So, regarding this phenomenon of a group of strangers reaching out and hugging each other and holding hands and having what was basically a G-rated love fest. What was that all about?
It’s worth noting that we were all young adults, and we were at a conference where we got ourselves all excited about changing the world.
Even among those sharing the same ideology or advocating for the same broad political platform, the definition of “changing the world” can vary widely. People often project their identities onto a political ideology or movement, and as such, consciously or sub-consciously project their hopes, desires, and unspoken dreams into that movement.
I think one of those desires is a desire to engage in reaching out and connecting with other people, to have their world feel like a web of interconnection rather than a bunch of isolated silos connected only by the remote controls in front of the television sets. I think this is what people were attempting with the “love-ins” and “be-ins” of the 1960’s, and is expressed in the song above–people may not recognize the artist and title, but would probably recognize the lyric “I think it’s so groovy now that people are finally getting together.”
I think there have been many attempts in the forty years since that song came out to create that feeling of reaching out to touch others. But usually, that effort creates, at best, a certain transient transcendence where for a space of a few seconds, minutes or hours, you might actually believe that “All You Need Is Love.” Ultimately, at the end of the day, you return from that high to the real world, and you wake up the next day with the world not that much different from what it was before.
The Wikipedia entry for Friend and Lover actually reveals a lot about what that song means to people. The song’s writer was inspired by a personal encounter with a love-in in New York. The song became a protest anthem in 1968, but interestingly enough, Christian rock groups in the 1970s picked up on the song, too, based on a belief that the song had spiritual overtones.
So Jordan’s and my effort to start a “real group hug” was but one attempt to create that feeling of reaching out and touching one another. That event meant a lot to me then, but it wouldn’t as much if it were to happen now. It was such a fleeting moment. I don’t think I would recognize any of participants on the street if I saw them today–perhaps not even Jordan, since I’d only known him for a couple of days beforehand as part of our caravan traveling to the event. (I did briefly date one person who was also part of that caravan, so I might recognize her if I saw her.)
I know some people who organize or often participate in “cuddle parties.” I went to one once, but decided not to go back. The intentions behind them are good, particularly the part about creating a safe space and getting practice in negotiating boundaries, but to me the experience felt creepy. I guess my boundaries are such that if I want to cuddle with someone, it’s because they mean a lot to me as a friend or lover, and that usually takes time to establish. My guess is that most Americans would feel the same way.
So, in analyzing this (in the same way I analyze other things to death), it seems that we want to be part of a web of connectedness, but that level of connectedness doesn’t happen just overnight. What’s a 21st-century middle-aged American to do? More on that later…
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