Love, love, love.
By Stephani Duff
In a recent round of questions and answers with a new guy I’m getting to know, affection came to be the topic du jour. I recall it being pretty early on in our friendship and I brought it up: Are you an affectionate person? His response was quick: Yes, I am. At least I think I am. A slight fear gripped at my throat; what exactly does he mean he “thinks” he is?
The conversation continued by each of us defining what “affection” meant to us and how we each go about being this way. I remember saying goodnight to him later in the evening and feeling a great sent of “ahhhh” at meeting someone who made me laugh, enjoyed my conversation, and was also my “ideal” level of affectionate.
As someone who is very controlled, or likes to think she is, in every area of her life, I made it clear to him I did not want to be called on the phone at the beginning of our friendship; texting was easier and better done at school and work compared with phone calls, and I could hand awkward silences much better via text. But what I’m actually saying underneath all these excuses is that I’m a scared little girl who still gets nervous around boys. After about two weeks of unheard of amounts of texts I asked him why he’d not asked me to meet him for dinner or anything. His response? Because I’ve not talked to you on the phone and I guess I’m old fashioned that way. I remember quite vividly almost pissing my pants because it occurred to me I was going to have to speak to this man if I wanted to ever see his face. I informed him he could call me, but not to let me know when he was going to do it. Take me by surprise, ya know? His next text came quick: Okay. Well what are your plans Thursday? I was thinking dinner. My reply: Wait, did you just ask me out over text after telling me you would only ask me after we talked on the phone? His response was what made me realize that making me laugh needed to become a top criterion for what a guy should be able to do: Don’t worry – at dinner we won’t talk, we’ll just text. That way you won’t get too nervous ;).
As a sort of confessional moment I will admit to you I am a monogamous person. I’ve had four serious relationships that have been a minimum of eight months long, with the longest, and most recent, being four years. And while I loved each of these guys relatively deeply for my age, there was never an instance in which I’ve not had red flags. In no certain order these red flags went something like this: he wanted complete and utter control of every aspect of my life, he was physically abusive, he had a strong lack of maturity, he was just plain wrong for me.
Although I am not a highly feminine female, I’ve always been a girl who looked forward to a formal dance. My Senior Homecoming was quickly approaching and “Matt” and I were talking about colors and flowers, you know the important things in life, and he threw a fast, unexpected curveball at me.
“You know the Feast of the Beast is that same weekend. I’d rather do that.”
“Well, I’m not going to Homecoming without my boyfriend.”
“Then don’t go to Homecoming and come with me.”
This – was a red flag.
Another guy I recently met, but never had anything serious with, was very interested in talking about faith; I won’t lie – I was into it. And then he informed me he was a Pentacostel and had been known to speak in tongues.
This – was a red flag.
The new guy who makes me laugh, is affectionate, and enjoys my conversation has given me NO red flags.
This – both thrills me and scares the shit out of me.
I left for work the other morning; I had hit snooze too many times on my alarm and was running very late. It is a real pet peeve of mine to arrive at the diner with tables waiting on me so I was irritated with myself. Instead of walking to my mom’s room and gently waking her to say bye I stuck my head in the door and hollered a quick, “Bye, Ma. Love you!” Later that morning she texted me a blunt question: What’s the matter? I stared at my screen in confusion and typed back quickly: Nothing, I’m at work. Why? Her response was immediate: You didn’t kiss me goodbye this morning. Twenty-four years of kissing this blessed woman and her feelings still get hurt when she doesn’t get a kiss from her “baby.”
I was raised in a highly affection family. Mom still kisses Zack and me; we are all huggers, and I love to cuddle. There was a time when I kissed my dad, too, but I’m not sure when that stopped. I recall many a night sitting at our wooden, kitchen table and being urged to finish my meal so that I could belong to the Clean Plate Club. In hindsight I realize what often stood between my membership to the Clean Plate Club and me were veggies. My green-eyed, stocky dad would turn his head to me and say, “Stephi, if you don’t eat your vegetables, your hair won’t curl like mine!” My dad has been balding my entire life.
On a cold night in January my family lost a son, brother, cousin, nephew, and grandson; it turned into one of the most difficult years of my life and still remains a quiet void that we all seem to dance around. Among other things, this accident has pushed me even further into my need for affection; tell the people you love that you love them, you’ll never know if it’s your last chance. How many times have we all heard this? In less than three hours on a back, country road this “saying” went from a simple thought to a cold, hard truth. Tell the people you love that it’s so; to mom, dad, Zack, cousins, etcetera, etcetera; I love you, I love you, I love you. Give me a hug.
