When I tell you that I went to a “hugging coach,” it’s important you know two things. First, it was by accident that I became a student of the hug. Second, it is the only subject I ever failed. For reasons I will not explain at this writing, I am a very socially awkward individual. In crowded settings I squawk like a chicken and screech like an eagle while people are, all around me, whispering. I’m speaking metaphorically here, of course. I don’t actually make those noises; I’m actually rather quiet. But that’s how it feels to be in social settings without a clear mission.
When I was younger, I was spared some terrible embarrassment when, seeing I was new and shy, an 11th grade English teacher pointed me toward the Drama Club. Learning how to come out of my shell and pretend I had other traits and skills was essential to my development into, and survival as, an adult. My favorite trait to imitate is confidence. An element I lack, that I try to overcompensate for when necessary, is affection of the sentimental type. I don’t mean I find it difficult to show or express love to someone I care deeply about. I don’t have much trouble giving hell to people I dislike. The complication exists when people that I’m not so adamant about attempt to express something, sort of, in the middle. I mean, well let me paint a picture.
Picture it – 1998. A swarm of teenagers in uniform transformed from stationary pillars of silence, in neat little ranks and files – to a raucous gaggle of excited children, racing for their parents’ arms. I had just dismissed the cadets from the final formation before liberty. My boss and mentor at the time smiled at each of the staff as he thanked them, and wished them a pleasant time off duty. With each hand shake, he pulled them in for a hug, and sent each one hot-stepping it home for some much needed “R & R.” I felt my face blanch and casually disappeared below decks to log off the computers and gather my things. He headed me off as I tried walking past him on the gangway.
“Good job Team Leader S,” he grinned and reached an arm out toward my shoulder. He was going for that hug. I grimaced and leaned in slightly. I felt the coach-like pat on my back as our shoulders bumped. I was thankful that I had thought to carry enough out so that both my hands were encumbered, leaving me no arm to return the “Go Team!” hug. “We’ll make a hugger out of you yet, Ms. S.” His laughter wasn’t mocking, or demeaning. He was a good mentor and I appreciated his outlook and experience. But he knew, along with everyone else on the team, that I was not that particular brand of person described as, “a hugger.”
This is one story, one of many that preceded and followed it, that outlines my social adversities as they pertain to hugging (among other situations). It wasn’t until, close to 8 years later, I started dissecting my mental insides and deduced – something was rotten in the state of me. That’s when I was referred to a hugging coach. That wasn’t what was on her business card, sure, but that’s the essence of what she was.
With her help, I delved into the family tree, sought roots for my various jungles, and found trails I could hike to escape, survive, or make peace with my fears run amok. I did some journaling, reconnected with my spiritual beliefs, and talked more to her than to any other person prior to that time. Life was okay, and then life was good. The most memorable aspect that still resounds in my head from those sessions is the “hug practice.”
I had explained that I was uncomfortable, for many reasons, with hugging everyday friends. Which angle do you use when going in for the hug? What do you do with your arms and hands? What about people who are different heights? What if you hug one person who is standing next to someone you don’t want to hug, and they indicate a hug is in order? It’s all so ridiculously horrid to have to decipher and process!
My hugging coach did her best. She provided simple logic to these and other questions. We practiced scenarios; she even taught me a particular hug that seemed to solve all my problems. The “Sideways Hug” allows you to keep the front of your body free from bodily contact, while still offering an arm to the person who feels they absolutely must be hugged by you. If done correctly (I should say, “skillfully”), the two of you will resemble a greeting card to onlookers. It will be as if you are posing for a picture. If don’t clumsily, the accosting hugger will try to fold that card, thereby negating your attempts at diplomacy, and throw their second arm around your neck. This not only defeats the purpose, but results in a situation exponentially more uncomfortable than if you had just stiffened and allowed the original hug attack to occur.
Kidding aside, I know that a person who feels the need to touch another person in public, to enter their personal space, does not always do so callously. For some, a hug is a great way to punctuate a final, parting sentence, and is no more an invasion than a “high five.” For others, perhaps they subconsciously sense a connection with you, and want to physically acknowledge it in a way that makes you aware of it too. So … just to clarify, hugs are not always attacks. Regardless of how thoughtless and assuming huggers may seem, I don’t take their advances to heart anymore.
That said, I never mastered the art of the hug. I was able to identify, to analyze, to compensate or overcome. I turned much of what I learned from my “hugging coach,” into ink or bytes. Scripture says blood is the life of the animal; I think ink is the life of the imagination. And while I may not be likely to welcome a hug physically, I am certainly interested in receiving “hugs” in the form of feedback in the comment section. Let’s hear it. How many artists out there identify with a distaste for crowds, an awkwardness in social settings, or are prone to verbal faux pas? Any other non-huggers out there?