Two days ago, while taking my daily four-mile hike on the trails around my house, a lone woman approached me coming in the opposite direction. She was probably 5’ 5”, brunette hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing appropriate exercise gear and other than a bare midriff and fit figure was otherwise unremarkable. Her face was covered in a mask. It was what she said in passing…
“Hey mysterious man behind the mask!”
I had never seen this woman before. But then again, how would I know? She was wearing a face-covering laced behind her ears. I thought I could see a twinkle in her eyes, but clearly my imagination was getting the best of me. I laughed and waved (or did I give her a thumbs-up?) and kept walking. But what she said next was truly remarkable for it’s brazenness and intrigue.
“HEY!” I stopped and turned around. She continued, “Would it be OK if I kissed you?” I thought I misunderstood her question. After apologizing, she went on to say that she was simply lonely and craved human touch. She wanted to be held, and we could kiss through our masks. No harm; no foul; no sin; just two people comforting each other in a very human way in an extraordinary historic time. She was very light-hearted and flirty.
I thanked her for the amazing compliment, and I laughed as I politely turned her down. But, I did say to her, “I totally get it.” I’m not sure I did.
A day later, the first of two provocative articles appeared in the LA Times. The first was “Risking health for sexual trysts in a pandemic,” written by Laura Newberry, which went on to say, “For some, loneliness and need for contact outweigh dangers.” It then described our current quarantine environment of not only physical isolation, but also emotional isolation and the battle that rages against our very basic human need for touch and connection. Looking past the sensationalized offers for hooking up and orgies that certainly added spice to this story, you had to agree that to some higher degree we are missing that most fundamental need that make us who we are.
As expecting parents many years ago, my wife and I attended a new parents class in the basics. Amidst all the advice, I remember specifically learning that the number one most important thing we could do for an infant’s development is human touch. Hold him. Caress her. Always touching. Always comforting. As adults we “reset” to our most basic emotions in times of trauma. In the case of my fellow hiker, she succumbed to her urgent emotional need for touch and intimacy, and probably did something she would never have otherwise done.
The very next day as the cover story in the Saturday Section of the LA Times, Stacey Leasca wrote, “Will We Ever Kiss Again? Just try to stop us after all this, experts say. It’s hardwired into us.” Leasca goes on to headline her article by further highlighting her point. “What happens to kissing? The pause in physical get-togethers has stolen our kisses, but our DNA won’t likely let that last long.” The article goes on to explore different ways of kissing – including a “first-date kiss through a mask”!
A doctor or psychologist I am clearly not, but I am a human being who craves the touch of another. Yes, while in quarantine I have the touch of my spouse; yet, it has been a while since I hugged my adult kids or other relatives or friends, shook hands with colleagues, or had that collegial arm over the shoulder of a buddy. Sometimes we don’t realize just how much all this physical contact adds to our lives, but we have been made viscerally aware of it during the quarantine.
When the stranger asked me to kiss her, I instantly understood her, and felt a different kind of fire sparking within me. It has been a long lonely lockdown during this recent Covid19 pandemic, and most of us are doing our part to flatten the curve and keep crushing illness away. But, lack of touch and intimacy is crushing me, too. At a primal level.
I wondered after reading today’s article if the stranger who propositioned me on that trail was in fact the author of this provocative piece. Maybe I was just a guinea pig for her article? I’ll never know. Her face did not appear in the paper, nor did it appear to me on the trail. It was covered, as I now remember it, in a very attractive mask.
C. Lindsey Williams