Good Sunday afternoon, all of you Lovely and Loving Google Brains…
If you’re in a healthy relationship, holding your partner’s hand is enough to subdue your blood pressure, ease your response to stress, improve your health and soften physical pain. We alter one another’s physiology and neural functions. One can decide to be a more attentive and compassionate partner, mindful of the other’s motives, hurts and longings. Breaking old habits isn’t easy, since habits are deeply ingrained neural shortcuts, a way of slurring over details without having to dwell on them. Couples often choose to rewire their brains on purpose, sometimes with a therapist’s help, to ease conflicts and strengthen their at-one-ness.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Brain on Love, by Diane Ackerman, in this morning’s NY Times. I’m a sentimental, mushy-hearted, romantic softie. I’m a hand-holder, and I always have been and probably always will be. Oh yes, I’ve known people who live by the rule of no physical display of affection of any kind in public.
Excuse me, but those people sadly know nothing about the power of touch. Excuse me, but those people have never seen the sweet sight of an elderly couple who have been together for 60 years walking hand-in-hand through Central Park on a Spring Sunday morning, he with his hat and cane, she with her hand delicately laced through the crook in his elbow, taking in the glory of New York. Excuse me, but those people have never been to Italy, where each and every piazza is criss-crossed with couples – mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters, friends and couples of every sort, manner and kind, hugging and embracing one another….and often holding hands as they take a walk after dinner.
Last night my husband and I had two of our favorite couples over for dinner, my husband and I sitting at the long ends of our rectangular dining table with each couple on the short ends between us. Each of these young couples has been together for a long time and it would be impossible to miss – and not be “touched by” – the considerable affection between them.
One couple – my incredibly talented ballroom dancing teachers – are from Hungary. They are charming, funny, energetic and fully animated…when they communicate they speak with their entire bodies. In one moment she would start to tell a story about “the way” Hungarians are as opposed to Americans and suddenly her husband would reach his hand out to touch the back of her neck. The other couple is half Italian (la bella donna from Florence) and half American. In one moment he would be telling a story about being in medical school, and his wife would gently reach out and stroke his arm, patting her pregnant belly at the same time.
None of these gestures were for display. None were statements for affect or to make a point. They were simply unadorned, innocent and spontaneous gestures of love, affection, caring, solidarity and comfort. This is why I like to fix dinner at home for friends. People are more relaxed and can be themselves.
And I have to say that I am completely selfish…I would happily spend all afternoon in the kitchen to create an environment in which people are comfortable enough to hold hands at my dinner table. What an honor it is to witness and be in the presence of that love. In a troubled world, I vote for holding hands as often as possible.
Here’s to holding hands…and to having a great Sunday, all.