Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Do You Hug?

I hired Linda.  We shook hands to seal the deal.  TBG and I  ran into her at the movies two days later. She hugged me.

H David and Zanner were our friends for years.  He greeted me at the door with an enveloping bear hug.

I didn't like either one.

G'ma and Daddooooo didn't raise touchy-feely children.  G'ma says that the first unsolicited hug she received from me was when I came home from college for Thanksgiving vacation my freshman year. She remembers me pulling away from snuggles and cuddles..... I don't remember them on offer, to tell the truth.

Perhaps my reluctance to get up close and personal for a greeting stems from Daddoooo's habit of ending every hug with a potch en tuchas.... a gentle smack on the buttock.  I knew he loved me. I never understood the smack.

My parents did teach me the value of a firm handshake.  Five fingers clasping five fingers firmly, a squeeze designed to announce my presence but not intended to damage, eye contact and a smile - this was the way to greet someone.  There was physical contact, but there was also distance.  This was hello not you're swell.


I didn't notice much hello-hugging in college or graduate school.  Big Steve once commented on the awkwardness he felt when dropping me off at my apartment; we were too close to shake hands but not close enough to kiss goodnight.  I didn't notice discomfort; I was comfortable with a wave and a smile.  Something made him look for more.

I'm sitting in a school as I type to you.  Big brothers and sisters are hugging their siblings with reckless abandon; it's a way to get out of line without incurring the wrath of the aides.  But I'm also watching 6th grade girls see long-lost-since-2nd-period-friends and fall into an embrace.  Eyes wide open, they scan the room, watching their friends' reactions to the hug.  It's less about the hug than it is about being seen giving one.... or, even better, getting one.

The 7th and 8th graders cross the threshold arm in arm, backpacks clacking against one another as they try to squeeze through the entrance.  They won't let go.  Had this scene taken place in my middle school, rumors of a sexual attachment would have spread like wildfire.  Today, here in Tucson, big hugs are social currency.

I taught Messers 6 & 8 the value of a firm handshake when they were 3 and 5, the same way that I taught the Cuters - through bribery positive reinforcement.  Every time someone commented on the firmness of their handshake, a coin  tangible reward was transferred from my pocket to theirs. The handshake itself carried no reward in their lives; the shiny penny made it so.  Now, 4 years later, they are content with a compliment.  The coin is a rare and treasured prize, delivered randomly as a variable reinforcement, with love and pride.  Graduate school did teach me something after all. B. F. Skinner may have been a lousy parent, but he certainly understood the basics of rote behavior.

Rote behavior is what it is, as all manners ought to be.  Unthinking, obvious, reliable, natural, expected.... manners make the world go 'round.  If everyone defers to the elderly and then the female passengers, elevators empty quickly.  It's the same principle as yielding to the car on your right at a 4-way intersection.  There's no value judgment involved; it's just the right thing to do.

The curtsey and the bow involve lowering one's head to another; that feels demeaning to me.  The hug involves a lot of physical contact; that feels intrusive to me.  The handshake is comfortably in-between.  It's another Goldilocks Moment..... not too close, not too far, but just right.

If you need more, add another hand to the first.  Cornell's President David Skorton did that to with me last month and instead of being crushed against his shirt front I was looking into his face and seeing with my own eyes what his hands were telling mine.... it was a silent conversation that didn't need any more physicality than 3 hands.

I'm just sayin'......


  1. I hug my family but friends - nope. They finally caught on they I never reached out was not very responsive so they hug. I say have at it but I reserve my hugs for offspring and grandchildren. I still feel great friendship for the ones who hug; I'm just not so inclined.

  2. All the typos! "that I never reached out and was not very responsive so they hug each other!

  3. I'm guilty! I'm a hugger. I actually like hugging people and I smother my kids with hugs and kisses. I just grew up that way. We even do family hugs. Hubby will be hugging me and the kids will shout Family Hug! We all five get into a big huddle hug. Typing it out, I'm laughing.

    And yes, I'm going to sign my post with hugs. :)

    Megan xxx

  4. I'm not a casual hugger. I hug my family lots but that's because they're my family. I don't like to use hugs as a greeting with friends and coworkers. I don't say "bless you' when I hear someone sneeze either. To me it's like saying, "I heard you sneeze and now I'm interrupting what I'm doing to say bless you and call attention to your involuntary act."

  5. I am not a hugger at all. I do not enjoy hugs from people who I am not in an intimate relationship with. This does not include children in my family. In other words I would never deny one of my nieces or nephews a hug, that would be unkind to a child that is taught hugs = love. However, I am not one to initiate a hug even from the children. I cannot stand it when a parent of any child insists that they hug or kiss me hello or goodbye. I know how uncomfortable I am in that sort of situation I remember being the child who was forced to hug. If you are not a hugging type person even as a child you just aren't. No mystery. It should never be forced upon anyone. Even as an adult I have people say things like "I am going to make you give me a hug" or "I know you don't like to hug but..." Very uncomfortable for me.

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