Early in my friendship with my only friend from the South, she said to me, “You are the friend I touch the least. You visible cringe when you see me coming.” It was an alarming statement—not because she said it, but because it was true.
Affection makes me nervous. When my own brothers hugged me the day of my college graduation, I felt awkward. When I visited my parents and they embraced me at the airport, I always held back. It felt odd to feel so uncomfortable, but I chalked it up to being Midwestern and coming from a family more likely to express emotions in an outburst on the written page than through hugs and kisses. We knew we loved each other, so why did we need to say it?
In the early months of my relationship with my husband, when he constantly told me that he loved me, my response was that if he said it too much it would lose meaning. Yes, ladies, I told the man I loved to stop telling me he loved me! And guess what, he stopped saying it so much, and 16 years later, I still regret that bonehead move.
My friend’s statement was a wakeup call. Thankfully, she hugged me regardless of my obvious discomfort—she can’t help but hug the people she loves. Eventually, the running joke in my group of friends changed from, “Don’t hug Heidi. She doesn’t like to be touched.” to “Don’t worry. You can hug her—A, finally broke down all her barriers.”
Because that’s what good friends do. Childhood friends are generally based on geography. As teenagers and young adults, we often choose friends because they are like us or because we want to be like them. As we age, we realize that the best friends are the ones who encourage us to grow. They help us break down the barriers that need to be broken. If not for A., would I hug and kiss my own sweet daughter with wild abandon? Maybe not. And where once a hug felt like an awkward moment that I simply wanted over as soon as possible, I now find myself squeezing back hard.
So to those who know me, bring it on. Thanks to a good friend, your hugs no longer scare me. I can see them for what they are: an expression of love and affection—and that no longer scares me either.