I have never been a big fan of physical contact with people outside my immediate family. If you come in for a handshake, I’ll probably give you a high 5 or preferably a knuckle pound. I am not a germophobe, I’m just not really into it. Growing up in a lower middle-class mill town, surrounded by various machismo immigrant populations (my family included) showing emotions as a man wasn’t a thing. Not that it was directly discouraged, it just didn’t exist. As I grew older I started to notice the institutionalized homophobia around me. Men shouldn’t express emotions to each other for fear of ridicule or being somehow less of a man. That never really jived with me but I played along.
As I became more interested in alternative forms of sport, I evolved away from homogeneous playing fields of traditional stick and ball sports. Instead choosing to dive head first into skateboarding, mountain biking and climbing. This opened up a whole new world of friends and experiences. Like tends to find like and I soon met people from all walks of life, race and religion that shared my obsessions. I started to develop amazing bonds with an extremely diverse group of people. International travel, trips to the hospital, run-ins with the cops, hard fought summits, and multi-day bike rides tend to bond friends a little more than your traditional ball fields and locker room banter.
Over the years some of these relationships have become so close that the only thing keeping us from being brothers and sisters is the lack of shared parents. One lasting brotherhood is my buddy Joey. A mountain of a man, built more like a bouncer with an outward appearance of a motorcycle gang affiliation, he has become one of my better friends in this world. Since the first day we met, he has greeted me with a hug. I expressed my discomfort in the situation and he was not hearing any of it.
“I’m from the desert and we do things differently here. You are going to have to get over it, man.”
At first glance, he isn’t the kind of person you disagree with, so I kept my mouth shut. But there was no hiding the apprehension on my face.
“Plus, when you walk around all day looking like me, it’s pretty fun to give out random hugs.”
We had a good laugh and have been friends ever since. I reflect on that moment a lot when I have rough interactions with people. I wish I could be more like Joey. I want to squash my inner critic and my conditioned response to shy away from human contact. This year I decided to force a change. If the bad habits were formed out of repetition so can new habits be formed. I made a New Years resolution to simply hug more people. I will throw caution to the wind and deal with all the awkward moments. I’m pleased to say that, now deep into the second half of the year, it has been a success.
Saying hello and goodbye gets a hug. Sweaty, muddy or chalk covered hands? It doesn’t matter, you get a hug too. I’ll grab you and say it’s good to see you. Because it is. Or I’ll tell you that I missed you, because I did. I’ll grab a little longer and tell you to have a great trip and be safe, because that is what I truly wish for you. This new habit has dramatically changed the way I approach my day. It has maybe even made me a little bit better person. The world seems like a fucked up place right now and handshakes aren’t going to save us any time soon. But maybe, just maybe, grabbing a fellow human and smashing hearts together will make a difference.