"How do men touch you when they're trying to pick up on you?" he asked at Denny's late one night. I'd just met him, and it if hadn't been for his eyes, the innocence when he looked at me, the warm glow when he looked at his sweet young fiancee, I would have thought he was trying to pick up on me. A most mercenary way to pick up on a woman, asking her a question requiring deep thought soon after you meet her. I tend to fall for it like crazy, what with how long it takes some men to figure out that I'm capable of deep thought at all.

His chin gestured through the window to the porch where two close-knit bodies sat, "men always seem to rub Yvonne's back in circles. And it generally works. Do they have radar or telepathy or something? Is she putting out some kind of signal that says, 'touch me this way'?"

His fiancee chimes in, "they usually rub my neck, not so much any more with an engagement ring on my finger, but back when I was single, that's what they'd do."

He repeats, "How do men touch you?"

I think about it, recall the touches that come so easily to mind, the undesirable ones. Edgar, whose occasional unwanted touch makes my skin crawl, and whom I've rebuffed strongly several times, but our circle of friends is such that any stronger of a rebuff (such as a restraining order!) would force a choice between him and me, an awful situation to put anyone in, so I choose to put up with reminding him at every touch that I don't like it. The numerous freshmen who enter my circle of friends and don't see the years and love behind our apparently casual touches, and who don't really see me as a person,but rather a possible outlet to their sexual and emotional frustration.

I tell him, "the ones that I don't like touching me usually put their hand possessively on my side."

"But what about the ones you do like, the ones that touch you successfully?" I can see in his face that he's completely unaware that such dedication to this particular intellectual exercise could be taken as the most obvious of come-ons. It's sweet. His fiancee is sweet, too, no longer interested in the conversation but not the slightest bit suspicious.

I shake my head slowly, too sapped by the lateness of the hour. My head's been intimately probed by a stranger too much today. His question will have to go unanswered.

But later in bed, I think about the first touches with men I've loved, and how they happened. My only current lover, who calls me "girlfriend-figure" and answers to "boyfriend-figure" because our impact on each others' lives is as much as an SO, but we're not really committed enough to be.... he first offered me a backrub to make up for stealing my seat on the sofa at a mutual friend's house. Never has a stranger's touch been so welcome. And my recently lost and much mourned SO, whose gentle and unassuming neck rubs -- by request only -- caused my best friend of the time to state, "No woman can be frigid around James." My long-time lover and sweetheart, Karl, who's constant love has outlasted both of them, gives backscratches with his long, well-groomed fingernails, asking softly, "like this?" Of the two new men who currently interest me, one offered me a motorcycle ride and I reveled in the feel of his long lean back against my stomach and breasts, and the other hasn't touched me at all, the timing simply not being right.

Contemplating all of this, I realize that it's not a particular touch that characterizes these. They didn't all choose a specific place on my body to touch, they didn't have a specific pattern in which their hands moved. No, the thing all of these touches have in common is that they asked first. Sometimes with words, sometimes with eye contact, but they always asked. And even later in the relationships, after the first touch is a fading memory, the idea of consent is always there. The men who get invited to stay in my life or in my bed are aware that previous consent does not necessarily imply current consent. And I, for my part, am aware that they may choose not to receive my touches today despite having done so yesterday.

Such a simple thing, but having thought on it, it fills me with awe. The men (and women) whom I love and who love me are the ones who acknowledge that I am in control of my own body. An important concept for a woman who's childhood was the long painful lesson that as a child, other people own your body and can do whatever they want with it, no matter what your teachers and the social workers and the television commercials say.

How do men touch me? The men whom I love touch me with permission, after first having assured themselves of their welcome. For these men, I open myself up like a flower and try to wrap myself around their lives, anything to get them to stay.