The skeptic’s guide to man hugs

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman January 23, 2015 10:18

You lead with your right hand, ready to bid farewell to a fellow guest at your neighbor’s dinner with a firm shake. Then you look up, and the guy is advancing with both arms wide open.

Yeah, you met him only two hours earlier, but he’s somehow deemed you hug-worthy. So you quickly correct, gritting your teeth, wrapping both arms around him and even slapping him on the back for good measure.

hug-oil-for-webOr maybe it’s the reverse: You felt a connection with the dude over a couple of beers and an animated discussion about the Warriors’ title hopes. And, on parting, it’s you with the suddenly open arms. So how do you counter your new friend’s lone, outstretched right? Retract? Advanced undeterred?  Or drop both arms by your side and wait for what comes?

And what if the departing guest is a woman? Or a Republican? Or buzzed?

Good questions all, but there are no easy answers.

There weren’t even any questions when those of us in the Friends and Neighbors demographic were growing up. My dad and I hugged until I was 13, when we shook hands, just as gentlemen should.

Then I was off to military school, where I mixed shakes with crisp salutes. My two or three annual hugs were for my mom, mostly at the beginning of vacations home.

Then came college in California, liberal professors, drugs, Woodstock, peace, love, more drugs, sit-ins, be-ins, long hair, incense, Sgt. Pepper, even more drugs – and enough hugs to put a den of bears to shame.

I hugged everyone but cops, conservatives, and my dad – who of course was a conservative. Yeah, some of the people I hugged were jerks or idiots. But in the flawed, fuzzy logic of the era, I figured that enough hugs might help them see the light – which of course they never did.

A few years later I ended up in Sonora, land of cowboys, rednecks, buzz cuts and boots. Back then, if you hugged anybody it better be a woman and it better be in the privacy of your own home.

But the years went by, and hugs re-emerged from the 60s as an acceptable greeting or goodbye.  Which was great for women, who hug other women and men, even if they’re only casual friends. This was all good for me – I love hugging women and I love not worrying about which women to hug.

Hugging men is entirely different. It’s nuanced and problematic, a regular etiquettorial thicket. And, sorry readers, I’m not even remotely qualified to offer advice on this tricky subject. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it. So, warning given, here’s my 10-point pocket guide to bro hugs:

  1. Hug your sons: With apologies to my otherwise great dad, I could have used a few more hugs. And really, if you don’t hug your kids, who are you going to hug?
  2. Respect history: If you’ve been hugging or shaking hands with your brother, your childhood buddy or your college roomie for decades, don’t switch now. If you downscale to a shake or amp up to a hug, he’ll wonder what the heck has happened that you didn’t tell him about.
  3. Don’t hug anyone who can hire or fire you: The risk-reward thing doesn’t add up.
  4. If you’re a politician, don’t hug anyone at all: Hug the wrong person – and in politics, the right person today could be the wrong person tomorrow – and the inevitable photos could be used against you. And anyone – Ted Cruz, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Vladimir Putin, Kim Kardashian – can be doctored into any hug shot.
  5. Check party registration before you hug: It is my very subjective conclusion that ruggedly independent Republicans are less likely to hug than touchy-feely, Kumbaya-chanting Dems. Of course, Republicans do hug after they’ve swept mid-term elections.
  6. Hug if you’ve survived an ordeal or shared a triumph: The bar here, be advised, is low. Sure, you’ll hug if you hunted terrorists in Fallujah together, partnered to conquer Everest or joined to win elections. But it’s also OK to hug if you were teammates on the city champion slow-pitch team or together high-fived every inning while watching the Giants’ Series-winning game on TV. Really, anyone who helped Madison Bumgarner bring it all home deserves a hug.
  7. Gauge your surroundings: If pot smoke is in the air and laughter is ringing through the halls, hugs may be the way to go. If the booze is flowing, well, it’s either hugs or flying fists.
  8. If all else fails, try the hybrid: Here’s a fallback if, despite all the above tips, you’re in that netherworld of uncertainty as a would-be hugger approaches. Advance with your right hand out, grab his before he can encircle you, then clap his shoulder – repeatedly if warranted – with your left. Think of this as a hug for good ol’ boys.
  9. Miss Manners says shake: Judith Martin laments the demise of the “friendly, dignified American handshake” in favor of the sloppier, at-times forced hug. But, as society routinely ignores Miss Manners’ decrees on silverware placement and napkin folding, man hugs are probably here to stay.
  10. If you’re forced into a hug, it’s OK to grimace: Think about it – the guy who’s hugging you never sees your face.

 Chris Bateman is a 40-year journalist who may just need a hug.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman January 23, 2015 10:18
Write a comment

No Comments

No Comments Yet

Let me tell you a sad story. There are no comments yet, but yours can be the first!

Write a comment
View comments

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*