My arms wrapped around him, grasping him, clutching him. I squeezed his sides as hard as I could. His back straightened under my arms. I closed my eyes and pressed my cheek against his chest.
This scene has played out over and over again between my husband and I throughout the 16 years of our relationship.
In a park before a high school make-out session on a picnic table. In my college’s parking lot, just before he drove away for another six weeks. In our kitchen next to a sink piled high with dishes.
While some people think of hugs as friendly and casual, ours have never been that way. Our are intense, full-bodied affairs. Even before we were dating, they made my heart beat a little faster. They gave me hope that we’d to be more than just friends. My hugs with other guys never felt that way. In fact, my hugs with no one else ever have.
In our hugs, we can express our easy intimacy, sometimes supplemented by a pat on the butt or touch on the arm. Other times, we cling on to each other for dear life. We use them to reassure each other of our fundamental worth, whether one of us failed out of college or had the baby screaming at them for ten minutes. They’re how we say “I love you” when that’s both too much and not enough. Our hugs are our lifeline.
Now, they’re more important than ever. As parents of two young children, we have a limited amount of time alone together. A hug can provide that brief connection, even when a small person is trying to squeeze their way in there. It’s the reassurance I can believe when his “you’re a good mom” falls on deaf ears. It’s a prelude to my apology when I’ve done nothing but criticize his parenting for the past 20 minutes. It’s my conclusion after I tell him he’s an awesome dad. And it’s a signal to our kids that while we love them dearly, we also love each other separately from them.
Our love of hugs extends to our children, of course. We hug them all the time, individually and with both parents in a “hug sandwich.” They love hugging us back, to the point at which I can be a bit “touched out” at times.
But the hugs between Chris and I still stand alone. They are so much of who we are, who we have been, and who we will be as a couple. If there is a constant of our relationship, from high school friends to harried parents, it’s the hug as an expression of our love.