Being raised in an affectionate family has turned me into the sort of girl who asks early on if a man will be affectionate with me; if you do not intend to hold my hand in public, this will likely not work, but if you intend to walk with your arm slung about my body . . . well, that will not work, either. Remember that note of control I mentioned? Yeah, I’ve got this finely tuned. That is to say, I’ve got this tightly wound.
Physical touch is not the only form of affection, in my book. It’s not always defined by kissing or continual, physical contact; that is not to say personal touch isn’t my favorite form of affection. As a nanny to a beautiful four year old, I cannot seem to quit reaching for his sweet face. I want him sitting in my lap as often as possible, I love kissing his still chubby, baby cheeks, and I live for when he asks me to “sthnuggle” with him. Most of the time he is happy to oblige his twenty-four year old nanny, but don’t you ever call him my boyfriend; our age difference is more than he can handle.
One day, while sitting at the kitchen table with me, he props his precious face on his tiny hand and whispers, “I could just look at you allll day.” My heart exploded inside my chest and I felt I had accomplished the feat of instilling in this tiny man how to talk to a lady and make her heart melt. Braden and I truly have a sacred relationship – he is beyond special to me and in the short year I’ve been with his family I have gone from employee to friend to family. This little blue-eyed man is quick to hug and whisper ‘I love you’s,’ but it is his beautiful, sprite of a sister that knows how to get right to my heart. Belle is not so quick to hug or let you k now she needs you. When I get a hug from the lovely Isabelle or she reaches for my hand on her own, my heart tends to swell uncomfortably; knowing her love for me is the same as Braden’s often becomes like a sort of revelation. Belle and Braden will forever be the most perfect versions of six and four I will ever know.
Napolean Bonaparte wrote to Josephine de Beauharnais in December of 1795:
I wake filled with thoughts of you . . . Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.
Words can do far more for me than any amounts of flowers can; at the green age of twelve my “boyfriend” wrote me the first love poem of my life. Its title was “Sweet Nothings” and it turned me into a blubbering mess. I’m still not quite sure he actually wrote it, but I feel as if, upon receiving that poem, every man in my future was fucked because no sweeter words have ever been written solely for my eyes.
In reflection of this lone love poem and love letters by great men I realize that my main life goal, at twenty-four, has become two part; I want to become a well-known writer that touches others lives and I want to find a man who still values chivalric acts and might write a love letter from time to time.
Through my admittance of wanting to leave a sort of record behind of having touched a life it has occurred to me that if affection is far more than physical touch, then it’s not simply a record of myself to be remembered that I wish to leave behind – I want to leave affection to the world – I want to be remembered through affection.
The written word is a history. Phone calls make me nervous, but more than that, text messages, e-mails, long-hand written letters – this is history. They are save-able; at any moment I can pull up an old e-mail, a text from two days ago, a letter from three years ago, and I will know what was said, feelings that were evident, the evidence is all in front of me. My memory is not required to go into over-drive; it can be at ease with the physical history in my hands.
Over the summer I discovered John Green and am still left with a specific quote from Looking for Alaska: So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane. This made my heart skip a beat, my breath caught in my throat, and I knew that this sort of thought is what I wanted to instill in someone: I want to be someone’s hurricane. And isn’t that affection?
After their marriage, Robert Browning wrote to his wife Elizabeth:
Words can never tell you, however, form them, transform them anyway, how perfectly dear you are to me, perfectly dear to my heart and soul.
Twenty-four finds me still going to those chick flicks, you know the ones, where love comes quick and easy and explodes with passion in the stall of a bathroom, the backseat of a car, the seductively painted bedroom.
I sit in a front row seat in a darkened theater with a bag of delicious buttered popcorn propped in my lap. I listen as the breathing of the two beautiful actors on the screen before me quickens, then slows, and speeds up again. I find myself watching for the slip of a tongue into a mouth, for the slow graze of a fingernail across naked skin, for the delicate undressing that I’m not entirely sure exists.
I sit in a front row seat in a darkened theater and I feel my pulse quicken as clothes come off and hair is pulled and I realize how silly I’m being; I’m not the one being tantalized by Jake Gyllenhal on the big screen. I sit there, calm myself down, and glance at my girlfriend that came with me to see this romantic comedy and realize she can go home and re-enact this very sex scene with her husband, if she so chooses. I audibly sigh.
My female relationships are key to my existence; they are the tear wipers, laugh inducers, and soft spots on which I land. Most of my friends are married, planning weddings, or seriously considering heading toward veil-town. And I’m happy for them, I love the men they’ve chosen to spend their lives with, and I’m very lucky to have them all as friends, but it’s still hard sometimes. Affection is certainly not something I expect solely from a man that may be in my life. It has become a driving force in my female friendships and an intricate factor in the familial relationships I’ve formed outside of my biological family.
