As restrictions lift on Monday…Are you happy hugs are back?

As restrictions lift on Monday, a social minefield awaits, so…Are you happy hugs are back?

  • Restrictions in the UK that prevented hugging are set to be eased from Monday
  • Esther Walker says hugs are intrusive, awkward and physically unpleasant 
  • Libby Purves argues air kisses are oddly creepy and alienating

Esther Walker (pictured) says hugs are intrusive, awkward and physically unpleasant


By Esher Walker 

Personally, I hate hugs. Can’t stand them. Even the thought of one makes me physically recoil and twist in my seat.

I find them intrusive, weird, awkward and physically unpleasant. I dislike the feel of someone else’s unfamiliar body contours, the strange washing powder scent, the softness of the flesh and the suggestion of hair.

It’s not a question of someone being attractive or not, it’s just the fact of their body being crushed up against mine. It could be Brad Pitt or Brad Pitt’s extremely ugly cousin. No thanks, to either.

Of course, I hug my children (I’m not totally strange), but never my sisters. I think my poor husband suspects I insisted on getting two cats so he can get some of the many cuddles he requires hourly from them and not me.

I didn’t get the appeal when I was younger — I never hugged my friends in that squealy way teen girls often do — and I still don’t get it now.

I watched the adaptation of The Pursuit Of Love, starring Lily James and Emily Beecham, and grimaced at how much their characters Linda and Fanny drape themselves over each other. Why can’t they keep their hands to themselves? Barf. Here are my strategies for avoiding embraces: 1) Shout ‘Hello!’ across the room, wave with both hands and hope the potential hugger gets the message; 2) Very suddenly need to attend to a child or a drink or anything else when a hug might be looming; 3) In an emergency, I will shriek ‘I don’t do hugs!’

I am not exaggerating, I dislike them that much. All of my friends know this and don’t come near me, for which I’m so grateful.

The chink of light coming through the heavy, grey, cloudy sky of the past year has been the no-hugs diktat. I bumped elbows joyfully! I waved with unbridled enthusiasm!

I was delighted to have this social nicety (read: nuisance), which I must constantly negotiate, removed from my life. Because not being a hugger is really awkward.

People either take offence and think it’s something to do with them (It’s not — it’s me!) or think you are completely weird. Most usually, both. The last year has meant I have neither given offence nor been thought of as a cold-hearted freak.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I see Britain going back to the hug danger zone, where every partygoer is either a threat I need to neutralise or submit to with good grace, standing there, rigid as a hatstand, waiting for it to be over.

As it happens, cinemas open up on the same day as hugs are allowed. Coincidence? I think not.

You’ll find me and all the other hug refuseniks hiding there — not hugging, but waving.


Libby Purves (pictured) argues the empty social cheek bump or air kisses are oddly creepy and alienating

By Libby Purves 

Now, I’m not saying I’ll hug everyone in this liberation week. Every friendship and family habit is individual, and some relationships have grown up physically restrained.

But when it comes to those who, pre-pandemic, were the regular huggables in my life — old mates everywhere, from Brighton to Lincolnshire — they had better be braced for the embrace: here I come!

Apart from anything else, I claim an extra five months of being ‘immunocompromised’ by chemo before lockdowns even started, so I’ve had 18 months of treating everyone but my husband as a potential plague rat.

As it happens, I hate the empty social cheek bump or air kiss, finding it oddly creepy and alienating.

Anyone approaching me in this mimsy fashion meets either a swerve or, if I like them a lot, a pair of outstretched arms and a warm chest. Because a hug — now, that’s special. That’s honest. That says: ‘I accept all of you, body and mind. We are kin.’

Frankly, those miserable wincing spirits who reject anything beyond an elbow bump are missing out. Though a lot of them, I suspect, either live smugly in a cosy relationship, or have far too many one-night stands, or else fling themselves lovingly on any cat, dog or pet rabbit who will put up with it. For we are animals ourselves, inhabitants of warm mammalian bodies which are drawn to the primitive huddle with other bodies.

A human is not a cold brain on a stick. When we move close to another person, without the remotest sexual intention, our breathing eases. Our hearts want to beat in time with theirs. The body knows best.

So follow the science. ‘Touch starvation’ is real and accepted by psychiatrists. If infants don’t get hugged and carried they do not thrive physically or emotionally — research during the 1990s Romanian orphanage scandal reinforced that woeful fact.

But adults don’t outgrow the need entirely, any more than we outgrow hunger, or the reassurance of a smiling face and a warm drink.

A good hug is proven (in weird laboratory conditions, but never mind that) to reduce blood pressure. It promotes the benevolent hormone oxytocin.

It even bolsters the immune system, so the bitter irony of the past year has been that, in order to control a nasty disease, contact was confined to households and those living alone were starved of it. At least until mid-June, when mercifully the support-bubble rule was invented. It may have saved lives.

So hug on. Maybe this is even the time to change a non-embracing habit and tell a good friend or relative you’ve missed them so much that the only answer is: ‘Come here, you!’

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