Boundaries and the Huggy Sunshine People
It is late in the year and blog activity has dropped. It’s a good time to get out all my disgruntled posts, much to the detriment of accidental readers and disappointed subscribers. On the positive side, I get to start 2014 with new drafts, new ideas and hopefully, a fully vented spleen.
You grew up in an affectionate, loving household. People hugged, smooched, shared pajamas, whatever. You go out in the world and discover that despite scientific studies about hugging benefits, not everyone likes hugs. Someone cries foul and you call them a sad, cold fish. How sad, tsk, tsk, when all the world needs is a little more hugging.
I read a CNN story regarding the teen who was suspended for hugging his teacher. I don’t know all the facts, but I did that self-destructive habit of reading the comments following the article. Wow – it is beyond me how people cannot grasp the simple concept that humans are a widely varied and variegated species. If we do not agree, if we do not share the same preferences, if we do not have exactly the same background, this does not, by definition, make us wrong.
I’ve mentioned my aversion to hugging in this blog. It’s a boundary, cultural and sensory issue. I was raised by aloof Brits. Hugging was not a part of our family culture and when it was done, it was an awkward accident for which you apologized, as if you’d accidentally tongued someone when you meant to kiss them on the cheek.
As a boundary issue, it feels too intimate, too riddled with expectation and in some ways, patronizing. You look like you could use a hug. Really? Are you a mind reader or are you always this presumptuous? And the sensory experience of perfumes, colognes, heat, breath makes me feel like I’m suffocating. I walk around the rest of the day wondering if someone is following me, because I can still smell remnants of someone else on my person.
Now before all you hug-loving people tell me about how happy and gushy it makes you feel inside, please understand that my resentment stems from the hug-lovers who assume everyone gets the same feeling. I know you don’t like hugs, but I’m going to do it anyway. Um…okay. I know you don’t like being leg-swept and punched as you lie prostrate on the ground, but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s an insidious mode of operation. I know what is best for you. I don’t know you or your issues or your experiences, but I’ll take a shot in the dark that I know what you need.
The common complaint is how the world has gone all politically correct. We used to be able to hug without starting a lawsuit. That’s bullshit. Hugging is peculiar to the human race, but in societies where it is permitted, it is an indicator of an established, known relationship – some degree of intimacy. Dogs don’t like being hugged because limbs on top of them indicate a show of dominance. If you don’t think hugs are sometimes used like that in the human world, you’d be wrong.
Scientific studies show that hugs make the body release the “trust hormone”, oxytocin. So does child birth, anxiety and cocaine, so I find this a less than compelling argument. Regardless of the science and popular culture, making physical contact with someone requires judgment, respect and awareness. I am a direct person and it is clearly known by friends and family that I do not like being hugged. Some of them fail to respect my wishes. They’re still alive, but only because I avoid them as much as possible.
This being said, I love hugging my husband and daughter. We’re familiar. We have history. I adore them with a fierce loyalty that can only be ascribed to members of the same pack, who share a common scent. We are sanctuary to each other. Our hugs are not a quick attempt to gain trust, a false sense of intimacy or to impinge upon personal space. I can only explain the difference this way. I love them and feel strongly connected, so a hug doesn’t feel alien and invasive.
I had a friend say that maybe people needed to hug other people in order to express themselves. Perhaps this is true, but in a battle of needs, I think personal boundaries take precedence. What I hear when people hug me after I’ve clearly said I don’t like hugging, is this: What you feel or want or think is unimportant. I need to do this and that is all that matters. What is the opposite of the trust hormone? Whatever it is, my brain is now drowning in it and I’m going to shield my child, while checking to make sure you haven’t cleaned out my wallet.
It’s a season of extended family mobbing, drunken parties and shoulder-to-shoulder shopping. Unwanted hugging is going to happen. Cross step, placing your leg behind their opposite leg, twist their shoulders and shove them to the ground (a finishing punch is optional). And then say: You looked like you needed that.
PS – This is a tongue-in-cheek post and not advocacy for violence against your Aunt Ida. I’m currently in training for my taekwondo black belt, so many of my metaphors, analogies and similes are a little dramatic. Plus, I’m twisted that way.