Friday, March 18, 2011

Who needs a hug?

I think this hug means more to her than it does to Jesus

Growing up in a Sri Lankan family, kisses on the cheek of every friend and family member who came in the door were mandatory. For most of my childhood I had no problem with it, but once I became a shitty teenager, I'd had enough. It's probably for this reason that I was more than happy to find in adulthood among the rest of Australian and American culture to have this notched down to a hug. While I'm now quite fine with kisses from people I know, I'm more than happy to hug just about anyone (body odour permitting).

Within this hug comfort, however, there are some trying moments. Few people have problems with hugs, but hugging still speaks of a certain familiarity, so awkwardness lies in determining when you become "hug-friends" with someone. It's almost like an early "I love you" moment in a friendship.

Voted "hug of the day" of June 25th 2009

One such instance when the first hug can be awkward is a consequence of the times we live in. With so many people creating and sustaining long friendships over the internet without any face to face or even mouth to ear (via phone) contact, when first meeting in person, there is usually a moment of hug hesitation upon that initial greeting. This person has come to be one of your internet best friends but do you now touch them with a hug? I only just thought of this recently when first meeting Aaron Mason, hilarity maker on the podcast The Grapes of Rad. We had become internet friends via Stephanie and had built quite a nice rapport over the time leading up to my Seattle trip where I was destined to meet him and his on air cohort, Ben Parsons. When I met Aaron, I went in for the hug. I like hugs and he seemed huggable. He reciprocated and once that was taken care of, the rest of our interaction was at ease and we could pick up our friendship from our last email exchange. 

A more awkward hug lies in the "hug by association". I knew Ben also from listening to The Grapes of Rad but prior to meeting at the party, I had had little communication with him. Yet because of the bond I'd created with Aaron, I felt an associated bond with Ben, so when I met him, I went in for the hug. There was that awkward moment where hands come out for a shake while the other person's arms are waving up near shoulder height with very different intentions. When you are in that moment where you're either extending a hand or have opened out your arms, to the other person doing the opposite, remember it isn't just you who wants to slip into a crack in the floor. The other person surely feels bad too. The attempted hugger wonders if they have overstepped the mark and the attempted hand shaker fears they appear to be a cold jerk. Then there is that pause. Do we go with the hug or with the shake? The outstretched arms will usually guilt the shaker into a hug. It may not mean they were anti hug, but simply that they didn't know where they stood with you. In this case, I always think it's best to go with the hug. To shake after that is to take steps backward in your budding friendship and screams a loud "cool it" to the would-be hugger. After experiencing this moment with Ben and then going in full force for the hug, I asked if that was okay or if I had made him uncomfortable. He said it was fine and he was glad we got that familiarity straightened out. Success. The hug allowed us to move forward in our new friendship.

Do we have to?

Hug frequency is a little thought about issue but I've recently become aware of it. In our busy lives we don't tend to see the same people all that often so it's very natural to greet each other with a hug when we do. But when you're seeing your friends regularly, when do you hug? I'm very confused by this and its occurrence has been increasing in the last few months where I have ended up seeing the same group of friends several times a week for various events. In one week I saw my friend Marilyn five times and I believe we hugged four out of five times. Was that really necessary? I have no problem with hugging Marilyn and would gladly hold her in an embrace of up to five minutes if she desired it, I just wondered if I was hugging because I thought I should, if she was hugging because she thought she should or if afterwards anyone was left thinking, "Did we really need to do that again?" I don't think there is any clear answer for these types of hugs other than, "If it feels right, do it." One thing is certain though, if you are seeing someone regularly, there is no need to get up for a hug. If someone is comfortably sunk into a couch or tucked away in a booth at a restaurant, if you have seen them within the last three weeks, there is no need to trouble yourself for hugging. These hugs should just work out as a matter of geography. "Hello! You are my friend and I am pleased to see you. You are standing inches away from me. I will drape my arms around you for a moment as a mark of our friendship, just as I did two days ago."

One last hug is similar to the hug by association but it's in the case of someone you just met, but you are friends with their friend or significant other. Upon first meeting, a hug for your friend and a shake for their companion makes complete sense, but by the end of the evening as you hug your friend goodbye, what do you do with the person they are with? Are they now in your hugging circle or do you shake again? If you spent a lot of time bonding with this person over the course of the evening, a farewell hug comes very naturally. But if the conversation was of negligible quality or quantity, that "should I or shouldn't I?" moment glares at you as you heartily hug your friend. A hug for the friend, shake for the companion screams "They are my friend. You are not." The double hug indicates, "You probably don't want me to do this, but I didn't want to hurt your feelings." In such a case, whether a shake or a hug follows, discomfort will accompany it.

This piece provides no answers on this issues but merely attempts to bring these issues more to your consciousness and perhaps make you even more socially awkward than you are.

A blog about hugs wouldn't complete without Canned Hamm's wonderful "Who Needs A Hug?" I DO!
blog comments powered by Disqus