The Art of Hugging


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When COVID19 is just a bad memory, what will we remember? Will there be a legacy? I’m thinking here of constant hand washing, sneezing into our elbows and maintaining a ‘cassowary’ distance from our fellow humans.

One thing I won’t be sorry to see return is the random, inappropriate, too-long hug. This form of social contact can be problematical even in the absence of a virulent and deadly virus.

Firstly there’s the crucial decision: Do I shake hands with this person or go in for the hug? Okay. It’s a hug. So once you’ve decided they’re worthy of the hug, what then?

We all know those people who like nothing more than perpetrating a chest-crushing vice-like hug upon their unsuspecting victims. I’m reminded of a large predatory python squeezing the life out of an innocent mongoose.

A hug is a greeting. Nothing more, nothing less. Sure, it’s meant to be warm and comforting. But it’s definitely not the same as a cuddle. A cuddle can last for hours, and it can sometimes have unanticipated, and supremely satisfactory consequences. Ah … that’s a whole other story. But a hug is different. It’s a fleeting thing. Some people have no concept of how long your average hug is meant to be, let alone the force with which it is to be executed. When you are in the clutches of a standard hugger, there comes a time to release each other and get on with watching the tele, eating that corn cob, checking your phone or resuming your cribbage game. But some of these inappropriate huggers simply don’t know when to stop. Is there anything more embarrassing and awkward than the hug that won’t let go?

Let me set the scene. You’ve done your bit when approached by an inveterate hugger, and responded with a like-minded if comparatively lukewarm hug. Being a normal person you understand that during a hug, both parties should employ the same amount of pressure and the average hug should last around, oh, three seconds. So you release and attempt to step away. But the hugger won’t let go. They continue the debilitating squeeze seemingly unaware that their prey has gone blue in the face and limp through lack of air.

One of my aunts was such a hugger. Small children ran crying from the room. Babies crawled for cover when she hoved into view, arms wide open and ready for the assault. Adults suddenly discovered they had urgent business at the other end of the property. But she was like a heat seeking missile. And once in her grip, no matter how rigid you became, or how much you struggled, her steel-like arms suddenly developed Herculean strength. She was gonna hug you whether you liked it or not.

Look. I appreciate a hug as well as the next person. It’s a sweet way to say you care without words. But please, once we’ve said farewell to the dreaded dance that is COVID distancing, let’s be a bit sensitive. Not everyone is up for the overwhelming hug. Just use the three second rule. Gentle embrace, count to three, let go, move on. Is that too much to ask?