My nan was a big one for kissing, as a greeting for a friend or relative, or even a vague acquaintance. I can still remember the heady mix of face powder, Estee Lauder perfume, fresh breath spray and fags as I would lean in for the obligatory peck.
Once, a close friend of my dad’s said that my nan had never kissed him. I protested that thiscouldn’t be true- she had kissed everyone she had met every time she had met them for my whole lifetime. And then he said “Well, she’s kissed the air somewhere near my ear everytime I’ve seen her for the last 20 years”. His point was this: she wasn’t kissing him because she loved him; she barely touched her cheek to his. It was symbolic, and neither he nor I were sure what it was symbolic of. Nothing, maybe.
Perhaps it is this that has led to me being rather un-touchy feely myself. My husband and I have practiced social distancing for years and the last time my mum and I hugged or kissed was probably straight after the most recent time she witnessed me go through the superhuman test of endurance and prolonged pain that resulted in another deceptively angelic child entering the world. She at least gave me a pat on the back anyway.
To a certain extent, obviously, I jest. Yes, I can’t bear being touched while I watch TV, and I am not in favour of awkward social kissing, but I am, of course, very much in favour of affection that means something. Hugging long-distance friends hard when you see them again, squeezing a client’s hand when they are upset and blowing raspberries on a child’s tummy are all genuine communications of love or understanding.
I touch people I love with love when it is necessary to show that love, and, with the exception of the odd tearful client, I don’t want to touch anyone else. And so I wonder, when we are out of this hellish period will we ever air kiss or shake hands again? I’ve never been a great one for shaking hands. I find it quite a masculine, corporate gesture that sometimes seems out of place with my older clients. These days we don’t need to shake hands to prove we have put our weapons down, in fact the chances are our weapons are still on our hands unless wehave just washed them for a good twenty seconds beforehand. Where does this leave us then- if everyone converts to my beliefs on meaningless social contact, can all future meetings be held via Zoom? Absolutely not.
Whilst I don’t want to touch you, I do want to be close to you. I want to see the whites of your eyes and your mannerisms. I want you to see my broad smile when you make me chuckle, and know that you are looking back at me. I want training courses to be conducted in person, so that I can look around and see if everyone else listening is confused too, and interrupt with a question.
I don’t want there to be an awkward split-second delay and for everyone who tried to talk atthe same time simultaneously stop mid-word out of politeness for each other. I want to beinterrupted (I mean, only if absolutely necessary of course).
I once met a colleague over Skype before he came to work with us. He was very polished, knowledgeable and polite. When I finally met him in person, I felt sure within a few minutes that he was probably on the autistic spectrum. It didn’t affect his ability to do his job or be agreat colleague (quite the opposite), but my point is that the intricacies of his manner and personality were just not visible over Skype. With him it was his lack of ease, but with another person it could be their truthfulness, unkindness or even their vulnerability that is impossible to read if you can’t see their posture, what they are doing with their hands and their instant reactions; if you can’t see the lines on their faces and what those lines tell you about them. Think of the way a client will glance at their wife and how you, a relative stranger, can know instantly what that glance means.
Video calling has been great at getting us through this difficult time but it is no substitute for close contact between professionals and with clients. But as close as we might get, please, don’t touch me.
*Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.