I have a weird relationship with affection.
I need it - who doesn't? But I struggle to accept it. Sometimes to give it, too. And needing it and not getting it makes me feel all kinds of bad when watching other people share it. It's like being hungry and watching two people share a meal. Even though I struggle to share it myself and frequently reject it or turn cold toward it when it's directed at me.
And, like, why is that? Depending on the situation, I have a hundred reasons why I shouldn't accept it.
"That person probably just wants something from me. If I accept their affection, if I enjoy it, I'll owe it to them to do whatever it is they're demanding."
"And this person, I bet their affection is poisoned. Oh, sure, they're being nice to me now, but a few weeks or months from now, the affection from them will stop, and they'll demand ever more affection from me. Soon enough, they're just going to be choking me to death."
"That person is probably being insincere. They don't really like me, they just feel bad for me. It's a token gesture, and we're both supposed to know that - and if I let myself enjoy it, I'll show that I really am as pathetic as they thought."
The appearance of impropriety scares me a lot, too. The idea that someone is extending affection conditional on my returning their romantic feelings, and if I don't, they'll withdraw it. So it's best to just not take it, so that I don't have to lose it when they inevitably take it away from me. This is also sometimes phrased in my brain as "If I accept this, I'll get in trouble with this person's significant other, because they'll think I'm crossing a line."
Which works the other way, too. I can't be too affectionate with anyone or it'll be confused for romantic, and then people will pull away from me because they don't want that from me. Even with people I wanna get romantic with (and sometimes with people I AM romantic with), I have to force myself to show them affection - something I already want to do - because I don't want to scare them off by being too forward, nor give the impression that my affection comes with a requirement that my feelings be reciprocated.
And sometimes I just think poorly of myself - that my affection is not desirable because I'm too (insert negative description here) for people to want affection from.
A lot of this comes from abusive people who entered my life (and, through significant work, I've mostly extracted myself from all of them). But as you may have noticed from the two longest paragraphs here, I think a lot of this is tangled up in my wrong-headed view of romance. My theory is that, growing up socially outcast, being raised male, going to an all-boys religious high school... I didn't have a lot of examples of what normal affection looked like. And, having family and a jealous girlfriend who insisted that every tiny display of affection (however subdued) was a sign of romantic feelings and over the line respectively, I got the idea that... well... affection is romance. Platonic affection isn't a thing. People need affection, but they can only get it from family or romantic partners, or people they want to be romantic partners. There are certain kinds of socially acceptable platonic affection - praising someone's work, or giving gifts with no personal connection, money or something that the person asked for, for example - but everything else is off limits.
And, um, yeah. That sounds pretty wrong, now that I say it out loud. And I think it leads to some really twisted knock-on effects, like the thought that "if I don't have a romantic relationship it's proof that I don't deserve affection/shouldn't show affection, so I need to get into one to show that I'm someone who can be loved and give love, too".
I don't really know what to do with this yet. But it's something I've been meandering around for a while, and I think it helps to at least get it all out in one place.
And - my goal for 2019 is to have nothing to do with romance. To focus on understanding the platonic side of things. To be more affectionate with my friends, and to accept their affection without reservations. To accept the training in how to have friends that I missed when I was a child. I hope that will help, too.