A World Without Hugs

I’ve been waiting for this my whole life

By David Claude Bailey

I know. I know. Everybody misses hugs, getting them and giving them.

But I don’t. Not one bit. For me, one of the few silver linings of the Great Pandemic is not getting all hot and bothered about spreading a cloud of cooties, dandruff, body odors and cat hairs with someone I really don’t care to know intimately.

Those who are still reading are surely wondering what trauma from my youth turned me into an utterly unhuggable misanthrope.

My mother hugged me lovingly, and I reciprocated. But I would also let her grab my ear and give it a good scrub with a washrag. My daddy’s family weren’t much into hugging, but dad hugged me as a kid. That said, I could tell he was relieved when I began shaking hands with him, when, for instance, I’d go off to Scout camp for a week.

So maybe that’s where it came from.

It might very well have been my mother’s bottle-blonde bridge partner, who would press my face into her ample bosom, where I was convinced I would surely smother to death on the combination of baby powder and Chanel No. 5, 6, 7 and 8. Another bridge player would scoop me up for a big, slobbery, red-smear of a lipstick kiss, giving me the full effect of her last cigarette and the chemical aura surrounding her freshly permed hair. No wonder I ran from her.

I married a hugger from a hugging family and when I’m having a terrible day, few things are more restorative than a hug from Anne. My children are huggers and as they cast off into the great unknown for months at a time, a warm and heartfelt hug says much more than a teary goodbye. To me, hugs should be something of a sacred connection between two people. My body is yours, I say to my daughters and my wife. I would give my life to save yours, and here’s our bond.

I assure you I never felt that way toward my great and ample aunt Gus or my willowy uncle Reid.

Men hugs are tricky. Some friends give a manly, chest-to-chest, arm-over-the-shoulder squeeze. With others, it’s just a quick shoulder-to-shoulder bump. I have a friend, though, who savors hugs. And he is eminently huggable, Teddy-bear-like in bearing and girth and completely unselfconscious. Many a woman delights in hugging the daylights out of him. And there I am, giving a triangular, shoulder-contact-only, ersatz hug and wondering what’s wrong with me.

Funerals and weddings are the worst. But who needs a hug more than someone whose daddy just croaked? Or whose daughter just got married? Nieces of a certain age are also awkward. What to do about the niece who hugged you like a bear just a year ago but has since matured? And nephews? Even the subteens get handshakes from me — and seem actually grateful.

Believe me, people can sense us unhuggables; it’s amazing how they develop memories for the types of hugs that are wanted or unwanted.

I envy people who never give this sort of thing a second thought. And I sure wish I didn’t. But I do. And I know others who feel the same way. Once this COVID thing is over and done with, do we really want to go back to sharing our germs, dandruff and garlic breath? Can’t we just get along with elbow bumps?  OH

Hug David Claude Bailey, O.Henry’s intimacy-skills columnist, remotely at davidclaudebailey@gmail.com.

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