Pre-pandemic, I didn’t really distinguish between a hug from a loved one and a bodily restraint. My reluctance to be embraced was well known to friends and family, and immediately obvious to anyone who tried.
“You stood as far away as a person can stand from another person, while in physical contact with them,” a boyfriend once said of our first date.
So I saw one upside to social distancing: no more enduring hugs from overbearing strangers. Post-pandemic, I thought, we would be more aware of people’s personal space. It felt like a step forward in the conversation about body autonomy sparked by #MeToo. Why should hug trump handshake like paper does rock? Why should I be obliged to embrace anyone with arms outstretched?
But over the course of a year, I started to crave connection, the sensation of being close to the people I loved. Then, in December, I returned home to New Zealand. Back in near-normality, with no social distancing rules, I fell upon life’s marrow like I was starving and it could be taken away at any moment. With friends, even acquaintances, I was like Oprah Winfrey gleefully bestowing gifts: you get a hug!
My old friends marvelled in the transformation, the most tactile among them seizing every opportunity to embrace. I felt my own sense of urgency, not knowing when we’d see each other next. I came to enjoy the smell of shampoo, the weight of arms around my neck, that sway side to side as if wringing out every last drop of time together.
I recently returned to London feeling determined to keep the people I care about close, even when we are apart, and to leave them in no doubt about my affection when we’re together. Or, at the very least – not to freeze on their approach.