Folks, I just read this article, it’s called “The Tyranny Of Hugs,” and you can probably guess what it’s about. Author, Sadie Stein, bemoans the existence of what she calls the “obligatory hug” from those of her friends that hug too much.
She cites a New York Times article, a talk she had with her mom, and an article from Slate in reference to Natalie Portman’s new movie (which apparently makes a point of saying her character does not hug “easily.”
She even includes this bear picture:
So, okay, I believe you Ms. Stein. There are lots of people who don’t feel comfortable hugging (and some who might just be made uncomfortable by these super 90s hugging bears). But why so defensive? She ends on such a negative note:
Some people are natural huggers from warm, tactile families. Others are so visibly uncomfortable that it’s a minor ordeal for all concerned. I don’t mind hugging, personally, but I prefer to dart in and kiss on the cheek before someone has the chance to enfold me in an embrace that smacks of obligation. This requires sureness of purpose, however, and should not be undertaken lightly. . . the hug’s not a social requirement, at least not so far as etiquette experts are concerned. But try telling that to most Americans under the age of 40. Showing, not telling, is what it’s all about.
I think what bothers me about her attitude is the assumption that all of us huggers are of the obligatory kind. Meaning, the assumption of those who give hugs that you feel are obligatory, also are hugging out of a sense of obligation. While I understand her desire to see less of it in the workplace, there’s more to this conversation.
She hints toward the depth of hugging without even acknowledging it. She says that huggers com from “tactile families.” What that means to me, is that hugs are often a part of your culture. And while I may not be an anthropologist, I’ve seen my fair share of this played out. Different cultures rely on family differently.
I moved a lot growing up but the communities I appreciated most were those where hugging was acceptable. And maybe I’m a big hippie but love was acceptable as well. I was able to tell my friends I loved them and hug them growing up and, despite my awkwardness, my self-doubt, they loved and hugged me back.
For me, it was about building self-confidence. While these people weren’t my direct family, I formed an extended family. It showed me that, as an awkward and sometimes shy kid, I had a support group. It wasn’t until later, first when a friend of mine’s father died, then later when my mother died, that I realized the importance of these small moments of physical/emotional contact in my day to day life.
In countries like India and China, where it might still seem taboo for men and women to be physical outside of wedlock, the hugs and hand-holding they share with friends (is not only popular) is a sign that many people desire physical intimacy, even if only of a much smaller degree.
In my opinion, it’s important to let people know how you feel about them and, with the risk of being cliche, if I were to die tomorrow I’d want my friends to know that I loved them. It may not be an intimate love but a hug is only a moment, and obligatory or not, I support them.