Written by Jen Offord

In The News

Contact sports

No you can’t touch Jen Offord there. Or there.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Social kissing has long been the bane of socially awkward internet daters, but research conducted by Oxford University, published this week, now finds conclusively that we would all benefit from knowing where to draw the line, physically speaking.

And that line, my friends, is your wrist joint. That’s right: most people, it transpires, are uncomfortable being touched by a stranger anywhere except their hands. So why, I must ask myself, are such an unprecedented number of people ready to get all up in our grills?

It’s a problem these days, and not just on internet dates. People want to make physical contact with you at the office and I’m not down with that.

Even a handshake can be perilous. Sweaty palms (as someone I dated at university gallantly told me I had)? How obviously can you get away with a quick wipe down the front of your pencil skirt?

And it’s awkward, isn’t it, when you shake a guy’s hand and you feel you might crush it under your own clammy appendages. Did he dumb his shake down for me? Is his grip really that weak? HOW DOES HE GET THROUGH LIFE?

But a social kiss is a minefield. For a start, only one person gets kissed, the other has to kiss the air which is an undeniably douche-y look. It’s no one’s fault; it’s just how our faces are made but it’s almost a physical impossibility for both sets of lips to land on cheeks simultaneously – only one will and that’s if the couple are lucky.

I can’t be the only person to experience having had their ear kissed by strangers an unfathomable number of times in a bid to quickly swerve the oncoming chops. Double kissing could therefore present an opportunity to level the playing field and allow each party an ear kiss. However in my experience it’s almost always TWICE as bad and totally unnecessary: we’re not French and I didn’t need either of my ears kissed today, let alone both.

“Just last week, not wanting to settle at having my aunt and uncle kiss my ear, I decided to close the greeting down with a hug, resulting in social chaos.”

Also, I just don’t want your face that close to mine unless we are special friends, though according to Professor Robin Dunbar who led the study, this terror can be overcome by a simple hand on the arm, accompanying the lurching of your face towards theirs. That way, they will know this is a no-tongues kind of scenario. Or, they’ll think, “You’ve kissed my face and you’ve touched my arm, you pervert.”

My favoured approach for greeting someone I know and indeed am fond of is a hug. After all, if I’m fond of you and I’ve just kissed the air around your cheek, while you’ve kissed my ear, it feels like neither of us came out of this well. But a hug isn’t for everyone and an unexpected one can really throw a cat among those bastard, tactile pigeons.

Just last week, not wanting to settle at having my aunt and uncle kiss my ear, I decided to close the greeting down with a hug, resulting in social chaos. And by chaos I mean, we stood in my mum’s kitchen not really knowing what to do. We all got over it, but it lingered for at least 30 seconds. And who has 30 seconds to spare in a high-powered business meeting, for example? I don’t – I’m sealing deals over a clammy, tepid handshake and worrying whether or not you saw the sweaty bum mark I left on the plastic chair I just rose from.

Oxford University's map of where people do or don't like to be touched.

Oxford University’s map of where people do or don’t like to be touched.

The good news is, however, that those researchers have compiled a map to show just where men and women feel comfortable being touched by a variety of known and unknown subjects, to unburden us of these social anxieties. If your meeting is with a man, there are a lot more people he will potentially let touch his intimate male area, though they are, in general, all women (unless you are his male friend, in which case, it’s really just the penis you have to give a wide berth).

If you’re due to meet me anytime soon, you’ll now fortunately know it’s absolutely not OK for you to touch my junk unless you are my partner or, to a lesser degree, my friend, mother or sister. My feet are, apparently, on the inappropriate side as far as strangers go but not strictly speaking out of bounds. Seriously, I wouldn’t go there – my right little toenail hasn’t been the same since that charity walk in 2012.


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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen