Why Americans Hugging Too Much Is Actually A Problem

by Caleb Fechtor

Everybody knows at least one uncontrollable hugger, that person who sees no division between personal and public space. Maybe it’s that second cousin you’ve only met once, or perhaps the girl you always caught creepily staring at you in class, but whose name you never really knew.

Regardless of who it is, everybody knows one and when it comes down to greeting him or her, it’s always awkward.

The scenarios are always similar. For example, you walk in to your friend’s party and there she is, the hugger. You can feel her eyes on you, like a predator stalking its prey. You know what’s coming.

You pretend that you’re on your phone, or talking to friends, or tying your shoes, or observing the crowd, anything to avoid talking to her.  You dodge her gaze in hopes that it might repel her embrace, but it doesn’t work. It never does.

She comes at you with a teethy smile like a heat seeking missile.

“Heeeeeey,” she gleams, “I haven’t seen you since, like, forever!”

Okay, if “forever” is code for “two days ago” then, yeah.  You do your best to dissolve the awkwardness.

Then come her arms, outstretched like a bird in flight, swooping in to grasp you in her clutches.  Sometimes it’s a weak, fragile hug, just a love tap of two bodies.

Other times, though, it's surprisingly abrasive and you stand there wondering if you will ever again breathe your own air, uphold your own space and regain your dignity.

Some people feel the need to hug on every encounter.  They see you on the way to work? Hug.  Run into you at the grocery store? Hug.  See each other at the gym? Hug.  You could be drenched in sweat and mud after a sixteen-mile run through the Everglades, but guess what? HUG.

Am I the only person who feels violated? Is there anything more awkward than being involuntarily hugged?  What happened to a friendly handshake, or just a slight kiss on the cheek? These days, it seems like every circumstance calls for a “Let’s hug it out, bro.” I was even okay with the fist bump, at least there’s minimal contact.

When you’re in middle school, everyone wants to hug; that’s the only action you’ll get at that age. Hugging was great back then. Sixty percent of the reason I went to parties was to hug my middle school crush. Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve evolved and grown up since then. Hugging culture, however, has not.  I’m in my twenties and I assure you, hugging is still rampant.

I don’t feel comfortable hugging every person I’m introduced to. Does that mean I’m an antisocial weirdo? I don’t think so. There must be others out there who share this sentiment.

I have to say, I’m a damn good hugger. I don’t just hand those things out. Can’t we return to a time when hugging meant something special? Remember when it was reserved for close friends and relatives? To be clear, I’m not proclaiming, “No more hugs!” What I am saying is this: let’s limit our hugging.

In France, for example, hugging isn’t nearly as prevalent. The informal greeting isn’t a smothering embrace; it’s usually a quick kiss on the cheek. Minimal contact. Hi. Bye. Done.

I see wild hugging as a gesture of insecurity. It’s just a tool we use to fill the awkward silence that comes after, “Hey, how have you been?” Let’s get past that awkward silence, embrace (pardon the pun) the silence and make genuine conversation, without the awkward hug.

I challenge you. Next time you see “the guy who you met at that party one time” coming in for a hug, don’t fall victim to hug peer pressure. Take a stand. Trust me, you’ll feel good after you do.

Top Photo Courtesy: Dirty Glam