Christopher & Laura´s Story

Creating a space where everyone feels valued

Christopher, a 25-year-old software developer, and his girlfriend Laura live in Slagelse, Denmark. Christopher is also the local chairman of the Danish Red Cross Youth. The couple support a centre helping lonely and isolated young people. ”Some of them have not felt human touch in over a year. A hug means the world to them,” Christopher says.

1

The Importance of physical touch

How important is physical contact to others for you? A hug, a kiss, a pat on the shoulder, a handshake?

C: It’s super important. Laura and I cuddle, kiss and hold hands a lot. For me, physical touch is like a vote of trust. And I also tousle her hair.
L: Haha, yeah, you need to get better at doing that! You mainly just put your palm onto my head.

You have been working in the youth center Plexus for many years. What role does closeness play for young people?

C: Some of our guests have told me that they haven’t hugged or felt close to anyone for over a year. The only time that they experience physical touch is when shaking hands with someone they’ve just met. So, if we hug them, even just really briefly, and even if some feel a bit embarrassed about it, it actually means the world to them. Speaking of physical touch in general: if I, for instance, pat my friend’s shoulder to acknowledge his work, I can clearly see how it boosts his confidence.

“If I don’t experience human touch for a long time, I automatically become more introverted“

Christopher

2

Human Touch in Society

What role does human touch play in Danish society? Do you think it has changed over the years?

C: Nowadays, it’s a huge problem that so many young people don’t experience human touch. It’s essential for your feeling of self-worth. Personally, if I don’t experience human touch for a long time, I automatically become more introverted.

Why do you believe human touch is so important?

L: In a way, it’s a confirmation that you are worthy, that you are ‘good enough’ to be hugged.
C: It also just makes you happy. Sharing gestures of affection is a different way of socializing than, for example, simply talking.

"Physical touch can quickly be misunderstood. You don’t know the other person’s limits."

Christopher

3

Human Touch for Men and Women

Do you believe men and women have a different view on touch and on physical distance?

C: For me, consent is key when it comes to touching. I don’t know another persons’ limits, which is why I always apologize when I accidentally brush past someone. In Plexus, there are many transgender people, and physical touch can quickly be misunderstood. Some people aren’t used to physical touch, they interpret more into a hug than there actually is. But if you aren’t used to being hugged by someone from the opposite sex, how could you possibly know how to respond?
L: As a woman, I’d say that men sometimes have different intentions with physical touch. Is he only doing this because he wants to get me into bed, or is he just genuinely trying to be friendly? It can be difficult to interpret physical touch correctly.

"If every single one of us was better at acknowledging other people’s existence, the world would be a better place."

Christopher

4

Helping lonely people

What can we do to help young people feel less lonely?

C: I have autism. When I was a teenager, I struggled to understand the implicit rules of communication. In Denmark, there is no etiquette or protocol of how to act around people. Perhaps it would help if we could teach and train young people on how to act around others, physically. Another thing is that we as a society shouldn’t always expect the worst of each other. Sometimes, when I say ‘hi’ to a stranger on the bus, he doesn't respond—as if I’m some sort of weirdo. But I won’t stop just because of a few funny looks. What if I’m the only one who speaks to that person that day? For some, even a ‘hi’ can mean a lot!
Through another organization, I also meet lots of homeless people who make a bit of extra money selling street magazines. Some told me that many passers-by just completely ignore them. But just saying ‘hello’ to them would make the vendors feel seen. If every single one of us was better at acknowledging other people’s existence, the world would be a better place.

Young and lonely?

In our worldwide survey, we found out that loneliness is also a major problem for young people under 35.

says that physical touch is not a daily occurance in their life

realized during isolation how important physical touch is for their health

feel lonely when lacking human touch

say that the isolation has made them feel lonelier than ever before

miss touch very much and want to make up for it after the crisis

say that lack of human touch makes them feel lonely even if they have many contacts on social networks