Our fourth daughter, Jenny, has been traveling a lot this year for various reasons. Her siblings miss her (as do her parents).
The latest trip was special. An online friend of ours has a toddler and they’ve recently adopted an infant with a bajillion special needs, including a trach, which has to be suctioned around the clock and multiple doctor appointments and therapy appointments (he’s had to be hospitalized again I think five times in just a couple of months). Dad had to go out of state on a business trip. So Jenny went down to stay for two weeks to help out wherever she could.
Because Pip needed their aunt-mobile here for work, two weeks ago my husband drove Jenny down (this also allowed him some Jenny time on the road). And Pip spent this weekend with her future in-laws who live that direction so she went down last night to pick up her sister (and get some Jenny time).
We’d intended to wait up and have a tiny welcome party- mainly consisting of snuggling, cuddling, and chattering. But they hit a traffic jam because of a car accident and had at least a 90 minute delay ahead of them. The 17 year old FYG indignantly texted Jenny that she was too tired to wait up, so she was going to sleep in Jenny’s bed so she’d be sure to see her when she got home, only she went and got in her own bed instead.
When Pip and Jenny got home, Jenny was disappointed to find that the FYG wasn’t there after all. So she decided to go crawl into bed with her little sister instead. FYG thought at first she was a robber, so she gasped, sucking all the oxygen in the room into her lungs, and then she punched her sister. But then order was restored and they snuggled up and went to sleep (it also helps that it’s was a chilly night and we aren’t running the heater yet). It’s a twin bed (all the kids have a twin).
“Um, that’s kind of…. weird,” said a friend.
I laughed. Not very “American,” I’ll grant you. But weird?
Weird is not the word that had come to my mind. The words that come to my mind were words like, “sweet, family, loving, affectionate, warm, snuggle, cute, sisters,” and “awwwwww.”
The thing is, our culture is totally messed up on this, from start to finish. We’re so messed up we don’t even know that we’re kind of outliers both historically and culturally. We start with babies, where we think it’s dangerous and bad for marriage to sleep with your babies and we continue on through the end of life, equating sleeping with sex, kissing with sex, hugs with sex, hand holding with the beginning of a sexual relationship, in short- that’s how we filter everything. That’s why American viewers watch the Lord of the Rings movies and think they see a homoerotic subtext between Aragorn and Boramir, or read the Wordsworth journals and imagine that the siblings Dorothy and William had something more than sibling affection for one another, and why a Christian book reviewer can read the soppy, sappy Elsie Dinsmore books and foolishly imagine that she sees something on the borders of incestual.
We have one-track minds, and that’s what’s weird.
We sexualize everything, and then we apply our strange and very recent oversexed culture retroactively and to other cultures which have a healthier view of touch:
We modern Westerners shelter ourselves within a personal-space bubble that allows us to touch others only with very specific body parts in very specific contexts. We are uncomfortable with greater intimacy not because we don’t like touch, but because most bodily contact has been so sexualized. Men who hold hands are assumed to be lovers. Friends who kiss on the lips appear to be “friends with benefits.” Even family photographs of young children at bath time can be mistaken for pornography (as was the case when an Arizona family temporarily lost custody of their daughters in 2009 after a Wal Mart employee received the pictures for development and realized that in some shots the children were partially nude).
The sensitivity of our culture’s sexual radar cuts everyone off from platonic intimacies that were once widely accepted in everyday life. It might seem (to liberals) that by embracing sexuality we are simply freeing ourselves from the bonds of convention, or (to conservatives) that we are simply afflicted by the overly-sexualized, moral rot that accompanies the rejection of moral values. However, our obsession is something both more innocent and more desperate than that.
Sex used to be a bit farther from people’s minds. Before central heating, sharing a bed could be asexual. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick comments on the pleasantness of snuggling up to one’s (unknown) bedfellow for warmth in a chilly inn. Even more striking is a subtle difference between the 1998 BBC television production of Our Mutual Friend and Dicken’s original nineteenth-century novel. The book includes a scene in which a dying old woman named Betty Higden is discovered by one of the novel’s heroines. Like the middle-aged man in my swing dance class, Betty is lonely. She says, “I must be sore disfigured. Are you afraid to kiss me?” The narrator tells us, “The answer is the ready pressure of [the heroine’s] lips upon the cold but smiling mouth.” However, in the BBC version, the heroine kisses Betty on the forehead instead of the lips. Modern viewers would be uncomfortable with a lip kiss. Sex is the first thing that pops into our minds when we see such intimacy.
Our other daughter, Pip, posted a link to the above article on her Facebook wall a couple days ago, which I thought was interesting.
Ours strikes me as a very lonely culture.