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October 10, 2014

Arms Are Not Made For Hugging

Arms are, if anything, made for punching. That's why they end in fists. They don't end in felt-covered Hugging Mitts.

A writer at the Washington Post named Veronica Toney discusses the secret shame of our society.

Eventually, it happens. Maybe as soon as the first meeting, or maybe after a few encounters, the arms come at you, leaving no chance to object. Or duck. Or turn and run. The oncoming arms produce an involuntary response: My torso tenses and my own arms rise, ready not to embrace but to push the encroaching party away, and I bare my teeth. Of course, in deference to social convention, I contort this completely natural response into what I hope looks something like a smile. "Oh, we're hugging," I say, in a desperate attempt to highlight the awkwardness for my trespasser.


The problem, people, is not with me. It’s time to take a step back and ask when--and why--it became common practice to bypass all the steps of getting to know someone and move straight to the hug. According to Amy L. Best, Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Anthropology and Sociology department at George Mason University, social norms have slowly been shifting the last few decades, and boundaries have fallen. "People are much less likely to have to abide by norms of separation and distance...."


Hugging it out should be the province only of an emotional moment: a wedding, a job promotion, a birth of a child. Declaring, "I'm a hugger," should not give enterprising cuddlers license to move three steps into the next phase of a friendship.

Part of the problem with hugging is that it has become a social convention, rather than what it once was, which was an expression of genuine emotion.

There are some times when a hug is appropriate. Those times are when there's a marriage proposal in the air or a body in the ground.

Hugging is for celebration, or comforting someone who's had a setback. Hugging is not for noting that two people have both managed to meet at Chili's after work. Being at Chili's is not a cause for celebration, and nor is it quite dire enough to require comforting.

An even more important rule is Men don't hug. The only time men should hug is when male family members are observing a major life milestone, such as a major promotion, the safe return from overseas deployment, or noting a witty observation in the commentary audio track of Die Hard.

The only exception to these guidelines if a man tells another man, "Boy, I could sure use a hug." But he won't say that, because he's a man, so just stop with the male-on-male hugging.

To be serious, if I could: There are rules of physical distance, and there are meanings to breaches of those rules.

People of course do occasionally touch each other. But those touches have important communicative purposes precisely because of the general rule that we don't touch each other.

When that rule is obliterated, and hugging becomes something you merely do to "Say Hello With Your Arms," then the special meaning of a real embrace, or comforting touch of the shoulder, is likewise obliterated.

The word "hello" has no particular meaning and no importance. It's simply a required social convention at a meeting or reunion. We already have one meaningless social convention to note that we have successfully showed up in each other's presence; we don't need to include hugs in these meaningless conventions.

And if we do, then how do we show genuine feeling? Nibbling on each other's ears?

Hmmm... There's something a little child-like about hugging, too. It's an innocent gesture -- it's intended to be so.

But it sort of ignores the adult-world meaning of intimate touching.

So I wonder if it's somehow connected to a growing preference for Child World rules, and an increasing rejection of Adult World rules.

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posted by Ace at 05:52 PM

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