Are we looking at a hug-less world?
I have to confess, one of the most frustrating things I have had to face during The Year of Covid-19 is having to restrain myself from hugging people. Being a tactile person, I find it easier to hug someone to show them warmth, trust and affection. True, there are many who find such exuberance intrusive and unnecessary—there will always be a misfired hug to a nephew or son/daughter of a dear friend who has never seen you in their life until that moment when they are pounced upon by a strange woman, resulting in a mortifying stalemate between the hugger and the almost-hugged. For the latter, "social distancing" couldn't come sooner enough. Apart from these silent anti-hug activists, it is really a big problem for the rest of us. Not to hug your parents, your children, your grandparents, your grandchild or your best friend when you see them after months of separation is really very strange and distancing. How do you show empathy to someone who has lost their loved one without giving them a reassuring hug or holding their hand in commiseration of their pain?
In fact, it is hard to predict how our behaviour in the post-Covid era will be impacted by this relentlessly punishing year and whether this will have any consequence on our relationships both present and future.
Wearing a mask will become a part of the new normal, that's for sure. Though bank robbers may go through an existential crisis, the mask is now a fashion statement, colourful and innovatively designed, providing a whole range of looks from gothic to Ninja-sexiness to Middle Eastern royalty. Social media has been abuzz with photos of the most expensive masks in the world made of gold and diamonds—perhaps they don't know that the virus is very fond of metal and will stick to it like crazy glue. There are masks that match certain outfits like the Jamdani print mask, or the Gamchha mask for that ethnic fusion look, or the patriotic mask with the national flag. Even political statements are made through these face coverings.
While all this is very nice, don't forget: masks also mask facial expressions, making it hard to gauge whether a person is smiling or scowling.
So how will romance work out in the future? Even before Covid-19, there was enough online love to give us practice—dating apps with dubious names like Hinge, Tinder, or Bumble, and matchmaking websites to find the suitable boy or girl. But at some point, the boy must meet the girl to live happily (or unhappily) ever after, right? Now, will the two parties demand a Covid negative test result or proof of vaccination even before their first coffee shop date? Will they retain the habit of masking up and sanitising before they hold hands? Will they be able to see expressions of admiration or disgust with half the face covered? They say, eyes speak better than mouths (OK maybe I made that up; you get the gist though).
But as the platitude of eternal hopefulness says: where there's a will, there's a way. Young women have told me that it is possible to know if someone is attractive even if they wear a mask. Really? Yes, they insist: the physique, eyes, clothes, the way they carry themselves—you can just tell. Well, kudos to these optimists who will have sharp radars for such favourable encounters even in the most challenging of circumstances. Flirting too is possible, they insist, through eye contact, eyebrow raising, and for women, the age-old flipping of hair from side to side always works (in small doses, of course, otherwise it's just plain annoying).
What about the good old "let's shake on it" tradition? Will heads of state wince when, by accident, their counterpart extends a hand for a friendly shake to clinch a deal that may be as crucial as the end of nuclear proliferation or a ceasefire in a war-torn country? The handshake could very well be replaced by the "elbow bump" that could become quite fashionable, though there may be a spike in the number of tennis elbow cases.
What about entertainment? Now that we are all used to binge-watching all kinds of shows on Netflix, will we ever go back to going to the cinemas or even watching the zillions of channels on TV that can make even an angel psychotic with their incessant commercial breaks every two minutes. The Covid year has also exponentially increased the number of Facebook, Tiktok or Instagram "influencers", although some of them seem to be more "under the influence" with their over-the-top makeup, exaggerated expressions, and incessant talking in affected accents while rendering cringe-worthy monologues of inanity that incredulously get thousands of followers. These self-made celebrities will, no doubt, thrive along with their loyal fans.
There will definitely be a proliferation of gourmet chefs with all the cooking lessons from YouTube that many bankers, journalists, university students, etc. have mastered during lockdowns. This may have made them rather insufferable companions at restaurants because of their newly acquired culinary expertise which has turned them into fanatical food critics.
There is also the fear that even when Covid goes away, there will still be those endless Zoom meetings with the infuriating interruptions in internet connections that can freeze your face in a less than flattering expression. Plus, people have become too used to putting a semi-ironed shirt or kameez over their sleeping pajamas or shorts, and may consider getting properly dressed a tedious ordeal. Face-to-face conversations may dwindle into prolonged silences with people longing for the screens that allowed them to switch off the video mode to take a nap or play with the cat and pretend to be part of the conversation.
Scientists have predicted that this may not be the last pandemic we will have to endure thanks to the perverse tendency of many humans to refuse to learn from past mistakes, such as continuing to crave exotic meat and cutting down whatever little greenery we have left. Vaccines are on the way but it will be wise to hold on to our sanitisers, masks and, of course, all those smart phones and laptops that have been our lifelines and most-valued companions during 2020.
Which means, hug emojis may continue to be the most used displays of affection.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Senior Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.