IT WAS said with a hint of desperation, a pinch of frustration and more than a dollop of nostalgia. At the weekend, my 85-year-old dad threw his walking stick to one side and held out his arms to me. “For God’s sake, give us a hug.”

After a long year of no hugging because he had had a cancer operation at the start of the first lockdown, my mind made rapid calculations: He’s had 2 jags; I’ve had one; I’ve just had a negative lateral flow test for work; in mid-March Nicola Sturgeon said hugging might be allowed in tier 2; and Boris Johnson has been promising hugs from next Monday.

Maybe just a wee sneaky one. Maybe if I just hold my breath and look to the side. So I did. I hugged him and it was the most precious, liberating thing. In the next few weeks, all going well, lots of us will be hugging again, remaking those glorious physical connections with family and friends and catching up on those hug IOUs.

But what about all the other hugs? The workplace hugs, the first-time-you’re-meeting someone hugs, the awkward is-this-a-hug-or-an-air-kiss hug, the unwanted hug, the overly-long hug, the badly-timed hug.

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I think the time has come to review the strategy on them, because I’ve come to realise I’m not a naturally huggy person, especially outside of my family, but ‘fitting in’ has somehow forced me to become more tactile and less assertive about what I actually want. Now the pandemic has shone a light on this aspect of human interaction, and I’m thinking perhaps we are all due a hug correction or at least a reassessment of who we are hugging and why.

Since I started working over 30 years ago, things have become a lot huggier. In those days there were handshakes, smiles and occasional cheek-pressing which I must confess to never being comfortable with either.

Meeting new colleagues in pre-covid times inexplicably brought hugs, despite the fact I would often fire out a hand as a pre-emptive strike, only for it to be metaphorically brushed away before the ritualistic meaty slapping together of two torsos. I mean, it would take a strong person to say ‘sorry, I’m not really a huggy person’ to the boss, so, in I would go for that awkward work hug followed by a flurry of back-patting.

In fact, just last week I met my new boss for the first time in a Glasgow hotel. Although we had had quite a few Zoom meetings, I was surprised to see she was very tall, so did a silent ‘hallelujah’ that we couldn’t hug, because my head would have been at her chest level, which might have been weird.

I then proceeded to nearly poke her in the midriff with a badly targeted elbow bump. Bring back the taciturn nodding of the old days, please, and release me from my confused social cues hell.

This has more than a little to do with being brought up with different cultural values. My mum, who grew up in a small town in Pakistan, could never get her head round the Hogmanay hugging and kissing from slightly merry complete strangers. Every New Year party we went to, we would search for her only to find that she had locked herself in the loo for about 15 minutes after the Bells to avoid said hugs.

I do wonder after years of hugging being de rigeur, what effect, if any, Covid awareness will have on those previously encouraged to hug. Like men, for example.

They have become much more huggy than I ever remember. Sportsmen, politicians, technicians at NASA after a successful space mission, faith leaders, movie stars, health workers – have all been relishing good, ostentatious, 21st century hugs with one another.

They’ve been told hugging helps to reduce stress, could protect them from illnesses, can alleviate loneliness and can make them happier by causing the release of oxytocin – a hormone that induces relaxation and lowers anxiety. Women, apparently, have been benefitting from hugs, and men should be getting in on the act.

There’s been a veritable small industry set up around hugs from Tokyo’s soineyas – cuddle cafes – to the people on street corners with the ‘hugs available here’ signs. Sadly, these folk will need to retrain, as careers prospects may be limited in the short to medium term.

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The American National Hugging Day was cancelled in January this year too, so hugs are going to have to be reconceived and rebranded to get out of the pandemic downturn. On a serious note, most of those who’ve gone through lockdowns alone will be in desperate need of human connection, so the rest of us should be there for them.

For me, I think I’m going to be braver about telling people I don’t know or who I don’t want to hug, that I’m not a huggy person. I can’t imagine my oxytocin levels will be impacted too much by not hugging a colleague I’ve worked with for a couple of weeks as much as I admire and like them.

I will do a quick cost/benefit analysis in my head of how much I need a squeeze from my mum as opposed to how much I need one from a friend of a friend, or how much someone living alone might need a hug compared to those living with others.

And I think, in a post Covid world – whenever that is – that will be okay.

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