I am desperate for a cuddle. I am so desperate that last night I had a dream of meeting a female friend at one of Edinburgh’s most conservative and staid private clubs and upon seeing her I immediately kissed her upon the lips. Suddenly, the horrified Edinburghers all around us shrieked in horror and I immediately recoiled and apologised because I realised that I had crossed an unfathonable boundary.
As Jewish people all over the world celebrate the festival of Passover this week we are reminded that yet another miracle may have taken place to save the slaves who were exiting Egypt in search of their freedom. As they approached the Red Sea, Moses supposedly raised his staff and the mighty body of water parted to allow the Jews to cross safely into their new found freedom.
Tonight, I shall sit once again at my Passover table with my wife and for the second year in a row realise the all too human experience of staring at many empty chairs. The Corona Virus has forced us for over one year to socially distance and this means that our loved ones will join us through the modern technology of Zoom and that although we may look at them, we cannot touch one another.
Many social scientists have written extensively about the short and long term damage that we may be experiencing from the lack of human touch. As I stroll through Princes Street Gardens and see other grandparents looking at their grandchilden lovingly, albeit at a two metres distance, my heart sinks. As I see old friends greet one another in Stockbridge and rush toward one another only to gently tap their elbows as a necessarily limited form of affection, I wonder if they feel as awkward as I do upon meeting and departing from friends and family?
I come from a family of huggers which I have found is typical in some ethnic groups such as Jews and Italians. In my tradition, it was customary for me to regularly to hug and kiss both my mother and father. I realise that in some families it is not di rigeur for a son to kiss his father, however, in our home, it would have been a sign of disrespect for me to fail to kiss Papa. Therefore, after sixty – eight years of cuddling and kissing, this pandemic caused disruption has been particularly difficult for me and I assume for millions of others as well.
To soldier through this difficult time I have turned to alternative rituals to fill the gap. Here are three ways that I express my affection for others during our global pandemic.
Firstly, I have turned to the written word to more frequently express my feelings for others. Whether the form is social media, e – mail or an old fashioned note card sent by post, I now have substituted the traditional closing greeting of “Warm regards” with “Love” and add xxoo. I have not invented a new tradition, I am simply following the example of others who are similary expressing more openly their affection for me and I am returning their kindness.
Second, upon actually meeting up with people in the park or my back garden, I open my arms wide as if to offer them a virtual hug. I find they often do the same in return and my heart momentarily rises as if we were still connecting in some ethereal manner.
Third and finally, upon departing from friends and family, I do not hesitate to touch my hand to my heart and say “I love you. Stay well.” Sometimes those on the receiving end are surprised at this gesture, however, from their broad smiles I know that they have been touched in some small way.
I realise that the idea of kissing and cuddling others in a public setting may appear to some old times Scots as a bit awkward or even unpleasant. However, awkward and unpleasant times often call for new approaches to help us find a new normal.
A close Scottish friend once explained to me that when ending a telephone conversation we Scots often repeat, “bye, bye, bye” as if to try and hold onto the voice at the end of the call for some time because we do not want the conversation to end. I have also adopted this custom and although it is private and personal and usually uttered between two persons, I find it charming and symbolic of the importance of intimate human connection.
Whether the kiss and cuddle is platonic or romantic, I think most of us will remember with great fondness those early signs of reciprocated affection. The first passionate kiss from a lover, the kiss upon the forehead by a loving mother for her child, and the gentle kiss upon reuniting with an old friend after many years of separation are experiences to be cherished.
I shall never forget my first kiss. When I was thirteen years of age I returned home to be introduced to a fourteen year old girl who was visiting our house. She grew up on a ranch in Texas and was very confident and extremely beautiful in her tight bluejeans and blouse that was tied at the waist. My mother told me that our visitor might wish to see our garden and so I escorted her to the top of a hill and we sat down to speak. Before I knew what was happening this young cowgirl gave me a passionate kiss and the hill underneath us seemed to rapidly melt under my feet. After a few minutes of fast learning from this older woman the art of osculation she perfunctorily said “I need a drink.” We then returned to our kitchen and my mother noticed that my face had changed colour and she asked with a wink “Did you two enjoy the garden?”
I felt a wee bit like Adam in the Garden of Eden. Now, I am ready to return to a new Garden of Eden and meet others for a kiss and a cuddle. Some believe that the origin of the name of our city of Edinburgh is derived from the illusory land called Eden. Therefore, I shall know that the pandemic is starting to wane when I see friends meeting friends in the many beautiful gardens of our city and improbably and implulsively warmly embracing and even stealing kisses from one another.
As a result of the much needed and welcomed #metoo movement I have also learned the importance and essentiality of asking others first before I proceed with a kiss and a cuddle. I often will simply ask “May I give you a cuddle?” If the response is affirmative, I find that even a brief cuddle might also lead to a welcome kiss upon both cheeks, often initiated by the other person.
In the 1970’s I actually taught a class for the Open University of Washington, DC entitled “Social Kissing”. In this half day course, I described the history of kissing within different cultures and then demonstrated various techniques such as the air kiss that was popular in the capitol of the United States because it demonstrated some minimal respect without further commitment. The course was so popular that I was invited to appear upon the national television game show “To Tell the Truth” where the panel had to guess who among myself and two imposters was the actual teacher of social kissing. I was so effective at teaching social kissing and innefective at lying that the panel immediately selected me and I lost the competition and left with the consolation gift of a small flask.
Therefore, I hope that before too much longer my dreams of kissing an old friend in one of Edinburgh’s conservative and staid private clubs will become a pleasant reality and if others shriek, wail and even faint from this act, so be it. I and many others can only go on looking and not touching for so long before we, at the first sign of positive progress from our scientists, cross the rubicon and just as the Jewish people did thousands of years ago, celebrate our freedom through daily acts of affection and love.
In the meantime, I shall continue to write, extend my elbow and offer virtual hugs as signs of the foreplay that I hope will one day soon result in that magic moment when we kiss and cuddle one another again, frequently, and hopefully always.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. He is a lifelong unapologetic kisser and cuddler. To learn more about his other views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot