Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My fiancé likes to touch me in certain ways that I’m not a big fan of. Nothing super-intrusive; more like where the hands go when we spoon. He says it makes him feel bonded and close to me. And I get that.
Except I don’t like the physical feeling, and at times I feel objectified. Sometimes I can appreciate it as a reaching out for an intimate connection. Sometimes I resent that he’s ignoring my preferences, and so the same act that makes him feels close to me makes me feel distant from him.
I know you’re gonna ask if he has a habit of ignoring my preferences; he doesn’t. We’ve worked toward compromises on a lot of issues. Which I think is part of his frustration: that he’s been understanding and accommodating in many ways, so why I can’t I just go his way on this?
If I ask him to just not touch me in that way, he feels like I’m cutting off one of the main ways he has of expressing and finding closeness with me. What now? What else?
At Odds With The Physical
DEAR PHYSICAL: I don’t care how many accommodations each of you has made for the other: A form of touching one of you doesn’t like is off-limits to the other, period. Why is he OK with making you uncomfortable just to please himself in this one ultra-specific way?
On top of that, his being “understanding and accommodating in many ways” raises a different issue: Why so many incompatibilities to begin with?
You probably don’t want to hear it, and I certainly don’t like saying it to someone who is engaged, but you don’t sound terribly well suited to each other. All relationships involve some accommodation, but not so much that you feel like you have to draw and hold awkward lines just because one of you deserves to win one this single stinkin' time.
Fundamentally like each other, and enjoy each other, as-is, and suddenly stuff like where one’s hand is when spooning is not a hill either of you has to die on.
I haven’t even started on the idea of “one of the main ways he has of expressing and finding closeness with me.” If it’s that important (and not just a stunning failure of flexibility and imagination), then it sounds as if he should find someone who likes it.
Re: At Odds: My ex also crossed a lot of physical boundaries with me – when and where he would touch me, etc. – that felt objectifying or invasive instead of loving. It was irritating, but not aggressive, and I always thought that’s just how I felt about certain kinds of physical affection.
Fast forward to now: I’m with a partner who is super-handsy, but also very personally compatible with me, and I love this physical expression of affection. Turns out, I just don’t like being touched by people who annoy me in general. Life lesson learned.
That is the frame I want to put this in. Thank you.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.