I’ve always been a fan of hugging. I grew up in a demonstrative family and then lucked out in high school, finding a small group of cool friends who weren’t afraid to be physically affectionate. Everybody hugged everybody, regardless of gender or orientation.
The older I got, the less hugging factored into my interactions. I still hugged people sometimes, but I found that many people were uncomfortable with it — particularly other men — so I did it less and less. I remember having a conversation with a friend in Rochester about how little physical affection people show to one another on a daily basis in the U.S. We had both lived in other countries and experienced very different attitudes toward physical intimacy. Even in Japan, with what most outsiders would consider a very formal culture, it was common to see men, particularly of my generation, with their arms around one another and touching one another without being self-conscious about it.
Over the past couple years I’ve tried to put more frequent hugging back in my repertoire and have discovered a number of fairly standard reactions.
1. Good hugs
Some folks just get it. They put their arms around you and give you a strong — but not crushing — embrace that doesn’t involve back-patting or awkward chuckling. Those hugs make the world seem like a pretty good place, and, for me at least, give me a real sense of well-being, respect and love.
2. Molecular hugs
These are the hugs where one person is really giving a hug and the other person is trying to touch as few molecules of the hugger’s body as possible. These hugs seem to be motivated by a belief that hugging is what is socially required (particularly in certain political/activist/liberal/progressive circles, I’ve noticed) juxtaposed against the person’s strong desire to not be hugged. The weird thing about these hugs is that it’s most often the person who doesn’t want to be physically affectionate who initiates the hug. Again, I think as a sort of expected social interaction.
3. Burping-the-baby hugs
Apparently some people can only equate hugging with burping a baby. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for those hugs that involve lots of back-patting. Unless I’ve just told you that I’m feeling bloated and I ask for your help, I don’t need to be patted. Like the molecular hug, this always has the feel of obligation attached to it rather than a true desire for connection.
4. Guy-on-guy hugs
When these are done right (a la #1 above) they’re a rare and wonderful affirmation of shared humanity. Most of the time, though, they’re either the one-hand-clasped-half-hug or the awkward-chuckle hug. It’s 2011 and there are still many men who are completely shocked by the idea of receiving a hug from another man.
5. Surprise hugs
These are a subtle variation of #1 above. For me, receiving a hug from someone when you didn’t expect that level of connection is a wonderful surprise. I find this happens most often in my work as an interviewer. I always shake hands with the artists I interview when I first arrive and that’s usually what happens at the end, too. But every once in a while the guest will give me a hug at the end, which feels great because it means we’ve made a real connection during the interview. These hugs always make my day. Once in a while, I mess them up.
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So there’s my list. Not comprehensive, I’m sure. And you may have your own take on why some of these hugs happen. If so, feel free to share them in the comments. Then go hug somebody!