The Politics of the Masculine Hug
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Something as pleasant as a hug shouldn’t be wrapped up in a whirlwind of social, personal, emotional and cultural baggage. Unfortunately, when it comes to hugging, many men are all at sea... Some of you will be confident huggers, who embrace their mates and even new clients without a second thought. Others will be strongly anti-hug, far more likely to proffer a firm handshake and avoid all of that personal space invasion. Many of us fall in the middle, reserving hugs for our mates (and usually their partners, give or take a peck on the cheek).
Hug troublesThe fact is, the rules around hugging are not clearly defined. While once a handshake was the expected greeting, today social norms are in a state of flux. Even within a hug there are grey areas. How long should the hug last? How tight should it be? How do you initiate a hug? Should you pat your co-hugger on the back? And why on earth do men usually give hugging partners a pat? And then there’s the question of hugging women in a post-#MeToo world. When is a friendly hug appropriate? How can we be sure a woman (or indeed any acquaintance) is comfortable with receiving a hug? In short, hugging is a minefield.
Handshakes vs. hugsThe over-formality of the handshake is the core reason behind why we must now do battle with “hug politics”. Once upon a time, a handshake was the tried and tested method of meeting anybody. A prospective client, your doctor, a close friend, your mentor, your father, your son, you name it. Today, however, we live in a far less formal world in which the notion of shaking your brother’s hand feels extremely archaic. So, the man hug was born! And with it the entire zoo of qualms, considerations, calculations and anxieties outlined above. The issue is: where do you draw the line? If you hug your brother, why shouldn’t you hug your best mate? And if you hug your best mate, won’t your other close friends feel left out or inferior? And if you’re going to hug your close circle, won’t your wider social group feel slighted if you don’t give them a hug hello? And so the whole circus spirals into the man-hug politics we know and dread today. Now a hug feels pretty much obligatory whenever you’re introduced to anyone outside of an interview room.
Hug like you mean itThis isn’t to say that there’s something inherently wrong with hugging. Hugging is a great way to share an affectionate greeting with people you like. The awkwardness really only arises when hugs are “bogus”. We’ve all been the victim of that horrible “shall we-shan’t we” moment when the social expectations aren’t clear. When we go for it, the hug feels empty and uncomfortable. When we don’t, we feel like we have been (or have ourselves) socially slighted. The solution? Well, there isn’t one really, bar wait for society to iron out this social wrinkle and hit upon a new “rulebook”. In the meanwhile, perhaps insist on hip-bumping everyone you meet - or develop an extremely elaborate handshake everyone will want to try. Are you a hugger? Who do you hug and who do you shake hands with? Do you hate hugging hello? Have your say below.
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