I’m not the first person to write about hug awkwardness. I just read a Reader’s Digest column by humor writer Mary Roach on the subject, and life coach/self help writer Martha Beck describes a disastrous mis-hug with a client in one of her books. These stories strike a chord with me because I can be socially awkward, often fretting about how to get through social situations (including seemingly innocuous hugs and handshakes) without mistakes, and of course in overthinking it, I usually blow it.
I am not a hugger by nature, but I am happy to hug, generally, when someone else initiates it. And sometimes the hug gets botched – big time. Here is my list of the Top 10 Most Awkward Hugs:
- The Face Plant: This most often occurs when the two people engaged in the hug are of radically different heights. I’ve slammed my teeth or nose into the shoulders of tall huggers and likewise rammed my shoulder into the face of short huggers too many times to count. Neither of us ever mention it. I just smile, turn away, and run my tongue over my front teeth to check for looseness.
- The Sit-Stand: Recently I was finishing up a meeting when a male colleague of mine came in for the hug. He’s a frequent hugger so I wasn’t surprised, but my chair got stuck underneath me and I couldn’t pull it out in time, so I just grabbed him around the waist with one arm, my head on his stomach. “OK, this isn’t weird!” I think one of us said.
- The Letch-Press: So hugs among acquaintances of the opposite sex often seem weird to me. More so when that acquaintance, is, well, something of a letch. I worked with a man once who seemed to use the causal hug as a means of inappropriate closeness. After a meeting one day he hugged me and then wouldn’t let go. My arms had meanwhile dropped to my sides and I was basically just paralyzed in his 10-second grip. Ten seconds may not seem like much, but in casual hug years, it’s an eternity. You should not hug anyone for more than five seconds unless you are sleeping with that person or it’s a family member in the military who is being sent overseas.
- The French-Press: I have a friend whose husband is from France. To be fair, I am not entirely sure if this is a French thing, but when you greet him, he comes in not just for the hug, but the kiss, and not just a peck on the cheek. He goes for the mouth. The first time it happened, horrified, I was barely able to swing my head away to the left just in time to feel a warm, wet one on my right cheek. I’m still traumatized.
- The Full-Body-Press: Again, I am no expert on social interaction, but I’m pretty sure that hugs among friends and acquaintances should be upper body contact only. As the name suggests, a Full-Body-Press is just that. All parts touch. Not good.
- The Over/Under Arms War: This is when you attempt to hug and the other person tries to put their arm over your shoulder, while you’re simultaneously going over, so your arms collide. Then both of you switch to under at the same time, then back to over. Nervous laughter ensues. Repeat. It really takes all the fun out of the awkward hug.
- The Forceable Hug: This is when you force an extreme non-hugger into a hug. You know it’s a terrible violation of their personal space, especially when they recoil as you approach, your arms extended, their eyes widening in horror, but you can’t seem to stop yourself. “Oh, we’re doing this.”
- The Over-Exuberant Hug: This is when you accept that this hug is going to happen, even if it’s the last thing you want, so you overcompensate and latch on, squeezing for all you’re worth, like, “damn it, if I’m going to do this, I want it to mean something!” It’s an odd opportunity for me to press my admittedly boney and flat chest into other women’s generous, soft bosoms. I’m not trying to be the letch-hugger here but it’s always a mind-blowing experience. “Wow, you have those things. How amazing.”
The Over-Exuberant Hug reminds me of the same dilemma I’ve had in the few awkward religious activities I’ve found myself occasionally engaged in over the years. There’s that moment where it’s expected that everyone holds hands. So I’ll be standing next to some pasty-faced dude I’ve never met, and I guarantee you his hand is sweaty, and now I have to endure contact with his sweaty hand for possibly a minute (a lifetime in hug years) while someone says a prayer. I don’t want the pasty-faced guy to know how awful and uncomfortable this makes me feel, so I give his hand a meaningful squeeze, as if to say “this is great! I love that we are holding hands right now!”
- The Atta-Boy: This is the male-on-male half handshake/half hug in which one guy goes for the hug, while the other anticipated a manly, formal handshake. If you can’t get your hands out of the way quick enough, it becomes a handshake plus one-armed pat on the back.
- The “Let’s See How Far Apart We Can Stand and Still Hug” Hug: This is the opposite of the full-body press. Both parties must lean in and only the shoulders and arms lightly touch. This is typical of two extreme non-huggers who somehow were forced by social norms to engage in this massive violation of their spaces. It lasts for about 0.3 seconds.
And that concludes my catalog of awkward hugs. I look forward to engaging in some of these with many of you this holiday season.