Jessica Stewart | St. Joseph News-Press

I’m back!! I missed you all so much that I would love to give each one of you a big ol’ hug. But apparently while I was gone, hugging has come under attack and is now considered to be not just inappropriate, but actual cause for legal action.

Hugging has always been the “language without words” that I spoke fluently, but now that society has put a ban on body-to-body contact and labeled embracing as “possible sexual harassment,” I’m going to have to change everything about the way I communicate.

How did this happen? When did hugs go bad? How did the simple act of innocent body contact, meant to encourage the recipient, become insulting and creepy? (Creepy?! Dear Lord, is that what people have been thinking about me all these years? Am I the one that people would see in the grocery store and think, “Here comes that creepy girl who can’t keep her hands off me. Run the other way!”)

I always thought hugs were good, and I had scientific evidence to back me up with facts like: a 20-second hug releases oxytocin, your happy, bonding chemical; they decrease the level of stress hormones; lower your blood pressure; fight infections; boost your immune system; ease depression; and improve memory. But now if I attempt to give you those benefits through a sweet embrace, I may end up being slapped with a restraining order!

I get it. There are some offensive huggers out there. The kind that leave you feeling like you were just checked for illegal drugs. Ones that when they are done, you are sure the hugger could tell you if any of your moles feel suspicious. Those types of “touchy-feely” hugs are rare. Most of the time, hugs are just a token of good, old-fashioned appreciation for one another. How else are we to provide comfort to someone without a hug? Give them a shrug of the shoulders? Or how do we share the excitement with a friend who just announced an engagement? Offer a thumbs up? See what I mean? Hugs are irreplaceable in our culture.

I guess in light of the new rules, I may as well go ahead and issue a public apology to any offended “hug-ee” now, before any lawsuits are brought against me. With my fingers crossed in the hope I can restrain myself, I, hereby swear, to never again enter into your personal space, wrap my arms around you and gently squeeze. I now know that by invading that space with my body it has caused great harm. I had no idea that offering love, acceptance and connection was offensive, and in my ignorance, I thought unwarned advances were appreciated. Now that I have been educated, hugs, previously used as signs and expressions of friendship, are now considered suspicious and perverted. Therefore, I will try and find a new way to communicate my appreciation of people without any physical contact. That contact includes handshakes and fist bumps, as they too,are unwelcome advances due to the spread of germs. That leaves me with bumping elbows, or tapping my foot on yours as my only outlet of connection. Please note, if you see me at the store, I will need you to sign a waiver before making any physical contact so that our greeting cannot be used against me at a later date. I will no longer share my arms with your body. Other touching included in my personal ban includes the Heimlich maneuver, which greatly resembles hugging, wrapping you up to put you out if you are on fire and if we are walking and you trip, I am going to have to let you drop to the ground.

It has been stated that we need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and 12 a day to grow on a personal level. Since I am no longer able to collect my hugs from the general public, my husband will now be totally responsible for providing me with all of the squeezes needed to keep me running at optimal level. This is not going to be easy for him, because unlike me, he is not a hugger by nature. Poor guy. I may as well ask him to conduct a parade in my honor 12 times a day, as it would be easier for him than “all that hugging,” but hey, we are all making adjustments in this new world.