It’s the perennial social conundrum: to hug or not to hug? And it seems to get worse–not better, as I always hoped and assumed during my awkward teenage years when physical affection came about as naturally to me as standing on my head–with age.
This could be partly because age introduces us to all the subtle “gray areas” of social expectations and people’s characteristics. In high school there are two types of people: those who hug and those who don’t. You learn who’s who in your social set and you deal. As an adult you discover all the other types of people. (Were they there in high school and we just didn’t notice? Or do the subtler aspects of people’s personalities emerge as they age?)
Among the huggers, there are the huggers who hug everyone; the huggers who hug everyone they know but steer clear of new acquaintances; the huggers who hug people they know really well and will receive hugs gladly enough from anyone but don’t give hugs readily unless they’re close to you (full disclosure: I am this person). Non-huggers include straight-up, don’t-touch-me non-huggers; non-huggers who reluctantly accept physical expressions of affection only from people they know very well; non-huggers who will accept hugs gladly from people they know well, but make it clear all others must keep their distance; and non-huggers who’ve given up the fight and will allow themselves to be hugged by huggers in whatever situation, even though it makes them cringe and stiffen.
I could be missing subtler nuances, and I’m not even touching on the “bipolar huggers” who are all in to hugs on Monday but go all stiff and strange when you try to give them one on Friday.
I guess we become more aware of all this as singles. Hugging becomes a daily, thoughtless habit if you come from a large, affectionate family (and I do), and then go to a small Christian college where everyone knows everyone (which I did). But after that? Not a whole lot of hugging goes on at the office, on the metro, in the grocery store … Hugs are now relegated to social functions, which happen generally only on weekends, with people one sees–at most–once a week. No more thoughtless, second-nature hugging.
Now? It depends on my mood. It depends on the other person’s mood. It depends on the mood of the party/dinner/event. It depends on what I’m wearing (it’s hard to hug in a bulky coat). It depends on whether the other person is a guy or a girl. A girl I know well? A guy I know sort of well? A new acquaintance? Does he/she look like he/she wants to hug? Should I look more like I want to? Do I want to?
So we resort to a series of exchanges that tends to look sort of like this:
…and in the end we all feel a little silly and deflated.
I know it’s different for everyone, but let me just say this for the record: if you’re dealing with ME, when in doubt: just give me a hug. I never turn ’em down, even if I’m not the best about initiating.