feeling low, I just remember that I could still be married to him, and my day is instantly brighter. And I don’t ever take relationship advice from my dad.

          After I split with my ex, I started dating this perfectly nice guy, who for Reasons just wasn’t for me. When I broke up with him, my dad said, “but he’s so much better than [your ex].” I’m like…”Dad, that’s a pretty low bar. I could throw a rock and find someone better than my ex.” My dad pretty much keeps his opinions to himself these days.

      1. Miaz, I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’m glad that it sounds like you were able to move on.

        I think a lot of people internalize the idea that relationships take work and compromise and let it get all twisted up into meaning something it doesn’t mean. In my mind, that idea means there will be ups and downs and times where life is hard and we need to consistently prioritize making a relationship work rather than taking it for granted. That looks like – maybe making a mutual agreement for one person to make less money for awhile or to make sacrifices as a couple so someone can go back to school. It looks like doing something low-stakes that violates none of your boundaries – like picking up your dishes when you don’t really feel like it or care but because you know they do. It looks like making a specific point to go on dates and talk about your dreams instead of having 99% of your conversations be about who’s buying the toilet paper.

        It does not mean feeling so profoundly unhappy or uncomfortable that you regularly have visceral reactions to things this person is saying or doing. It doesn’t mean having your boundaries trampled or your consent extracted through manipulation and dishonesty and threats. Also, you are 100% the judge, jury, and sentencer when it comes to your own feelings about staying in a relationship or ending it; if you’re looking for justification, it’s probably already over.

        I’m so sorry about your dad. I’m sure you are beautiful and awesome whatever your size and I that if you want to find a relationship you find one where all your boundaries are respected!

        1. To me, “relationships take work” is about understanding that someone else’s problems are as significant as your own and assuming some responsibility for them. You care that your partner is sick as much as they care that they’re sick; they care about your sexual satisfaction as much as their own. The part that’s work shouldn’t be in *liking* them. That should be the easy part.

          1. Laurencleansup and Whingedrinking, thank you both for the insightful way you expressed these comments. You just unknowingly helped me immensely to grasp a concept I’m trying to explain to my daughter, and I know that it will help her as well. Thanks so much!

          2. I’ve heard this phrased (maybe even from a thread on CA at some point?) that relationships are work, but that work shouldn’t be like a dead-end job you dread going to every day.

        2. I think of “relationships take work” in the same way I think of “houses take work”. It’s all well and good to paint or replace some landscaping or give the bathroom a facelift. But if the foundation is sinking, all the beams are full of termites and dry rot, and the lot is infested with vengeful ghosts, you’re better off burning that sucker to the ground and building a new house.

      2. Man, nobody is too fat to be happy. I can’t even with your dad (but I am very happy you are in a better place now!)

    2. I’m an old and an attorney. I’ve seen too many people settle b/c they confuse “not horrible” with desirable.

    3. I was thinking the same thing, laurenscleanup.

      LW, you don’t really say you enjoy being in this relationship, but you did devote a lot of space to talking about how you’re cool with singledom.
      If you decide that you do indeed want to split off, please don’t take it like a personal failing. You are you, and as long as you’re comfortable with yourself, then it’s a matter of finding someone more compatible with your relationship desires, or maybe you discover you aren’t actually into relationships after all.

      My personal anecdote: I tried forcing myself out there to date and such for several years before I finally allowed myself to admit that I’m so much happier not in a relationship and all the outside pressure I was feeling (society, family, some well-meaning friends) around romantic-type relationships being “normal” and “important” wasn’t something I needed to cave to. For me, I’m happiest as a single and only into nurturing platonic relationships. (and then I found “aro/ace” labels, and that’s been a nice shorthand some days)

      Also, not into touchy stuff either. My hackles were up through all your descriptions, especially when you mentioned that you have already told him you don’t like that stuff. I have been known to have visceral physical reactions, or go super-icy when my platonic relationships don’t respect my NO TOUCH boundaries.

      You get to decide what your needs and desires are, and what a happy life looks like. If you’re comfortable with your boundaries and want a romantic relationship, look for partners more compatible with your preferences. If you’re unhappy with your boundaries, that’s for you to decide if you want to make changes, not a date-friend’s sphere of influence.

  11. The book he is getting this from does not advocate because his love language is “touch” that that is the only way love must be communicated. It’s just a primary habit and the way he hears it. If the LW doesn’t hear love through “touch” then the idea is for him to speak HER primary love language while she learns his (meaning SHE would touch HIM).
    IF she were to continue with the date-friend into a relationship, then that might mean that she will learn about touching HIM and he can learn hers (for example, if her love language was “words of affirmation” he would learn to speak her love language). The idea is we hear love differently. He would need to develop the mindset that not everyone hears love the same way he does.

    “My love language is touch so I’m going to touch you so I feel loved” makes no sense. It does make sense that touch would be his go to… but CA is right on that he has a problem with boundaries here.

    FYI: The Five Love Languages is an AWESOME book, maybe he should actually read it.

    1. Ah, that’s great! Thanks for the explanation. (I knew something about the way it was used here didn’t feel right!)

      1. I’m glad it was helpful! Also, the reddit thing you were talking about earlier, the “gifts” love language is hearing love through receiving gifts. This is in all forms: a flower vs a nice expensive item is like a physical touch person’s hand on the shoulder vs DOG PILE WITH KISSES ON YOUR FACE. Both are great in different contexts.

    2. Thank you for this! I really like the book and you succinctly explained how I think the information should be applied.

      I have really mixed emotions about recommending the book, though. I once read it with a significant other. I read it and tried to understand where he was coming from and make small adjustments to get closer to what he needed. He read it and then berated me for having read it and not immediately changed to give him 100% of what he wanted all the time. I worry that others will find themselves in the same boat.

      1. I’m not defending the book (I haven’t read it) but I gotta say, in my experience a certain kind of person will do that with ANY book. It’s not actually a fault in the book; it’s a fault in the person.

      2. oh man.

        I printed it out for an SO so that we could get on the same page and instead he went point by point to let me know in what ways I was neglecting to do enough for each language.

        I dumped him.

    3. Please be aware that the book is problematic. Underlying principle is good, but it’s packaged with gender roles, Christianity, and heteronormativity.

      1. Yeah, the book is pretty depressing in the beginning and does have Christian undertones, but it’s worth the read for the concept. I’m not a Christian and it translates easily.

    4. Yep. My spouse feels loved when he is being touched affectionately. So I touch him to express love for him, even though I prefer not to be touched very much. I feel loved when he does nice things for me, so that’s what he does. It’s about finding out what makes your partner feel good and valued, and doing that for them, not about assuming that your preferences are universal.

  12. Oh LW, I feel you. I am SUPER DUPER ticklish. So while I like being held, I don’t like being petted, this is a weird distinction that is very hard for people to get. I especially don’t like very gentle touching/petting, and on my back. B:DFH WEOh’h h” HF (that’s just the keyboard sound of me thinking of that.) And even with my long term, not especially touchy partner I sometimes have to remind him “Hey, don’t, that tickles.” Nothing tickles him, so he simply doesn’t understand.

    So I guess I”m saying that this is something there is always negotiation with between partners. My partner used to like some things that now he doesn’t after an injury, and he has other things he used to hate that now he actively requests that I do. So everyone changes and evolves and that’s ok! But you don’t evolve by having someone trample your boundaries on a date until you want to flee screaming into the night.

    I will say, the body compliment stuff is complicated. I think you should ask yourself why those comments make you cringe? Is it because you feel like your body isn’t worthy of compliments? Because, I know a lot of women who feel that way, any time you tell them anything nice about their physical appearance they deny deny deny. It makes us cringe because not only do we not feel attractive enough because we are holding ourselves against impossible standards, we also know that even if we did we shouldn’t accept compliments of any kind in case people think weare egotistical.

    (I know Amy Schumer is problematic but this sketch sums up so many conversations I’ve had with women https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzlvDV3mpZw I once admitted to looking good in hats and you would have thought I gave myself a fucking Oscar.)

    That SAID, it also feels really really gross to only feel appreciated for your body. Coupled with the constant touching and prioritizing touch over conversation or your feelings, it would feel SUPER crappy. Maybe you wouldn’t mind these comments so much if you felt like your date friend also appreciated what lives inside your body. (your brain, your sexy awesome brain, not all the gross stuff.) It is not unreasonable to feel gross and objectified in this case.

    So it is worth thinking about that issue from both perspectives and seeing how you feel.

    1. S…I’d guess that the LW’s discomfort with compliments stems from “Stuff From the Past.”

      TW: Rape/Weight Talk

      I know it does for me. The guy who raped me and then stalked me in college would constantly tell me I was beautiful and sexy and that he wanted to dance with me. I would say “I don’t want to be sexy to you, leave me alone.” It was the olden days when date-rape wasn’t an acknowledged thing, so since he wasn’t a stranger, it couldn’t have been an assault. None of the authorities (police, school administration) backed me up, so I had to deal with him for several more years until I graduated. I actively gained weight, specifically so I wouldn’t be sexy to him. Any time I lose weight, people comment on my body, and I just … lose it. I cannot stand that people are monitoring my body or feel they have the right to comment on my body (even if they mean well, and want to compliment me). So, even though I don’t need the invisibility of the fat suit now that it’s been 30+ years since I’ve been in college, I still need the comfort of being sexually invisible to most people. That said, being fat is a double edged sword. I’m both completely comfortable in my own skin, and also …not entirely comfortable in my own skin. It’s complicated.

      1. Roxane Gay’s new book, Hunger, might be a great read for you right now (or a super triggering one, do what’s right for you). ❤

        1. Thanks for putting the trigger warning on there. Sorry I didn’t think to do that.

          I really appreciate the book suggestion. According to my therapist, it’s not uncommon for women to respond to feeling unsafe in this specific way. I got chills just reading the book blurb. It’s now on my kindle, and I think that I’ll wait until next weekend, when I have absolutely nothing else planned to delve in to it.

          1. I tried gaining a lot of weight one time because our culture is sooooo sure that an overweight woman would NEVER have to deal with street harassment.

            It didn’t even make a dent in the sheer amount of it.

      2. Ugh, I’m so sorry! My own history about this is much milder, but I still generally hate being called “sexy” thanks to an ex who would watch me get dressed in the morning and say things like, “don’t put on a bra, you’re so sexy without one!” or “don’t brush your hair, you look so sexy just the way you got out of bed!” and simply refused to understand that, when I’m getting ready for work, my goal is not “sexy” it’s “professional, with as close as possible to zero details that might give my colleagues any idea what I am like during sexytime.”

        1. I also had one like that…it was so creepy. He would always tell me to show my breasts to random people…as a joke, I think? But it was seriously inappropriate, and if I would respond in my sensible way (saying “that would be public indecency”), then would come the weird compliments about how MY body wasn’t indecent. Ugh. One time he suggested that I flash a bunch of people in the waiting room when I was accompanying my grandma to her radiation treatment. For breast cancer. That I didn’t break up with him then is a testament to how naive I was and how bad my relationship before him had been.

        2. Ugh, that sounds so … “Hey, look sloppy and unprofessional so you lose your job and have to depend on me,” with a side of “I want to see how much I can control you and get you to act against your own best interests.”

          1. I am quite sure he did not want me to depend on him, at least not financially. All signs pointed to the exact opposite of that, actually. It was more of a “you shouldn’t care what anyone other than me thinks about you” thing, I think.

        3. Ick. I mean, my spouse will say things like ‘you look great like that [naked], you don’t really need to wear clothes to work, right?’, but it’s in the context of a joke that we both find funny, not as like… an actual suggestion.

    2. I don’t think that my profound dislike of body-based compliments is necessarily because I don’t think my body is worth complimenting.

      In my experience, compliments about bodies are very rarely no-strings-attached gifts to the recipient of said compliment. Very often a compliment is actually a statement of personal preference on the part of the speaker, wrapped up with an implicit demand that the receiver must maintain their body to that preference and a threat to withdraw affection if that demand is not met.

      Compliments on my body also mostly feel pointless. I certainly didn’t get to choose what body to be born into, and I have very little control over how my body looks now. I know my body will change in the future, and it will still be of equal use and interest to me even if it doesn’t please other people visually. Sure, we compliment the appearance of stuff that just naturally exists all the time (the Grand Canyon! a flower! a fluffy puppy!) but those things aren’t sentient. I *am* sentient, and being pleasant to look at is not what my body’s for.

      My body doesn’t reflect my personality, my accomplishments, or anything that I actually care about (except some scars with entertaining stories attached.) The good stuff my body does (sleep, walk long trails, eat cookies) is for my benefit, not for other people’s. People complimenting my body always feels like a boundary crossed to me; like, dude, who fucking asked you or gave you the impression that your opinion matters when deciding the merit of my physical being?

      I think if you’ve experienced compliments from people who are trying to take ownership of your body, it can sour you on the idea entirely.

      1. “Compliments on my body also mostly feel pointless. I certainly didn’t get to choose what body to be born into, and I have very little control over how my body looks now. I know my body will change in the future, and it will still be of equal use and interest to me even if it doesn’t please other people visually. Sure, we compliment the appearance of stuff that just naturally exists all the time (the Grand Canyon! a flower! a fluffy puppy!) but those things aren’t sentient. I *am* sentient, and being pleasant to look at is not what my body’s for.

        My body doesn’t reflect my personality, my accomplishments, or anything that I actually care about (except some scars with entertaining stories attached.) The good stuff my body does (sleep, walk long trails, eat cookies) is for my benefit, not for other people’s. People complimenting my body always feels like a boundary crossed to me; like, dude, who fucking asked you or gave you the impression that your opinion matters when deciding the merit of my physical being?”

        Those are my feelings about compliments to my body.
        I didn’t do anything for the compliment to matter. It’s just my body.

        If you would like to compliment something aesthetic about me, please choose something that I literally had active agency in arranging.
        I really like that color on you.
        Your outfit is really pretty.
        I love your hair style/color!
        Those shoes are awesome.

        Please DO NOT:
        Those pants make your butt look great.
        You look so thin in that.

        Compliments on my choices? Yes.
        Compliments relating to my physical shape? Nope.
        Compliments/comments relating to weight/size in any fashion? NOPE NOPE NOPE

        1. Cool. I’m don’t think I’ve commented on anyone’s …essential being… beyond, You look great! (And a few “You look like hell/death warmed over, like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet; What’s going on with you?!-only to REAL good friends) but I really appreciate the way you explained this. Good take.

      2. “Compliments on my body also mostly feel pointless. I certainly didn’t get to choose what body to be born into, and I have very little control over how my body looks now. I know my body will change in the future, and it will still be of equal use and interest to me even if it doesn’t please other people visually. Sure, we compliment the appearance of stuff that just naturally exists all the time (the Grand Canyon! a flower! a fluffy puppy!) but those things aren’t sentient. I *am* sentient, and being pleasant to look at is not what my body’s for.

        My body doesn’t reflect my personality, my accomplishments, or anything that I actually care about (except some scars with entertaining stories attached.) The good stuff my body does (sleep, walk long trails, eat cookies) is for my benefit, not for other people’s. People complimenting my body always feels like a boundary crossed to me; like, dude, who fucking asked you or gave you the impression that your opinion matters when deciding the merit of my physical being?”

        Those are my feelings about compliments to my body.
        I didn’t do anything for the compliment to matter. It’s just my body.

        If you would like to compliment something aesthetic about me, please choose something that I literally had active agency in arranging.
        I really like that color on you.
        Your outfit is really pretty.
        I love your hair style/color!
        Those shoes are awesome.

        Please DO NOT:
        Those pants make your butt look great.
        You look so thin in that.

