By: Vibodh Nautiyal
My relationship with intimacy over the years has naturally been a product of my childhood and
social environment. Growing up in an intimacy-starved household, it has been an ongoing
challenge to force myself to open up and be vulnerable – the precursor before you can have any
sort of intimate relationship. In this essay, I aim to reflect on my experiences as I grappled with
intimacy and how they affected the nature of my friendships, in the hope that it might help
someone in a similar position to me.
Growing up, I remember very little hugging in my household, and certainly no kissing. It is
perhaps not surprising then that I developed similar relationships in school devoid of physical
affection. In my first year of college, I was surrounded by people who showed physical affection
to each other to the extent that I’d never seen, and I found myself feeling totally out of place.
Over time, my friends learned to not even attempt to hug me; it was understood that I wanted no
It took a while, but eventually I made the decision that I wanted to change. At this point, I found
myself lacking some basic social skills that others around me didn’t even think about. Where do
you place your hands when you hug someone? Do your hands go above their shoulders or
below? Should you go for a side hug when you first meet someone? I remember asking my
friends to help me practice a side hug before a first date. Needless to say, there was a lot to learn.
Recently, I realized the importance of physical intimacy in my life and what I’d been missing out
on. I was sitting stressed and broken, on the verge of a breakdown. Previously, I would have had
no choice but to just bear through it. This time however, a friend saw me in this state, and came
up to me and ruffled my hair and hugged and held me for a minute. While this might seem very
normal for some people, I’d literally never experienced this apart from my romantic
relationships. On a simple biological level, physical intimacy releases dopamine and serotonin.
On another level though, it made me feel less alone and more hopeful, and we can all use that
from time to time.
But of course, showing physical affection isn’t the only form of intimacy. You can be incredibly
intimate with someone without ever showing a hint of physical affection. In this aspect, I found it
easier to form meaningful relationships with people. However, there was a catch: again and
again, I was only able to form these kinds of relationships with women. I had men as friends that
I considered very important to me, but there was always some hesitation over opening up to them
like I could with women. This made me question why my behavior was so biased towards one
gender, and also resulted in some reflections on male friendships in general.
Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone, but through my own experiences and other people’s
anecdotes, I’ve found that heterosexual men often feel a profound lack of intimacy in their
friendships with other men. As a result, we go to our romantic partners for this need which is not
being satisfied by our friendships. But what if there is no romantic partner to bank on? And even
if there is, it seems far from ideal to put all your emotional needs onto one person. Sometimes,
we just want to be held and consoled. And most of the men I know, including myself, would
have a hard time asking other men for this.
So what do I plan to do about all this? There is still a long way to go, but I have realized that
there is something innately valuable about physical intimacy for me, and I plan to take some
small steps to come out of my social conditioning to fully embrace the potential of my
friendships, especially with men. Yesterday, before entering the room to congratulate my friend
on a job offer, I told myself that I’d hug him. It took a minute of internal debate and a pep talk to
myself as I stood outside the door, but I got there eventually and did it.