When Chandler and I visited Anne Marie Ritchie last summer in Idaho, we held our arms open to each other six feet apart and said, “Hug, hug.” It was terrible. With Anne Marie’s French heritage, there should have been not only hugs, but kisses to each cheek. You know how that goes. By the time our two-hour visit was over, however, caution was thrown to the wind and we all hugged. Couldn’t help it.
Touching elbows … slamming fists … surely we were made for more than this.
As more people are getting vaccinated, hugs are slowly coming back, and we need them. We’ve been so isolated. Some people are natural huggers. They’ll hug total strangers. They’ll hug trees. It’s been especially tough on them. Some people can’t really communicate without hugging.
I read up a little bit on hugging. Apparently if you hug long enough (15 – 20 seconds) and squeeze hard enough (but not too hard — just a medium squeeze) you release a hormone called oxytocin. Often referred to as the bonding hormone, it makes us feel wonderful. When oxytocin is released, it stimulates the exact opposite of stress, calming us down and turning up our social processes. I don’t know — I’m a little suspicious of anything with “oxy” in it; sounds like laundry detergent or an addictive drug. But then again, would addictive hugging be so bad?
If anything this year should have taught us, it would be the importance of relationships. “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” sang Joni Mitchell, and that applies to a lot that we’ve lost in this pandemic. But then we’ve gained some things, too. I’m averaging about one to two zoom meetings a day now. Just hearing someone’s disembodied voice over the phone is so limited. No facial expression; no body English. Not much better than an email. I bet zoom meetings will continue long after everything has opened back up. You don’t even have to get your car out of the garage.
Our friend Marie can’t use her Angels season tickets tonight so Chandler and I are going to the Angels game. We’ll sit ten feet away from anybody. No high-fiving strangers on home runs; no hugging. But we’ll see how much noise 11,000 people can make.
Meanwhile, my oxytocin levels are very low. Let’s get to hugging anyone we can. With all the stress we’re under, we could all use a good squeeze of oxytocin. So science calls it oxytocin? I would call it love.