        Compliments on my choices? Yes.
        Compliments relating to my physical shape? Nope.
        Compliments/comments relating to weight/size in any fashion? NOPE NOPE NOPE

      3. SO MUCH THIS. I really identify with the LW because I am a person who shys away from touching, too. This is huge for me because especially in the early stages of date-frienddom I feel like compliments always come from people who expect things from them. Like many commenters, I believe there has to be a level of trust or knowledge of the person present to proceed.

        Every time I think of unwanted compliments, I think of that scene from the Mansfield Park movie where the male lead says “You have to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at.” It kind of perfectly sums up the objectifying nature of physical compliments, imo.

    3. I can say personally that I’m VERY averse to physical compliments. In my case, I think it stems from a fear that they’re more interested in my body than in my mind, and also because often the physical things that are praised aren’t voluntary. I don’t feel any sense of achievement or joy at my body being praised. However, if I am praised for something I have more control over – like the dye (I chose) for my hair, my clothes, my makeup, I view that as praise of my skill/taste, and that I’m okay with.

      And I don’t actually do put-downs for compliments. If somebody says they love, say, my skirt, my most likely answer will be an enthusiastic, “thanks! I love it so much!” (i.e., take the mutual fandom approach).

    4. It makes me cringe sympathetically because to me it comes across as being ONLY focused on the physical relationship. Or at least very heavily so. It comes across as immature, at least without some possibly better context. It comes across as being only interested in the physical.

      1. I dunno, as an amateur fat woman, I find it lovely when someone is interested in my physical, especially when I’m also interested in their physical. But I certainly don’t think that a compliment on someone’s body is neutral. It’s an intimate thing, your body; someone who’s complimenting you on it had better be within a certain sphere of intimacy, by which point they should figure out how you feel about said compliments.

  13. Differing love languages don’t have to be incompatible. The problem here, as I see it, is that he isn’t listening to what YOU want and just doing what he wants anyways. If he doesn’t listen to you, doesn’t respect your wishes and boundaries, THAT is the potential incompatibility. He doesn’t have to get it or understand it or whatever – he just has to listen to the words coming out of your mouth and respect what you are saying and requesting. And you don’t have to have a reason, or explain it until it makes sense to him. All that matters is that you don’t like it, don’t want it, and he keeps overriding that boundary. He needs to start listening to and respecting YOUR needs.

    1. Yes so very much this. I’m a touchy person with some very un-touchy people in my intimate circle and it’s not only easy to tell when someone doesn’t like touch but also easy to back off physical affection without constant reminders. If X tenses up at a hug, I stop hugging X. If I crave touch I ASK “hey could I have a hug?” I didn’t read about him asking though and that plus the fact that you have to -keep- saying “stop” is a huge red flag for me. Our good Captain’s “sees you as a challenge” is at the light end of a motivation spectrum which could possibly extend clear to “flat-out enjoys your discomfort when manhandled.” I’m not saying that latter is true – far from it! – but my opinion is that if he hasn’t changed his touch behavior by now then you would be better off seeking out someone else…not because of the touch-comfort mismatch but because of the inability to reach compromise.

      Oh and as a separate aside? There is nothing good or bad about any level of touch-comfort. Don’t ever push your own boundaries to fit in with some perceived “norm.”

      1. I have a friend who *leaps* on opportunities to touch people, and pushes it. Hugs become physical lifts off the ground. (The bear-hug method is actually not the best way to lift people at the best of times, but he also did that once when I was on my period and my boobs were sore. AAARGH.) A pat on the shoulder becomes a neck rub. Plucking a bit of lint from your shirt becomes straightening your sleeve. I’ve taken to standing out of arm’s reach at all times.

    2. Aaaand here goes another uncomfortable flashback to my ex. He did the things he wanted to do even if they made me uncomfortable and had a list of justifications of how he was just like that and why was I trying to control how he expressed his affection. UUUUUUUGH.

  14. So, he’s HEARD of love languages. But not the idea that he should try to communicate in YOUR love languages, and not simply impose his on you? Like, it’s common for people to find it hard to understand that what they find affectionate, other people don’t like. But he already knows that, but he’s not trying to bridge the gap?

    I guess you can ask, “if you want to show affection, can you show it in a way that I actually like”, and if his response is “doh, sorry I was so defensive, of course, I may screw up, but here’s me genuinely trying and getting it right most of the time” this might be salvageable. Whereas if his response is “I don’t want to think about this, I’ll just keep on acting however feels natural to me and you can either like it or lump it”, then leave before you sink more time, energy and affection into this relationship.

    1. I was wondering about that too. It makes it sound more like he’s using his “this is my Love Language” as “I am going to do this stuff as often as I can (get away with it) because the LL justifies it.”

      1. There is no relationship model so philosophically sound that it can’t be ruined by an asshole. (Not that the LW’s date-friend is necessarily an asshole.)

  15. I have only read the letter and not the comments or captain’s advice yet, but reading it made me GAAAH so hard.

    LW, it isn’t you. It’s a giant red flag of boundary violating creepy grossness.

    YOU don’t need to “learn to be chill” or whatever. Being in a relationship does not obligate you to do all the physical things. You are the boss of you.

    You aren’t “rusty” or bad because you didn’t date for a while. If you want to date someone you can and will find someone who understands and respects your needs around “no touching unless it’s during private sexytimes WITH ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT”.

    HE needs to respect you as a person with specific desires, needs, and wants. You are NOT a girlfriend-shaped doll there to satisfy whatever needs he has. He doesn’t get to to touch you in ways that you don’t like just because there are other ways of touching that you do like, in certain circumstances.

    You don’t need to be ok with what he wants to do to you. If you are that incompatible, breaking up may be inevitable.
    But surely, as you say you’ve spend a long time single, you know that NOT CONSTANTLY HAVING YOUR BOUNDARIES TRAMPLED is better than whatever parts of this relationship you do like, right?

    Best wishes in getting the fuck away from this guy

    1. This. So much this.

      Tickling is a gigantic I AM NOPING OUT OF THIS RELATIONSHIP for me. But there are so many other things that are crossing your boundaries that…not only is this guy wrong for you, he’s creepy AF.

      And the kissing you when you were in the middle of a sentence? That’s the behavior of a guy who NOT ONLY doesn’t respect you, or what you have to say, but who has seen too many rapey movies where that’s a Done Thing and it works to shut the woman up. That was him SHUTTING YOU UP, not just violating your boundary.

      That, and from other things in your letter I’m wondering if there isn’t some gaslighting going on. Who says you’re “rusty”? Is that legit your word, or is it his? Who says your political rage is an issue? Is that you, or him? I just…there’s a lot in your letter that worries me, more than just the whole violating your touch boundaries.


      My best friend’s husband’s primary love language is touch. Touch is WAAAAAAY down at the bottom for me. But because I trust this guy, I’m willing to give him a hug when I arrive and when I leave — and he’s willing to listen when I say ‘today is not a touching day’. So that ‘well, my love language is touch’ nonsense is just that. Nonsense.

      Best of luck to you, LW. None of this is your fault.

  16. Ugh, yes, what everyone else is saying. It doesn’t have to be abuse to be Not Your Thing At All and that’s OK. Good on him for understanding his “Love Language,” bad on him for not fucking getting it when you have to keep setting boundaries over and over and over.

  17. When I look back on my dating days the biggest mistake I identify is being unwilling to pull the rip cord and end bad matches as quickly as I should have. There’s obviously an extreme other side on that where one can quit at the first sign of difficulty, and that’s a mistake – good partnerships require work. But there’s work and compromise and there’s fundamental differences that are going to be a daily unnecessary misery.

    It’s a big world with lots of people in it. Finding a good match is hard enough when you line up right on most things. When you don’t have the same “love language” (barf) and one of you seems uninterested in (to torture the metaphor further) learning the other person’s native language… that just seems like a poor foundation. In your shoes I’d move on.

  18. I agree this is a fundamental incompatibility thing rather than that either person is wrong. I am 100% on the other end of the spectrum — I would also say my love language is touch, my husband and I are constantly touching when we are together, and luckily we both like it that way (when we did the love languages quiz as part of pre-marital counseling, we both came up with physical affection as our top thing). I was also in a previous relationship with a guy who was not into PDA, didn’t want to be always holding hands/smooching/spooning/etc. Honestly I spent most of that relationship feeling rejected and unloved. (I remember when we broke up, something he said is “I think you never really believed that I loved you, and I did” — which was probably true.) This is not to say this guy didn’t love me in other ways or was a bad person — I would actually say I’ve been really lucky in that I would call all of my exes good people, even if we’re not friends anymore, including this one. But we really were very incompatible on that very important aspect. Going through a romantic relationship where one person is always feeling rejected and the other person is always feeling smothered/crowded is just…not that fun for anyone? You should be dating my ex–well, not my ex specifically, he is happily dating to someone else at this point!–but someone like him who just expresses love in the ways you really appreciate and enjoy.

    1. It isn’t necessarily an either/or. I mean, there is very definitely a fundamental incompatibility here, and that would be true no matter how the guy was handling it. But it’s *also* true that he isn’t handling it well at all — at best, he’s been utterly clueless about the existence of boundaries that he has been shown and told about explicitly and repeatedly; and at worst, he’s shown that he doesn’t give a damn about those boundaries because HIS needs aren’t being met, and that’s more important.

      It is completely okay that he has far greater need for touch than she does. That part is the incompatibility, and there’s no fault on either side.

      It’s NOT okay that he’s trying to meet that need by touching someone who has repeatedly and consistently shown him that she doesn’t want him to do that. That part is the boundary violation, and it’s very much something he shouldn’t be doing.

      It’s possible for a person to need and want touch, and still to behave appropriately around someone who doesn’t. That’s not what is happening here.

  19. If – IF – it was true that you’re rusty (or ungenerous) – or if you did need (or desire, which is very different) healing in this area – it is your choice about the timing and manner in which you approach that healing.

    If these are things you wanted to work on, then a safe place to work on them is most advisable.

    He does not create a safe place to work on them.

    He doesn’t give you space to work on them.

    I have an image of someone poking me in unhealed wounds. Not like a doctor touching my sprained foot to examine the foot or promote healing, or a friend providing safe and agreed-upon support in the form of an arm around the shoulder or carrying things for me – but a clueless, unskilled someone poking me in the foot and causing more pain and delaying healing. It wouldn’t matter almost at all if they had good intentions. The dynamic with your date-friend simply does not create a situation that would ever facilitate healing. It’s a situation where you’d have to work to heal DESPITE his actions. His actions aren’t a catalyst for healing; they’re a catalyst for fight/flight/freeze to happen.

    And that’s even IF these are things you need to heal from. They may not be things you wish to change. You don’t have to, ever. There isn’t anything wrong with you. People don’t like to be touched for a bajillion reasons; you can have past trauma around touch AND not be a person who likes much touch.

    You don’t have to be touched in ways you don’t enjoy in order to heal. In fact, I would strongly advise against ever subjecting yourself to touch you don’t enjoy – I can’t imagine that being helpful in any situation for any reason ever.

    Best wishes to you. You’re allowed to not like certain kinds of touch, even if there are other people who do enjoy those kinds of touch. You’re allowed to deny him the kind of touch he wants. You’re allowed to stop seeing him over this. All those things are über-reasonable.

    1. I agree. I have a similar dynamic to LW’s in my relationship, where my partner is much more touchy, PDA-friendly, body-complimentary, etc., than I am or than I am usually comfortable with. However! Thanks to his respect for my boundaries, we are happy and comfortable together AND I have developed what I consider to be a happier and healthier attitude toward these things than I used to have, because he lets me take the lead and be the one to reach for his hand while we’re walking down the sidewalk or put my legs on his lap when we’re watching Game of Thrones.

      So – LW, you may not be wrong about the potential benefits of becoming more open to touch, PDA, body-talk, etc., but I don’t think you can or should make yourself more comfortable with those things while feeling violated all the time. This date-friend needs to stop and let you warm up to that stuff, or not, at your own pace – or, more likely, this just isn’t the right date-friend for you.

      1. I’ve got the same – my partner is the snuggliest, cuddliest, most physically affectionate person I’ve ever met in my entire life. I’m…not. But a lot of it, for me, is awkwardness about what’s allowed and what will be read wrong, and a reservedness I built up over the years because some early experiences convinced me that All Touch Is Sexual. My partner never pushed me on it, but he helped me unbend a little in this area (the key thing being that I wanted to do so and was happy to re-learn how to be physically affectionate with someone in safe ways), and while I’ll never be as cuddle-oriented as he is, I feel safe initiating touch with him now.

        Although I drive stick so he’s learned better than to try to put his hands anywhere while I’m driving, lol. Or at least that he can lay a hand on my leg or hold my hand during long stretches on the freeway, but he better be paying attention and react fast enough to get out of my way if I need to shift suddenly.

        1. Me too on the stick-driving thing! Fiance has also learned not to manspread in the passenger seat.

          1. I like touch, but I take it for granted people know not to touch me without asking when I’m driving!

  20. Also chiming in that different love languages don’t have to be incompatible, but both sides have to be willing to learn each other’s.

    My husband’s love language is touch, mine is acts of service, so I learned to be more conscious of taking appropriate chances to touch him, and he learned to make the bed every day (I’m up hours before he is).

    I’m not a big fan of touch, except when my kids were littles, so we worked on meeting in the middle with that – I’ll reach out to his hand, rub his neck, etc, and he *asks * if I mind if he cuddles up to me on the couch. 90% of the time, when I have the choice I will cuddle. 100% of the time, when it comes out of the blue my shoulders go up to my ears.

    He’s a procrastinator, and more messy than I am, so we met in the middle there, too. I told him what things mattered most me (the bed being made, dishes not scattered all over the place) and he makes sure those things are done, and I let some things that don’t matter so much go – because I am 100% sure that he only does those other things because he loves me.

    But the key here is that he respects my boundaries, and I respect his, and we reciprocate. It doesn’t sound like your fate friend is doing that.

  21. This is my first time commenting, but I just want to say that I feel for LW. I also don’t date much, and two years ago I decided to try and date a boy I had been developing a very deep friendship with over years. Suddenly, the entire thing came about his physical attraction to me, and he wanted to hold my hand and hold me in public and kiss me all the time and I felt so incredibly uncomfortable that I ended up breaking things off a few days in. In my case, I realized I didn’t trust him to really stick to my boundaries because a) I had communicated them to him when we first got together and he already was violating them and b) he admitted that he was used to very hands-on relationships and it was hard-wired into him. I now think I probably could have tried to work things out by being very assertive and constantly communicating what I wanted (“can you please respond to my texts about 90’s video games with thoughts about 90’s video games and not my face?”) but I am not sure I would have been any happier in the long run.

    Captain has great advice, LW. Please do not feel you are alone. (For what it is worth, I haven’t dated at all since then because my aversion to intimate touch is so paralyzing; this is something I’m working on now but it can feel so isolating.)

    1. “it was hard wired into him” Sure. Sure it was >.>

      If he cared about you as a person he could and would have made an effort. But disrespecting your stated boundaries PLUS responding to your thoughts with only his thoughts about your appearance makes it pretty clear that the moment you started dating is the moment you stopped being a person and became a sex object to him.

      I doubt it would have been worth the effort.

      1. Exactly. We tried to be friends afterwards, but it was never the same. And then one night he decided the best course of action was to message my best friend asking when I was going to come back around because he “couldn’t just be friends” with me and I decided to just wash him straight out of my hair for good.

        Last I’ve heard, he is moving in with his current girlfriend and happily employed in a city he loves, so I’m happy for him. I don’t think he is or was a bad person, but just somebody whose feelings about romantic love and touch were utterly incompatible with mine.

