On a Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. I showed up at his place with lemon cake and a chocolate croissant, freshly showered but fairly hungover. He rose only long enough to let me in before collapsing on the couch. I pulled the treats from the La Grande Orange bag and offered them as an edible elixir, hoping to provide relief from his even worse hangover. However, it seemed to be my lap that he needed more. I awkwardly sat at the end of the couch, and he laid his head down on a pillow across my lap, holding onto my legs. What do I do with my hands? Would he like a head rub? How do I give a head rub? I’m so tired.
Besides a few casual hugs, we hadn’t really touched since June. For the past month or so we had comfortably sat across from each other each Sunday afternoon reading and writing. Few would think that we met at a club a couple years ago and that he was the one who I had dubbed Hookup Buddy in a previous post. Since then, our friendship had come to a purely platonic place, and I preferred it that way. The quality of our interactions, that leave me both refreshed and inspired, have provided greater value than physical intimacy.
But the beauty of friendships in which that line has already been crossed is that there is enough familiarity to be physically close without feeling like there is some cherry to be popped or expectation of something more. Because of this, as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia ended, we retreated to his bed for a nap. My idea.
As he climbed into bed and pulled me close, I realized I hadn’t enjoyed a real (sober) cuddle session for over a year. Though this doesn’t really matter – time should have little to do with the present – I mention it because I had no idea what I was missing for quite a while. It’s like giving up sugar for a year. At first it’s difficult. You crave it. But as time passes you start to forget about it, and find other things that are just as delish.
“I think I’d be fine never eating sugar again!” you confidently consider. But then without warning, a co-worker approaches you with those Girl Scout cookies you ordered a month ago just to be nice. Before handing them off to a friend, you figure you might as well eat a Thin Mint or two… and holy shit.
I had no idea how much I needed to be cuddled. I forgot how incredible it felt to be held and how nice it was to have my hair combed through by someone I care about. And being innately awkward about touching, I couldn’t believe how comfortable I felt. I had never fallen asleep while spooning, but this was so natural, so nice. Time could have stopped right there. After four hours of napping and nuzzling, we both felt considerably better, and I left him lying in bed while I abruptly got up, grabbed my bag and called, “Talk to you later!”
The next morning I awoke to a text: “You’re a really good friend.” No worries. Anytime. I mean, that’s what friends do: provide pastries and naps when in need. And the week went on as normal: “I’ll see him next Sunday, and everything will be totally the same.”
When the next Sunday came, and I was in the midst of my “natural disaster” (no car, no phone), I was slightly disappointed not to receive an invite for reading and writing. In the days that followed, he flooded my thoughts. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop thinking about scenes from our last time together and started creating fantasies that he was on my flight back to Illinois with me or heck, that we traveled the world together, taking similar naps in faraway places. One might think “no duh.” It was unexpected though and made me anxious. And after two weeks of not talking, a panic crept up that I hadn’t experienced since we first met.
Yep, the sugar craving was in full force after those damn Thin Mints. But I didn’t pull them out of the freezer or stop by Sprinkles Cupcakes or dump packs of Sweet ‘n Low in my coffee. I waited it out and focused on healthy substitutes like friends, work and workouts to fight it.
It’s Just Oxytocin
And guess what? The craving passed. It sounds like a miracle, but there is a logical – and purely scientific – reason. My “sugar” was in fact oxytocin. Frankly, the two should be considered a drug. In the same way that chocolate triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s endogenous opiates, oxytocin is notoriously considered the “love hormone” for it’s potent effects post-cuddling and/or sex. Feelings of closeness flood your body, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. It has the ability to turn an innocent cuddle sesh into an obsession without your consent. It can suck.
In the middle of my sugar craving, I re-read a journal entry from that Sunday. I had almost forgotten what was written. In it, I annotated the thoughts that effortlessly drifted through my mind as I napped. Though I’m skittish to share what’s transcribed in my personal diary, i.e. the very un-edited version of what you read here, I feel that this excerpt is fitting:
Maybe if we expected less, everything would be a pleasant surprise. My friendship with him just is what it is. No search for meaning. No need for labels. We sit. We lay. We’re silent. We talk. We touch. We don’t. I don’t need to tell anyone about it to make it real or to validate that it happened. It simply did and does.
“My friendship with him just is what it is.” Though far from profound, those words in combination with the waning effects of the oxytocin, reminded me that though we haven’t spoken much this month, our friendship will live on past a hormonal response. It was my body’s natural reaction to physical (and not even sexual) intimacy. There was no reason to be anxious or search for more from a friendship that already offers me more than I could want. And in the same way that I had wrote, “We’re silent. We talk.” right now, we are silent, but we will talk again.
In the end, while Thin Mints and oxytocin provide wonderful highs, there is something about good ‘ole everyday sober/friendly interactions that grant satisfaction in a much more sustainable way. It’s like learning to appreciate strawberries for their natural sweetness – and not binging like a crazy person when they’re dipped in chocolate every now and then.