It’s not really a cold shoulder

NASA staffperson hug
Image via Wikipedia

So, who’s the cuddly one in your dyad?

Here’s an interesting advice column from one of my former employers, the national Canadian daily The Globe and Mail, on the issue of a non-cuddly husband.

Typical of Globe stories, this one has 298 (!!) comments.

I wanted to blog this because, in my marriage, I’m the dude, the one much less comfortable with emotions, expressing tender feelings, being cuddly and saying “I love you.”

When Jose and I started dating 12 years ago, I quickly noticed this, and often joked that he’s the girl and I’m the guy in this respect. He always wanted to talk about our relationship, to share his feelings, to feel validated by my listening attentively to them.


It’s not that I didn’t love him. But I come from a pretty frosty family, hardly unusual among educated WASPs, especially Canadians, (some of whose British stiff-upper-lip-ness affects all aspects of life, from work to medical treatment.)

It’s not easy at midlife to radically alter your emotional style, even when you know it’s a good idea.

I’m grateful Jose is as accepting of me as he is. As I’ve written about here, I spent most of my childhood at boarding school and summer camp, starting at the age of eight. I didn’t see my Dad that much as he traveled a lot and he and my mother were divorced by then.

When I hear people chirp “Love you!” into their cellphones, I wonder how it comes so easily to them.

So I learned, young, to keep my softer emotions hidden and in check. There was little reason to hug a ferocious, scolding housemother!

Jose, who is Hispanic, grew up in a loving and intact family, with a Mom who was thrilled to have him — surprise! — when she was 49. I keep a photo of him as a small baby on my computer, his Mom holding his tiny hand as he stands on their piano bench, as they both look so totally delighted with one another.

I never got a chance to meet her, as she and his Dad died decades ago. But her abundant love perfumes my every day through her loving son. At our wedding reception, in September 2011, I toasted Gregorita and thanked her for the spirit of affection that Jose so embodies and shares, with me and with others

He freely and easily says “I love you” a lot. He hugs and kisses. He holds my hand. All of which I adore and am very grateful for.

He knows I’m nuts about him, even if I’m not very skilled at expressing it.

Thank heaven!

In your relationship, who’s the huggy one?

11 thoughts on “It’s not really a cold shoulder

  1. I have to say that I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t call you “frosty,” but I certainly detect a sense of reserve. Having grown up in Miami with many Latino friends, I experienced first hand just how “touchy feely” they can be. In 9th grade, I attended a school that was 97% Latino, but I never felt like a minority. It was common to hug and kiss your friends on the cheek – even between classes – and my close friends’ families treated me as one of their own. It was lovely. Nothing like having others embrace you – both metaphorically and literally. Fortunately, it was no great shock to me. My mother, in particular, was a big hugger, so the physicality of the Latino community was never offensive or intrusive. In fact, I miss it.

    My husband is very much the “dude” in the family. Half Ottawa, he exudes a typical Native American characteristic: stoicism. I’m not stereotyping, either. It truly is a part of their culture. There is natural reserve and a penchant for understating everything. That said, my husband shows me his love in the little things he does. Recently, I suffered from a lengthy illness – and we feared I might have a brain tumor or an aneurysm. My hubby quietly researched every possibility on his computer – without telling me. As doctors proposed different diagnoses, Matt’s knowledge of rare conditions like pseudo tumor cerebri syndrome revealed to me that he’d been worried and he’d been doing his homework. Not that he’d ever tell me – his Worrywart Wife. But when I discovered how concerned he’d been, I felt guilty, but I also felt loved.

    1. Reserved, yes. Partly my Canadian upbringing, I suppose. I do prefer a sense of formality to a back-slapping casualness.

      Your husband sounds like a great guy; one of the qualities I most admire in people is that sort of get-it-done calm. I hate drama.

      Hope you are now feeling better!

  2. Yes, I agree. “Save the drama for your Mama,” I always say. Thanks for your concern – especially considering what you’ve been through. I am much, much better. It is wonderful to have that willow that bends with wind, strong and flexible, and always providing protective cover for those who rest beneath its fronds.

    1. One of the things I’ve been extremely focused on is that I’m recovering from an op. I chose, and, I hope, headed back to full strength…I was not coping with the added stress of an illness, as you were.

  3. My husband and I both easily express our love. However, he had to learn how to do that, as his parents and former wife were not expressive of emotions. He and I are both happy that I helped him to express how he feels at last.

    1. Good for you! I think many possibly terrific relationships founder because one person (or both) is not as skilled as the other (or as we’d like) at this. I credit Jose with patience in this respect, while I’ve been patient with him in others. I doubt any marriage can survive without that.

      If someone (as I do) acts lovingly, but is not terribly verbal, that “says” a lot.

  4. Andromache

    I can’t say there is a huggy one in my life these days, but my Mother use to be at once and my last boyfriend was. I miss it. It’s just something kind of wonderful 🙂

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