Rachel del Valle | Hands off
Duly Noted | Why free hugs are becoming just that
September 2, 2013, 5:30 pm · Updated September 2, 2013, 9:47 pm·
Rachel del Valle
I am not a hugger. I never have been.
This seems like an affectation that screams “emotionally unavailable.” But really, most of the time I just don’t like hugs. They’re not as all-occasion as many people seem to think they are. Hugs have become this knee-jerk reaction to show someone not that you care, but that you see them, standing right in front of you.
In most situations, hugs are an inordinately intimate greeting. Sometimes I find myself in the grasp of a hug with someone who I’d never even had a one-on-one conversation with. It’s like at big family gatherings when I’m kissing the cheek of someone who remembers me as an infant and whom I don’t remember at all.
I sound mean and antisocial. I’m really not. I just don’t really like pretending to know or care about people I only sort of know — and don’t really care about. That still sounds mean. Allow me to explain.
At Penn, there’s a tendency to feign enthusiasm — even affection — for lots and lots of people. Oh my gosh — it’s person who was on your hall freshman year. Here comes person you kind of sat next to in that mid-size lecture. Don’t look now, but there’s person who is part of that club you are also a part of.
Our school is just the right size that running into someone out of their normal context can feel special, exciting and worthy of shrieking and jumping and, yes, hugging. This is especially true at the beginning of the school year.
Maybe it’s a personal preference, but for me, this just doesn’t feel natural. I don’t feel like I have a special, intimate connection with someone simply because we once had the same History TA.
There are a few people on campus whose lives really matter to me — these are Friends. I keep track of Friends. I know the hopes and fears of these beings. They are important to me and I appreciate them and I talk to them frequently. Everyone else is, more or less, just window dressing.
And even though I love my friends, I don’t hug them every time we stumble upon each other in the stacks or at Chipotle or on the Compass (note to those who do this, foot traffic is not a figure of speech).
So I have a word of advice to the freshman who landed on campus a week ago: Savor your anonymity. Learn to appreciate the fact that the majority of Locust Walk and beyond is full of people you’ve never seen before in your life. Turn this disorienting, somewhat scary negative into a positive.
You can walk to the supermarket without having to worry about running into friends of friends. You can go to the gym without seeing that guy you went on a date with once. You can wear sunglasses and actually have that work as a disguise.
By the time you’re a senior, these things will no longer be possible. This small-town complex is not the worst thing in the world — or even the worst thing about being a senior — but it is a bit of a bummer. It just requires slightly more energy and grooming than feels necessary for a simple trip from point A to point B.
Don’t get me wrong. It can be truly pleasant to encounter someone you haven’t seen in a while. Such run-ins can rekindle friendships and brighten your day and all those nice, happy things. Every once in a while, you can get past the cursory “How are you?” and get to a real, meaningful interaction. This is good, and everyone likes this.
They might even like this more than a hug.
Rachel del Valle is a College senior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.