“Why should so many relationships yield deep intellectual and emotional bonds that we so rarely express in touch?” (Anna Broadway, NYT op-ed 5/26/21)
I didn’t really get the idea of touching, beyond formal handshakes, until I crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Vancouver B.C. in 1970. (Vancouver: Canada’s answer to San Francisco, with mountains/without cable cars.)
I’d previously lived in the Britain and New Zealand (New Zealand: the Britain with more sheep, active volcanoes). Both countries mostly touchless. Hugs were either brief and formal, or else—if prolonged—signified something to do with intimacy, aka sex. No middle ground, no place for holding and being held, for platonic warmth, for acknowledging that we’re all in this together, we don’t have to keep pretending that we’re really fine don’t need anyone else.
That all changed in Vancouver, which, in the early 1970s, was going through its own extended summer of love. I was soon enraptured with hugs—real hugs! And much more: Vietnam, nuclear-freeze, group therapy, nudity without sexual overtones, massage (ditto), meditation. And honesty! It was OK (I’m OK, You’re OK!) to be honest, not to keep my armor on. My consciousness was raised (or so it seemed at the time) by such worthies as Ram Dass, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Fritz Perls, Oscar Icahzo, Douglas Harding, Carlos Castenada, Baba Hari Das…and hugs. Did I mention hugs?
We’re born to hug and be hugged. Nine months inside our mothers, then held for long stretches (nursing at a breast if we were lucky), all the while in close contact with another. Then, for me, anyway, that went away. No more touching, other than, as I say, brief handshakes. So of course I was totally into hugs when they were freely available. And why I missed them so during Covid times—elbow bumps just didn’t make it.
Turns out, hugs are an active area of research. This 2018 study , for instance, published in PLOS ONE, followed over 400 folks over a two-week period, checking in on them regularly to see if their mood correlated with their hugs. Well, of course it did! “…hugs buffer against deleterious changes in affect associated with experiencing interpersonal conflict” and “…receiving a hug was associated with a smaller conflict-related decrease in positive affect and a smaller conflict-related increase in negative affect.” But you knew that, right?
Or this : “This [study] supports the notion that less physical affection…can contribute to greater aggression [in adolescent men].”
And now: “Are you vaccinated?” “Duh. You?” And we fall into each other’s arms, remembering how it was, pre-Covid. Is this what it takes—no hugs with friends for over a year—to really get (grok, if you’re of that generation) how important hugs are? How good it feels to walk arm-in-arm with a dear one. We’re still a long way from how it is in many countries, especially those espousing Islam and Hinduism, where men walk platonically hand-in-hand with other men, women with women, as a matter of course.
I don’t think that’ll ever happen here, but meanwhile, I’m totally relishing my newly renewed love of hugs. Mmmmmmm…