Saturday, August 26, 2017

On Hugs

I’m on record as saying that I don’t like hugs, but things are never so simple as that.   These things are confusing.  So confusing that two friends of mine once got into an argument over whether or not I liked to be hugged.  The argument was so bitter that they didn’t talk for weeks afterward.  (It’s just barely possible there were other, unspoken, reasons for the argument.)  

Of course it’s almost always misleading to say that one does or doesn’t like something simpliciter--at least I think so.  A friend once asked me what my favorite food was.  I couldn’t think of one, so she clarified that a favorite food was a food you could eat all the time and never get tired of it.  That seemed like too high a standard, there’s just nothing that I always want to eat (If I remember right, her favorite food was lasagna).  It’s the same with hugs.  Sometimes they’re good; sometimes they’re bad.  But usually they’re bad.  

The problem with hugs is this: too often they are forced.  More often than not, when I’m asked for a hug it’s not a request or a kind gesture--it’s a demand.  Love me now, it says.  It puts me on edge.  It makes me not want to comply.  Maybe I’m just not capable of love on demand.  Another friend used to occasionally surprise me with, “I need you to tell me something nice about me right now.”  I couldn’t.  It stripped me of agency and made me feel used.  

No one asks if I’d like to give them a hug.  Instead they put out their arms and demand it.  Like a zombie coming towards me, arms outstretched.  Or worse, your least favorite aunt with lips puckered for a kiss.  (Not that I have a least favorite aunt.  They’re all my favorite because each of them is better than all of the others.)  I could refuse, but then I’d be the jerk for not being loving.  Then again, if I don’t refuse I’m the jerk again for giving an insincere hug.  

But I do like hugs when they’re both wanted and freely given.  When they really are a sign of care and attention.  It’s just rare to find them.  

Some of the things I’ve been reading lately say that one has a right to be loved--even a right to demand love and attention from individual others.  But it’s hard for me to break out of a certain mindset.  In that mindset, while one might deserve something, even have a right to it, no one has an obligation to provide it.  The stock example is marriage: everyone has a right to marry, but no one has an obligation to marry some individual person (or any person).  Now, I’m no libertarian, so I don’t see that we have no (unearned) obligations toward other people, but the marriage example seems good.  We may have some obligations to provide for the poor, etc.  I may have some obligation to pay taxes.  But it’s not clear that the same can be said for something like a hug.  Labor, such as that which provides money, can be given (or taken) without destroying its value.  If one is forced to work, it doesn’t obviously destroy the work.  If one is forced to love though, forced to hug, it does seem to destroy the value.  

Perhaps I’m overthinking this.  I’ve been told that I’m very smart--very logical--but that I don’t understand people.  I’ve also been told that I’m deeply immature when it comes to interpersonal relations and it’s a miracle I manage to function in society.  

There is, as always, a simple solution that avoids the problem.  Just always want to be hugged.  Always accede happily to that demand.  That’s the simple solution, just like all my aunts being my favorite.