The joy of silent love

4 mins
24 Aug 2023
The joy of silent love

Sitting in silence with someone feels special, how come?

image @ArtRabbit via Instagram

words Rhys Thomas

A little over a month since that Barbenheimer weekend, the dust has begun to settle. No more are people wearing all pink and giving Ken-ergy, or wearing a nicely brimmed hat and smoking a cigarette in a slither of shade. One thing that will remain is the new-found joy and revival of going to the cinema as an occasion.

I’m not much of a cinema person, but recently I have sat and watched a couple of movies with someone I’m close to, and realised that there’s a very special sensation in just being next to someone, more or less in silence, and watching something. There’s an energy to feeling someone next to you but not actually engaging with them. It’s really nice.

I noticed this initially at a poetry reading, we were sat on a bench without a back, next to each other, sitting close, for a little over an hour. Half way through, I felt this sense of calmness and affection, even though we weren’t technically cuddling, nor were we engaging with each other beyond an occasional glance. Something heightened within me.

Of course, touching, holding hands, and brushing arms with someone you love feels nice. There’s plenty of research suggesting this to be the case. Touch has been considered “our primary language of compassion, and a primary means for spreading compassion” according to Dr Dacher Keltner, founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Of course, we know that talking is important. In 2015, the New Yorker reported on how parents under more financial constraints talk less to their children; but in the same year they also reported that babies who grow up with a lack of touch struggle to develop social skills, suggesting the latter is actually at least as important, if not more.

When we share consensual touch with other people, it releases oxytocin. Oxytocin is the same chemical that makes us all want to have a nice cuddle after sex, often nicknamed the love hormone. It also triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin, while reducing stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine. So not only does it help you feel closer to someone and happier, but also less stressed. That’s a powerful combination.

The feelings I feel seem to come from this, but there’s something more strange and ethereal that I’m really thinking about, because the feelings happen without touch. It’s as if there’s something about the sort of general energy between people that is invisible and can travel, like when you make eye contact with someone and it makes you feel a certain way. A sort of telepathic connection. It’s about being next to someone, and not having any physical contact, but feeling as if there’s contact there, as if there’s an electrical charge, something palpable but otherworldly that is sort of joining you to them in the moment. It’s strange and magic, and wonderful.

Sitting there, merely existing in the world next to them and feeling great, I started to think about that sensation, and how it must have been nice for people who were sitting at Oppenheimer for three hours (dealing with the end of the world yes, but also) being comforted by a sort of phantom oxytocin boost; and then going into Barbie and experiencing euphoric joy (with tinges of sadness) next to someone, in silence. Perhaps it’s a large and under-reported part of why we enjoy the cinema, or art galleries, or concerts; anything we do with someone by our side despite not actually talking to them for the duration.

As trippy as it might be, the unspoken, unseen, unheard, and unfelt aspects of how we interact with each other are significant. Nonverbal communication is often taken for granted, but most experts agree that at least 70 percent of our communication is done via body language. I’d add that the general sensation of being next to someone is also significant, whether you’re communicating or not. It’s worth taking the time to notice these otherworldly energies now and then, especially when they feel so good.

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