        I’m still working through feeling like it’s okay to have strong feelings about body autonomy. Boundaries are so important. Again, sending all the best of wishes to LW. Listen to your feelings. They are valid.

        1. I see your point. I’ve used it occasionally, I admit; but only about things for which the strong scientific evidence is that they are neurologically-inherent aspects of our *species*… not preferences of an individual person.

        2. We actually are computers…otherwise medicine wouldn’t work. The chemical reactions in our brains when it comes to interactions with others are just a way, way, way, WAY more complex algorithm than say, “what happens if I put insulin in my bloodstream.”

          The great thing about brain elasticity is that people can change their thought processes! (and SHOULD, if they’re using phrases like hard wired to justify being an asshole)

  22. I think it would definitely be easiest to break up and the both of you go on to greener pastures, but if you want to stick it out a little longer, may I suggest instituting a new rule with him that YOU instigate all physical touch/affection and he never touches you? Or perhaps you could have a code word or something where he asks before he touches you. I’m thinking of the All For the Game series where the two main characters always ask “Yes or no” before they touch each other.

    If you try this and he refuses to listen to you…well, then. That’s that.

  23. Hey LW, I think whatever needs/boundaries/desires you have around being touched and how people talk to you about your body are perfectly good, because you’re allowed to decide that stuff! One question I have is: it sounds like right now you are very viscerally uncomfortable with any mention of or discussion of your body, or any public affection at all, right? Have you been able to articulate that to your partner, beyond saying ‘I don’t like that’ in the moment? Because to me, personally, I might be able to assume someone wouldn’t like a tickling comment (shudder) but a ‘big hugs’ or ‘I miss your pretty face’ would seem innocuous (to me!). Similarly, if you’re saying ‘no pda’, I would probably be like ‘yeah I definitely don’t like sticking my tongue down someone’s throat in public either’) but putting my hand on my partner’s knee or a quick compliment wouldn’t register as being in that category. Maybe you could frame it like that and see what he says? But it does sound like you two have very different needs around all this.

  24. LW, I may be misreading this, but it sounds like maybe sometimes you feel about touch the way I feel about bananas, namely, “Everyone else seems to like this so much! I kinda wish I liked it too so that I’d have another source of joy in my life…”

    If that’s how you feel, then I want to tell you a little about me. I generally hate being touched and always have, but my boyfriend and I are actually a lot like that sloth and cat video, which is something I never thought I’d enjoy. I think there’s two reasons for it, neither of which I see in your letter. First, even from the very beginning, touching him has felt way way way better than touching anyone else, I guess because he has magic pheromones or something, idk. Second, he is amazing at reading my mood and following my lead. We went on 4 (four!!) dates without any physical contact at all, and even though he might interrupt me with a kiss now (if we were being silly), he never would have done it back when I wasn’t comfortable initiating kisses myself. So it’s possible that with the right person you will feel more comfortable with touch, but from what you said, this date-friend is not at all that person.

    Of course, it’s also totally possible that there is no “right person” and you’re always going to want a low-touch relationship, and that’s okay too! That’s not unreasonable or cold or whatever other negative words you’re worried about being. There’s definitely other people out there who will also want that, and I think it’ll be easier to find them than to find a happy compromise with this guy.

    1. Yes, this! In the early stages of a relationship, before I am very comfortable, I don’t like touching much at all! Even right when I start to warm up, there are lots of days when I am Not Feeling It for various indefinable reasons and just want a liiiiittle space. Sometimes eventually a switch flips and I love kissing and cuddling and hugging someone. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve learned I don’t have control over if or when that happens.

      At the beginning of my last relationship, my ex would stop when I needed space, but would later bring it up in a passive-aggressive sulky way, like “I don’t understand how you could tell me not to touch you, I never do that to you, it doesn’t make any sense”– like I had to justify it, like I should feel bad for enforcing my boundary. I put up with this bc Feelings but I should have listened to myself instead and bounced. That response was full of bees, and it set the stage for 1.5 years of me always being wrong for daring to have my own feelings that were different from Darth Ex’s (even if it was liking a movie! even, ludicrously, if it was whether we should break up!)

      I don’t see the full expression of this No Good Very Bad Behavior in your date-friend’s vocabulary, LW, but if you decide to keep dating him, you should be on the lookout for it. Date-friend may not be aware of what he’s doing, but he’s trying to erode your boundaries and convince you that his way is the One True Right and Proper way to be in a relationship, and it’s not. You get to have a relationship in whatever way you please, and if date-friend isn’t interested in the same thing you are, it’s time for the both of you to move along.

  25. I am very much an ‘affection through touch’ person. I’m very demonstrative. The guy I am semi-seeing is very much not (or at least with me, but I think it’s universal with him). On the occasions he lets me hold his hand, or play with his hair, or HE TOUCHES ME THAT IS NOT SEXYTIMES TOUCHING are crumbs I devour. It’s actually a little heartbreaking when you think about it.

    Meanwhile I don’t touch him unless invited. Since touch is my nature (and I get very little of it) when I do reflexively reach for him (and sometimes I do) I’m told No. So I stop. And that’s fine, and it also makes me a little sad because I -need- physical affection.

    So I think take my situation as an example. Between me and Semi-BF, it is an essential incompatibility. We have other problems too, much bigger than the above, but I can still honestly say: if you express your love through touch, and your partner very much does not…that is an everyday, every way, essential part of who you both are, and it’s very difficult to reconcile.

    But that’s my experience, LW, so take it for what you will. Wishing you the best of luck.

    1. Policychick, thank you for being a perfect example for something I was trying to say upthread: there are two totally separate issues going on in the LW’s situation.

      I’ve seen a lot of people saying that LW’s situation is *just* an incompatibility, and I don’t think it is. If it were *just* an incompatibility, it would look like your relationship. Those incompatibilities are sad, but it’s still possible to behave appropriately when that happens, and you’ve just shown us what it would look like to do so.

      LW’s date-friend is NOT behaving appropriately about this incompatibility. The incompatibility is very real, and it’s a part of the problem; but another part is that instead of taking the path of “don’t touch unless invited,” he keeps touching. And touching. And touching. Even though he keeps getting asked to stop that.

      That’s a bad behavior issue, not an incompatibility issue.

  26. Oh LW, I feel you (not literally of course)!

    I have incredibly sensitive skin – every inch of me is ticklish to the point of if someone touches me (be it a hug, a caress, a kiss, etc) my “fight or flight” defences kick in (and it can even trigger panic attacks). It then has the extra fun side effect of me not being physically affectionate to others because even my touching others can result in me being tickled.

    So when I met my fiance and discovered he was very touchy-feely and into PDAs I was like you – convinced we were incompatible. But here’s the thing, over time, with practice we’ve found a good balance of things I can tolerate (and have even started to like) and things that are and will remain a no-go (my sides being no-go forever).

    I think it’s important to note that when I say no – he stops and doesn’t do it again until I ask him to. Your date-friend isn’t doing that even though you ask him to. That doesn’t really sound like someone who is ever going to stop pushing your boundaries and I think it’s definitely worth thinking about whether you can stand having your boundaries pushed on a short- or long-term basis by this date-friend.

  27. LW, kissing you in mid-sentence is not “love language”. It is not a need for touch. It is a bog-standard thing done by jerk dudes who aren’t interested in listening to you want want to shut you up, but in a cutesy way so they can pretend they were actually being nice to you. It’s the equivalent of “you’re beautiful when you’re angry”. It’s a derail, with extra bonus disrespect for your boundaries.

    1. Not necessarily, but it doesn’t really matter what the date-friend’s intentions with the kiss-interruption were, it only matters that LW does not like it.

    2. Or (if you’re my dad) it’s a way to say PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEEEEE without saying PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEE when your wife and daughter are talking about something that doesn’t concern or include you. (To be clear, he would kiss my mom in mid sentence, not me, ew.)

      1. Very much this. To me it’s, “You’re done talking now. It’s time to attend to my physical needs, woman!”

  28. One of the most clarifying moments of my life came in college when I was discussing a new relationship with a friend.

    ME: “I feel like I’m not really myself around him, and I don’t want to be with him if that continues.”

    FRIEND: “So what if you tried being yourself around him?”

    ME: “Because then he might not want to be with me OOOOOOOHHHHHHHHH I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.”

    Because I realized the relationship was doomed if I didn’t take action, I realized I had perfect freedom to take action… because I had nothing to lose.

    I agree with the Captain and many commenters who think this relationship may be doomed, and BECAUSE it may be doomed, you have the freedom to take radical action.

    What if you told your date-friend: “I’m stressed out by having to keep negotiate these boundaries, so if you’d like to keep seeing me, I’d like us to go with ABSOLUTELY ZERO PDA that I don’t initiate, and absolutely no comments about my body over text.”

    And if he’s like “but I always stop when you ask” you can be like “I know, but I’m tired of asking” and if he’s like “that sounds restrictive” you can be like “I totally understand! Would you like us to stop seeing each other?” and if he’s like “but there’s nothing wrong with touch, it’s awesome” you can be like “it totally is, I’m just letting you know my preferences, which is to either try it this new way or to break up. I like you a lot!”

    Why not give it a try? At the very least, you learn something about negotiating differing needs and desires.

  29. All of what everyone has said.

    I am a highly tactile person myself, and like others above I’ve been in relationships with people like the LW and I learned that, for me, that’s a deal breaker. My brain interprets “You don’t like holding hands or smooching in public” as “You are ashamed of me” and “You don’t like to be touched except for during/right before sexy times” as “You find me generally repulsive, but I’m a convenient hole for you to fuck.” Yeah, I have issues. BUT! The point is, it is no fun to feel like you’re constantly being pawed at, and it is no fun to feel like you’re constantly being rejected, and touchy people are wonderful with touchy people and not-touchy people are wonderful with not-touchy people and you should let him go so you can both be happy with someone who expresses affection in a way you feel comfortable receiving it.

    1. yes, this!

      captain’s line about “freeing him up to find another sloth” rang true for me.

      I felt constantly rejected and unattractive when I was with someone who didn’t like my initiating touch and didn’t initiate touch with me. I understood intellectually that we just had different preferences, but when my instinct is to put my head on your shoulder while we’re watching tv, and your instinct is to flinch when I do that, we’re just both going to end up feeling like crap.

  30. To me this just sounds like you all are incompatible. You really don’t like this stuff and he really does. Let him go so you can both find people you will be happier with. Neither of you will be happy together.

    As a physical person, I’ve dated people who were more distant, and I’ve dated people, including my current partner, who were very physically affectionate. I much prefer the ones whose style meshes with mine. Neither of us were trying to fit into boxes that weren’t meant for us.

  31. Chiming in re: tickling. My most recent ex, from the time when I was in the depths of major depression, used to tickle me.I never told him outright to stop, b/c (a) depression, and (b) years and years of baggage meaning as far as I’m concerned, there’d be no point. Instead, I managed to find the “off switch” for my reaction: instead of squealing & laughing (or whatever), I’d just sit there & stare at him. It somewhat reduced the tickling, but also forged a link in my brain between “S is touching me” and “Shut down all physical feelings”. Even if he hadn’t treated me as a self-cleaning fleshlight, I’d have got nothing out of sex after that.

    (I eventually dumped him for being utterly rubbish, and am still in the process of working my way out of the depression pit. I *hope* I’d be able to tell a future partner that tickling is a No, but I’m not sure. Letters like this make me more confident, though: if I can see that you aren’t being unreasonable, then maybe I’m not either?)

    1. You are not being unreasonable.

      I’m going to yell:


      Neither is LW.

      I know how much depression sucks, and I hope you are getting the help you need to work your way out of the pit.

      YANA (You are not alone).

    2. You are so tremendously not being unreasonable. Being tickled when you’re depressed sounds so heinously awful – I mean, someone trying to force you to laugh when you’re feeling dead or horrible or however your depression manifests? That’s a level of cruelty I can’t describe well. Like “Purple Man just hijacked my brain for a second” level awful.

        1. Touch and depression are such a fraught combination, because when it’s the kind of touch you wanted, it’s powerfully healing, but when you didn’t want it, it’s so horrible. The literal worst.

          I was in a long-term-relationship when my depression sneaked up, and I just couldn’t bear any physical contact at all. I felt so bad for my boyfriend that I couldn’t bring myself to hug him, and I would share a bed with him and stick to my own side. Except I would wake up in the night to find him wrapped around me. I felt horrendously awful for hating it so much and being unsupportive of his needs. It was quite a long time after the breakup that I actually thought he might have made an effort to support my needs. At least he never attempted to tickle me because that would have been so beyond awful.

          Nowadays part of my self-support system for managing my depression is having regular tickling sessions with guys who are also into it, and I find a few hours of uncontrollable laughing sets me up for about two weeks. The difference between a touch that you WANT and one that you DON’T is a big serious important difference!

    3. @jla1974: Your *ex* was being unreasonable. Very much so. You were being incredibly reasonable in the face of severe provocation.

  32. My husband and I used to fight about this. It drove me insane, and I told him it did, and he’d stop for a while (mostly with tickling and grabbing me by the waist or my butt) and then a week or two later it would start up again. I finally completely lost it in the middle of the street and yelled at him “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THIS? IT DOES NOT MAKE ME WANT TO FUCK YOU, IT MAKES WANT TO RUN AWAY SCREAMING!” I think he heard me that time.

    Years later, in marriage counseling it came up again in a more subtle way. We were specifically working on touching, holding hands, that kind of thing. Bob was petting me my arm, and I was putting up with it, but not enjoying it, and the counselor pointed it out and asked us – do you prefer to be patted/petted or touched firmly in one place? LIGHTBULBS. It’s a lot better now.

    1. “do you prefer to be patted/petted or touched firmly in one place? LIGHTBULBS.”

      OMG. This is so me. I can only deal with a certain amount of petting-type touches on my bare skin, particularly in the same spot. I briefly dated a guy who couldn’t seem to understand that. No, you can’t rub the same spot on my hand or arm indefinitely. My brain goes from “nice/affectionate” to “meh” to “OMG they’re going to rub the skin off” within the space of a few minutes.

      Same guy couldn’t seem to grasp that putting his arm around me while we sat on the sofa was great UNLESS he was putting the full weight of his arm on my shoulders or putting his arm between my back and the sofa cushions. He was a big guy (a full foot taller than I am), and either of those caused me back pain. (The arm behind me caused my back to pitch forward at an uncomfortable angle.) It was so frustrating. I really shouldn’t have to say “When you do X, it causes me pain” more than once or twice. Eventually the message being sent when someone doesn’t respect those boundaries is “I don’t care.”

      1. Oh gosh. I definitely had this with a partner, probably more than one. For a long time, I ended up just accepting chronic pain as the cost of physical affection, but after a while I learned that I could request a different mode of affection – “Hey, it hurts my shoulders and back when you rest your arm on me that way. Can I lean against you like this instead?” Most of the time that was okay. The partner who would pout and have hurt feelings when I told him something was causing me physical pain, well, I should have ended things much sooner when I realized that his hurt feelings took priority over my hurting body.

        1. UGH, the pouting! I had that with a couple of past partners, and it was infuriating. What is it with partners who are told, “I need us to [insert whatever position-shifting needs to happen]” and interpret it as “BECAUSE I SECRETLY HATE YOU”? Dude, my arm is falling asleep and I’m getting a backache, but it didn’t become a referendum on the state of the relationship until you reacted so disproportionately.


