People of my generation and older mostly grew up with an understanding that your options for physical affection were 1) the type you get from your family (Mom, Dad, grandparents etc) and 2) the type you get from your boyfriend/girlfriend. For me, that meant that my need for affection manifested in a CONSTANT need for a romantic partner.
I’m not talking about SEX. I’m talking about affection.
When I was younger…let’s first grade through…maybe middle school? My besties would be affectionate like all elementary school besties are. But as that faded, I became “the girl who must always have a boyfriend” so that I would have someone to hold hands with at recess or maybe kiss behind the bus. The older I got I would shrug and imagine I was just a “horny teen” which is what they told us we all were, but I know now I was just desperate for someone to hug and hold hands with and snuggle with.
The problem is/was – I didn’t understand anything about my desperate need for affection. As an adult I have learned that what MANY of us group into one category (often we call it sexual attraction) is more often broken up into three parts:
We all want/need those three things in different ways, in different quantities, and often with different types of people. Unfortunately, my generation and older just threw it all in a bucket and assumed the only option was to find someone to marry and get those things only from that person INTO INFINITY.
Learning to separate those three has allowed me to walk back through my history with intimate/romantic/affectionate partners and get a better understanding of what I actually needed from all of it.
This current generation is much better at separating those things so they understand identities like Asexuality and Panromantics. They are as affectionate with their platonic friends as they are their lovers. They aren’t so rigid in their understanding of their sexuality or their gender so they’re able to get their needs met in an assortment of different ways and they understand the language to separate those needs.
We did not and often still do not.
But if you separate out your hopes and dreams around sex, romance, and affection…you can often find that you need one more than the other, or that you don’t have to rely on the hunt for a “partner” to fill all three needs for the rest of your life. We can nurture affectionate friendships too! Who knew?
This is what I have learned about myself:
The majority of what I want out of any intimate relationship – be it romantic or platonic or familial – is affection. I see young millennials and generation Z holding hands with their friends and curling up with all genders in bed and on the couch to watch TV. They play with each other’s hair and they hug and snuggle and do not at all limit their shared affection to romantic relationships. I fully believe if my generation had been as continually affectionate in platonic relationships I would have probably not been looking for my needs to be met so often in romantic ones.
We have learned to allow for people to want ONLY their sexual needs in the form of one-night stands or hookups. Society understands, “Some people just need sex,” but we have yet to universally acknowledge in all social circles and age groups that, “Some people just need affection,” or “Some people just need romance.” If you don’t “need” sex society told you to seek medicinal treatment or couples therapy.
But we are now learning that if you separate those three needs: Sex, Romance, and Affection…you allow humans to be nuanced and you leave room for recognizing the different type of needs and how to meet those in many different types of relationships.
I’m so proud of this generation for demonstrating to us old folks what all of this looks like. And I hope each generation to follow will continue to break down those lines in the types of relationships we all are “supposed” to have so that we can all can find the loving relationships we need…whether they be platonic or romantic or otherwise.