There’s no denying that COVID-19 has wormed its devastation into the daily news, political discourse, and just about every aspect of human interactions. It lurks like a cloud over us, gripping us in fear and uncertainty.
But let’s talk about one area of human interactions, the implications of huggingduring these times of COVID-19.
Now the questions are many, among them:
What are the protocols that govern hugging before COVID-19 and now? And COVID-aside, what are the circumstances under which hugs in general are appropriate or not?
What do you do if you find yourself in the middle of an all-out hug-fest where it’s clear that some are okay with it, others not?
And perhaps the thorniest question of them all: If you don’t want to be hugged, how do you ward off that fast-charging hugger headed your way, arms stretched outward, lips puckered, without hurting his/her feelings?
Before COVID-19, the workplace, parties, religious institutions, large family gatherings, etc., have long been sources for friendly interactions. But how do you balance the needs of perpetual huggers versus the “hug-me-nots?”
But first this.
According to the dictionary, a hug is, “to clasp or hold closely.” We bond with a hug, find comfort with a hug, greet and separate from each other with a hug.
In many countries people hug publicly without causing offense, and it’s accepted across different religions and cultures, within families and also across age and gender lines.
In American culture, a quick hug is often a given. These hugs are usually reserved for close friends or longtime associates and can happen without permission or request.
Although it is not unusual to witness hugging among professional athletes, outside of sports the modern world is a complex place for some men. The messages they get are they are expected to be in touch with their feminine side, but never to the point that it compromises their masculinity.
Wow, some baffling stuff, huh?
Now the truth is, some folks just look tantalizingly “huggable.” There’s a kind of “teddy-bearishness” about them. On the other side, others convey “hey, hands off” with their body language.
Now to my huggers out there, be careful when sizing up potential “hug-me-not” candidates for your embrace. If you don’t know the person that well, even if they look huggable, or if you are otherwise in doubt, don’t hug them. It’s that simple. Otherwise, take their cues.
And above all, resist insisting on a hug. When you want one, but the other person extends a hand – or elbow – towards you, duh, hello, read their cues. Instead, accept the outstretched hand…. or elbow!
Okay say that an unwelcome hug is heading your way. The cues are there: the steps forward, the arms open, the grin. Time is short. What can you do short of running in the opposite direction?
The advice from this ex-hugger is to put your hand or elbow (your, “hug me not” sign) out early while taking a step back. If you extend your hand or elbow for a handshake (or “elbow-shake”), you avoid the rejection.
Okay, let’s keep it real. If you reside on planet Earth, it’s probable that someone will catch you completely off guard and stun you with an unexpected hug at some point. But before you make an uncomfortable situation worse, ask yourself if you can live with an isolated bout of discomfort.
And keep in mind that knowing people want to hug you says more about you than it does about them. So suspend your discomfort. If someone offers you their elbow, the message is that they care about their health and yours.
In the end, we can reduce the possibility of awkwardness if we stay tuned into and respect each other’s personal boundaries. One way to do that is to share this piece with those you know. That way we raise awareness among our well-meaning huggers and “hug-me-nots,” the latter of whom will feel less pressure to have to convey an uncomfortable message or, short of that, to duck and run!
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, TheBlackMarket.com, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award.