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A world without hugs is a world that makes no sense | Zoe Williams

I had had enough of remote socialising by the time lockdown was slightly eased. I was happy to just abjure other people, get all my extramarital fellowship needs from the memory of the kind of thing they said. Suddenly, in England we were allowed to see six people so long as it was outdoors. After all that time worrying about the bubble, who was in it, who was out of it, it turned out the bubble was infinite. It could be a different six people every night. The trouble is, I’ve forgotten how to do it. 

At a most basic level, I’ve forgotten how to say hello and goodbye. These things were always conveyed in hugs – excited hug, I’m glad to see you; relieved hug, I’m glad I’ve seen you. Random, in-evening hug, you mean more to me than all those other people I have to see. I can just about clear the confusion of no greeting-hug, but I don’t know how to say goodbye. The last hour of any given meeting, I just have the Communards’ Never Can Say Goodbye going round my head and my hands shoved prophylactically in my pockets. 

People have different levels of risk aversion, of compliance, and they are unguessable. They don’t map on to anything you already knew about each other – the most courageous, rebellious people I know, the people who would shoplift and bleach their pubes and go to tribunal to fight The Man, are checking the government website to see if they are allowed to use my spoon. The most diligent and rule-bound, the ones who check their step count and only drink on a Friday, are the ones asking what on earth we’re all doing outside when it’s plainly raining, and come on, it’s only a virus. But you can’t scope any of this out in advance; you just have to caper into the minefield of each other’s anxiety and wait for something to explode over an accidentally shared tea towel, wondering: is this a friendship-ending thing? Or will a year pass, and it all be forgotten? 

Finally, there is the now-familiar problem that nothing has happened – so sorry, you’re the first person I’ve seen, I’ve no one to bitch about. I’ll be using you for my next set of anecdotes, so this had better be good. 

That’s it. Like I say, I’ve forgotten how to say goodbye. 

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