A conversation with a colleague a few weeks ago prompted me to add an item to my list of potential blog post topics. Clearly we didn’t have enough work on that day. We were discussing the closeness you feel when you hug a friend or family member who has known you a long time, a properly long time. Those people who have been through countless ups and downs with you. Grown up with, or watched you grow up. It’s a hard thing to describe, that hug, it’s a deeply personal thing.
I figured it would be a good topic to address in a few weeks, months even, but then I met someone, briefly, for the first time, and as we said goodbye, we hugged, and it was good, really good. We held it for longer than I expected, it was firm, but soft. Hugs like that don’t seem to come around so often. I’ve got several posts concurrently in draft mode at the moment, but that one hug triggered the urge in me to push this one to the front of the queue. Funny thing that, here’s a person I barely know, but following a brief physical connection, it triggered in me the desire to write about physical connection.
I remember the great hugs from the past few years. For instance: I remember the embrace with my Dad in September 2016, at Heathrow arriving home for the first time since moving to Australia. I’m not convinced my father and I had ever hugged like that before. I also remember the hug with my Mum when she came to visit me down under earlier this year, as I greeted her at Sydney airport’s Arrivals area. There were also hugs with two of my best mates, as I said goodbye to them on December 23rd last year, the day after a wedding, major hangover in play, and with no idea of when I’d see them next. I managed to keep the tears at bay, but it was a close call.
Living abroad, especially Australia when you’re British, it’s marvelous fun. A part of me likes the distance, I haven’t worked out why exactly – I think it’s something to do with the sense of adventure. However, it’s also terrible, it’s bloody far from my other life, the life I left on hold when I packed up and got on that plane almost three years ago. A handful of memorable hugs in that time is symptomatic of it. I don’t get enough of those interactions here. However, that got me to thinking: were there enough hugs when I lived in England, with my closest friends and family?
I’m not convinced there were.
Some of my guy mates back home are man-huggers. I appreciate a man hug, it’s strong, reassuring, friendly, cool. There are two variations of the man hug action – the two men face off and then either:
a) Shake hands with their right hands, then both use their right hand to pull the other party in towards them. In the case of an alpha and beta male, it’s probably the alpha pulling the beta in, whether he likes it or not. I tend to ask my hug-receiver to bring it in. I am English after all, impeccable manners if nothing else. The left arm wraps around the shoulder of the other, this is followed by a quick squeeze, then 2-3 pats on the back in between the shoulder blades. Then release.
b) Left arm goes down, right arm goes up (or vice versa). Wrap arms around each other, one below the arm pit, one above, this is then followed by a quick squeeze, then 2-3 pats on the back in between the shoulder blades. Then release.
I’m not a gangster, so option ‘b’ tends to be the go to. The man hug is functional, it displays a quasi-cool intimacy that men rarely display for each other. If you’re craving human connection, the man-hug is infinitely better than a hand shake, or a hi-five. But here’s the thing, it’s still a bit crap.
“Woah, woah, woah! What’s wrong with a man-hug, Chris?” Fair point, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s a bit, well, half-hearted. Don’t lynch me just yet…
In the first instalment of my first Chocolate Covered Rave post I described my discomfort at holding eye contact with my friend. Later in that evening, once the physical and mental barriers had been broken down by that dancing mayhem, I had no such problem with prolonged eye contact. In my opinion, the ‘man hug’ is the 7 seconds of socially-acceptable eye contact. It’s generally too short, and too machismo to allow the shared bond of energy to pass between between the two participants. It says hello, it conveys safety, familiarity, friendship, confidence even. Hold that hug for a mere 5 seconds longer and you’ll feel it. Feel what? Care, compassion, trust, friendship, love.
I definitely have space for more care, compassion, friendship and love in my life, but I’m not lonely.
Calls bullshit on himself.
No, seriously, I’ve got some good friends here, and feel pretty content about life. One of my sisters, to whom I’m both very close, lives in Australia at the moment, and having family around is awesome. I’m just fine.
