Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hugs: A Public Service Announcement

I spend most of my days alone, sitting in my office, trying to maintain credible working relationships with my varied clients or busily plunking away at one project or another. My contact with the outside world is usually via that cold, heartless communication system we recluses savor, email, but sometimes I get to chat with them on the phone or once in a blue moon see them face to face. Other than that, camaraderie and company here at my little home office filled with books is at the barest of minimums. Some days, it is just Elsa and I working on an article and all seems right with the world. She is usually asleep on the landing for most of the day anyhow, or she’ll sprawl out on the floor by my chair and I’ll listen to her breath. It’s fun to watch her dream, which is one of the only times I 100 percent love my dog. When she’s sleeping.

Other than that, the UPS guy, John, comes around, Elsa goes berserk, and we exchange a brief chat about whatever is big in the news or what might be in the box that he’s delivering. Cars will go by, people walking… an occasional Jehovah’s Witness will attempt to convert me, but mostly it is a very quiet existence. And that might sound sad and lonesome, but most days it isn’t. I enjoy the freedom of being able to control my schedule, prioritizing my life and checking off the items on my list of things to do while other people are punching the clock in an office somewhere.

Some days, like today, I miss a good old fashioned hug, the warm kind you get when someone really likes you, that kind of hug that tells you that you have value and significance. I can say that, for not only is this my blog where I can say what I want, but I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to know when I need a good hug and to appreciate a good one when I see one. Frankly, I don’t get good hugs very often, and maybe that’s what missing in the world; you’d be surprised how many people don’t give good hugs. Perhaps they don’t know that they’re hug-challenged, or maybe they have issues with human contact.

Hugging, as a sport of polite society is such an awkward experience, as there has to be a predetermined type of hug you plan to give to someone before you go in for it. It is hard to tell if the other person is going for a slap on the back, a chuck to the shoulder or if he is a wide hand shaker. You’ve met them, the guy that swings his arm out, like a dolphin breaching the water, to come in at you. Sure, for a second it looks like he’s going to keep that arm up and wrap it around your shoulder, and to cover your bases, your right hand juts out in the direction of his soaring hand while the left scoops upward in case of a sneak hug. You don’t want to look like an idiot, and the most awkward thing to imagine doing is that little dance where one offered a handshake and the other offered a hug. To be obliging, you switch your tactic, but at the same time, so does the other person and you both end up looking like two people whose paths cross and they both are trying to let the other pass.

For the record, I really don’t like to be touched. It’s rather ironic, I know, but every time someone I don’t know touches me, I feel like I need to wash my hands. It’s nothing personal, but all I can picture are germs where their hands were. I’m not sure why, but I think it is associated with my rigid sphere of personal space, where I feel violated when someone I don’t know is standing too close to me or when their skin touches mine. Just back up, man, you’re not going to get any closer to the ATM by standing two inches from me. We’re all going the same way at the same time.

But hugs are different, because when I expect a hug from someone, I’ve already dissolved my personal space issues and I’ve allowed that person the right to hug me. Lately, I’ve been disappointed with the quality of hugs I’ve been getting. Bill Keene (creator of that disgustingly sick comic strip “Family Circus” said that a hug is “like a boomerang; you get it back right away,” and I think he’s dead wrong. Sure, I guess you get it back, but they never come back the way you give them; if I’m throwing out a solid cherry mahogany boomerang right from the Aborigines of the Outback, what has come back to me lately has been a plastic one from Wham-O.

Just before Christmas, I made a pledge to go all out with my hugs, you know, double armed, elbows at their shoulders, hands wrapped around their back, full body hugs… maybe even a couple of nice pats to boot.. and that cheek kiss thing. I was all over it. I figured that if I’m going to get that close to someone, then I’m going to pull out all the stops and give them something from the top shelf. And I didn’t get top-shelf hugs back for certain, and in the last four months, besides Kara and the kids, of course, I’ve only received a great hug from two people. The hugs I received in return from most everyone else were nothing better than a hug you’d give a porcupine on a cold day, cold and prickly.

My least favorite is the one-armed hug. I’d rather not be hugged at all, as they might as well come out and tell you that they think you have some kind of communicable disease they don’t want catch. It’s perfunctory, automatic, obligatory, mechanical, lacking all emotion and feeling and it is damn awkward. People on fire get hugged with the one-arm hug. Plus, I never know what to do with the other arm, as it is usually in flight, making its way to the other side for a two-armed hug. I can understand if you’ve got only one arm available, and I’m not going to crush a bag of groceries just to get a hug, but if your other arm is empty, that just says you find personal contact uncomfortable and you’re only hugging because society says you should in that situation.

Next up in order of least favorite is the shoulder hug. Usually women hug men with the shoulder hug; sure, it is a two-armed hug, but contact is limited to the shoulders only, like both people are trying to make a big A. I get them every now and again, and I’m not too crazy about it. It’s impersonal and lacks warmth and genuine affection.

The forklift hug is another on my list of much loathed hugs, and this one always comes from insecure men who feel that in order to hug another man, they’ve got to imitate some athletic event to justify the physical contact. Hugs turn into tackles or hockey blocks for fear that they may get a little touch of the gay if they linger too long. It is a variation of the bear hug, where you actually try to inflict injury on the person you’re hugging, which really goes against all those positive touchy-feely things psychologists promote through hug therapy…not that I know anything about that, if it does exist even.

Another variation of the man-hug is what I like to call the half-and-half, half handshake and half hug, but what it ends up being is a half-assed attempt at a full hug, stilted again by the rampant fear of contracting homosexuality. I shouldn’t be so bold, as I do this kind of hug all the time, as it is a socially acceptable hug between two men. You can pull this one off in a sports bar and nobody’d look twice at you, but if you go in for the full-body hug that has an “I’ve missed you” linger, people will expect fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them to soon arrive at your table. But the half-and-half is a good one, while still shaking hands, the two men crash their shoulders and upper chest into each other for a brief moment. It says I've missed you, but without exchanging body heat or mixing cologne. To me, it is a familiar hug, given to a good friend I see on a regular basis, more of a glorified handshake than a knocked-down hug. Of course, if I haven’t seen you in a while, you’re getting the full hug. I’ll shake your hand when you leave.

For the most part, a nice warm full-bodied hug that doesn't cause me to have to sign divorce papers is the nicest compliment someone can give me. It says, "I enjoy your company," "I'm glad to see you again," "I don't find you utterly repulsive," and "Good, you no longer smell like bait."

I’ll leave you with this caustically sugary poem by “Where the Sidewalk Ends” author Shel Silverstein. Careful, it causes cavities.

Hug O' War
I will not play at tug o' war.
I'd rather play at hug o' war.
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.


As luck would have it, a primer on the proper way to give another man a hug without compromising your masculinity.

1 comment:

Ryan or Kara said...

Elsa gives great hugs. Give her a chance.


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