Thursday, May 19, 2011

Human Touch

A friend of mine recently told me that some time ago, she had been really stressed out and carrying around a lot of tension (presumably in her neck and shoulders) that she just couldn't let go.  She said that getting an hour-long massage really helped her.

And I thought, Wow, I totally feel the same way.  Like, my shoulders have been scrunched tight for a really long time and despite deep breathing and yoga, I just cannot relax them to save my life.  I do see a chiropractor regularly and that certainly helps, but I figured the adjustments would stick a lot longer if I didn't have tense muscles fighting them.

So today I had my first therapeutic massage ever.  An hour-long, full-body massage.  (By a woman, so get your mind out of the damned gutter.)  And it helped a little, but overall it was just...meh.  Okay.  But forgettable.

Anyway, what I want to say today has to do with massages and being single.  I don't know if any of you dear readers know this, but it's very common for lifestyle magazines and books and shows to advise that when you're single, you should get massages to substitute for the hugs and human touch that you'd normally get from a significant other.  It sounds logical, right?  Because we all know that humans, like most primates, are very social and tactile and get depressed and start acting weird if they go for long periods without being touched.  There are numerous qualitative and quantitative studies that corroborate this.

That's not the reason I got a massage today, but it occurred to me later that if it had been, I would've been really disappointed.  Because even though I had a pair of hands all over me for an entire hour, I didn't feel like I was touched at all.  I felt no more uplifted, refreshed, soothed, or comforted after the massage as I did before.  I've had little two-second hugs that've made me feel better than that.

If you've ever snuggled with someone, you know that it gives you this yummy, warm, satisfied feeling that lingers for hours, or even the whole day.  This is because cuddling releases neurochemicals like oxytocin, which calms your amygdala (responsible for fear and the fight-or-flight response).  And a calm amygdala makes bonding possible.

For those of you who don't know, this is SO not what's happening during a massage.  A masseuse's hands don't feel like anything but...objects.  Your face is smushed down into a towel-doughnut thingey, your hands are resting at your sides, and you're not giggling or making eye contact with the masseuse.  You're not bonding with them.  In fact, I think they ask you to leave if you try to do that.  So why in the world do these lifestyle gurus advise single people that getting a massage comes anywhere close to something like a hug?  Are there really people out there who get the same feeling out of both??  I don't understand how.

So, I'm not criticizing massage therapists or what they do, but I am bashing those silly magazines and books and TV shows and their stupid "advice" about "the single life."  My advice, based on science and now personal experience, is that if you're single and craving physical touch, a massage is not going to help you, so don't waste your money.  More effective options would be to either pick up someone in a bar, hire someone specifically to cuddle you, or swallow your pride and call up that creepy person you know has a crush on you and let them go to town. 

Or build your own hug machine

Ah, complex societies!