I am aware of the split between huggers and non-huggers; a self-identifier almost as stentorian as Remain or Leave, Manchester United or Liverpool, Blur or Oasis. I am a hugger. I have always been and, barring some traumatising hugging-related incident, always will be.
I am tactile in other ways, too. I don’t think anything of putting a light hand on people’s upper arms, or knees, or offering a high-five. This sort of thing in certain scenarios with certain people can be problematic (all powerful men, I am very much looking at you), and some people have such a strong aversion to casual touching that it is best to gauge this before slapping them heartily on the back. But hugging, for me, is one of life’s true pleasures.
A hug is sort of a human contact master key: it works with all the emotions. There’s the celebratory hug; the reunion hug; the comforting hug; the drunken hug; the appreciative hug; the leading-to-something-more hug; the you’ll-never-know-what-you-mean-to-me hug; the familial hug; the goodbye hug; the make-up hug; the get-well-soon hug; the group hug; the encouraging hug. I could go on, if the word “hug” wasn’t about to become mere mush in the mind.
I rarely go a day without one. I can resist… I have one friend who is categorically not a hugger, and so I never hug her. Around her, I am a dog who has been trained to sit. But I know I am a good hugger, because I am told this a lot. I am a black-belt in hugging. I think my aptitude comes from the fact that I always mean it.
The proof of the true power of the hug is how, when you’re upset, it can exacerbate or induce tears. And it can hurdle barriers. There is a woman who works in a local cafe I go to, who I have seen every week for about two years. She doesn’t speak English. But after such a long time of smiling and nodding, when she came back from a two-month summer break, we had a big cuddle. That was a very different hug from the ones I share all the time with my best friends and colleagues, and those who sit in the middle of that Venn diagram, but in its way it was just as important.
The hugs with those “close to me” are the most special. There are many ways to tell somebody, without verbalising it, that they mean something to you – a Magnetic Fields song, flowers – but there’s nothing as clear, as undeniable, as an enveloping wraparound.