October 19, 2019


Our lawn guy — who always shows up at his convenience and conveniently ignores any extra requests (except to say he'll return later, with special equipment, but never does) — has just completed a simple mow job. Upon receiving his payment, he feels compelled to give me a hug.

Other than the fact that he is wet and dirt-sweaty from laboring in the Florida heat, rain and humidity (I don't think I'd even hug my husband under those conditions), he's someone I barely know. We only waved to each other twice, from afar, in the past. The only reason I now met him at the door, cash in hand, was because I'd overheard him chatting up my husband for extra yard work (read “charges”) we don't really need. And I know my husband to be a soft touch.

But not when it comes to unsolicited hugs. Here, we stand in perfect, disapproving, alignment. In fact, my hubby went on to gripe about why said yard-worker had felt obliged to continually shake his hand.

Needless to say, we are both not touchy-feely types. At least not when it comes to strangers. How we treat each other is a whole 'nother matter. After 32-plus years of marriage, we're often teased about our close-cuddles at cafes, our hand-holding habit, and how we often kiss, on the lips, in public. We are, in short, very warm and physically expressive beings — but only with one another.

Can we be the only ones? Many of our regular music-cafe friends (acquaintances, really), particularly musicians and their partners, feel the need to constantly acknowledge our entrances and exits with outstretched arms. I'm still struggling to remember their names; I see no need to be imprinted by their scents.

Having come of age in the 1960s and '70s, I do understand the psychology behind hugs … and the deep human need for physical connection. Back in the day, I even found myself attending the occasional group-hug-based, self-help gathering. But I always felt uncomfortable when pulled into a mass crush against the bodies of strangers.

Thankfully, my husband feels the same way. And it has absolutely nothing to do with our upbringing. You may be surprised to learn that we weren't raised in Lutheran Lake Wobegon … and we're definitely not WASPS. Just the opposite, actually. Nurtured by stereotypical, emotion-laden Jewish families, we are quick to empathize and have been known to cry at all sorts of sad or happy occasions. We'll even obligingly link hands when called upon to dance the hora. But when it comes to closer bodily connections, well, we'd prefer to “Just say no.”

Even in my youth, I wasn't one to accept a slow dance with just anyone.

It's a good thing that I retain one best friend (also from my youth) who feels as I do. But she lives up North. As we only see each other every few years, we seem to feel the need for an awkward (for the both of us) first hug at our rare get-togethers. But that's it — just one brief, huggy hello — until the next year (or years).

Additionally, I appear to have found a local “bestie” who's not the touchy-feely type, either.  (She'll even pull away if I sit too close.) But her Woodstock-weaned husband is always eager to hug both my husband and myself. Like most huggers, he hasn't a clue about how awkward this makes us feel, how intruded upon. Still, my husband and I will grin and bear his bear hugs — as we generally do with all our good friends. We don't want to appear completely antisocial or as a**hole snobs. I just wish there were an easy way to say: “Keep your hands, your arms, all those hugs to yourself!”

So it is with great pleasure that I can report to have finally discovered a socially acceptable means of enforcing my “no handshake” policy, at least — especially around smarmy salesmen. From Fall through Spring, I simply repeat the Surgeon General's warning to refrain from shaking hands as the best method of flu prevention. With real persistent cases, I've even been known to fake-sneeze … anything to avoid a pushy stranger's sweaty palm.

If only “flu season” would last all year long.

© 2015 Mindy Leaf

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