Overwhelmed by human affection – or, free hugs!

I’m terrible at befriending people. In social events I’m always that one strange lady, awkwardly hiding in the corners and looking like she definitely does not belong there. That’s me.

At work, it takes me a long time to get used to people. Work is a hard environment to try to measure social connectivity; it will vary depending on the type of company or organization you work for. If it’s a competitive environment, or one with large focus on revenues and sales, it will always be harder. People will always be suspicious of your interest in building relationships. You will also be suspicious of them.

Then I arrived at the university, my current workplace, where the goal is to help others, to educate others, to advise them and lead them. Not caring about revenue or sales, just doing everything you can to make sure they achieve success and create beautiful, worthy things. Where people are more selfless and more giving. Where the conversations flow with more honesty and acceptance. Where people will hug you out of the blue. Yes! They will just come up and hug you. I’m not kidding.

I was overwhelmed.

When it comes to friendliness and intimacy, I’m more like Americans rather than Brazilians. I tend to cringe when touched by people I don’t know well. Hugging, hand holding, playing with hair, yikes! It’s not that I dislike physical bonding; it just takes me a while to get used to it. The spontaneity of others throw me back.

But, it’s been 4 months since I’ve been with this new crowd. The friendliness and touchy-feelyness has slithered slowly into my bones. I’ve started – very awkwardly – hugging people out of the blue as well and touching their arms when we talk and other things of the sort.

My comfort zone has been breached. My bubble has been burst. I’ve become…nice!

If I’m this wary about being physically intimate with people, I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it is for me to express my feelings. I tend to think that most people don’t care about what I have to say, that my opinion is neither relevant nor important. That my advice is disposable.

I know that that’s not true. You don’t have to tell me.

People do want to hear what I have to say. They even expect me to do it. I just never know when I’m supposed to talk or when a friend needs my help or my shoulder to cry on. If people don’t reach out to me, I’ll never know they ever even needed me in the first place.

Today, I stepped out of my comfort zone, my safety bubble. I knew that I had to say something to a friend. It was a special day and I wanted to tell her something special. I had to tell her about the fragility and scarcity of time and beg her not to waste it. I needed to give her advice about what she should expect from the next 10 years of her life. I had to let her know that she will probably receive 100 “no’s” for every “yes” and that rejection is life’s way of letting you know that you’re not there yet. You have to study more, try again, keep going. I told her to read and learn every day. To write as much as possible. I told her to be patient. I told her that if she lived to be 90, then she still had 69 years ahead of her to fuck everything up and make it all better again, thousands of times. I told her to look forward to it. It will not always be great, but it will all be worth it.

I tried to tell her this a hundred times in person, but the words never came out of my mouth. I would just stare at her for a few moments during the day, trying to get the words out, until she would start to uncomfortably shift in her chair, and I would give up.

So, I wrote it all down. I made a list of 30 things that I wanted her to know. I entitled it “30 things I really need you to know”.

What a lame-ass title. I regret that title.

I put the letter in an envelope, gave it to her and told her to read it when she got home. Today is her birthday. She turned 21. How I wish I knew all the things I wrote to her when I was her age. I hope she will read it and reflect on it.

I don’t think she will ever know how much courage and willpower it took for me to write her those things.

I tried to be selfless. I thought more about being useful to her than to stay in my comfort zone, where no human interacts with other humans and we are all shy and sad and alone.

I’m always overwhelmed by human affection. I’m afraid of it. But I know that it is the way to fully connect with those who are important to me. And if it makes a difference in someone’s life, then the effort is needed.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll find me giving free hugs out on the streets some day.

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