No, Actually, I Am Not Okay

*If you came for Tarts of Destiny, it will start Monday, the 10th. 

I am not a physically demonstrable person. For the most part, if I didn’t give birth to you, or you didn’t give birth to me, or we are not engaged in the sort of activities that would eventually lead to childbirth, please don’t touch me.

I am open to making exceptions. If you pulled me out of the smoldering wreckage of a crashed airplane for example, I would probably embrace you. And I must stress, this is not personal. It’s not you, it’s me, and my colorful potpourri of neuroses.

For many years, I have lived in the South, which is not the ideal location for a Non Hugger. Out here, hugs are exchanged as both greeting and farewell, even if you just saw the person a few days ago, even if the person did not recently survive a near-fatal experience, even if the person is a complete stranger and sending you intense “oh my god please don’t hug me” vibes.

Tip: If the person you are hugging did not open their arms as you approached, and went completely stiff, then finally patted your pack awkwardly with one hand, they  did not want to be hugged.

These past couple of days however, I have accept hugs gratefully.  When I turned up at work puffy-faced and red-eyed, and colleagues asked “Are you okay? Do you need a hug?” I replied – to my own surprise – “No, actually, I am not okay. My cat just died, and my children have been off visiting family for weeks and I miss them, and I’m getting divorced and my parents are aging and ill and I worry all the time about money and my god yes I would totally like a hug right now.”

Turns out admitting that you feel horrible and accepting comfort from others is not such a bad thing. If you google, you’ll find a bunch of articles telling you that humans have an ingrained need for physical contact and that the lack of it makes you cranky, depressed and will probably eventually kill you so this is not just anecdotal, it’s science.

The internet – despite its ability to connect us with anyone in the world at any time and in any state of undress – is not a substitute for human contact. I received many kind messages on Monday – and I appreciate them very much – but immediate relief  I felt when a bank teller squeezed my hand and said “oh you poor thing” was immensely powerful.

It takes a lot to change your basic personality. “Patience, fear and despair” are the primary motivators (h/t Stephen Sondheim) and I have never been patient.  I don’t think I will ever be the sort of person who voluntarily hugs (unless perhaps I write a reminder on my hand or enter every room mentally chanting “hug, hug, hug”) but I hope I can become the sort of person who graciously accepts and appreciates physical contact from my fellow human beings. And not just when my cat dies.


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