I tell my girlfriends I love them regularly, I hand out hugs like candy, and I’m a closed mouth kisser with some of my close girlfriends, too. In the process of becoming close with a new friend I am quick to let them know they matter to me, they are loved, and that they are important to my sanity.
As I’ve become more like a friend and family member to the people I nanny for, conversations have easily gone from how the kids were on a particular day to an “I’m gonna call you when I’m upset” sort of relationship. Just the other night Angela, Belle and Braden’s mom, texted me to tell me she needed me at 5:30 AM; when I didn’t answer she said she was joking; when I responded with a clipped ‘OK’ she immediately asked what was wrong and then she called me. See, this is affection; a simple answer, a silent look, an attempted quiet sigh will result in a phone call to check in, a long text making sure I know I’m being thought of, a tight hug of comfort.
My girlfriends, as I’ve gotten older, have gone from a group of people I go out with on the weekends, to people I talk to daily, to those that come to my side whenever I need them, whether I call for them or not.
Recently I was out with a group of friends and I received a really upsetting phone call. Once I walked back inside I guess it was obvious that I had been crying because Ashley approached me quickly and asked what was wrong. Once I was able to speak without choking up I told her what was wrong and then I noticed she had tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong with you now?” She shook her head and answered quietly, amidst the bumping bass surrounding us, “Steph, you’re my best friend; when you’re upset my heart hurts.” Affection.
I recall in Junior High going to a friend’s house and her mom was, yet again, redecorating. She had just hung a sign above the fire place that was a green, crackle painted, country looking decoration; its simple message was “Always Kiss Me Goodnight.” I remember, at the ripe young age of twelve, thinking how terribly romantic this was. If only I could be a grown woman, redecorating a room, with a husband to kiss me goodnight instead of twelve, perpetually chesty, and dealing with acne. What more did one need than this blatantly displayed display of affection?
“Give me a kiss!” “Always kiss me goodnight.” These are mantras I have found to dominate the relationship portion of my life. It is as if I stand with a clipboard in my hand in front of a long line of eligible suitors.
“Are you affectionate?”
“Were you kissed as a child?”
“Will you hold me in the night?”
Check marks will be administered for those that answer “yes” to all three and those candidates will be moved to a screening room. I would look down over the rims of my glasses at all those that didn’t make the cut and purr, “Thanks for coming out, sirs. Better luck next time.”
Beethoven wrote to an unnamed woman on some morning of some July 7th:
. . . My thoughts go out to you, my Immortal beloved . . . I can live only wholly with you or not at all . . . Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence, can we achieve our purpose to live together . . . Oh continue to love me – never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.
Sweet nothings, immortal beloveds, and ever belonging to someone . . . I’m not sure it gets much more affection based than that. The control dial inside me, surely right next to my heart, spins wildly at the suggestion that men might still be made this way; at the suggestion that if my twenty-one year old brother will kiss his mother in front of his friends then there is hope for my mate and me yet.
Twelve years old found me glancing at the antique looking sign above a fire place dreaming of a day in which I would have a man to always kiss me goodnight; sixteen years old found headstrong and unwilling to see the wrongness of a boyfriend in my life; twenty found me yearning for affection more than ever before.
Twenty-four finds me grasping that lever on my control dial – desperately searching for that man that will desire my affection as I desire his, finding children more irresistible than ever for their uncomplicated giving of love, defining and redefining what affection means to me, what is says about me, what it means for my future.
Twenty-four finds me in a hallway staring up at a ticking clock; twenty-four years in my life, twenty-four hours in a day – is this what I am so scared of? Affection has been a dominant part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am surely one of those women that feels as if certain things must be accomplished by a certain age; why do we do this to ourselves, as a female demographic? We pick an age and then make a laundry list of occupations we must have worked through, relationships we must have tackled, diapers we must have changed; twenty-five is quickly looming around the corner . . . three months and then twenty-four will no longer find me anywhere. Twenty-five will find me, most likely, looking back on my twenty-four year old self staring up at that clock, counting the hours in a day, and wondering when that relationship might happen, when that dream book will finally find itself a home in a publishing house, when all this talk of affection will finally live up to its potential.
Who knows what will become of the end of my year as a twenty-four year old and who knows what will become of my twenty-fifth year. For now, twenty-four finds me falling asleep at night, cold pillow against my face, whispering prayers to my Father that He is gently preparing the heart of the man He’s picked for me. And whether I’ve never seen his face before or he’s in my life already, I am sure the introduction will go something like this: My name is Stephani Duff and I’m an affection addict. Wanna hug?