Calls bullshit on himself, again.
Okay, okay, I’m slightly lonely, I’ll admit it. I like my life, I like where I think it’s going. Sure, it could be better; I know I have things to work on, but I’ve read enough about troubled places and periods of time to realise that I’ve got it pretty damn good. I live a 5 minute walk from the golden Bondi sand, have plenty of friends, plenty of money, plenty of ‘stuff’. But I am a tad lonely.
The question I have is this: Are we all a tad lonely? I have a strong urge to write about ‘ancestral’ ways of living, which I’ll get to at some point. I just can’t shake the sense that the way we live nowadays is so far removed from what was intended for us, that we can’t possibly be truly satisfied in this space. I’m obviously not the first person to comment on this; the rich, successful and incredibly unhappy people are well documented. Our society has so many of us striving for material wealth, that we’re either unhappy because we haven’t achieved it, or we’re unhappy because we have achieved it, and realise upon making it, that it wasn’t the answer to the right question.
You know what the answer is folks, deep down, we all do. It’s us. It’s the Earth. It’s everything and one, a giant interconnected web of energy, which we’ve sadly, and effectively, disconnected from.
We live in these little concrete blocks that shut us off from each other and the outside natural world. We go to work in metal carriages and look at our phone screens, we get to work and look at our PC screen (and our phone screens some more). We come home and watch a television screen, and look at our phones even more. We go to a gig and half the audience is too busy filming it to enjoy it. I’m so glad I went to Ibiza in 2008 before camera phones ruled the world.
Do I feel loneliness more than others? Am I just being a “big girl’s blouse”, as my Dad would say. Possibly both. Or do we just not like to talk about it, because none of us want to appear vulnerable and weak?
I wrote previously about the chocolate-fuelled dance party I attended a while back. Well, I went to my second sober rave on Saturday night. Potent drinking chocolate was on offer once again, I stuck with water. At one point the dance floor opened up into a circle and the members of the diverse crowd took it in turns to showcase their ‘moves’.
When I say ‘moves’, I’m selling them short. This was an ecstatic dance party, it’s less ‘moves’, more ‘wild limb flinging madness’. One individual on that dancefloor was flinging herself around more than others, with wild reckless abandon one might even say. She was petite, brunette, probably 22 or 23 years or age. Most importantly – she was a free spirit. Completely uninhibited. As the dancing mayhem inevitably slowed (chocolate can only do so much), this young woman approached, looked me square in the eyes, saying not a single word, put her hands on the spaces between my neck and shoulders and proceeded to massage my trapezius muscles. I hadn’t realised those muscles were tight until that moment. She had. Then we danced together. Not in the typical sense. We moved with feeling, not thinking, some part of us always touching. Then we had a conversation. Then we hugged.
During that conversation I learned that she was studying tantra, and working as a cuddle therapist. I shit you not, apparently there are people willing to pay good money for a cuddle these days. I think I may have found my calling. Seriously though, what does this say about society. It’s sad AF.
As humans, we have two main tools at our disposal to create bonds: with our minds via conversation, and with our bodies, via our touch. Most of us don’t get taught any of this, we just kind of make it up as we go. In some cultures, (i.e. Latin) they’re so tactile, that children are exposed to it from an early age and it becomes the norm. In others (i.e. Northern European), we’re more reserved and many kids will grow up without that education. Obviously that’s a stereotype, everyone is different, not everyone wants to be ‘touchy feely’. What I am coming to realise is that conversation can be overrated. I mentioned yin and yang in my last post. We NEED both. Physical connection is just as important as a good chat.
I think I’ll wrap this up here, my last post drew complaints regarding it’s length (and no man wants to hear complaints about length). I’ll finish by noting down my intention to hug more.
Join me: I challenge you, dear reader, to hug three people today, and hold those hugs for as long as you can, without it getting weird. Or let it get weird, what’s the worst that can happen.