I know what it’s like to go without hugs for months. Maybe you’re alone in lockdown and missing hugs, too. It made me feel awful. I was carrying a kind of stress inside that I didn’t understand, a profound craving for human contact. That persistent need was depressing me. Now I see how it could be a problem for all of us.
Pre-Covid lockdown, the last time I hugged my friends without a care was Friday, March 6th at a nightclub. We went to see a favorite band, ordered drinks at a bar in a crowded room, and stood face-to-face talking loudly over the din as the bartender scooped ice cubes with his bare hands into my glass, standing behind a wall of mouths shouting the names of bourbon and beer, exhaling moist clouds, all of us shoulder to shoulder, drinking out of glasses and bottles bearing the fingerprints of dishwashers, servers and friends, until the drummer sat behind his kit and tapped the snare, guitars hummed their start, singers took the microphone, and we relaxed into a shared vibe of good times. The end.
My next hug after March 6th was Saturday, June 27th, four months later, in the parking lot of a sporting goods warehouse with a guy I had just seen for the first time in 50 years. It was a brief spontaneous gesture of affection with heads turned appropriately to the side, but it was enough to flood my brain with fresh chemistry. I didn’t know how desperate I was until I sank into those arms, momentarily giving up my social distance for the most basic token of comfort and acceptance, a simple, natural embrace. In seconds that hug renewed me, changed my thoughts, raised my spirits, inspired me. Now he and I have been living together for two months, hugs are back in my life full time, and I feel a huge improvement in my state of mind.
I wish there was a way to spread the magic of hugs among us, because we all need a hug. The great irony of the pandemic is that the social isolation that protects us from infection also harms us by eliminating human contact. Hugs improve our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. They relax us, reduce stress, boost our immune system, improve our self-esteem, slow aging and diminish pain. I see all the angry people out there with pent-up tensions smoldering in taut muscles, brittle emotions, and feelings of estrangement, and I wonder how a hug could change their demeanor, lower their blood pressure and soothe their hostility.
If lockdown isolation is doing to your brain what it did to mine, I have empathy for you. You need a hug. The affection deficit is real. I discovered in my own life the need to find balance between two risks, exposure to infectious disease and deteriorating mental health. How are you handling it? Virtual hugs? Video hugs? Verbal hugs? The promise of hugs? If I could, I’d be hugging you right now. I hug you. You hug me. Empathy. The kind vibe. Feel it. Know it. Share it. Improvise.