Thursday, August 14, 2008


It's pretty common in online circles to give each other {HUGS}. (Or (HUGS) or [HUGS] or even ((((HUGS))))--you get the idea. When a friend or acquaintance is depressed, lost someone, is sick, or is just having a hard day, {HUGS} are sent and returned.

It's not the same thing, we know that. Supposedly real-body hugging actually increases the body's endorphins, a chemical reaction that can give us mild euphoria.

I like me a little mild euphoria.

But it's the best we can do without being anywhere near our friends. My "closest" friends are scattered over two countries. {HUGS} convey that we wish we could hug each other, give each other comfort and support, and it does help.

I'm incredibly lucky at this point in my life that I also get lots of real-life hugs. A six-year-old daughter is the tops in hugging. Plus husband, family...I get hugged every day.

It was not always so.

When I was 19, I set off for a year of study abroad in southern England (University of Sussex, woo-hoo!). I was part of an organized program, so I was taken care of. I lived with other students from the U.S., from England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, the Seychelles, Portugal, everywhere. I had people I hung out with. I had fun.

I was also, simultaenously, desperately homesick and lonely. By December Christmas was coming and I knew that (a) I didn't have anywhere to go--the dorms closed down, and all my friends already had plans; and (b) I still wasn't going to see my family for at least 4 months, and I wouldn't be home for 6 months. One of the program directors offered to host the Christmas holidays at his house in London for whichever Study Abroad students wanted to come.

I didn't know what else to do, so I went. I think eight of us went, all studying at different schools across the U.K., guys and girls mixed. None of us knew each other. We'd only met the director once, in our whirlwind entry in September. We were going to stay at his little London apartment for a week, bunking in the two beds and the floor in rotation, doing whatever we decided to do.

It was an amazing Christmas. For whatever reason--enforced company, similarities, chemistry--we all bonded straight off. We had long, wine-fueled talks into the night. We laughed our asses off trying to cobble together a Christmas meal in a minuscule, unfamiliar kitchen with recipes that measured in metric. We sang Christmas carols, comparing American and English versions. We walked together, through lightly falling snow, to midnight Christmas mass in St. Paul's Cathedral.

And I realized, on that Christmas Eve, after hugging every one of them, that I hadn't had a hug since I left my parents. That I NEEDED hugs. That maybe part of my loneliness was that lack of touch.

So I was touched by this guy. Yeah, maybe it could be a little creepy. But I think he just realized that some people don't have hugs in their lives, bone-crushing squeezy real hugs. And everybody needs one, now and again.



Bill Cameron said...

Hugs are okay, but for serious endorphins, you can't beat morphine.

Susan Adrian said...

You are so right, Bill. What was I thinking?

DeadlyAccurate said...

Your Christmas reminds me of a few days we spent at a ranch in the jungles of Costa Rica. It was a quiet place, no electricity, only a dozen or so guests for the majority of our visit. Meals were held at a communal table, and we spent our evenings after dinner just talking, for hours sometimes. Most of us were Americans (US & Canada).

By the end of the first day, we knew so much about each other. I still remember many of the people I met for those few days, especially the two college girls who had the identical tour we had and so were with us the entire 8-day vacation.

I hope to go back there some day.

Susan Adrian said...

There's something about those unusual, communal times that just make them stand out. I'm probably remembering the Christmas with too much sentimentality. But I did move in with a girl from that Christmas later, after college. We lived together in San Diego for a couple years.

Julie K said...

Love those moment - they're the best.

And a cross-border {{{{hug}}}} from me to you :)


NBB said...

I live alone, but thankfully I see my family often enough to steal hugs. ;) I'm not a very touchy feely person, but I need my hugs every now and then :)
And the video is amazing!

Chandra Rooney said...

Nothing makes stronger, faster friendships than being ex-pats. We are families of shared frustrations.

I'm going to see an ex-pat friend who's spending her last year in Japan in September!

Susan Adrian said...

Julie: Thanks, you! {HUG back}

Nina: I think everyone needs one now and again, even the stiff no-touch-me types.

Chandra: So true. Bonding in adversity. :)

Ingrid said...

Cool video and I love your Christmas story. Do you still keep in touch with the others?
(hugs) from Seattle! :-)