How to Hug

Give_me_a_hug_by_juliguiltyI don’t even remember my first hug, but it is probably my mom who can claim it. I know I always felt safe and secure with her, and a good hug can be a great catalyst for those feelings. Why do you think that when people are sad a hug can comfort them? Because it’s a kind of physical closeness that can imitate and/or draw upon an emotional closeness. A hug can be an amazing connection between people, but it can also be bittersweet, a valid form of saying goodbye that can dredge up sad feelings as well.

The most recent person I hugged was my daughter Alexa. I went to her school today for the end of year “Fun Fest,” and I stayed through the morning’s round of activities. When it was time for those to end, and I had to tell Alexa I was leaving, she grabbed my leg and squeezed me tightly. She didn’t want me to go, and I felt like a horrible person for having to leave, all those feelings pressed into that hug. But I explained to her why I had to leave and she eventually let me go, but it was such an emotional feeling, that hug.

Who was the last person you hugged? Was the emotional connection there, or was it one of those perfunctory hugs? A hug can be just as impersonal as anything else if you take it for granted. Here are some ways to hug:

  1. The Ol’ One Arm Hug. This is most often performed between guys who are supposed to be close but who aren’t. Take for instance these guys Tom and Willis, who are married to best friends, Theresa and Jen. When they get together for dinner out Theresa and Jen hug, so Tom and Willis would feel awkward if they didn’t. But they’re not buddies, so they quickly lean into each other, and only put out one arm. This is impersonal.
  2. The Handshake Hug. When you’re unsure of how to greet someone the handshake hug is a good way to go. You can leave it at a handshake if they don’t lean in, but if they do, you can hug it out and feel validated for having the forethought not to go in for the big hug, for leaving it up to the other person. This is a step past the Ol’ One Arm Hug, but not quite the sign that you’re mates for life, as the Aussies would put it. This is somewhat personal.
  3. The Back Pat Hug. So, you finally feel comfortable actually leaning in to hug the other person without the subterfuge of the Handshake Hug. First objective met. But there are whole other levels beyond that, though, that could trip you up, such as do you pat each other on the back? Businessmen seeking to seal the deal will likely perform the quick, breath-taking (literally) back pat, meant to separate the men from the boys. Women who feel warmly for one another will pat each other on the back multiple times in one hug, but gently. This can be both impersonal/meant to impress, or personal/meant to comfort.
  4. The Big Bear Hug. This one is the most telling of any hug. Wrapping your arms firmly around another person and squeezing them tightly is the ultimate sign of emotional closeness, and lack of physical boundaries with that person. It’s the hug most often given between family members who actually care for each other, and between close friends who have been close friends for a long time. It is definitely personal and is the one implied when someone signs off “XOXO.”

There are many more variations of each of those hugs out there, and also several more types of hugs, dependent upon where in the world you are. Some variations are the Lean-Down Hug, the Looking Elsewhere Hug, the Smug Hug, and the Hug-Without-Touching. Each of these hugs can be defined in different ways, but most likely each one has been approved by both parties over a series of trials and errors, of aborted hugs and of embarrassing situations. And that’s okay.

Because a hug is a two-way street, and it’s always great when you’re driving by and someone stops to say hi.


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