A friend asked me recently if I’m a hugger. We met post-pandemic, are new friends and are still in that stage where these little revelations are significant.
“Yes!” I enthused. Followed by a pause. “Well, I think I am.” More pausing. “I suppose I’m a hugger more in theory than in practice now.”
The pandemic took so much from all of us. Apparently even the ability to know whether or not, given the freedom to choose, we’d like to hug people.
I used to be exuberantly affectionate. Over 20 years ago, when I lived in Tallahassee among the lesbians (who some referred to as the Tally-Hoes–keeping it classy, per usual), we hugged every time we saw each other. It was a warm camaraderie. It made me feel appreciated, wanted as part of the group, even when I acted to the contrary. Outward displays of affection reminded me that I wasn’t entirely alone, even when my (janky) brain kept telling me otherwise.
Then I moved to Tampa.
The group of lesbians that I fell in with (one of whom I’d marry later) were funny and completely enmeshed in each others’ lives as lesbians can be. But they were not huggers. And they did not say “I love you”–a stark contrast to the Tallahassee folks who were nothing if not forthcoming about their (usually platonic until it wasn’t) love for the women in their circle.
By the time I’d moved to Tampa, I’d learned (again) to read social cues, aided by the fact that I no longer got blackout drunk every night. Based on this new social order I’d entered, I tempered my hugging. And my effusive professions of love for my friends.
Unless I was drunk. And then it was a love fest every time.
One of my friends was heart-broken when I got sober, because she knew she wouldn’t hear any more of my waxing on (and on) about how much I loved her, how wonderful she was, how I was the luckiest just to be her friend.
She was right. I’m not sure she ever heard it again.
I regret that.
Learning how to be vulnerable, how to be open and loving and sober, took time. I was always capable of saying “I love you.” But the gushy moments where I really tell people how amazing they are? That took years to work up to.
People need to know that they are loved. And why. So that they can believe it. And hold it close when shit goes wrong, as it’s so prone to do in life.
If I love you, you’re going to hear about it. So buckle up, cowboy.
Are you watching Tiny Beautiful Things? (Hold onto your hat through these abrupt shifts; I’m headed somewhere. Promise.)
If you aren’t watching Tiny Beautiful Things, I think you should. But also. It’s not an endeavor to be taken lightly. It will make you feel things. Hard things. Beautiful things. And you’ll (likely) struggle with the fact that the protagonist isn’t always likable (god, who among us is?).
This is a show that I 100% would have bolted from a few years ago. Because I wasn’t ready. So much about drinking alcoholically is escaping your feelings. It’s about numbing. And, when that option is a non-starter because you’re trying not to blow up the rest of your life by being a sloppy drunk, then sometimes avoiding emotional intensity is the default.
But oh my God, when Sugar writes about choosing to see God in the people that offer up prayers for you, who wrap you in their love, who show up when it counts the most–instead of fighting with yourself about why God does or does not allow certain things to happen–when she presents the option to soften, to open, to let people’s faith, hope, vulnerability, and love in… I felt like someone had cracked open my chest and let the light in. All the (internal) posturing I do, the resisting, the avoiding–gone. I (usually) get really cranky when people talk about God. But this felt like a revelation, one worth every tear I’d just shed watching this scene unfold on my television screen.
Maybe you’re asking so what? (I used to ask my students this when they’d take too long to get to the point in their essay. Sometimes a well-placed so what? is very helpful.)
We’ve all emerged from the pandemic with different bruises and battle scars. Maybe you don’t even know what yours are yet. That’s okay.
Give yourself time and grace to figure it out. To figure yourself out. Give the people around you the same.
Be open and vulnerable, even when it’s scary as shit. It’s so worth it, in the end.
And if you’re having trouble finding your feelings, an episode of Tiny Beautiful Things might be just what you need.