I’ve always considered hugging to be an expression of affection between family and close friends. Growing up, my family members were not heavy huggers. We hugged at important times, but most often, we exchanged a sort of mental hug where we just knew everyone was on board with whatever was happening. This hasn’t changed over the past 50+ years and it works well for us. It’s a little different on the social side. Contrary to the wishes of the supreme judger-recorder-reporter, I am a die-hard introvert. I intentionally keep my social circle small and as I’ve grown older, even smaller. While I might physically hug fewer people, the hugs that I do exchange are true expressions of affection. But it seems the older I get, the more random huggers I encounter.
In one of my weaker moments, I agreed to play a few games of pickleball with my husband and a couple I had never met before. Pickleball is a game played with paddles and a whiffle-like ball on a smaller version of a tennis court. It’s the game of choice for many retirees and their spouses who always want to know what I did in my former life-the life I am still living. My husband and I only play doubles because neither of us can cover the full court. Many 80-year-olds still play the game so I figure I ought to be pretty good when it’s time for the senior Olympics in another 30 years. But this story is not about pickleball, it’s about hugging, so let’s move on.
We arrived at the pickleball court at the scheduled time, met up with the ‘other couple,’ and exchanged introductions. Following a cordial handshake and perfunctory nod, we took our places on the court and began to play. We played for about 2 hours, exchanged comments about big plays, declined their invitation to join them in the hot tub, and away we went. Hot tub? Who invites total strangers to their hot tub on the first date?
Two weeks later, it was time to play again. We met up with our new ‘couple-friends’ at the court, approached each other, and exchanged greetings. All seemed to be in order until I saw ‘he-friend’ step into the asphalt gap between us and morph into a random hugger. “Ah, excuse me, but what was that?” I thought. “When did we move from cordial handshaker-prefunctory nodders to huggers? We’ve only known each other for 2 hours, 2 weeks ago, and only to play pickleball. Remember, we didn’t join you in the hot tub?”
While I wanted to leave him hanging, I figured doing so would end pickleball Sunday for my husband so I used the ‘break it off’. There isn’t a small enough time measurement for the length of a ‘break it off’ hug. It’s like it didn’t even happen. You’re in, you’re out. Both hugger and huggee leave satisfied and when done correctly, it is not at all awkward. Feeling as though all was in order, I was ready to move on and forget that whole thing ever happened, but out of corner of my eye I noticed that ‘she-friend’ was moving in for the kill. “Oh no, she’s a random hugger too,” I thought. “They are a random hugging duo-that’s twice the number of hugs, and two more than I needed today from near strangers!” Since then, my pregame warm up includes not only stretching and a few swats at a whiffle-like ball, but a series of ‘break it offs’ to make sure I can deflect everything that comes my way later that day.