If there is one thing that is more beautiful and inspiring to me than the ocean, it is the sight of an older couple holding hands walking along the ocean’s edge. I have already seen two such couples today looking so adorable holding hands, their heads fully grey and their time-weathered bodies moving slowly. Two long-time lovers still obviously in love with each other. You cannot help but smile. It is so very touching to see, you cannot help but utter, “Awwwww!”
How special is that? You still want to hold each other’s hand! Who doesn’t want to have that kind of love to still exist when they have been married for so long and reach old age? It is solid proof that the feelings of love are still very much alive.
I believe if you want to know if a relationship is in trouble, start by observing if they hold hands. You can hide a lot of things from others as a couple, but you cannot hide the reality that you don’t hold hands when walking together.
Two people in love are going to hold hands. Not all the time, but definitely often. And that is because when you are in love, you cannot help but want to touch the other person. God designed it that way, and our sexuality is naturally inclined to it. The most fundamental aspect of sexual attraction is the desire to be close, the desire to touch the other. Chastity demands that you not get too close, and that you do not do certain things before marriage. But there still must be some kind of touch.
This can be done by reaching out and holding hands, and with great satisfaction. Sitting close by each other or walking together, holding hands provides a wonderful fulfillment of that desire to be close. In fact, it is actually very healthy and important for developing the relationship.
That is not to say that couples who are dating and hold hands are definitely in love and will marry. No. Obviously couples break up who held hands a lot. The focus here is when a couple no longer holds hands. It is a sure sign that things are not going well if you think you love each other but have stopped holding hands (or never have). Couples with a troubled relationship can pretend everything is okay by still holding hands. They might be trying to make the feeling present, or one might be trying to keep the other fooled into thinking all is well.
But a normal reaction to a troubled relationship of two sincere people is to not hold hands so often, and ultimately stop all together. It happens unnoticed and without thinking. Why? Because holding hands comes naturally and it is a deep form of intimacy.
It is also totally possible to be in a marriage that is very sexually active in the bedroom, but the couple does not hold hands anymore. In other words, there is sex but no affection. That is further proof, by the way, that sex activities do not prove true love exists. Our ability to show affections such as hand holding, hugs, loving looks and smiles, and light kisses throughout the day go a longer way in fostering the feeling of love.
Couples in love hold hands. Couples with problems don’t.
Now, at this point, it's worth specifying that I am speaking of the affectionate side of love, the pleasurable feeling that exists within the reality of love. There is no doubt that committed love, marital love, does not require pleasing feelings to be present in order to be lived. Marriages can have love without affection. Feelings of love diminish or die, while the commitment of love remains. That is everyone’s worst nightmare, I know, but it does happen, and is more common than we care to admit. Living the covenant of marriage even without feeling love is the higher good and still very much the highest calling of love.
Having said that, my point here has to do with the wonderful, incomparable feeling of being in love. There is nothing like it, and it is what everyone wants who desires to marry and have a family. They want to feel they are in love, and they never want that feeling to die.
That is completely understandable, and I pray that it happens for everyone. This kind of love is a gift from God, and a testimonial of the two persons capable of such love, that they chose wisely, and they did what is necessary to safeguard and foster their love. And let’s face it, there is some luck involved since you never know if the other person is going to drastically change on you or become something you did not foresee that naturally causes problems that affect the feelings of love.
As much as we want committed love, we do also want to feel it. We want romance just as much as we want service, duty and sacrifice. We want to feel happy, not just taken care of.
When the Beatles sang “I want to hold your hand” (great song!), they were talking about the desire for affection. It is the way the other makes you feel that draws you closer. Hand holding is a unique gesture of romantic love. It is a sign of great affection. I don’t care how close you are with a friend, one thing you never do with someone who is “just a friend” is hold hands.
Therefore, I say again that holding hands is proof that romantic love exists. So if you notice that you are not holding hands anymore, you need to consider that you might have problems you are not aware of that have affected your relationship. Things could get worse. Consider not holding hands as a sign, a red flag, that should make an alarm go off in your head and cause you to take the time to evaluate your relationship.
That is, of course, if you don’t want the romance, the feelings of love, to diminish or disappear completely. And who wants that? No one, I venture to guess. However, relationship and marital problems are very sneaky. We are inclined to be in denial about problems, and allow ourselves to be distracted so we do not have to confront them. If we don’t nip them in the bud, they slowly get worse and happen without really knowing it.
To couples who do not hold hands anymore, I challenge you to ask yourselves why you don’t. If you can honestly say it is because you don’t have that feeling of love any longer and you want it back, then you have to work together to figure out what has gone wrong and communicate exceptionally well about it. God willing, you will soon be holding hands again.
To the couples who hold hands, God bless you, and please keep up the good work. Your public hand holding is a very powerful witness. And the older you are, the more you inspire us and make us say “Awwwwww!” You give us faith and hope that the feelings of love are possible to last a lifetime.
Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice. Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.