Intersections – No hugging allowed
By Nicki Salcedo
There are reasons I don’t hug. I’m a cyborg. I like personal space. I wasn’t raised with public displays of affection. There were other forms of affection in my family.
Happiness was laughter and stories at dinnertime.
Protection was in the boundaries my parents set. I could play in my neighbor’s yard, but no further.
Trust was in the freedom my parents gave me. I could stay out until dark; sometimes I’d only be as far away as the deck. Near or far, I could feel the love coming from my house. But we weren’t a family of huggers.
With age, I’ve come to accept hugs and initiate hugs. I used to think it was a Southern thing, but when I got to California I met a lot of huggers out there too. One of my college roommates is from Stockton, California. She’s an Olympic hugger. I can remember the first time she hugged me. It was a big embrace. Body heat and strong arms. Then right at the end, when you think the hug is done, she adds an extra squeeze that’s a bit like liftoff.
It’s in her blood. Her entire family gives good hugs. I know because I have hugged all of her relatives. I’m sure they wondered about my limp-fish hugs.
My friends know I’m not a hugger. I won’t reject a hug, but I usually don’t make the first move. There are certain times of the year where I let the hugs flow freely, but even then, the ritual of hugging is strange to me.
The deeper reason that I don’t like hugging is that I’m an empath. This means I’m sensitive to other people’s emotions. There was an episode of Star Trek (The Original Series) called “The Empath” with a lady who could take away your pain. This is great if you have a little cut on your head. But then Dr. McCoy is almost tortured to death, and the empath’s healing powers save him and almost kill her.
This is sort of what I feel like when I hug people.
In addition, I have Vulcan tendencies. The mind meld is a powerful thing. Just imagine if mid hug, I reached up and put five of my fingers on your face. This would seem strange to you, but to me it’s no weirder than the full body contact hug. While we are invading each other’s personal space, I should at least be allowed to read your mind.
Instead of doing the limp-fish hug or the awkwardly run and hide away, I now announce with an extended hand that I’m an empath with a hint of Vulcan. People gladly shake my hand.
I give a great handshake. I have freakishly big hands. They are never sweaty or warm. They are strong hands that are cold, like a cadaver. It’s like I’ve reached from the grave to say, “Hello. Nice to meet you.”
Who wouldn’t want to shake my hand?
My curse is in my children. They love to hug. All. The. Time. Extended awkward hugs. Sweaty, hot, sticky. Followed by kisses. My indifference is like a gravitational pull. Huggers sense me from a distance. They seek me out to try to ensnare me in their embrace.
To complicate matters, I love a European hug that comes with a kiss (or two or three) on the cheek. I love the hug with the kiss.
My neighbor approaches and gives me a hug, but then surprise, I get a kiss. I love this! Ooh la la.
When I was pregnant, every woman warned me about the belly touchers. I don’t like hugs, why would I want people touching my basketball belly? But I loved that. If someone looked longingly at me when I was pregnant, I’d grab her hand and put in on my baby bump. It uniformly shocked everyone because of my non-hugging status, but I loved the look on someone’s face when they touched my pregnant belly. They became the empaths. They took away my pain. They could feel what I feel.
A writer friend of mine died unexpectedly this week. She always hugged me. She didn’t care if I wanted a hug or not. She gave them to me. She always had a hint of mischief in her eyes. Even though she was the same age my mom, I always thought that we were contemporaries. Probably all the hugs.
I have lots of friends who hug me despite my hesitation. There is Pam with her red convertible. There is Tom who I see in the church parking lot. There are my little monsters.
I have lots of friends who are fine skipping the hug. There is Mamie. There is Maggie. They don’t need physical proof to know that we are friends.
I needed a hug last week when my friend died. I thought that I could become a hugger, but I can’t. But I’ll give my hesitant hugs. I like awkward hugs. Hugs that surprise me. Kisses on the cheek. I like initiating hugs some days. I like extending a hand on other days. There are a lot of emotions radiating before and after a hug.
All of the non-huggers in the world are here to heal you. That’s why you seek us out. That’s why we grudgingly give you an embrace and a half-smile. We are the empaths. We are reluctant and yet grateful for your embrace.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.