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How To Deal With Social Distancing In Relationships If Physical Touch Is Your Love Language


How To Deal With Social Distancing In Relationships If Physical Touch Is Your Love Language

A couple of weeks before social-distancing became the new norm and strict laws were passed to keep all Aussies in their homes, I sat sandwiched in between my friends for my birthday dinner.

Mariela Summerhays / BuzzFeed

Though not yet a pandemic, cases of the virus had been cropping up all over the state, so when we first reached each other from either ends of the street, I half-jokingly offered them my elbow to touch, instead of my arms for a hug.

“Oh, what, really?”

No, not really. I wanted nothing more than to reach out and give them a hug and a kiss on the cheek, but I also didn’t want to unknowingly make them sick.

One of my friends, Bianca, has a whole host of serious health issues that make the state of things a real, life-threatening situation for her.

Mariela Summerhays

On this night, the last time I saw her before she went into almost complete self-isolation, I felt a need to give her a hug. I don’t always know what to say. But not even a hug is possible nowadays, not unless I want to risk the health and safety of my loved ones.

Of the five love languages — words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service and gift-giving — physical touch is definitely one of the more significant ways I show my love to those around me.

Mariela Summerhays / BuzzFeed

Honestly, to the wrong person, I’d be quite insufferable. If I love you, I’ve no doubt clung to your arm as we crossed the road, needed to hold your hand when anxious, or hugged you when something excited me (and I am very easily excited).

I love the tangible evidence of closeness that comes from touching someone. After a long day at work — where I maintain a professional distance from those around me — the release of going out to dinner with friends feels very much like exhaling; kissing their cheeks, holding their arm, sharing food.

Mariela Summerhays / BuzzFeed

Have you ever watched people in a restaurant and tried to guess the nature of their relationship? You’d only have to spare a glance at me with someone I care about and you’d immediately guess I’ve known and loved the other for years.

Some of my very favourite memories are grounded in touch.

Mariela Summerhays / BuzzFeed

Girlfriends plucking my eyebrows and doing my makeup before a night out as a teenager. Being held when anxious. First kisses, the first time I held someone’s hand. The birth of my children and the subsequent skin-to-skin bonding and breastfeeding.

I can’t be the only one who expresses themselves this way — so I know that a great many of us are feeling the weight of self-isolation right now.


There isn’t really an eloquent way of saying it — I just hate this.

Those who show their love with acts of service and gift-giving, are dropping meals (and toilet paper) on the doorsteps of quarantined family members.

When the closest you can get to someone is 1.5 metres — if at all — it’s easy for those who need physical touch to feel exceptionally lonely in what is already a stressful and anxious time.

Mariela Summerhays

Whenever I feel anxious, I hold onto someone and it stabilises me. So how should I cope in these coming months, when touching someone outside those I’m quarantined with can hurt them and my wider community?

You’re reading this close to a month into this new reality and there are days when I honestly don’t feel that I’m coping.

Mariela Summerhays / BuzzFeed

I don’t mind telling you that this morning I burst into tears, mid-conversation with my husband. Please don’t misunderstand — I know I am so fortunate when compared to so many others and I know we’re all in this together. But I miss walking alone in amongst crowds of people. I miss seeing my older parents, who I can’t be near right now. I miss less than a metre and a half between people.

I’ve been giving thought to ways to get through coming months without the casual daily interactions — and select intimate ones — that make me feel connected to other people.


This ordeal is going to last for months yet — if I’m going to get through with mental and emotional health intact, I need to find new ways to love the people in my life now.

If you’re like me, I do suggest video calling your loved ones. Though not the same as physically sitting next to or across from them, the sight and sound of them does much to recreate some of the experience.

Mariela Summerhays / BuzzFeed

I’m even learning how to hold a conversation over the phone again. I used to spend hours and hours talking to friends on the phone in high school, and somewhere along the way, lost the ability to hold a conversation without being face-to-face or over text.

The people I can hold right now, my family, are getting more than their usual share of affection.

Mariela Summerhays / BuzzFeed

Before all this happened, my favourite part of the day would be laying beside my six year-old son at bedtime, hearing about what he’s currently interested in, whether it be planets, the human body or geography. Now, without my daily commute to work or my children’s usual extracurricular activities, I’m getting to live those moments more and more.

I’ve been trying to get back in my body more than ever. Give my limbs the care that they would usually get from other people.


I usually only exercise incidentally, with the odd gym class thrown in — but now that I spend so many hours within the four walls of my home, and I’ve been divorced from so much of the touch that I would usually gather throughout the week, I’m religious about my long, daily walks around my neighbourhood.

Some of what has been trying these past few weeks are the lack of new experiences and memories I can make with the people I love. But, though restricted now to a shared screen, there’s still a bit we can do.

Mariela Summerhays / BuzzFeed

Before self-isolation, my friend, Kiks, and I had ongoing plans, once a month, to attend life drawing classes. We can’t now, but have taken to still life drawings over video. I still have her soul-nourishing conversation and injection of creativity into my routine, though not as we first envisioned it.

And lastly, I’m finding more and more that sentimental, physical objects — always particularly significant for people in long distance relationships — are essential.

Mariela Summerhays / BuzzFeed

My husband’s tee, my mother’s ring — both have taken on new significance now that I worry what being close could do to them. A picture of Bianca is visible from my desk.

There are days and months ahead of us of isolation, and physical accessibility to each other is being restricted.


And I’m social distancing with a husband and three kids — I can’t imagine how I might cope, being a “physical touch” person, quarantined by myself.

May a silver lining to all of this be that we, who usually depend on physical touch to show and feel love for others, learn new ways to show our love to the people most important to us.


…then smother them with hugs and kisses when this is all over.

What’s your love language? And how are you dealing with self-isolation?

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