      My husband and I also went through a “constant groping doesn’t communicate affection, it just makes me want to Silkwood Shower” adjustment period after we got married. We started dating in high school and grew up in a fairly conservative culture, i.e. sex only after marriage, it’s not OK to PDA in front of family, etc. Because we lived with our parents before marriage, fun touching only happened when we specifically found time/space for it, so I was always on board. So suddenly, we were married and now that it was “allowed” and we had our own home, and he would grab my breasts or my butt whenever I was in arm range. I told him to stop, but he thought he was being funny and affectionate and that was what wives were supposed to say, because dammit sitcoms. I got more and more frustrated, but I didn’t know how to explain the difference between ‘I consent to this sexual touching,’ and ‘casual drive by groping when I’m trying to brush my teeth.’

      It took him walking up behind me and basically dry humping me while I was at the kitchen counter, for me to turn around and scream while swinging at him with one of those big metal spatulas, “I AM A PERSON. I AM YOUR WIFE. I AM YOUR EQUAL. STOP TREATING ME LIKE A CONVENIENT SCRATCHING POST FOR YOUR JUNK! IT DOES NOT MAKE ME WANT TO FUCK YOU. IT MAKES ME HATE YOU AND I WANT TO PUNCH YOU IN THE DICK!”

      We had been together for almost eight years and he had never seen me supernova angry or heard me scream before. It scared the shit out of him, but unfortunately, it took me getting that angry to demonstrate just how much it bothered me. I hate that it took me screaming like a lunatic to finally convince him that I was serious. But once he got over the shock, I was able to tell him how humiliating it was to be treated like a collection of body parts instead of a partner, how draining and sucky it was that I had to feel “on guard” around him when I was supposed to be able to trust him above everybody and feel safe in my own home, and how it damaged my love for him when he laughed at me getting upset. I will admit that he stopped touching me at all for a while, because he didn’t want to be screamed at again, but eventually, he figured out how to read my cues.

  33. I once did not end a relationship in which I had a touching incompatibility with someone. In my case it was kissing. I beat myself up for literally years. I loved my boyfriend and I thought the way I wanted to kiss and be kissed would be a small sacrifice to make in favor of keeping a healthy and wonderful relationship. The thing was, it wasn’t a small thing after all. It turned out to be a fundamental part of myself, and was attached to all of my real desires, which were not being met. The longer my needs were unmet, the worse I felt, and the more guilty I felt for having those needs when I felt like they shouldn’t be such a big deal. The relationship fell apart little by little, and I finally moved out.

    Pay attention to your needs. This man, even if he is truly trying his utter best, like my boyfriend did, cannot meet them. He speaks a different language and it’s not your duty or job to change who you are to make the relationship fit you. It will not get better. Leave, deal with the scary but short term pain, and — when or if you want it — find someone who speaks your own beautiful language.

    1. Ooh. This is interesting. I’m in a relationship with incompatible kiss styles. hmmm

      1. The fact that my ex (who started out with wonderfully compatible kissing styles and desires) stopped kissing me other than pecks after about five years, made me miserable.

        But I loved him, and he had plausible reasons (chiefly a neck injury), so I dealt with that sadness and disappointment, and figured that since he had been supportive of various issues related to my disability, it was a sacrifice that I chose to make.

        He then went on to be very devoted to kissing the woman that he left me for, and said that he had said “can’t” when he meant “didn’t want to,” despite knowing how important it was to me.

        Still angry about that, frankly.

        1. Uhm, that sounds super disrespectful. I get why you are angry.

          It’s not that he doesn’t have the legitimate right to not want to do a thing (even though it’s sad on your part), it’s the fact that he basically withheld important information about your relationship – While making you think you should deal because he also made sacrifices due to health for you when … he just chose not to speak up.

  34. LW, my primary love language is also touch (seriously, the quiz results were so weighted in favor of touch as to be hilarious, and can I point out that that chapter in the Love Languages book is ALSO hilarious, as the writer has VERY STRONG IDEAS about premarital touching and his suggestions are cringe-worthy) and I still would react to a text like that by tasting my own bile.

    Furthermore, while I am a Sloth Person who will happily spend almost all of my waking time draped around my partner and enjoys snuggles the way an attention-starved Golden Retriever enjoys pets (which is to say, A LOT and ALL THE TIME), there are STILL types of touch I don’t like and STILL times I don’t want to be touched! I.e., I HATE having my feet touched and tickling me is a good way to get bitten, I do not want to be interrupted while reading or cooking, etc.

    I don’t think having different ways of expressing affection are necessarily a sign of incompatibility, but a partner not respecting your boundaries IS. I enjoy ALL THE TOUCHES and someone interrupting me in the middle of an important conversation by kissing me sounds enraging. I also don’t want to have an inappropriate conversation in mid-afternoon in a restaurant, FFS. Ugh, that makes me feel barfy just thinking about it.

    You mentioned in your letter that he always stops when you ask, but it seems like he’s not really picking up on your boundaries, yes? And this may be a personal thing on my part but it sounds like a lot of what he’s doing/the language is very infantilizing, which is really squicking me out.

    It is completely ok and not meanspirited to set your own boundaries. Maybe you just aren’t compatible with this dude, and that’s ok! You deserve someone who respects your boundaries.

  35. LW, I think the Captain’s idea that your date-friend probably views your aversion to touch as a challenge is probably spot-on. I also had the same thought as many other commenters that he is using this “love language” thing as an excuse to do what he wants and not as it’s actually intended. That being said, if he enthusiastically declares that his love language is touch and you are a person who is uncomfortable with touching, then you two are incompatible and you should break up now rather than later. You don’t want to spend your whole relationship wondering when is the next time you will have to fend him off and feeling mean about thinking that.

  36. First of all, cringe. Tickling is “bad touch” for a lot of abuse victims (and lots of people just don’t like it).

    Echoing what MJRawr said, “I must touch and be touched constantly to feel loved” just isn’t compatible with “I don’t like to be touched much”. Even if his primary love language (the way he expresses love and feels loved) is touch, love languages don’t mean “all day, everyday”; and being heard is a pretty damned important part of feeling loved and right now he isn’t hearing you. The underlying point of learning about love languages is so that you can make your partner feel loved and appreciated, not defensive and on edge. I have broken up with people over things like this. You want space and they want to be in your space. They want you to pay attention to them, you want to watch your show untethered to another human. There’s no compromise that doesn’t leave someone unhappy.

    I’m both not a touch person and I have specific things I find icky about being called certain names or having parts of my body referred to in certain terms. I am extremely touchy about certain “compliments” and I have a great self-image and body confidence. It doesn’t matter why you don’t like it; you don’t like it and that informs your boundaries. Compliments and touching should make you feel good and when they don’t, there’s a problem. A decent person would take that information and adjust their behavior; your date-friend hasn’t. Constantly telling someone you don’t like something, especially early on and in a casual relationship, seems like a lot of work for something not-long-term. It just seems like you’re going to be spending a lot of energy trying to change their behavior when the they have demonstrated that they’re not interested in changing their behavior.

  37. Ugh. I also dated a “My Love Language is touch” guy and when he’d say that he’d accompany it with invading my physical space and touching me in public without asking. It felt like the whole “love language” thing was a way for him to ignore my boundaries while also acting sensitive, self-aware, and New Age-y and casting me as the person who doesn’t understand the uniqueness of his special neeeeeeds.

    Honestly, the whole “love language” thing feel way too contextual to work as a dating paradigm for me.

    Do I like “quality time”? Yeah, but it depends on what we’re actually doing together.

    Am I into “acts of service”? Boy, are there sure some acts of service that I appreciate (doing some laundry, helping to clear the dishes) and some acts of service (unsolicited ‘help’ with medical and financial stuff) would send my shoulders up against my ears.

    “Physical touch” is probably the most contextual one of all for me. I don’t think I could be happy in relationship with no warm physical touch but unsolicited touches from strangers or pushy, escalating touching from whoever I’m dating is the fastest thing to make me slam the brakes.

    (Sidetone: While I think the Love Languages thing may be useful for helping people find folks who are compatible with them, I really despise it when some new “therapeutic” thing comes out and it’s immediately used as a way to make people feel bad for not being “open” and “understanding” enough, particularly when it also becomes a “signal how deep and sensitive I am” device.)

    1. Yes, this. It seems like this dude’s “love language” is more like “I love being able to touch you or talk sexy to you whenever I want, no matter what YOU want.”

  38. I think you guys are just fundamentally incompatible, and I think you should end it now.

    I need to be touched, and I love to touch. I love to touch his knee when we are watching tv, or just flop and lay my head on him. Especially in a romantic way, touching and being touched are how I feel love.

    I don’t jive with people who aren’t touchy! They aren’t bad people, but I need to touch and be touched! I like bumping shoulders and hips with people. I like pretend-flirting in ridiculous, over the top ways. It’s who I am!

    Tl;Dr you guys are just really mismatched and you are both gonna make each other feel sad feels 😦

  39. Earlier this year, my partner and I welcomed an internet friend we’d known for over 5 years into our home. We had interacted with them only occasionally but exclusively with fondness, and it was just a couple days. What could go wrong?

    I’d like to suggest playing Fučík’s ‘Entrance of the Gladiators’ (classic circus music!) as you read this comment, because LET ME TELL YOU:

    – The touching!!! hoo boy. Not creepy sex-touching, but just… touching? lots of it. lots of little touches.
    – When I was busy with other things, they were interested in my back, viz. “You’ve got something on your neck” *tries to pick my favourite mole off the back of my neck* or talking about how fond they were of me and how small I am while resting their chin on my shoulder.
    – When I was busy but facing them and sitting down, they GRABBED MY TOES WITH THEIR TOES. When I froze in horror, they said, in a mildly resigned tone, “Hm, I was expecting more of a reaction.” (I understand this would be weird and vexing in probably every culture, but in my culture in particular it’s just… unspeakably disrespectful to specifically touch a person with your feet. It is taboo.)
    – When I slept in longer than expected, they knocked and called at my bedroom door for a good few minutes before opening the door to yell at me to wake up. It took a message from my partner to finally get them to leave.

    Maybe you’re thinking: Pear! You used your words, didn’t you? You verbally indicated discomfort and they backed off, right? And the answer is no. I did nothing except aggressively pretend to be asleep.

    LW, you say:

    I don’t like to have to keep saying “stop”! It feels shitty and mean.

    And that is why I didn’t even begin to express the full horror I felt. I didn’t want to feel shitty and mean; I didn’t want to be the buttoned-up prude who was taking a prim yet meaty dump on a well-meaning affectionate person’s fun, especially since they were visiting all the way from Canada. Maple products from their homeland were in my fridge; why could I not tolerate their hand on my arm?

    I felt that my lack of enthusiasm should have been enough, you know? The anger and reluctance and hhhHHHHHH NO!!!!!! should have radiated from the back of my throat, out of my ears, and directly into their mind.

    When I messaged them about it afterwards, they were very sorry and said they should’ve known. They clarified this was not an excuse, but explained that their friend group was very casual with touching.

    It isn’t wrong to want to be cuddly with friends–maybe one time they grabbed a friend’s toes with their toes and their eyes met and they each knew they had Found Their People! You need to find your people and/or your person. There’s behaviour and expectations to be adjusted (maybe in a limited range), but you shouldn’t have to feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with, well… having needs.

    (can I talk about the TICKLES for a sec? They are, again, weird and NOPE for 100% of all types of people who don’t want it. That’s the main thing. Not denying it. The fact that I’m 4’11 and Asian adds a further layer of white people wanting to see a little Asian squirm; my body is not my own. The whole point of tickling is to make you uncomfortable and wriggle about nigh-uncontrollably.)

    It is 100% ok for you to want to be loved in a particular way, LW. I say that as someone who’s very cuddly with their partner; we’re very touchy with each other, but not really with friends. I can understand that everyone is different, that your body is your own, that you get to say when you’re feeling touched-out.

    I love the Captain’s scripts and have noted them down myself. Say the things. You might feel mean, at first, but you are not being mean.

      1. SAME. I am not just extremely ticklish, I had surgery on one foot that leaves me with limited feeling/permanently implanted, delicate hardware in that foot. Someone doing that to me would probably get kicked, and if they did it again they’d be evicted from my house.


        In the context of a *romantic and sexual relationship*, with a super-cuddly partner, I have engaged in silly affectionate “toe hugs,” but that’s IN BED, UNDER THE COVERS, WITH SOMEONE WHO REGULARLY SEES ME NAKED, NOT WITH A RANDOM LONG-DISTANCE FRIEND!!!

        *bites nails in sheer horror*

        I’m sorry your boundaries were so badly violated!! 😮

    1. This Canadian is screaming in abject horror. (A+ music choice however) “Hmm I was expecting more of a reaction”? My touch-adverse reactions go all the way up to kicking. (It also suggests that they *knew* this is something that is very much Not Ok by probably 98% of the population’s standards.) WTAF. There really aren’t enough words to adequately explain my reaction. Constant touching and chin-resting is bad enough, but TOE GRABBING is so far beyond the pale it’s gone plaid.

      1. +1, this Canadian is also screaming internally. I just can’t even. Wilfully refusing to notice when someone doesn’t want to be touched is just un-Canadian. If you can’t (like for really real “can’t” and not “don’t want to”) understand people’s signals that they don’t want to be touched, you DON’T TOUCH. And yelling at someone to get up?! When you’re a guest in their home?! NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.

        And talking about how small you are?! What, is that supposed to be news? I’m tall for a woman and even I can figure out that short people are undoubtedly all sick to death of people pointing out how short they are.

        1. I am not Canadian but sometime in my life I just want to yell “Well that’s downright un-Canadian of you!” at someone.

    2. Oh god, Pear, I feel the need to apologize profusely on behalf of all of Canada (and yeah, I know that makes me a walking stereotype). 😛 But GAH! The neck thing had me arching my back trying to get away from the squicky feeling.

    3. Another Canadian adding onto the ‘Nooooo whyyyy would they do that to youuuu noooo!!!’ pile. This is not a Canadian culture thing! If my sleeve so much as brushes someone else’s sleeve on the bus, we’ll both be falling over ourselves to apologize (the constant apologizing, alas, is a culture thing).

      1. Honestly, I was surprised when Pear said Canadian. I work in a multicultural school and students from some countries are routinely worried that the teachers don’t like them because we don’t touch them. Skin to skin contact, in particular (other than a handshake) is…not a common thing here. Also I’m pretty sure I’ve never touched another person’s bare feet in my life, much less with my own feet!

    4. I, too, screamed at the toe grabbing. What in the hell? The whole, “I expected more of a reaction” thing makes me think this person was either conducting some sort of weird sociological experiment or zie was systemically checking far zie could push your boundaries. I hope you never invited them into your home again.

    5. Fellow short person here: I haaaaate being infantilized. “Oh, let’s pat her head and tell her she’s cute!” NO. LET’S NOT.

  40. As yet another person whose love language is physical touch, I read this letter and had SO MUCH NOPE towards your date-friend.

    To me it sounds like he’s manipulative and he’s trying to train you to accept what you don’t want.

    I mean, FFS, you have to be IN LOVE for a love language to mean anything at all to your interaction, and if you’re not receiving my touch as love, I don’t want to do it anymore because then it’s showing disrespect, NOT love. I definitely had to learn the “no hugs without permission” thing but I *learned it.* I can want to express my love for another person in a certain way aalllll I want, but it doesn’t mean jack or sh*t as far as what the other person has to accept. Consent matters.

    I’ll say that again.


    You’ve said no enough times that it’s starting to be a boundary test now. Because of that, I’d go a little further than our amazing Captain’s scripts and pre-emptively express your lack of consent to touch. I’d start off a date or a text string with “Today I do not want to be touched at all, and I don’t want any comments on my body whatsoever.” Because then if he touches you, he’s not concerned about your consent – he’s concerned about wearing you down.

