My daughter made her first visit home from college this weekend. It got me thinking about my first semester in college in the early 80’s. At that point in my life, I decided that I was a peace activist. We were in the middle of an arms race, and I was convinced that nuclear war was imminent. My classmates would talk negatively about the USSR, and I would ask, “Why can’t we just all get along?” I went to a peace conference. I helped facilitate campus discussions. And I had buttons.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about nuclear war or the USSR, but my daughter’s visit inspired me to take a look at some of my own college memories. I chuckled at the “Bill and Opus in ’88” campaign button a friend made for me. I rolled my eyes and smiled at “Better active today than radioactive tomorrow” and “Freeze the nuclear arms race.” The buttons represent a woman who no longer exists.
The exception to that is the button that was my favorite: “Arms are for Embracing.” My friends and I went around claiming that a person needs seven hugs a day to be emotionally healthy. We hugged each other. We hugged our classmates. We hugged the woman who waited on us at our favorite restaurant. I have no idea if it’s true that we need seven hugs a day, but I believed in it. I just knew I would be a hugger for the rest of my life. Hugging made us happy and connected to each other. We embraced each other as we embraced the idealism we had at 18.
Twenty years later, I was married with kids. My sexual gate-keeping was in full swing. I no longer thought about freezing nuclear arms; I was too busy freezing my husband out of my arms. Every time I spurned my husband’s sexual advances, I turned away from him and the possibility of connection. What really puzzles me, though, is that I also turned my back on myself. How could I have turned away from a part of me that believed in the importance of embracing and connecting? How could I have turned away from myself?
Our sexuality was designed by God to be enjoyed with our husbands. When we turn away from sexual activity, we turn away from a part of what He made us to be. We turn away from ourselves. Why do we do that?
I was so wrapped up in not wanting to give my husband ideas about sex that I began to avoid even non-sexual physical contact with him. As a mom, I was getting plenty of hugs every day from the kids. But a hug from a child isn’t the same as a full embrace, the kind where you are wrapped in someone’s arms and held.
I lived many years without being embraced at all.
I don’t remember the occasion or even when it was during our journey to an improved marriage, but I do remember how it felt the first time I allowed myself to feel truly embraced by my husband after so many years of disconnection. I remember of feeling of my heart sinking into his, resting, my soul settling, finally at peace.
Yesterday was a difficult day. My husband and I argued multiple times. I was distressed. I went to bed, emotionally depleted. My husband got into bed and pulled me into his arms and just held me. I was fully embraced, and I could feel myself settle.
A lot has changed in the world since my first year of college. The need for connection and being held hasn’t. Something I deprived myself of for years has become a source of deep connection and comfort for me. Having my husband’s arms around me heals my heart.
Arms are for embracing. It’s still my favorite button.