On Hugs

mccain bush hugThe Same Rowdy Crowd’s masthead says we’re all about “rumination and fulmination about communication,” and so today I’m fulminating about a change in communications over my lifetime that rivals the dawn of faxes, PCs, the Internet, cell phones, smart phones, and social networking.

I speak, of course, of the proliferation of hugging as a casual greeting.

Contrary to popular theory, I actually was hugged as a child. But as an adult, it seems I’m hugged ALL THE TIME. At parties, meetings, school functions, sporting events, church, everywhere. People have become mad about hugging over the last few decades. I’ve got callouses and blisters on my abdomen and back from being hugged so damn much. I can only imagine how it is for people who are actually loveable.

It’s a pandemic. Not long ago, a woman embraced me at a party and immediately upon unwrapping herself said “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.” I didn’t know her name either.

Now, in my world, you don’t wrap your arms around people when you don’t know their names. In my world, you choose a handful of people you are obligated to hug, and you do so sparingly and awkwardly.

But alas, I can’t seem to escape all the groping as greeting. You would think people who hugged me once would know not to do it again. Let’s just say my technique is a work in progress. Despite hours of practicing with my pillow, I’m still prone to rigor mortis, and nervous Sparky the seal like flappping on my victims’ backs. This is acceptable if executing a man-hug. But with my female friends, it can bruise egos, and the occassional thoracic vertebrae.

As a result, I’m always trying to avoid the salutational squeeze. I dread that moment of truth in the greeting dance. It plays out in slow motion in my mind. I stick out my right hand fixated on the other person’s digits to see if they are going to grasp my hand, or, damnit all, snake around my back. It’s important to pay careful attention, because if the greetee goes hug while I go shake, an accidental gut punch can ensue.

Well okay, sometimes it isn’t accidental.

What’s the harm in a little hugging, you ask? Can’t the world use a little more love and affection? Well yes, but when hugs become so commonplace that they are rote, they become devalued for the times when heartfelt embraces are really needed, for long-lost friends, special family members, once-in-a-lifetime lovers, or people hurting badly.

How did we come to this place in the history of the hug? Have we become such an insecure species that we need to be embraced dozens of times per day to achieve self-actualization? In the age of wars, terrorism, hate crimes and political incivility, are we really that much more loving than previous generations? Does all the public cuddling constitute emotional evolution or devolution?

And is it possible that H1N1 will come to the rescue and put an end to all this nonsense?

– Loveland

17 thoughts on “On Hugs

  1. I’m a hugger. I smothered our dear Ellen the first time a met her in person — and warned her I’d do so in an e-mail before said meeting. And now, Joe, I might just run up and give you a big squeeze next time we cross paths.

    Don’t gut punch me.

    1. PM says:

      Hey, aren’t you supposed to be working on a get-together for this crowd? I’ve been practicing my hugs, cheek kisses and air kisses for this happening…

  2. Dennis Lang says:

    As usual the world of modern inter-communications threatens to pass me by. Of course, the hug. Seems much warmer than Google and my recent discovery of something called the Internet. Non-traditonal perhaps but not long ago who ever heard of Twitter?

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      As those of us with teenage kids know, it’s especially rampant with that demo. This from a NYT article last spring.

      “Girls embracing girls, girls embracing boys, boys embracing each other — the hug has become the favorite social greeting when teenagers meet or part these days. Teachers joke about “one hour” and “six hour” hugs, saying that students hug one another all day as if they were separated for the entire summer.

      A measure of how rapidly the ritual is spreading is that some students complain of peer pressure to hug to fit in. And schools from Hillsdale, N.J., to Bend, Ore., wary in a litigious era about sexual harassment or improper touching — or citing hallway clogging and late arrivals to class — have banned hugging or imposed a three-second rule.”

  3. Mrs. Fay says:

    Joe, if hugging is a problem for you, you should consider moving to New England. We generally don’t even look at each other, let alone touch…

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      That’s an interesting idea. I love aloof. I also love football teams that score 45 points in a half.