    1. “I definitely had to learn the “no hugs without permission” thing but I *learned it.*”


      I am super snuggly and touchy with my friends. I tend to poke some of them randomly. The ones who are OKAY with it.

      The friends who don’t like hugs or casual touching? I DON’T TOUCH THEM. I *ASK* before hugging them if it looks like they’re sad, or if I’m sad, or if I just want to hug them. “Do you want a hug” is a simple thing to say.

  41. Most of this strikes me as a situation where both people are fine but not with each other — no fault, just fundamental incompatibility.

    But the only sentence that can legitimately be interrupted with a kiss is a sentence that begins, “Right now I just want so badly for you to kiss me that …”

    Otherwise that kiss sends the same message that every other interruption sends, namely, “I don’t care what you have to say.”

  42. I’m totally a cuddler, but a good chunk of these made me go NO. NO THANK YOU. (And I get you about the “possessive” feeling. I can’t really figure out what it is, but some gestures of affection just leave me feeling so NOPE. Hand on knee–NOPE. A kiss on the top of the head turns me into that cat with the flower and the blue screen of death)

    “I feel on some level he’s decided that your reticence is a “challenge” and that it’s his job to fix you”


    That is *exactly* what kind of made me nope away from my last date-friend (do love that. We weren’t a couple but we went on dates. Great term), who was a good guy, but just wasn’t compatible with *me*. I kept feeling like I was a skittish horse he was trying to coax. And like, I’ll either open up or I won’t, but someone “gently encouraging” me, even if they mean it well, just makes me feel pressured and uncomfortable.

    I feel for you, LW. It’s a sticky situation. A guy can be really really nice and fun and attractive and still just Not Right.

  43. Suggested script for LW to date-friend: “Not having to constantly state, reinforce, or guard my boundaries is MY love language. Start listening.”

  44. Also gonna emphasize that : you don’t have to *try harder* or anything like that. You’re comfortable with what you’re comfortable with, and you should be comfortable in a relationship. If you’re white-knuckling it and trying to play “this is fine” it’s just gonna feel worse in the long run.

  45. I think I’ve got to join the chorus of “fundamentally incompatible” here, honestly. I mean, if you two were deeply in love and you knew that other than this single issue you were each other’s Best Person, it would probably be worth working through. But as someone whose love language is also touch, strongly touch, I really don’t see a happy relationship forming in which 1) you feel that your (perfectly valid) boundaries are respected and 2) in which he feels cared for and connected.

    Obviously, any partner should always be alert to their partner’s boundaries, but I also want to say that as a very, very touchy-feely person, it just sort of pours out, and there’s a huge missing component of connection and care that exists when touch isn’t frequently present in a relationship. I have to be super careful not to cross anyone’s boundaries, of course, so that I don’t make people feel uncomfortable, but it also means that friends without that touch component tend not to develop into the kind of deep friendships that I crave, because that’s just the way I’m wired. Luckily my husband feels the same way, or we’d be in trouble! As an example, I have a friend who I’ve known now for almost a decade, and it took me probably five or six years (years!) to realize that the reason why I was so insecure in our friendship and why I thought our friendship was way more distant than it actually was was because she wasn’t much of a hugger. Once I realized that, soooo much anxiety melted away and I finally realized, oh yeah, she actually does like me.

    Anyway, all that to say, you two have reallllly fundamentally different needs and unless you feel like the relationship is worth working through that (and even if you do), it’s probably not going to be a smooth go.

  46. “I’ve tried to explain my boundaries/comfort levels, and I genuinely don’t think he is trying to make me uncomfortable, I think he just deeply doesn’t understand.”

    You’ve tried to explain. He still doesn’t get it. That means one of 2 things is happening. Either you haven’t explained well enough, or there’s something disingenuous about his genuine not understanding. (I suppose there’s a 3rd in which the two of you will never be on the same page with this and should break up.) So try one more time being as clear as you can using the recommended scripts. Ask him to verbally tell you that he understands and won’t be touching you inappropriately again. (Inappropriate is what it comes down to. After you’ve said no, no matter how he means it, it’s inappropriate.) If he “forgets” (I think he will), it’s time to move to your exit strategy. Let me elaborate on what I mean when I say there’s something disingenuous about his genuine not understanding. He may think you’re wrong and that if he keeps at this, you’ll change your mind. He may mean it kindly. It still comes down to your wanting one thing, his wanting another, and his nagging you. He may not know consciously that he’s doing this, but it still comes down to his doing what he wants in violation of what you want.

    1. Furthermore– Look at how much you’re blaming yourself for your “issues.” If your dislike of so much touch is a result of your past issues, that should make him MORE considerate of your boundaries, not less. Maybe you do want to work through that a bit, but that’s independent of what he’s doing. It’s not a matter of “you’re being irrational in your requests so I get to ignore your requests.” It’s “we all have our irrational spots so I need to be particularly considerate around those spots.”

      1. Oh yes. My last ex used to touch me in ways that I had specifically, with explicit reference to past abuse, asked him not to. And yes, I should’ve broken up with him right then. (I had a whole “nobody else will ever love me” thing going on). This is such a good way of articulating what was wrong with that.

        He also believed that any touch = sex; my opinion is that not all touch is about sex, sometimes it’s an expression of love/request for comfort. Again, should’ve broken up.

        Similarly, the time we were in a pub and I walked past him to go to the toilet and he put his hand up my skirt – should’ve broken up. In fact, looking back that whole relationship was a red flag so big you could see it from space.

        1. “He also believed that any touch = sex” Ugh. I was married to a guy who felt that way. I couldn’t so much as pat him on the shoulder in passing without him deciding that meant I wanted sex. It was miserable.

        2. I find it helpful to think of past abuse as akin to an injury. I sprained my ankle in high school really bad. I was on crutches for months. It healed, and I can still walk and run, but I’ve been more susceptible to minor sprains ever since. If someone told me that scrambling down a hillside with loose rocks didn’t cause my sprain in the first place so I ought to be fine with it now, I’d probably slug him. So yeah, past abuse means extra susceptibility to further injury. There’s a need for extra care to avoid loose rock/abuse situations. You may kick yourself for putting up with that ex as long as you did, but I’m cheering over the fact that he is an ex now. Yay! He’s gone. Good for you and yay!

  47. LW, I feel you. I’m very much like you – I don’t much like to be touched, never have. I’m not a very physical person. Verbal affirmation is much more important to me.
    I dated a guy for a while that was a lot touchier than me, and we did manage to make it work by compromise. I understood that touch was very important to him, so for example, when we’d sit down to watch TV together, he would tentatively reach out to put his arm around me or something, and if I didn’t flinch, that was an okay. And at some point I’d say to him “okay I’m done now”, and he’d take his hands back immediately, no hard feelings. And sometimes I made a greater effort to hold hands with him or reach out to him, so that he could feel that I liked him.

    The important thing, though, is that he NEVER pushed the boundary. We had a very honest conversation about what each of us needed, and both of us tried our best to understand the other. I never felt uncomfortable about *him* or the touching beyond my general “meh” about touch in general, and I never felt like he was demanding or trying to guilt me into more than I was comfortable with. And it was exactly that peace that allowed me to try and reach out to him more.

    But this guy isn’t giving you space, and he’s not respecting your boundaries. The impression I get from your letter is that you feel more like you need to be constantly fighting off these encroachments into your territory, and that’s not a comfortable place at all. My instinct, reading your letter, is to flee, since it really doesn’t seem like your guy is trying very hard.
    And maybe he doesn’t really care, or maybe he’s just very deeply Not Getting It, but the end result is the same. If he doesn’t try to understand *your* language, this isn’t working, and it may be worth you considering moving on.

    Also? Somebody cutting me off mid-sentence to kiss me would send me into an absolute towering RAGE. Fuck that, seriously, fuck that. I’m sitting here furious as I type just thinking of it. (even more than the tickling, which is also a huge NOPE in glowing red letters)

  48. “I want to tickle your tummy and

    – GROSS!!

    It would be nice if there could be less of a trend towards all this babytalk by grown people, in general.

    1. Hopefully heading off the inevitable “but I like baby talk sometimes” comments:

      1) I personally super do not like it.
      2) I guess some people do?
      3) If you like it, and you float this is as a trial ballon in a new relationship, know that that’s what it is. A trial balloon. If the other person responds in kind, great! If it gets shot down, desist henceforth!
      4) If you don’t like it, it’s okay to keep not liking it just ’cause other people do. It doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you or you need to lighten up or whatever. Believe your own squick when it comes to your own love life.

      1. I’m reminded of a quote from “Playing By Heart.”

        Max: Some girls like you to say things like that to them.
        Joan: Some girls like you to take a dump on them. I’m neither one of those girls.

        Cause people can like what they like and hey, that’s their business, but there are some things that are widely Not Liked enough that you really shouldn’t try and do them without getting some clear guidance that the other person is into that, and definitely drop it if they’re not.

  49. I’ve not read the comments so I don’t know if anyone has said this already but… I feel like there’s a similar kind of dynamic here as in the previous letter (1014)?
    Like both letters have one partner who does what they (he) want to do unless the other partner says “no” when they (she) feel uncomfortable. It would be okay if each person was sometimes suggesting things and sometimes saying y/n but in each relationship we have a big thing that is nearly always initiated by one person leaving the other to decide yay or nay – in this case it’s touching and in the other letter it was what to do tonight.
    It’s a badge dynamic to be stuck in! It makes one person feel 100% responsible for what happens even though it was the other person’s idea. It makes one person into the gatekeeper of what the other wants and makes them feel bad if they say no. And feel bad if they say yes! It’s not behaving like equal partners deciding how to relationship together – it’s treating one person like their entire input is to grant or refuse permission!

    It feels to me almost like a parent child interaction.

    1. Funny that – two male partners casting their respective female partners in a mommy/disciplinarian/”nope”-maker role.
      Gee that doesn’t sound at ALL like a reflection of the patriarchal society and must 100% entirely be a coincidence yep

  50. The Captain nailed it with the advice, as always!

    Here’s the thing about consent: you don’t owe it to anyone. Ever, period. Even if it’s “just” over something like holding hands or cuddling instead of sexy things. Even if your reasons for saying no are linked to something that’s beyond your partner’s control, such as events in your past or your current political feelings. Even if you feel like you should be working on showing more physical affection. (Unless, of course, that’s something you WANT to experiment with, but you’re certainly not obligated to.) No always means no, regardless of your reasons for saying it.

  51. What bugged me about the letter is that LW’s made her feelings about this known to him multiple times and he refuses to get it. Sure, he stops when she pushes back – but he seems to “forget” this by the next time and continues to push her boundaries anyway. This is just not acceptable!

    The “sexy hips” talk in a non-private setting squicked me out. The “tickle your tummy and give you kisses”?! WTF does he think she is, a freakin’ teddy bear? Something about that phrasing came across very objectifying to me. Seems like it’s all about him and what he wants, and whoever he dates is just a walking, talking doll to him that he can just do whatever he wants with whenever he wants.

    In short, LW and this guy not only have a fundamental incompatibility, but the guy is also being very disrespectful at minimum, possibly even a potential abuser.

    1. Seriously. I happen to really, really hate sexting – something about seeing explicit stuff written out makes me dry-heave (could be residual grossness from getting a lot of unsolicited gross texts from people I met on dating sites) even if it’s written by someone I’m doing those aforementioned explicit things with in real life! My SO sexted me once, I responded that it was gross and I didn’t like it, he apologized, and didn’t do it again.

      I’m 99% sure that if I’d gone on a few dates with someone and they sent me a text like that, I would have stopped responding to them.

  52. Aghhhhhh he’s ignoring your boundaries so hard that it’s making me squirmy and uncomfortable, and I like hugs and touch a lot! He needs to respect what your boundaries actually are, not try and push them into what he wants them to be. He needs to accept that your boundary is ‘don’t touch me without asking first,’ possibly with a side of ‘don’t even ask in XYZ situations’; ‘touch me whenever and I’ll tell you if I want you to stop’ is clearly past your boundaries, and that is legit and he needs to respect that.

    (Also, if you’re feeling like your boundaries are somehow wrong and prudish, please don’t. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with being less touchy/PDA friendly–lots of people don’t like those things, it’s just personal preference, there is no wrong answer to this question. Second of all, a lot of his actions would be upsetting even to someone who does like PDA and touch!! Being interrupted mid-sentence by a kiss is no better than being interrupted by your conversation partner standing up and walking away–it’s still cutting off your words, gross. And tickling is a hugely common no-no even among super touch friendly people; I don’t know very many adults who genuinely find it pleasant to be tickled.)

    Ways this could go:
    1) You decide this is worth the work of trying to get him to understand and respect your boundaries. You tell him to cut this out. He listens and cuts it out, and treats you in a way that makes you feel loved and valuable.
    2) You decide this is worth the work of trying to get him to understand and respect your boundaries. You tell him to cut this out. He doesn’t listen and keeps on violating your boundaries. You unleash the fury of a thousand suns on him and break up. You either go back to being happily single, or find another date-friend who respects your boundaries.
    3) You break up with him now because he’s got a pattern of ignoring your boundaries and it’s just too much work to keep trying to explain and enforce them. You either go back to being happily single, or find another date-friend who respects your boundaries.
    4) You don’t enforce your boundaries because it feels mean and prudish and you don’t like it, but you also don’t break up with him, so he keeps doing it. Alternatively, you try to get him to stop and he refuses, and eventually you give up, so he keeps on doing it. You keep being unhappy.

    The only one of these that would be a bad outcome is #4. Please don’t do that one, you deserve better than that. Any of the others is legit and it’s totally up to you which one you want to pursue.

  53. It may just be a matter of incompatibility. Touch is not my love language, but I do know how soul crushing and self esteem corroding it is to not have my love language reciprocated. That’s no excuse to cross somebody’s boundaries. But the other option, for me anyway, is to opt out of the situation completely.

  54. This is shitty behaviours! He is being shitty, your boundaries about being touched are exactly fine for you because they’re yours and if he was a cool person who deserved more of your time he’d respect your totally reasonable no.

    If it was me I’d view it as a learning experience and carry on with the dating until I found someone cool who knew what no means. Don’t let his nonsense reasoning make you feel like you’re in the wrong, you’re awesome and explaining and talking about your boundaries is an important and valuable thing.

  55. Dear LW,

    I am joining the chorus of folks who think you and date-friend are fundamentally incompatible.

    If at some point you decide you want to work on liking casual touch, by all means do so. But this guy-! Feh.

    I want to expand on the texts he’s sent you, which I wouldn’t like either. Now, I’m someone tactile. I like PDAs and cuddles quite a bit. I like compliments too. (I especially like compliments of my physical self.) So, why wouldn’t I like this man’s texts? (Just to be clear, I wouldn’t. Not one little bit.)

    I wouldn’t like his texts because they are unconnected to my day. I’d probably like a physical compliment, attached to a request to meet for a matinée. (And I’d probably accept.) I wouldn’t like the ongoing pokes interrupting my train of thought.

    Also, no tickling. I’m not even ticklish anymore. I just hate it.

  56. One’s love language is not an excuse to ignore the someone’s boundaries. Respecting boundaries is one of the biggest ways to both demonstrate love and be a decent person. LW’s date-friend’s ignoring of boundaries and making her do all the emotional labor of telling them to stop is not cool. If your love language is physical touch or you’re just an physically affectionate person for whatever reason, you should be super aware of any and all signals that people don’t want you to touch them. “That’s just the way I am” is bullshit.

