What gives me the ick? Men touching the small of my back

Ickbait: Lauren O’Neill dissects “one of the most heinous practices in British nightlife”.

Each week, we ask a FACE contributor to break down their biggest ick. Check out previous columns here.

Picture this: you’re in a bar that’s busy but not especially crowded. Bad Habits by Ed Sheeran is playing and there are posters on the wall advertising a deal on Jägerbombs. You’re standing with a group of mates, maybe slightly in the way of the toilets or a door or something, but not being obstructive in any real sense. Your pal is showing you something on her phone so you move closer to her to see – and then, you feel it.

A hand brushing at the small of your back – two fingers in fact, one of them ever-so-gently touching your skin above the waistband – pushing you to the side, even though he could easily have walked past. You look up and a man with up to four shirt buttons undone is standing over you. Excuse me darling,” he says, without stopping, striding over to the bogs or the smoking area, crossing a path that was clear anyway. All of this happens in under two seconds, but even so you are engulfed by a sensation, a lurching disgust, like your stomach is trying to find its way out of your body.

I’m afraid it’s a case of the ick.

When thinking about the concept of the ick’, my mind immediately flashes to my own dating history, but many of my most specific icks trace too identifiably back to an individual person – and to my own weird dislikes – to warrant an entire column. There was, for example, the Tinder date whose shoes gave me so visceral an ick that I, Jesus forgive me, physically gagged upon noticing them. This would be good material if it weren’t for the fact that, if I were to describe the shoes in specific detail, it would give the game away – the man in question would know that I’d written an article about him. On balance, that feels a bit not on (though I do think that nobody who experiences an ick, which are frequently as petty as watching them cross the road’ or watching them tie their laces’, can claim moral high ground, and that is basically the entire reason why they’re so funny.)

On one hand, perhaps it would be helpful for him to know that the shoes were bad, but the other, I accept that the deficiency is mine for caring about types of shoes so much that I would experience a gastroenterological response when confronted with some I didn’t like. Benevolently, therefore, I have decided to address something more general, in an act of public service if you will, to put a stop to one of the most heinous practices in British nightlife.

This strange little back-tap of which I speak – this finger-sweeping, this weak little attempt at a show of dominance – is the Jeans and Sheuxsss of physical contact (not least because the people who usually do it tend to be tie-off, collar-open, Peronis-with-the-boys-from-Acquisitions types of fellas, though I have also seen it from men of all stripes. My ick knows no exception). It feels retro, from a different time, like pâté or aerobics, but still, it persists.

I’m aware that not everyone hates it when guys do this – I have friends who differ with me on the issue, enjoying the frisson of a small encounter with a stranger, which I respect. But we all have different crosses to bear when it comes to the ick, and my personal findings, after many experiences of it, are simply that the family friend accidentally’ grazing your arse in the buffet queue at a wedding” vibes of this simple action are too much to take.

For me, there’s a sort of failed sexuality there: the sense that if you’re doing this, you’re taking the opportunity to touch women in passing because you’re unable to engineer such a chance otherwise – simply by being hot or funny and making them want to touch you back, say. There’s also entitlement, both with regards to other people’s bodies and personal space, that sort of puts it on the clicking-at-waiters spectrum, which is a terrible place to find yourself.

Entirely sexless and ultimately pointless, these small-of-the-back-strokes are the scourges of a good time. And now we’re all back at the club, or at bars where we’re simply trying to tolerate the musical stylings of Big Ed, men would do well to remember that every time you brush a woman to the side as you walk past, in a way you imagine is confident and masculine, you might just be conjuring an all-consuming ick. Be vigilant, alright?

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