It is rather ironic, thinking about it, but I first became familiar with the band Sick Puppies through the song that they lent to the Free Hugs campaign. While I could share some stories about the band and their music, I think I would like to save that for a future post, if the subject comes to mind again, lest it distract me from my present purpose. Given my love of hugs and the fact that for a variety of reasons I am not someone who either tends to be quick to hug others or is someone thought of as being a huggy sort of person, it is perhaps a bit surprising that I have never been a part of the Free Hugs campaign myself, though I must admit I am rather shy about such matters.
Not too long ago I was struck by the subject of hugs when I had a conversation with a friend of mine here in the Portland area, who was giving hugs to others and who had insisted on a hug from our pastor in lieu of a handshake for graduation. After he had initially thought that I wasn’t the sort of person who liked a hug, I mildly corrected him, and we had an amusing conversation about how I appeared like a stiff person rather than an affectionate one, something that is definitely true but not quite as simple as that. As is so often in the case, a great deal of my stiffness with regards to affection comes from my ambivalent feelings and concerns and anxieties rather than from any lack of interest, and that is a hard matter to explain to others, especially if they don’t know you very well (and often, even if they should know better).
It can be said of me that I love hugs too much, and the desire to avoid causing offense has often led me to avoid asking people for hugs, because I’m rather concerned that people would think evil thoughts about me if I asked them directly for a hug, imputing evil motives, and that would make me feel even more awkward and uncomfortable than I do already. I tend to be quick to recognize the level of affection that other people have with others, and to recognize that others are often less affectionate with me, both because they know me less and probably because of how I appear to them. It’s not the sort of subject one tends to have many conversations about, as most people seem to respond to what feels right rather than to examine or analyze those feelings to any great degree. (This is an aspect of life where analysis is probably not a good thing, as it tends to make us less comfortable and less natural than we would otherwise be.)
I remember noticing this particular problem at least as early as my teenage years. The English are famously thought of as being a cold people, but in my experience that has not been the case. I traveled to England for church summer camp when I had just turned 17, and the English and other European young adults were very affectionate with each other. Being a stranger, and not a particularly sympathetic or attractive one, they were not so affectionate with me. I had been told, oddly enough, that this would be the case, as it took them years of familiarity to consider someone close enough to hug, and clearly I did not have that kind of length of time to get to know them and for them to feel close enough to show some warmth and friendly affection.
Other parts of the world are more affectionate. In both good and bad ways, I have found my trips to Latin America (particularly South America) to have been full of warmth and affection. It is a good thing because like a desert starves for rain, I tend to starve for gentle affection, and soak it up and respond to it happily and eagerly. I suppose it would be a good thing if my life were filled more with gentle and kindly affection, but I have not lived the sort of life that has made affection or warmth an easy or straightforward matter, nor am I the sort of person who tends to find affection easily or often. It has always been this way, and I don’t know how to change it myself at this point. The problem becomes in reading what exactly is meant by the affection of some–I am certainly not the first or last person who has mistaken friendly affection for something more and found it presented problems and complications and difficulties.
I suppose, as in so many areas of life, the lack of practice as well as my own high levels of ambient anxiety and nervousness tend to make affection an awkward matter for me personally. I hope it will not always be the case, but it will require time and practice, and hopefully there are plenty of opportunities for both. In the meantime, I suppose it is something I will have to work through such awkwardness and stiffness as I have, in the hope that those who are kindhearted may recognize my shyness and anxiety as the natural results of the sort of life I have lived and my own concern and desire not to cause offense, rather than imputing dark and unfriendly motives to it. Truly most of us require some sort of charity in order to deal with, but I’d like to think that I’m worth it. Even if I do tend to keep a great deal of emotional distance at first, I warm up before too long if others are warm and loving towards me.