    Also, I think people misunderstand the whole concept of love languages or just outright use it to excuse shitty behavior.

    Love languages come out in the “I thought of you so I ____”:
    – bought this $1 thing that reminded me of you (gift giving – pro tip: if someone never gives gifts and just wants large extravagant presents, probs not their love language, speaking as someone with that love language)
    – spent two hours picking out the perfect birthday card that says exactly what I want (words of affirmation)
    – did this thing you mentioned you needed to get done (acts of service)
    – planned a nice night for us (quality time)
    – gave you a hug, held your hand, cuddled (physical touch)

    Every single one of these can stomp on people’s boundaries. Which is not how you show love! If you’re really thinking of someone and loving them, you MUST take their boundaries and ways of receiving expressions of love into account. Which LW’s date-friend isn’t doing. At all.

      1. Also, even if something *is* your love language, something can still be inappropriate, or too much too soon or just a “we don’t have that kind of relationship” issue. I like gifts but I’d be squicked if someone turned up to a second date with a pair of diamond earrings, a high-end sex toy and their grandmother’s heirloom blanket.

  57. Ooooh, this guy sounds creepy, at least to me, LW! LW, I am like you, I feel VERY uncomfortable if a guy outside my immediate family, touches me in any way other than a polite hug. Unlike you though, I feel scared to communicate overtly my boundaries because I don’t want to offend anyone. But I’d say, “Kudos to you LW” for being able to communicate clearly and honestly your boundaries to your date-friend without being scared like me. I totally agree with Captain about what you should do. Personally, I would be running for the hills right now if I had a date-friend like that. And probably kind of scared as well.

    1. yeah, these examples ALL had me saying: “way too controlling. Way too creepy”

      Some of them sound like testing or grooming (“sexy hips” in a family restaurant at 2pm?)

      Kissing me in the middle of a sentence would have me frustrated; I put up with it and even ended up finding it endearing once, in a playful intimate moment, but it was still annoying–it if had been in any way a different moment, I’d have been mad.
      (and, my now-husband read my cues; he doesn’t do it)

      And tickling almost always strikes me as being about control; I have almost never encountered a situation in which it wasn’t. (I’m even still a little ashamed of tickling my college roommate once)

  58. Captain, if you like “date-friend,” see also “datemate” which has a bonus rhyme! I ran into this one on lovenotfound.com, which is an excellent webcomic (ironically about people learning to enjoy touch in a culture where no one touches, not even for sex). I’m not sure if they coined it or not though.

    Ofc I agree with you and my love of that webcomic doesn’t mean I suggest LW try that, because it sounds like she just has different needs in the level-of-touch department.

    Personal story: my partner is a cat and I am a sloth. I basically always want to be curled around my partner and, like a cat, he is sometimes just not into it and seems pretty repulsed by touch. He tells me to stop and I stop. We discuss boundaries and levels of touch and everything is fine. He and I are still fairly compatible because our touch needs are similar enough.

    But LW, it sounds like you are, say, a gerbil (??? not sure what animal is best here, just thinking of fuzzy animals that would not like a sloth), and your date-friend is a sloth. It may not be possible for both of you to have your needs met. I have a gerbil partner in my life right now (polyamorous), and if we were monogs I would be miserable. Luckily we are not.

    However, we all *communicate* around this business. And when someone sets a boundary I observe it to the best of my ability. It sounds like your date-friend is not doing a good job of this. Maybe he just needs to be smacked over the head and he’ll shape up, but if you continue to experience boundary creep you should dump his ass so fast (insert funny ending to this).

    You deserve the right kind of toucher. They are out there; you’re proof of that.

  59. My own love language is touch, and my fiance’s love language is touch (it works out very nicely), and all of what you’ve described does pretty much sound like normal Touch Person things, not like mean, intentionally boundary-pushing things. I’ve said and done more or less everything you’ve listed, as has fiance. But also, we both enjoy those things. You do not enjoy those things. So even accepting that he’s not being Actually Bad but just that his natural mode of operation is not one you enjoy, then, well, I have to wonder if it’s worth continuing to pursue the relationship. If your love languages are so incompatible that it feels like a horrible chore to accommodate each other or constantly remind each other of what you like and don’t like, then it’s possible the relationship is just going to be too irritating to maintain long term. Incompatible touch levels is a totally valid reason to break up.

  60. There are so many interesting things you could do with your time that don’t require you spend it with people who make you feel like a jerk for enforcing boundaries. It doesn’t matter if he’s doing it on purpose or not. You are not obligated to spend time with anyone, regardless of their intentions towards you. Particularly not people who make you feel bad and doubtful about yourself.

    Husband is very handsy, and sometimes he has trouble not being handsy. But he never, ever makes me feel bad for pushing him away or asking him to stop. And he really does try to ask. I have just never been able to convince him to stop grabbing my boobs out of nowhere.

    That said, the boob grab thing is not a big deal to me. If it was, he would stop. He hasn’t tickled my feet on purpose since I said NO FEET NOT EVER.

  61. I am very much like the LW in this letter. My husband is similar to the “date-friend” with one glaring difference: He understands and respects my boundaries. We’re out in public? He conveys his affection with a sweet (and swift) stroke down the center of my back. It goes no farther. It’s usually used to communicate “I’m here, you’re safe, I love you” when we’re in public, crowded areas and he knows my anxiety is ramped and he can’t hold my hand to help me calm down. At home he might be a little more physically demonstrative but he knows my boundaries for sure. I don’t enjoy kissing. At all. I can’t get out of my own head long enough to enjoy it. He knows this and though he enjoys kissing he respects my wishes. We’ve been together for 16 years this year and he’s respected my space, my body, my wishes since day one.

    The fact that you’ve repeatedly told him to stop and he hasn’t is a red flag. It’s not cool that he’s doing this to you.

    1. ” I don’t enjoy kissing. At all. I can’t get out of my own head long enough to enjoy it.”
      Oh my god, I’m not the only one!

      1. Nope, you’re not. I blame the guy who gave me my very first kiss for giving me issues. I was 19, had never been kissed. I was on a first date with this guy who had literally just eaten a loaded steak and cheese bomb sandwich (full of peppers, onions, pepper relish, etc). We had stepped onto an elevator and as soon as the door closed he grabbed me and shoved his tongue into my mouth. All I remember thinking was “Wow! This is gross!!!” He ended the kiss with this smirk and some comment about how he’d been told he was a great kisser (whoever told him that lied!) and I was busy trying to wipe his spit off my face and the taste of his sandwich out of my mouth. It’s been more than 20 years since that kiss but I literally have the same reaction EVERY time I kiss someone.

        1. OH.MY.GOD.
          Assault with a side-helping of disgusting-even-if-it-weren’t-assault. I want to take a shower, just reading it.

          My objection is simply that kissing mouth-to-mouth does nothing for me, other than confuse the little voice in the back of my brain who doesn’t understand why humans mash their faces together.

  62. Hi OP, there are a lot of good comments and sound advice here. I’ll flag myself as someone who doesn’t like casual touch or PDAs, and who identifies increasingly as ace/grey ace. But I want to hone in on your last paragraph:

    I don’t think it’s “unfair” to have the current political climate or the issues that are important to you to inform your preferences. The fact that you are in part responding to a wider problem or hyperawareness of sensation or contact doesn’t make it less valid when you’re thinking specifically about your partner. He doesn’t get a pass because you know him better than the aggregate shitty mass.

    Your hangups may well be something that stems from past issues. I encourage you to discuss with a/your therapist to understand where you firm lines are and how you’re drawing them. Ask yourself what is “hangup” that may change or a boundary that shouldn’t. You can and should explore your own reasoning, and intimacy of various sorts takes practice you might well have been missing recently. But that doesn’t mean that your partner shouldn’t respect your boundaries, insofar as you know and express them. You may one day move the line of acceptable touches, and that’s fine and normal and great. The fact that you are still working out what touches you like or don’t doesn’t mean your partner gets to steamroll over your current wishes. His continuing to press after you have expressed discomfort is the red flag for me. You need to work through that individually or together (or both).

    In sum, your journey with, and experience of touch doesn’t negate your current wishes. Uncertainty re. touch doesn’t mean your partner has a blank check to break your current boundaries. We’re all figuring this shit out, over and over again. Your partner should be helping you on that journey rather than trying to shift it to follow the blazes he likes best.

  63. LW, I want to send you good vibes and knowledge that you’re not alone! Reading your self-description was like looking into a mirror. I’ve been enjoying singledom since the end of my last relationship where the dude always had nice things to say about my body, but never anything to say about any other aspect of my self. He also made me second-guess myself and my feelings towards his behavior.

    Reading Captain Awkward was a huge help to me post-breakup when I was rebuilding trust in my feelings. I hope you find comfort in the fact that you are A-OK just the way you are.

  64. LW, I’m adding my voice to the chorus of “You and datefriend are incompatible, cut your losses now.”

    Maybe your touch-aversion is because of Past Stuff, or the existential rage of being a woman in society, but maybe you would still be just as choosy about touch if you had an idyllic history and lived in Themyscira. The reasons why don’t matter now.

    If you really feel like you are missing out on something re:touch and cuddling you can explore that: read some books, get some therapy if that is available to you. But that is a separate issue from datefriend not being the right person for you and not respecting your boundaries.

  65. Sounds like a pretty big incompatibility to me. I’m like DateFriend in the letter. I don’t just prefer to touch, hug, and cuddle a lot: I need to or I wither. (Which involves”when you reject my touch, I feel rejected, unloved, and unlovable. “) Holding hands and kissing in public bring me great joy. If we’re on the same couch and it’s not too hot and we’re not disturbing any cats, I want my partner and I to be sprawled all over each other.

    (Her reaction when we talked about this during Week 1 of Dating was like, OH MY GOD REALLY YOU TOO?????!!!! ❤️❤️❤️)

    Release the sloth, I think. Not for Sloth’s own good but because you’ve realized that Sloth probably can’t meet your needs.

    (Also, best of luck to you!)

    1. I am in the same category and agree with the, “This is probably not a good match” line of thought. If one party needs touch and the other dislikes it, the options are:

      1) One party will feel groped
      2) One party will feel touch starved and falsely accused
      3) Neither party gets their needs met

  66. Oh man! I so relate to the idea of “maybe my hangups are getting in the way of something good.” One of my most recent exes wasn’t as bad as all this but he became way more invested in the relationship way more quickly than me – we dated for a little over a month and I was getting inundated with “you’re so beautiful and amazing” “you make my heart beat faster” etc. type texts. Which are all well and good! Except I never initiated physical contact, rarely responded to those texts, and kissed him exactly once before deciding that the requisite physical chemistry wasn’t there. We wound up breaking up after dating for 5 weeks because it was stressing me out.

    Sometimes I still think about it like – maybe I should have just pushed through it. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to “lean in” to those expressions of affection. Maybe I should have just had sex with him and eventually gotten used to it. He would have made a great partner in a lot of ways. But, look, even if my “hangups” got in the way of a relationship? At least I didn’t have to force myself to have sex I didn’t want. At least he didn’t have to be with someone who was trying to make herself want to be with him. He didn’t do anything WRONG, it just wasn’t RIGHT. And, for the record, I think the behavior described by this LW is creeptastic – so, even less of a reason to stress over your “hangups.”

    Tl;dr, “hangups” get a bad rap but really they’re just your internal mechanism for telling you not to do things you don’t want to do. Which imo is almost entirely good in a relationship context.

  67. Touch is my love language.

    NOBODY owes me touching. EVER.

    It is my job to observe and respect the boundaries of others. It is their job to observe and respect mine.

    My wife is also a touch-happy person. Despite that, it still happens after a decade together that we touch one another in ways, times, or situations the other does not appreciate. We listen and learn from this. When she retreats into a dark quiet room for alone time, I give her space. She does not touch my elbows or my arms when she is standing behind me, and does not interrupt me for kisses when I am walking around the house doing chores.

    Having a relationship where I had to police my own boundaries constantly sounds alarming and exhausting. Anyone I liked well enough to partner with, I would very especially not want to subject to/burden with the emotional chore of that kind of vigilance. I like to relax around my partners, and I like them to relax around me!

    If I, an often startlingly tone-deaf and insensitive person, can work all this out, so can any other guy. Expect better of him!!

    1. + a million

      “Having a relationship where I had to police my own boundaries constantly sounds alarming and exhausting. Anyone I liked well enough to partner with, I would very especially not want to subject to/burden with the emotional chore of that kind of vigilance.”

    2. *also upvotes this comment*

      I am an extremely hissy cat around most people wrt touch, but around Mr. #1 Sloth I turn into the Slothiest Sloth That Ever Did Sloth. I practically beg him for petting and cuddling. He even does the unexpected kissing and tickling thing and I don’t mind it/sometimes actively go for it back.

      And still, one of the first things we did was establish a safeword for when things are getting uncomfy.

  68. “maybe my discomfort with touch is not a true preference but a result of all my past issues and it would be “good” for me to work through that a bit.”

    Oh my golly, I am having so many thoughts on this bit.
    Ok first, let’s just say for the moment that maybe your preference is due to past issues – it’s still your preference. It’s not somehow less real because of where it came from. Guess what? Many of our preferences come from past experience! That’s kind of how it works!

    As for whether or not it would be good for you to work through that – well, maybe? Also maybe not. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea. No one here does. Oh, and neither does your date-friend. Your date-friend is definitely biased. The main question here is are YOU uncomfortable with your own touch preferences? And not in a “my date friend wants to touch more but I find it icky maybe I should change for them” way, but in a “I sure wish I could touch more” way. IF that is the case (SO MANY IFS, SERIOUSLY), this is not, I repeat NOT, the situation for you to address it. This is the sort of thing that you need to choose on your terms.

    Either way, your preferences are not wrong, and you are not being unreasonable.

    1. What Andraya said. Also, even *if* you decide that your touch preferences are making you uncomfortable in a “I sure wish I could touch more” way, a professional therapist would be a better helper along that path than your current datefriend. I don’t think current datefriend should be dating *anyone*, even someone who’s as much into touch as he is, until he learns to listen to and respect boundaries.

  69. Parachuting in to say I was once like you, LW. I have vivid memories of being out at a show with my ex and trying to enjoy the band except he was just RESTING his HAND on my LOWER BACK, like he was just TOUCHING ME and it was WEIRD and WHY. He was very much a Touch Person, just like your datesperson, and I was more of a…Time And A Place Touch Person.

    Eventually we sort of worked out a happy medium between us on the touch front, but he never really got over this idea that I was Uncomfortable In My Body and it was a thing that he needed to Personally Fix. (Him fixing me was sort of a running theme in this relationship.)

    A dealbreaker for me, at the end of our four years together, was that he kept making comments about my body that I really didn’t like that were apparently *supposed* to be compliments? But I found the mode in which they were phrased profoundly intrusive and annoying, and told him so – kindly, but firmly. His reaction to this (entirely normal and healthy) boundary-setting was to 1.) Say “are you sure this isn’t just some leftover Catholic-school body shame stuff?” 2.) At one point, break down in tears that I would ever set a boundary with him, and 3.) KEEP RIGHT ON SAYING THAT THING, LIKE, FOR MONTHS.

    My roundabout point, LW, is that the way in which he reacts to you setting boundaries is gonna be real telling. There’s a difference between him hearing your stipulations and thinking “OK, I don’t want to make you feel crappy, but I’m interested in working out a solution that works for both of us” and him saying “You’re weird / not giving me what I want, and I’m gonna keep doing this because I think it’s a good idea”.

