So I’m watching a special on Mary Tyler Moore while writing this latest blog post (it’s my kind of multitasking). Before I know it, what should come on but the most famous scene of all time, the group hug that takes place as Mary and her station mates close the door at WJM TV for the very last time. Go figure!. That’s exactly what I was writing about. No, not Mary Tyler Moore. I mean, I could write about her but I’d need more time to think about it. What I happened to be writing about at that very same moment, and this seems to be beyond coincidence to me, is hugging. You see, I’m not exactly sure why, but there’s been quite a lot of hugging going on these days. Maybe it has something to do with this move of mine. Apparently convention dictates that when someone says goodbye they need to do so within inches of someone else’s body. Then again, it could have something to do with that 100th birthday I just attended in my old hometown, as saying hello seems to have the same effect on people as saying goodbye. They need to do it at very close quarters. And that’s something I just don’t understand. Mostly, and you can ask just about anyone who knows me, because I don’t like to hug. Not one little bit.
For some time now I have wondered why I have such an aversion to hugging. Sure. I’m shallow. But isn’t that all the more reason for me to go through the motions of what for most people, seems to have become an obligatory gesture regardless of the occasion? Because let’s face it. People hug other people whether they’re happy or sad, coming or going, winners or losers, meeting old friends or new acquaintances, really just about for any reason these days. There are even those who want to give away hugs for free. It’s become quite ubiquitous and, if I might be so bold to suggest, at least in some cases, a little hollow. So you would think I could get on board with that. But I can’t.
As long as I can remember (and that’s quite a long time on some days) there’s been a social norm around personal space. When we talk to people we like to have a foot or two between us, perhaps more depending on circumstances. We need that little piece of airspace to feel comfortable. So why is it that, all of a sudden, it’s ok to cross that imaginary line at the drop of a hat? Many times, for what seems to me to be some rather spurious reasons. Where a quick shake of the hand used to suffice now, before we know it, we find ourselves locked in an embrace with someone whose name has just alluded us. And it’s awkward. Because there’s always that “to hug or not to hug” moment when you’re not sure what’s going to happen next. Like when you’ve just spent five or so minutes in conversation with someone you know, I might add not all that well, and you foolishly mention your impending move. Just as you are ready to wrap things up, turn and go on your merry way, you notice your compatriot taking a slight step forward, arms starting to raise from their side. You think you know what’s going to happen next but how can you be sure? I don’t know about you but for me the upshot of this rather confusing moment is a somewhat inelegant dance in which I do my best to sidestep the inevitable. If I’m lucky, I’ll manage to escape with something that resembles a rather klutzy pat on the back, excusing myself with a smile and an apologetic “I don’t hug”, in the nicest way that I can. If I’m not, well I’ll end up locked in the arms of someone I hardly know or worse yet, who I haven’t seen for a long time not entirely without reason, wondering how a couple of seconds can possibly go by as slowly as these.
There was a point in time that I was convinced that my aversion to hugging could be attributed to my somewhat less than average stature. You see when people like me hug, or are hugged by people like many of you, our face often ends up somewhere other than where we would like it to be. This is particularly true if there is a discrepancy of a foot or more between us. Just let me say that it can become a little uncomfortable. And while this was a plausible enough explanation for my hugging disdain, it didn’t really seem to fill the bill in all cases because while many people are, not everyone is taller than me. For the most part, I remained stumped as to why I disliked hugging so much. That is until I met up with an old cousin of mine who I hadn’t seen for many, many, years.
Remember that 100 year birthday I’ve been talking so much about? Well it turned out to be quite the family get together. As is oft to happen at these things, one has the chance to renew acquaintances with people they haven’t seen for a very long time. I get talking with this cousin of mine and we start to reminisce about our Fathers. Now let me say that my Father was one of the wisest men I have ever known. So my cuz and I are sharing stories, remembering all the good times, working out the family history, mostly wondering why we don’t do this more often, when he turns to me and says “your Father always told me that our family makes great strangers”. And that’s when it hit me. That’s when it all started to make sense. In that one simple statement I found my answer to the question I have been asking myself for so long. Of course I hate hugging. And honestly, no one should ever try to hug a stranger.