It’s impossible to hug someone from six feet away. This is a problem for lovers, huggers and friends everywhere. You miss hugs. I miss hugs. We collectively miss hugs. In the era of social distancing and COVID, we have all been forced apart and physical affection that we previously saw as normal is now outlawed in the name of safety. This doesn’t make us miss interacting with each other any less.
In 1960, C.S. Lewis wrote a book called “The Four Loves.” In it, he outlined four different kinds of love: eros, philia, agape and storge. Eros is romantic love, philia is friendship love, agape is charity love and storge is affectionate love. In the same way that there are four types of love, there are four kinds of hugs.
1) Romantic hugs
If you’ve ever seen two people in a (romantic) love hug, you know it feels almost intrusive to watch them. They hold each other tightly, chests pressed against each other and fingers digging into T-shirts — eyes closed and leaning into each other as if there’s no one else around them. It’s like seeing two people exist in their own bubble, and every poem and novel dedicated to lovers seems to make sense in that moment.
If there were a hierarchy of hugs, these would be at the top simply because they’re so rare. Not everyone is in love, so when you have someone to share a hug like this with, it’s something to cherish.
2) Friendship hugs
Sometimes in conversations with friends, I take a moment and realize how awesome the person I’m speaking to is. It’s like a movie scene where everything around me goes into slo-mo and I realize that the person in front of me has improved my life simply by being in it. It’s a kind of love that we reserve for friends. Some people don’t like hugging their friends, but those of us that do enjoy hugging our friends know that it’s an awesome kind of hug.
Friendship hugs are like that one warm and familiar sweater that you love wearing despite its quirks. They’re warm and nice and bring smiles to your face when you think of them. They remind me of the tiny shoulder raise we do when we’re hugging someone and wish we could bring them even closer.
3) Unconditional hugs
Lewis wrote that agape is the kind of love that God gives us and we give in return — unconditional. This evolved into agape being charity love. In a way, every hug is unconditional in that they aren’t transactional, but unconditional hugs are given with the purpose of consoling or comforting. Unconditional hugs can be given to those closest to us, but in essence are defined by the good intentions that shape them. The situations where you would hug a stranger or acquaintance are far and between, but in these we see what unconditional hugs are.
At the first funeral I ever went to, I remember sitting at the pew and seeing a girl sitting next to me crying. Her shoulders were hunched and she was wearing, like all of us, a black dress. We made eye contact and hugged for what felt like a long time. We hugged tightly and in consolation of a shared grief. We were acquaintances at best, and we never spoke about it afterwards. This is what I consider an unconditional hug.
4) Affectionate hugs
These are the mindless ones. The ones we used to give our friends casually walking through the hallways or that we give our pets. These are the most common hugs, but arguably some of the most necessary. Before giving romantic or friendship hugs, we start here. This is the bottom of the hierarchy, not because they are less than, but because they are given more freely. Side hugs, shoulder squeezes and celebratory embraces — if hugs were coins, these are pennies.
Arguably, affectionate and unconditional hugs have suffered the most in 2020. Everything has a condition now and mindless affection has taken a backseat. Isolation has made us retreat into ourselves.
In the common room of my college, I posed a seemingly random question: Do you guys miss hugs? The response was a unanimous yes. In the era of Zoom University, we have all been sequestered in our dorms and residential colleges for studying, eating and sleeping. Hugs are a rarity. We don’t realize they’re a big part of our lives until we can no longer give them as freely. I would normally say the solution to this is to hug whoever you can, but this isn’t possible; in the name of safety, savor the few hugs we can give.
Ángela Pérez | firstname.lastname@example.org