  4. Dennis Lang says:

    In the third paragraph on page ninety-two of Jim Othmer’s breezy, revealing book about the advertising business, the author is about to meet interactive, creative guru Rick Webb: “When Webb came across the room to meet me, a mop of curly, sandy hair…looking not unlike Seth Rogan in the film “Knocked Up”, he decided that our first nonelectronic communication should be not a handshake but a hug.”

    Once again Loveland has identified a formerly obscure subterranean sociological undercurrent just as it frothes to the surface (or something like that). Nice work.

  5. Joe Loveland says:

    I’m not serious about all of this, but I am serious about the question “what does all of this hugging say about us?” I’m not sure what to make of it all.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Yes, without knowing how widespread this behavior is actually, it’s an interesting observation. I wonder if it represents a greater intimacy we may feel often to strangers. And if this is the case what role the Internet plays by otherwise connecting us quite impersonally through social media and blogs. How well do you think the frequent contributors to the Crowd for instance really “know” each other?

      1. PM says:

        I think that the hugs are a response to 2 important changes that have recently hit our society:
        1. H1N1. Apparently, hugging is less likely to pass on the infection than a handshake.
        2. Conceal/Carry legislation. It is well known that the handshake was instituted to be certain that the person whose hands you were shaking did not have a knife up their sleeve. Now we hug as a surreptitious means of patting the person down to see if they are carrying.

    2. Joe Loveland says:

      PM, what a fresh argument for repealing conceal and carry laws!

      Dennis, I don’t feel like I know the Crowdies that well. I don’t know their spouse’s or kids’ names, much less even the basics of their stories. I only know their position on Ayn Rand.

      But you raise an interesting point. In the Internet Age, people do seem a little looser with their definition of the term “friend” than we were in the pre-Internet darkness. I have a hard time thinking of e-connections as friends, but I think I’m an outlier on that.

      Maybe the phenomenon is broader than just hugging. Maybe more folks are just more open to instantaneous closeness now that the speed communications has accelerated so much.

  6. Joe Loveland says:

    My friends in Serbia who read this post tell me that that some Europeans do one cheek kiss, some do two and many (Serbs in particular) do three. But it varies, so you never know. Seems like a perscription for lots of head butts. You’d think the EU could standardize that. I’m telling you, this whole thing is a slippery slope…

  7. Joe Loveland says:

    I liked this piece in today’s Strib so much that I’d like to give the author a hearty handshake:

    Hugs all around: A trend I can’t quite embrace
    Article by: ALEXANDRA PETRI , Washington Post

    Congratulations are due to Bubba Watson for his admirable performance in our new national sport. Not golf. Hugging.

    On Sunday, Watson won the Masters golf tournament. And then the hugs began.

    He hugged his caddie. He hugged his mother. He hugged pro after pro. He hugged his caddie again, at length and tearfully.

    As I watched him enfold person after person in the warm circlet of his arms, I couldn’t help realizing how far the epidemic has spread.

    Everywhere you look, people are hugging. Friends. Strangers on trains. Bears. Politicians. The first lady. Especially the first lady. One day, just for fun, she surprised all the visitors to the White House with hugs.

    When did hugs become compulsory? You meet someone for the first time, you shake her hand. You meet her a second time, and she expects a hug. Sometimes she expects the hug before the first meeting is over.

    It’s a fairly recent development. Once, we greeted people by running at them with lances. Then someone wisely came up with the handshake instead.

    But candidates are no longer required simply to shake hands and kiss the occasional baby. They have to hug grandmothers and volunteers and their wives, every time they appear anywhere, to show warmth. But careful! Not too much warmth!

    We’ve reached the point as a society where someone like Mitt Romney is expected to hug people in order to become president. Not dozens of people; thousands upon thousands of people. This is patently ludicrous.

    In standoffs, the person who wants a hug always wins. If you really want to avoid hugs, the only way is to carry around something large and unwieldy at all times.

    Perhaps I’m biased. I come of WASPish stock. My family hugged just once a year, during the solstice. For occasions where real warmth was needed, we would clap one another on the shoulders and mutter, “I’m only mildly disappointed in you.”

    When did the good old-fashioned handshake become a sign of standoffishness, rather than a sign of “hello, I have just met you, and I am unarmed”?

    In Singapore, you are required to seek permission before hugging someone. How idyllic life must be!

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