Loving a Champion Hugger in an Air-Hug Season

Loving a Champion Hugger in an Air-Hug Season

Over the next few weeks I discovered that Seth lived alone with a cat and loved ecstatic dancing and skinny dipping in cold lakes in the sierras. But what set him apart from many men was his emotional availability. He wasn't afraid to let people get closer. In fact, he invited almost everyone. At a friend's party one evening after we had decided it was time to leave, I waved goodbye to everyone before I left. And then I waited. And waited. Finally, I went back up the steps and peeked in through the door frame. As it turns out, Seth's way of saying goodbye is hugging: no one is left untouched.

After a year we switched from Rom-Com to soap opera. My reluctance and privacy sparked Seth's impulse to connect. His need for closeness collided with my tendency to seek solitude when I was upset. Neither of us resigned. After an argument, when Seth initiated a makeup hug too soon, our bodies remained stiff and unforgiving. Hugging at these times held a void; it became a delusion.

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frequently asked Questions

Updated August 27, 2020

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What made this relationship different from the others I had was how we kept coming back to each other in the end: talking, listening, laughing. Seth learned to give me the time I needed before we talked, even if it seemed strange to him. Then he would say, "Come here. I need to go from ventral to ventral." The clenching of our hearts and abs was his quick return to the kind of love and intimacy he had grown up with: lifelong friendships, serious communication with good eye contact, Processing feelings over a cup of tea. Over the years, I gradually shared shady, cobweb-like parts of myself with him and became less anxious and more appreciative of his kind of intimacy. My hugging style evolved: I began to absorb more and shun less.

We quickly did everything couples were warned about – move in together, plan a wedding, buy a house, get pregnant – all in two years. After a sushi dinner with our parents to celebrate our pregnancy, my father got up not to toast us but to speed up the night. He said in his quick, sloppy way, “OK, OK, good night everyone. What good news, it's time to get home. "Then he dodged the door. The rest of us followed and watched as Seth's father chased mine half a block down the street.

"Wait, I have to hug you goodbye," he called and waved his finger good-naturedly.

"Oh come on!" My father protested. "We've already hugged once!"

"Well," said Seth's father with a smile, "let me give you another one."

Seth and I have been married for six years and now have two kids, ages 2 and 5. I've had time to hug the whole time and I've made real progress. But now, with the coronavirus pandemic, the world is taking a long hiatus from hugging. Instead of greeting people the usual way, I now raise my elbows from six feet away, hug the air, virtually hug them and even hug them with emoji. In this crisis my husband and my daughters are the only people I touch. When I break down, hug my husband at the end of a long day, or cuddle my daughters before bed, I know that hugging conveys compassion, connection, and love – an invitation to deepen a relationship.

When Covid-19 is behind us, I hope that outside of our families we will hug again. In the meantime, I'm grateful to be married to a champion hugger who has passed his skills on to our daughters. I've come a long way in the art of hugging and I still have a lot to learn.

And I ask myself: what does it mean to hug again on the other side?

Ariella Cook-Shonkoff is a licensed psychotherapist and art therapist based in Berkeley, California.


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