It was the hug heard ’round the world: At the Senate Judiciary Committee questioning of potential Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Thursday, Senator Dianne Feinstein thanked committee chairman Lindsey Graham “for your leadership” before wrapping him in a tight, mask-free embrace.
There’s plenty to be said about the optics of a ranking Democrat quite literally embracing a politician who has devoted himself to repealing the Affordable Care Act, without which 30 million Americans would lose their health insurance. What’s troubling on another level entirely, though, is the sheer fact that two politicians over the age of 60 felt the need to make prolonged and extremely public physical contact in the middle of a deadly, easily transmissible pandemic.
It might not be a popular opinion, but I’m going to say it: even outside of a pandemic context, most hugs are bad. I love hugging family hello after periods of separation—I’m not a monster!—and I maintain that a quick hug is a great way to warmly yet dispassionately end a meh date. Hugging coworkers, though? Dante’s seventh circle of hell (no offense to my coworkers, who are all lovely and eminently huggable). Even with friends, I tend to get awkward about embraces, and I’m not the only one; once, a beloved friend once chose to sprint across two lanes of moving traffic on Broadway rather than hug me goodbye before I moved cross-country.
In the pre-pandemic era, I used to feel bizarre for dreading hugs with acquaintances. “I’m not really a hugger,” I’d mutter as a near-stranger’s arms surrounded my body, feeling like I’d just confessed to hating puppies or Tom Hanks. Now, though, we know that close contact with people outside our living situations or “pods” is one of the easiest ways of spread COVID-19; shouldn’t we use this as an opportunity to admit that nobody ever really liked obligatory hugs and relegate them to the annals of social-behavior history?
Maybe it’s simply too much to expect that our elected leaders would model best-practice pandemic behavior, but we’re at a hugging crossroads, and I firmly believe that one small benefit we can derive from the COVID-19 era is the death of the, “Well, we don’t know each other that well, but a handshake feels too formal and a wave feels rude” social-obligation hug. Go forth and bump elbows, friends! Or, better yet, keep your limbs to yourself and express your rapture upon seeing friendly faces—new or old—verbally!