    OR, the ever-popular: “I’m gonna pretend I’m paying attention to your needs, but also kinda gaslight you over being broken/fucked up for wanting this thing”. NO. NO NO NO. SWEEP THAT SHIT BACK INTO THE BRAINSEWER FROM WHENCE IT CAME.

  70. I was recently out on a date with a man who stopped me as I was talking about something to make me happy to say “I’m not even listening to what you say right now because I just want to kiss you.”

    OP, when you wrote that he stopped and kissed you in the middle of an emotional conversation, I remembered my own date and got SO pissed off on your behalf. It’s such a shitty, dismissive thing to do to someone.

  71. I’m a touchy person who becomes a very UN-touchy person when consent and boundaries is not respected. Reading this letter made my cringe so hard.

    Just a couple weeks ago I went on a few dates with someone who did similar behaviors. The odd thing is I met him at a cuddle party, which is a FANTASTIC workshop on touch, consent, and boundaries and he was great about it with cuddling. Turns out he never thought to apply any of that towards sexual advances. So here’s this person who is awesome about consent with cuddling, and then slips right into escalating touch into sexual advances.

    I was so weirded out. And he wasn’t interested in changing. And that made me not want touch from him. Not even cuddles anymore.

    I share this because…..even for people who like touch A LOT, the sorts of boundary-pushing this guy is doing would make me cringe, and stiffen, and pull away, and consider saying no to all future encounters. For me, the enjoyment of touch is ruined if I have to be on my guard about consent stuff.

    When someone who is relatively decent with consent gets surprised by being stopped with a “no”, they tend to ask about it, in order to try to avoid future consent injuries. E.g. “Do you dislike that form of touch in general or just don’t want it at the moment?” “Are there other forms of touch I should avoid too?” Etc. It’s like…..the TOTAL OPPOSITE of pouting about how they’re just a touchy feely person and blah blah blah. Instead, when it’s a surprise, it’s like “Oh gosh I better find out what I can to avoid making that mistake in the future!”

    Whereas people who are bad with consent, might accept the “no” of the moment, but will tend to assume it’s fair game to try again the next day….or 5 minutes later. Sigh.

    They usually aren’t interested in learning. I’ve tried. Now I just educate them incessantly until they cut contact on their own accord. *grins*

    1. Yep — I’m touch-y, cuddly, a hugger, very much enjoy sexy stuff, etc…. but OMFG DO NOT PUSH MY BOUNDARIES IF I BARELY KNOW YOU, especially sexually.

      People I am on dates with: you will not be confused if I want to get it on (or kiss, or do anything physical beyond a brief greeting/goodbye hug.) I will USE MY WORDS. I promise that I will never be coy and subtle and you’ll totally miss the cue.

      (I tell people up-front that I’m “subtle as a sledgehammer,” that I prefer to overcommunicate rather than make assumptions, and to please let me set the pace on physical intimacy.)

      Consent is important, and I want to receive it as well as give it!

    2. When someone who is relatively decent with consent gets surprised by being stopped with a “no”, they tend to ask about it, in order to try to avoid future consent injuries. E.g. “Do you dislike that form of touch in general or just don’t want it at the moment?” “Are there other forms of touch I should avoid too?” Etc. It’s like…..the TOTAL OPPOSITE of pouting about how they’re just a touchy feely person and blah blah blah. Instead, when it’s a surprise, it’s like “Oh gosh I better find out what I can to avoid making that mistake in the future!”

      Yes, exactly! My spouse is a toucher, and I’m not, but I can enjoy it in some circumstances. One time early on in our relationship, he was petting me absently and I did the whole-body cringe, and he… stopped, and asked what was wrong. I told him that I don’t like to be petted because it makes my skin crawl, and could he use firmer, more direct pressure when he touched me, so that’s what he does now. Because the point is that we’re both enjoying the interaction, not that he just gets to touch me however he likes.

  72. Just joining the chorus of “There is nothing wrong with either one of you, but you probably aren’t a good fit.” You don’t like random touching – that’s fine and good! There are plenty of dateable people in the world who have that same preference (or who don’t have strong feelings one way or the other and can easily compromise if you let them know what you want). Date-friend really does like that, and isn’t good at and/or willing to compromise on it. That’s also fine! They can find their own dateable people who feel the same way (or can work with it).

    Expressing affection in a way that makes you both feel comfortable and cared for in the relationship *should* be a dealbreaker. Like, that’s pretty foundational stuff. So if you can’t find a way to accommodate each other, then it’s best to just move on to someone who can. You can wish each other well and think each other are generally cool people and still not be good date-partners for each other. It’s maybe less cut-and-dried than a situation in which one person is clearly a jerk, but it’s perfectly valid.

    Best of luck finding someone who fits you, if that’s what you want, LW!

  73. You shouldn’t have to keep saying stop. A pattern of you doing this should be enough for someone to say hmm, maybe I need to actually change my behavior so that I am not making someone say stop all the time.

    So I would say this isn’t your responsibility, but if you wanted, maybe a.. meta talk, for lack of a better term, could be helpful, if you haven’t already. Where, ideally at a time that the touching hasn’t been happening and you’re both calm, you bring up that you don’t want to keep saying no, and he needs to make changes to not put you in that position.

    One of the things I am working on in my life is trying to get better at recognizing patterns of other people’s behavior and what I can assume their boundaries might be from that behavior (asking about those boundaries if necessary) and not needing the meta talk, but for now I respond better to the meta talk. It’s definitely my fault and responsibility to change. At the same time, in a relationship with my husband that we both want to keep, he has gotten mileage out of being really explicit.

    But honestly I feel disrespectful to put him in that position when things should have already been clear, and I think your date-friend is being really disrespectful.

    1. Also it’s obviously really, really okay to want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t require the meta talk in the first place.

    2. “no” “stop” and “I don’t like that” are all complete sentences that should not be taken as an invitation to negotiate. Understand the reason why, but not negotiate

      1. Definitely. And now that I think more about it, I benefit from meta talks when people.. haven’t actually talked in the first place, instead doing things that I don’t pick up on that, while they should have been clear and were definitely boundaries being put up, actually weren’t using words. So the fact that LW has used words probably makes this a different situation and my original comment worth ignoring. Thanks, Aveline!

  74. Plus one for “fundamental incompatibility.” I love random touching, wouldn’t mind receiving a text like that, think tickling is cute and would definitely interrupt a moment (especially an emotionally charged one) for a kiss. You don’t like those things, and there are plenty of people who also don’t like those things! He might or might not be capable of compromising, but what seems clear is that he’s a) not giving you the relationship you want, and b) seems to be making you second-guess yourself, intentionally or not, which isn’t fair. The idea of changing your partner with magical affection is a pretty deeply-rooted one in pop culture, in the vein of “thawing an ice queen,” and that’s pretty unpleasant role to corner you into playing whether or not it’s on purpose.

    Your preferences are your preferences, and this person doesn’t align with them. It sucks for this person, and the breakup might be sad short-term, but finding someone who’s better suited for your affection style will be worth it. 🙂

    1. + 1 For this relationship to work requires one of the two people in it to fundamentally change their ways of expressing affection. Probably that is just going to end up long term with a minimum of one unhappy person, and since neither preference is inherently unreasonable, two people so far apart in what they like are probably more likely to find a good relationship with another person.

  75. LW, you’re not being mean or unreasonable. This guy is being mean and unreasonable. I have serious touch boundary issues, too, mostly from little-s stuff like you. (That sloth cat video almost made me go over the back of my chair, Captain. ~shudders~) I can be really cuddly with people I know well–but that circle is my immediate family and my best friend. And I have days when I can’t deal with touch.

    Guess what? Everyone manages just fine not touching me. Even the people who can sometimes expect lots of hugs. I can tell them “No touching right now,” and they don’t. No problem, no hurt feelings, no pouting.

    This guy is a jerk. It’s not a matter of ‘love language’, it’s not a matter of incompatability anymore, you’ve told him you don’t like this and to stop and he’s ignoring you. Bail out!

  76. There is no way these two are compatible. It’s not going to work. He shouldn’t have to be with someone who isn’t into touching, she shouldn’t have to be with someone who is. End it gracefully and move on.

  77. I have Sensory Processing Disorder, hypersensitivity, so light rubbing on my arm feels like sandpaper, and most massages hurt, in a bad way. My husband loves touching. We manage this by me giving him massages, and him eventually listening to me when I say, ‘stop moving that hand, no rubbing’. But I like touching more than you do, OP, and my husband learned pretty fast. If your date-friend doesn’t get down to ‘one absent minded touch a month followed by apology when you remind him’ within three months, you’re probably not compatible. He has to put some work into it.

  78. The tummy thing! The texts! The warm, affectionate paw on your knee during every car ride! The delicate shoulder kisses that you hate so much it’s almost painful and have mentioned many times that you hate but they “forgot” because they love you so much! One time I married this person, and it was so terrible.

    I feel such intense empathy. I felt like something was wrong with me because I hated it so passionately. But there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I like touch just fine sometimes (spoiler alert: I like it a lot more when the person who is touching me gives a shit about what I actually want), and sometimes I don’t, and all of that is fine and a totally valid way to be a human, and that would be just as true if I never wanted to be touched under any circumstances.

    You get to want what you want, including a life that is totally and completely devoid of someone pawing you and breathing (literally! and electronically!) down your neck every minute of the day. Cheering for you so hard. I know this is a tough thing to navigate.

  79. The tummy thing! The texts! The warm, affectionate paw on your knee during every car ride! The delicate shoulder kisses that you hate so much it’s almost painful and have mentioned many times that you hate but they “forgot” because they love you so much! One time I married this person, and it was so terrible.

    I feel such intense empathy. I felt like something was wrong with me because I hated it so passionately. But there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I like touch just fine sometimes (spoiler alert: I like it a lot more when the person who is touching me gives a shit about what I actually want), and sometimes I don’t, and all of that is fine and a totally valid way to be a human, and that would be just as true if I never wanted to be touched under any circumstances.

    You get to want what you want, including a life that is totally and completely devoid of someone pawing you and breathing (literally! and electronically!) down your neck every minute of the day. Cheering for you so hard. I know this is a tough thing to navigate.

  80. Dear LW,

    You described your feelings and wants very well and very clearly – and being what you are and who you are is beyond OK, it is awesome, one variation of being a human. Again The Captain did a fantastic job giving advice. I just wanted to add my support and a few sentences.

    First of all, just like The Captain said, “my love language is touch” is not an excuse when the other person is aware of your tastes in this matter. It should be: “my love language is communicating my love in terms which are acceptable and bring joy to both me and the recipient” – and in this matter your date-friend’s love language clearly does not work that way. This brings to mind the next letter about aversion to phone calls, which, too, is an issue about communication and respecting the other one’s wishes and boundaries.

    I am not a very touchy-feely person myself, either, except when I am with my husband. Luckily, I live in a culture which includes avoiding touching others and respecting the personal space of others. In here you would be found just like the rest of us. It is also clear that how much people want to be touched depends on their mood and how stressed they are; my introverted friends do not want to be hugged if their social quota is almost filled to the brim. There is a lot of variation among people as my friend trained in different kinds of massage techniques tells me: some people do not want their backs touched or their shoulders. People are just different and it is fine.

    To me the clearest expression of love is respect: if you truly love someone you want your message to get through. Of course there are people of whom we cannot expect this: some of my friends are on the autism spectrum and a few of them seem to enjoy hugging. Touch is a complicated thing so I find your thoughts and doubts very understandable.

    Your boundaries are fine, you are fine. You do not need to be changed unless you want to – and if you want to only on a pace which is comfortable to you. It is your body, you make the rules and following those rules is part of loving you, as you are.

    At the moment we are fostering a few homeless cats and there is a pair of brothers among them. Both of them are lovely. One is very extroverted and loves to meet new pets and people and is constantly rubbing his striped beautiful feline body against legs and objects. The other is more reserved; his language of love is his loud purring and a few respecting bumps with his equally striped head. Despite their differences these two brothers are best friends. They casually touch each other in passing. Often they sleep relaxed together, but sometimes when the more reserved brother wants solitude he just slaps his brother to the head with his paw. Among cats that is apparently completely acceptable. I guess we can use words instead and it is still just as acceptable.

    Oh, I simply have to get back to the cat and sloth video for a quick word: I have observed cats for a few decades now and to me it looks like the cat and the sloth are truly friends – but the needs of the sloth and the cat are not in sync on the video. The sloth knows how to pet this particular cat, but the cat wants to do something else, despite usually enjoying this sloth’s touch. Perhaps the cat is thirsty or it needs to use the toilet. The sloth wants desperately to cuddle and oh how much it loves this cat. Love is usually considered a good thing, but… Would you want to be hugged if you have to go to the toilet fast? Initially the cat gives relaxing signals (squinting its eyes) while simultaneously trying to move its body away. I wish the sloth will change its mind after the video ends and let the cat go. It will come back when it wants.

    Take care and friendly purred cat greetings!

  81. I have a friend who made the differing “love languages” thing work with her partner, once they talked it out. She likes to cuddle some, but not a lot. He loves to cuddle all the time; it makes him feel happy, relaxed, etc. So they cuddle for a bit until she’s had enough. Then, he turns around and cuddles her large dog instead, who it turns out loves him and will snuggle anytime anywhere. Everyone’s happy. They can make this situation work and everyone gets the amount of snuggles they want — because they respectfully talked about it and wanted to make each other mutually as happy as possible.

    If someone overruns your boundaries, dump them.

  82. I really like being touched. I do not like feeling like I’m constantly fending off octopus hands. It’s not relaxing for me to feel like I’m on guard at all times. Just read my freaking cues! They’re not hard! If I’m smiling and leaning into the touch, that’s a GREEN LIGHT. If I’m frowning and pushing your hands away and saying, “Stop it.” That’s a RED LIGHT.

  83. So I am a highly tactile person and my wife is very much not. She has a sensory processing disorder which means some types of touch are painful or uncomfortable for her, and we suspect that I have milder hyposensitive issues where sometimes I “need” touch to help me regulate myself. I put need in quotation marks because honestly, even with a physiological reason behind it, it’s not something I truly need, just something that makes my life easier and more pleasant.

    (A note: My wife and I are both genderfluid; she uses they/them and she/her interchangeably at the moment, I am currently using they/them)

    Here is some stuff that helped us:
    *We talked a LOT about this stuff, explicitly and without judgement or pressure, to figure out systems and rules that would work for both of us
    *We figured out forms of touch that we both enjoyed, eg deep touch rather than light touch (so a squishy hug rather than arm stroking)
    *Especially at first, I would try to ask /before/ touching every time. I’m human so occasionally I would slip up on this (like, putting a hand on her shoulder without thinking), but when I caught myself I would either immediately stop or check in. I knew that she sometimes had problems expressing herself/asserting boundaries, so it was important I didn’t just assume that because she hadn’t said no, it was ok.
    *Now we can read each other better, I don’t always ask first explicitly, but I still check in often and if I know she’s going through a difficult time I will ask more explicitly and frequently
    *My wife worked on initiating more in situations when they were feeling comfortable and especially when they actively wanted touch, which made me feel more relaxed because I didn’t have to worry about whether they were just putting up with it for my sake
    *We developed a cute shorthand for when either of us (mostly them, but I have used it too) had had enough physical contact and needed some space. We would say “Off now!” and know that it wasn’t personal and it didn’t mean we hadn’t enjoyed the snuggle or whatever but were done with it for now.
    *I did my best to process my feelings of hurt/rejection when I was getting less snuggles than I would like on my own. Again, I’m a human and I recognise I wasn’t absolutely perfect at this, there were times when my wife could tell I was upset, but in those cases I reassured them that it wasn’t their fault and they hadn’t done anything wrong.
    *If we were going to a big event where there would be a lot of sensory inputs, my wife would often ask me to be less tactile before/during/right after the event, so they could save their sensory spoons for dealing with that stuff, and I would find other ways to show my love eg by trying to protect them from excessive sensory stimulus as much as possible
    *I tried to find alternative ways to support my hyposensitivity issues, including hugs and touch from other people in addition to my wife, squeezing pillows and soft toys, weighted blankets and so on. My wife was also very supportive in this regard and sometimes our compromises /would/ skew towards her offering more physical touch than she necessarily wanted, but it wasn’t expected or required and it wasn’t the norm. (And only when she was able to and chose to, knowing that it was equally ok not to and I would be fine and would just use an alternative).
    *We communicate during touch, mostly just to say that it feels good but also to talk about things like if it’s getting overwhelming, if it’s uncomfortable and one of us needs to shift, if she is enjoying the snuggle but wants me to stop kissing her head or something….. and so on.

