Getting in touch

When close friends become ‘people you don’t see very often’ there are ways of keeping in contact, particularly since the growth of all kinds of social media. Beyond passive Facebook style updates, friendship maintenance requires one or both parties to make some sort of effort to send messages, texts, make phonecalls or arrange visits. Sometimes I’m very aware that the one making the effort seems to be me, and I have chatted to others who find the way some friendships turn rather one-sided to be quite upsetting. I’m not saying I’m brilliant at keeping in touch with people – far from it. I rarely manage to send birthday cards to the right people at the right times and I have many friendships which have drifted in a way I know I could have prevented. I guess you just can’t keep in touch with everyone.

With other friends getting married and having babies, I know that their life priorities necessarily have to change. While I don’t enjoy it, I’m pretty resigned to the fact that I’m a lot further down my friends’ lists of priorities than they are on mine. Part of wanting a bloke is the thought that I might be one of the first people they want to see, rather than someone people are happy to see if it works out and I get in touch to arrange something. I know I have got quite depressed about the list idea in the past, and I’m really not writing this to have a go at anyone.

I do love spending time with friends and I know that for me, it’s well worth the effort of making the first move to enjoy an afternoon or day catching up with people. I also really appreciate it when others make an effort to include me in things or surprise me with an email or text out of the blue. I need to remember how much other people enjoy hearing from me – I know that a simple postcard to my grandmother can really make a difference to her. When I have more spare time than other people, or if I’m just a bit more pro-active, I think we both benefit. Most recently I really enjoyed some cuddles with some friends’ little girl. I don’t know if she’s getting used to me or is just in a cuddling phase (most likely the latter as she seemed to be cuddling lots of toys and an old hot chocolate container which is now a shaker). Few things are more adorable than when a child initiates physical affection, and you parents need to count this blessing when the more challenging times come!

Giving children clear messages about physical contact was an important part of my work in the past. Sometimes fears about ‘child protection’ have pushed people too far away from healthy touch, but I’m glad that things like peer massage (where groups of children ask permission before giving shoulder massages to peers in a circle for example) have grown in popularity. I think it’s generally a good idea to let children take the lead in hugs and kisses, or at least to ask them if it’s ok to have a hug. Probably good practice with adults as well, unless your relationship comfortably involves physical affection. I quite enjoy linking arms with a girl friend to share an umbrella, and found it helpful to guide me while I was checking my phone while trying to negotiate Edinburgh’s Royal Mile at festival time – helped to avoid unintended physical contact with random passers-by!  Maybe it’s not everyone’s thing, but I know I definitely need some kind of human contact to keep me feeling connected to the world. Bring on the babies for me to cuddle.

When teaching children about physical contact, I stressed three rules. That touching is wrong:

  • If someone says no
  • If someone gets hurt or
  • If you touch someone else’s private parts (which would be covered by a swimming costume).

Of course, there are exceptions to this for medical staff or other special circumstances, but it was straightforward enough to help when someone in the class had been perhaps touching others inappropriately. If everyone knows what’s ok, then all the children are better protected. We talked about different ways of saying no, such as “get off”, “I don’t want to”, “leave me alone”. I also said how some relatives need to listen better when children say “no”. If the child doesn’t want to kiss or be cuddled by grannie, I don’t think they should have to. If we are teaching children to respect others’ bodies and choices then I think we need to set the example. I’d also be generally against smacking or physical punishment for the same reasons, but I know this is an issue where others feel strongly and I don’t think every parent who smacks abuses their children. That said, some so-called ‘physical chastisement’ is abusive.

In some cases it maybe feels like there’s a fine line between what is and isn’t appropriate contact. I’d argue that some people over-share on Facebook (or maybe blogs, hmm) and I’m not sure I’d want my driving instructor tickling me. I want to hug my nephews goodbye so long as it doesn’t bother them, and there have been times when I’ve been chatting to someone who is distressed where I’ve really wanted to offer them a hug but not known how they’d take it. When my key-child in a Children’s home nearly died from an accidental overdose I asked her if I could give her a hug, and this was a positive thing for both of us although I’m not sure it would have been in the manual and I’m certainly sure she wouldn’t have requested the contact. Other children in the home acted violently at times, seeming to want the physical contact of being carefully restrained by a member of staff. I’m not agreeing wholesale with the ‘hug a hoodie’ concept, but if they agree, sometimes it is good to take the initiative and reach out.

I think we all need to reach out to our friends, probably particularly the ones who aren’t that good at reaching out to us. While it is dispiriting to send texts or leave messages that don’t get a response, some people just aren’t in the place to be able to make much effort themselves. Some of us are just a bit bad at remembering birthdays or getting our acts together. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. Some people don’t use Facebook or don’t read blogs, and so miss what may be cries for help or gentle (or not so gentle) prods asking for attention. I guess we need to be a bit more honest, and a bit more understanding about the friendship we need and the ways we can make it happen. What do you think?

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