Boy, you thought hugs were awkward in 2019 – remember when all you had to worry about was the etiquette of it? Or that you might step on somebody’s foot? Not that you might, you know, *actually kill somebody?* Who knew we’d ever look back on our pre-Covid social anxiety with something approaching nostalgia? But here we are, and as we emerge, blinking like mole rats, into the sun of a (please, God) brand new day brought to you by Big Pharma, we have new hugs to consider. One might even call them variants! 

Six-Dimensional Rock-Paper-Scissors

This is the 2.0 version of the “are we hugging of shaking hands” wiggle dance. Once upon a time, we were only choosing between two outcomes – the hug or the handshake (three if you throw the fist-bump in there). Now, the possibilities are not only more fraught, but also more varied. Are we hugging? Air-hugging? Elbow-bumping? Fucking on the sidewalk because we forgot how to calibrate excitement and affection? You would think that having come of age in the ‘90s, I would be an expert at the “is this safe and do you want it” preliminary work before initiating or accepting intimate contact, but as anyone who knew me from 1995-2004 can attest, I am not. If you see me out there flapping like a plucked, female version of Big Bird, please know that it is because I’m trying to divert the enormous amount of love and joy I have in my heart into a socially acceptable channel.

The Busted Timer

Look, nobody remembers how long hugs are supposed to last. A second? Three seconds? Until you’d legally be considered common-law married? Do you sing the alphabet song twice or is that only for hand washing? Is it rude to release too early? Is it creepy to hang on too long? How long before they’re able to correctly gauge the exact amount of pandemic weight I put on? Wait, am I STILL in this hug? You get the idea. It’ll be awhile before everyone has this figured out. Just trust that your muscles remember how to do the squeeze-release hug-extraction, and trust that it’ll happen in its own time.

The Torpedo

This one’s a wild card and might only apply to me: recently I met a friend I had not seen in a long time, and my solution to cut though the awkwardness was to charge towards her silently with my arms straight ahead, scoop her into my arms, and pick her straight up in the air. This was a gamble, and definitely revealed how incomplete my socialization into the grown-up world has been, but I think I made it work. We’re still talking, at any rate.

The Problem of the Face

You will have a moment or two where you do not know quite where to put your face. The pandemic made faces into liabilities on so many levels, and to turn yours away feels only polite, given *waves hands* everything. And yet you are so very hungry for what you’ve lost that every cell in your body wants to bury your face in the neck of your friend and inhale their unique human smell. Just accept that you’re going to have this disconnect for awhile, and know that hugs will involve a lot of flipping your face back and forth like you’re trying to do a Janus impression.

The Hug That Dissolves Immediately into Sobs

Real talk: this has been about 90% of my post-vax hugs. Not only am I a hugger, I’m also a crier (I am physically demonstrative in ways that belie my New England upbringing). The unfathomably enormous shit-cloud of the past 18 months does hide a few tiny, precious silver linings, and one of them is this: That we all feel a tiny bit more forgiving of the inner weirdness that we strove so hard to hide in the Before Times, and grant ourselves just a tick more permission to do things like burst into big, wet laugh-tears because you just can’t believe how good it feels to hold another human being.  Just lean into it, and accept this grace period for however long it lasts (I predict until April, 2022).

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