    These days our physical touch desires are a lot more evenly matched but we still use a lot of the strategies I listed above to check in with each other and keep on track.

    I don’t necessarily think these will be particularly useful for your current datefriend, because the majority of them are about stuff he can do to make you feel more comfortable and it doesn’t sound much to me like he’s actually interested in doing that. My wife is absolutely the love of my life and we’re both totally and gladly committed to each other, so figuring this stuff out together is stuff we’re enthusiastic about doing. I bring it up because I think it might be helpful in the future. In particular, if someone is keen to do this stuff with you, that’s probably a green flag, and if you guys have a mismatch of touch wants but also want to work it out, you are totally welcome to use as many of these ideas as you find helpful.

    In the past I might have said that a mismatch on this issue meant you should automatically break up. Now I think it depends how big the mismatch is and how much both of you (but especially the more tactile person) are willing to compromise. You talk about being unsure if you are “rusty” or being inflexible, but I think even if this is something you will get more comfortable with over time, that’s only going to happen with the right partner who makes you feel safe and doesn’t pressure you for more touch than you’ve indicated you want.

      1. Hee, thank you! This letter was actually a good reminder for me to do a big picture check in and make sure things were working as well for my wife as I thought/as well as they are for me. Good news: they are!

    1. It’s really helpful to hear about some strategies that work for other people, thanks!

      1. I’m glad you found this helpful! A lot of this was stuff we worked out though trial and error, so hopefully other people can implement it with fewer hiccups than us xD

  84. I used to be like this date-friend. but Stuff Happened, and now I’m more like LW… and my husband is still like date-friend. :/ He is trying, hard, and he has gotten a little better, but he’s still not good at this. And sometimes I have times when I do want a little touching again… but I can switch back in an instant, and *I* don’t notice when I switch (let alone him), and in no-touching mode it can take a fraction of a second to pass the Trigger Event Horizon. 😦

  85. In my experience “datefriend” is a popular term in the trans community to refer to your partner in a gender neutral way, and a lot of people use it for non-binary and genderqueer partners. I’m glad to see it out in the wild! It’s really useful when you want to avoid boy/girl for whatever reason, whether it be a commitment to gender neutrality or liking how it sounds.

  86. ‘[M]aybe my discomfort with touch is not a true preference but a result of all my past issues and it would be “good” for me to work through that a bit’.

    Whether or not this is true is utterly irrelevant to any decisions you may wish to make about continuing in this relationship.

    Romance is not therapy, and should not be treated as such. If your reason for continuing in a relationship is because you think it’s going to ‘fix’ you or the other person, then that’s not a good enough reason.

  87. As someone who was on the other side of this exact story: I’m sorry but you are simply not compatible.

    Obviously the Captain is right that one shouldn’t keep asking/pushing if one knows the other person doesn’t like it but as a fellow touchy person I can tell you: “deeply doesn’t get it“ is a very accurate description. I know I didn’t and because I did not get it I kept forgetting…or things wouldn’t even OCCUR to me in the first place.

    Example: One night we were sitting with friends/people we knew at [regular hang out place] and I casually asked if I’d spend the night at his place (it wasn’t exactly a secret we had a thing going). To me it was a completely regular question, one that I didn’t give any thought at all but he later told me it had made him extremely uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have thought of that in a million years!

    PDA was much the same: I often did things unthinkingly because they were so ingrained in the way I interacted with partners. I don’t know about your date friend’s past relationships but if all or most of them were touch-heavy a lot of it will be habit. That doesn’t mean you have to put up with it! You shouldn’t. My friend and I did ‘train’ me out of the worst eventually but it was hard work for me because it’s so completely opposite from how I’m wired. Touching [a partner] comes naturally to me and doing it so much less than I’m used to requires constantly monitoring myself which stresses me out and makes me feel rejected a lot. We quickly ended the “dating“ part of our friendship because the amount of space he needed made me miserable and the amount of touch I needed made his skin crawl. Going on would have just made both of us resentful.

    TL;DR: There is nothing wrong with either you or your friend but you likely won’t be able to meet in the middle. Break if off and save yourself a lot of heartbreak and resentment in the future.

  88. LW, I definitely recommend implementing the Captain’s recommendations as it seems like you want to see where this relationship goes.

    Butttt… reading your letter, and combining with my own experience, I feel like this kind of mismatch in preferences makes you two fundamentally incompatible. I am a very touch-oriented person in a relationship, and in the long term I would find it difficult, exhausting and hurtful to be with someone who isn’t on a similar level of comfort when it comes to casual and romantic touching. Luckily, my partner is if anything more touch-y than me and has no problem when I say “not there”/”never that”/”not right now”.

    PS also: this relationship is not the only one you can have, and it’s not the only way for you to heal, or figure out what parts of your preferences are just you and what parts are maybe hangups from your past that you’d be better off without.

  89. As someone who has been in a similar relationship, in case this soon progresses in the way mine did I just want to say here very clearly: There is nothing wrong with you. You are not “unfeminine”. You are not “uncaring”. My sloth really did a number on my self-esteem before I finally ended it, and it probably was not great for him, either. Trying to navigate our different preferences was a lot of stress on both sides, and I think we both said things we regretted. Some people really like casual touch, some people don’t. It sounds like you two are just really incompatible.

  90. Just stopping by to say I love the cat/sloth metaphor here. Cats are great models for boundary-setting around touch! When they don’t want to be touched, they don’t give a shit about hurting your feelings, they make it known that that’s NOT acceptable. Be a cat, LW. Be the cat that is you.

  91. Eeesh, my shoulders went up around my ears. I am also very much not a toucher or cuddler; I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with trauma (I do have trauma related to being touched in certain ways, but I’ve always been physically standoffish).

    For what it’s worth, my spouse is someone who likes a lot of physical affection, so this is something we’ve worked out, but it’s something that takes both of our preferences into consideration, not just him unilaterally deciding that Touching Is Nice And We Will Do It Whenever. One thing that works for us is that I’m much more okay with doing the touching than being touched; since I know that touch is important to him, I’ll squeeze his knee when I’m sitting next to him, or give him a kiss when we pass in the hallway–things like that. But honestly, it sounds like you guys are not that compatible–both because he wants a LOT more physical affection than you’re comfortable with, and because he’s not being very respectful about it (kissing you mid-sentence?? WTF???)

  92. You may just be incompatible.

    I’m a very touchy person. When I dated someone who was uncomfortable with touch, it was torture for me and left me feeling empty, but I respected their boundaries fully and *always asked first*! I didn’t try to escalate, didn’t test or push, and had discussions about boundaries and etc and respected those always. Because it is SHITTY AS HELL NOT TO RESPECT BOUNDARIES. My ex’s boundaries were fine! Nothing wrong with them at all. We were just incompatible in what we wanted and needed in a relationship to feel safe and fulfilled, and that’s fine!

    The relationship didn’t last because I just couldn’t handle the lack of touch–it felt like I was emotionally and physically starving, and it was super hurtful and I was miserable. It wasn’t their fault; we just weren’t compatible. But I wound up getting into a relationship with my BFF afterwards and he’s suuuper physically affectionate too, so we’re a disgusting mess of PDA and it works for us. 8D Casual touches, kisses in the middle of talking, cuddling up watching a movie, butt smacks in public? I’m all about it. |: And I’ve never been happier.

    Despite this, for the first chunk of our relationship, I absolutely could not be touched while we slept. I didn’t want to be cuddled or touched at all when I was sleeping, and wanted to be on my side of the bed with no contact because of a super shitty ex who would grope me in my sleep and turn sleepy cuddles into coercive sex. He loooves sleep cuddles, and the first time he tried it I froze and went rigid, explained, and so he backed off and totally understood, and when he wanted sleepy cuddles he asked and/or let me initiate. Nowadays, my favorite thing is to fall asleep in his arms, because my body has finally unlearned all that awful conditioning, but my point is…

    Even if someone’s primary love language is touch? It’s not an excuse. He *CAN* control himself. He CAN respect your boundaries. And if he continues to push after you’ve explained your boundaries, then he is being super shitty and unsafe.

    This is a new relationship, it sounds like, and the early stages are all about figuring out compatibility and deal-breakers! Your boundaries are fine, and you’re not broken or wrong for not liking a lot of touch. He’s not wrong for enjoying touch and wanting it. You just have to decide if you guys can make it work or if it’d be better to let him go find someone who also enjoys his level of touch, so you can also find someone who enjoys your level of (or lack of) touch.

  93. I will throw in – I’m totally in the same boat as you, OP, where I am not a touchy-feely person and my significant other is ( my SO also has much higher sex drive than me,which you may or may not be dealing with).

    I found that having a “big picture” conversation, and then opening it up to be an ongoing conversation, helped us a lot!

    So we’ve had followup stuff along the lines of… I like A, I don’t like B, C is okay sometimes if you ask first, and D is only okay if I initiate it. So he’s gotten seriously awesome at checking in with me on things and at just calmly moving the conversation on if/when I say ‘no’ to something (so I don’t feel awkward about it).

    Also, maybe TMI, but we’ve also reached a deal/agreement/whatever where if I’m not down for anything even remotely sexy at bedtime, it’s totally okay for him to wander off and take care of things for himself. Again, it was a weird convo and odd at first, but I think a good move for us, and now we just kind of chuckle about it and then cuddle and move on with our night.

  94. whenever I have told to him to stop doing something, he stops right away. But I don’t like to have to keep saying “stop”! It feels shitty and mean.

    I have two thoughts about this that both come around to the same conclusion: Your date-friend is being utterly unfair to you.

    Thought 1: He is creating an unfair emotional labor imbalance. The onus is always on you to say “stop” when you don’t like something; the onus never seems to be on him to remember there are things you don’t like that he shouldn’t start doing in the first place. He is forcing you to constantly patrol and police your boundaries because he can’t be arsed to remember where they are. That sounds exhausting. (It also suggests he doesn’t care about your boundaries.)

    Thought 2: Maybe in the immediate sense, he stops when you tell him to–but in the long run, and in a more lasting sense, he doesn’t. For example: You describe that, during long car rides, he starts rubbing your knee and you have to tell him to stop, and he does stop–for now–but then he does it again next car ride. Assuming I’m reading your letter correctly, and you never want him to rub your knee when you’re driving, then I don’t see a real difference between him starting it up again next car ride and him starting it up again in the next two minutes. In either case, he isn’t really “stopping”–he’s just pausing.

  95. “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses”

    Tickling is often used as a form of abuse, so it is not remotely funny to even joke about it with someone without getting their clear consent first.

    “Give you kisses” — I don’t know what it is about this one, but in my experience only boundary-stomping assholes who should be avoided like the plague say “I want to give you kisses/a kiss,” instead of, “I want to kiss you,” or, “I gave you a kiss,” instead of, “I kissed you.”

    1. Oh, hey, is *that* why that phrasing bothers me?

      It does kind of sound like the underlying attitude is “of course this kiss is meant as a favor to you, because I just assume you’ll like it — and also you owe me something in return for this favor.”

  96. Cats are a great example. I have repeatedly had cats who won’t let anyone touch them eventually turn into snugglepusses with me (snuggling one right now), and it’s because I don’t push it. I make it clear their bodily autonomy is always important.

    And now that I know cats learn more human words than most people realize, I go straight for asking verbally for consent. If I want to pet the cat, I ask the cat if I can pet her. She either doesn’t really respond (meh) or trots over and purrs. Same with hugs, or being lifted to look out a high window, or what have you. It even works on trimming her claws — if she doesn’t jump in my lap when I ask, I put the clippers away and wait for another time.

    This is why I have always loved cats so much — they model good boundaries, which is pretty great to someone who grew up in a boundary-violating family.

  97. My partner and I both enjoy touch. I went away and watched what we did.
    When we are kissing and talking, we are already very close- hugging. But… The person who is doing the talking is the one who stops and kisses. So: Me- talk talk kiss talk talk. Him: Talk kiss kiss talk. We would never interrupt each other (So NOT Me: talk talk Him: Kiss Me : Talk talk). That seems quite rude.
    Partner puts his hand on my knee when driving And Stopped at A Red Light. He always takes it away before the light turns green, or whenever I tell him to move it. Because I am the driver and you do not distract the driver or make them uncomfortable. And the driver does not put their hand on anyone’s knee! Because they are driving! having the driver put a hand on my knee would make me feel unsafe as well as uncomfortable.
    Partner would probably be happy with more public displays of attention/touch in public places. But the most we do is handholding, because we both found PDAs difficult as Singles, and we don’t want our friends group to feel awkward. People who are touchy are able to regulate themselves and not be touchy in public. Being touchy is not touchy everywhere and always.
    So when I first read this letter I thought that maybe they had incompatible styles, and both needed to learn and compromise (or end it). But after looking at what partner and I do, I think that date-friend is possibly just not very nice. People have already commented that “my love language is touch” means that You touch Me to show me love- Not that I am allowed to touch you whenever I feel like it. So the fact that he is using this an excuse means it is probable as well as possible. I am sorry.

  98. “You say he always stops when you ask him to, but one cool thing that people who actually respect other people’s boundaries do is gain some self-awareness over time”

    Exactly, and he either hasn’t, or he’s pretending he hasn’t because he wants to keep this up. The fact that you’re starting to wonder if you’re the one with the problem shows this is probably his intent. Since you haven’t invested much in this relationship, I say just end it due to “lack of compatibility.”

  99. Ugh, yes, this is entirely about consent and stated preferences not being honored, and *not* about what’s good or right in a relationship. I myself am a very touchy person but was once told by a person I was seeing that I “had” to be more touchy in bed (like, spooning in our sleep). I said it bothered my back and generally I didn’t care for itit anyhow, and he went out of his way to get extra pillows and then demand that he get more affection. Eventually I just decided that we weren’t compatible in what felt like a pretty important way.

  100. I dated someone very similar and spent the whole time feeling like there was something wrong with me and I was “rusty/ungenerous/inflexible.” Breaking up was such a relief, probably for both of us. I don’t quite believe that I deserve someone who will give me space to be me yet, but I am trying, so thank you, Captain, for restating this. It helps.

  101. I pretty much threw up at that description of the date friend’s behaviour. So, uh, some people will never be OK with this and I would probably punch someone who tried to kiss me while I was talking or petted my leg during an entire car ride. I honestly couldn’t even get past that. Nope, nope, nope.

  102. As someone who is both touchy and yet non touchy I can be confusing to people(i only like to be touched by people I like very much and I am only touchy with people i know well). But I feel this person is just disregarding what you said because it isnt what they want not because they do not understand. If you tell a partner you do not like something and they continue to do the thing it is just a disrespect of boundaries and I really think that makes you both incompatible there are other people you can be dating friends with that can respect your wishes

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