Hugs are taking hold with men, even Joe Sixpacks

The Baltimore Sun

A total stranger hugged me the other day.

This was the friend of a friend who came up to me in a restaurant and introduced himself.

What followed was one of those awkward social mambos where I went to shake hands while he was zeroing in for a full Tony Soprano hug.

We both chuckled nervously and ended up doing some kind of lame half-hug, half-shake thing that would've gotten us both whacked if we were in the mob.

But this was proof that a new wave of serial man-hugging is sweeping the country and drifting down even to my people, the Joe Sixpacks of the world.

Sure, your Hollywood celebrities have always gone in for those phony hugs and air kisses.

And big-time athletes hug each other so much, you'd think it was an intervention instead of a ballgame.

But now you have guys hugging in restaurants and offices and probably hugging instead of high-fiving during the Friday night bowling league, too, an indication that the whole thing might be getting out of hand.

In fact, a recent article in Time asked: "Are Hugs the New Handshakes?"

"At work and at school, even on first introductions - at least among the latest inhabitants of The Real World - the hug is gaining on the handshake," the article said.

It noted that even President Barack Obama is caught up in the trend, hugging up a storm with senior male staffers these days.

I don't know, can you imagine any male members of the previous administration hugging each other?

Think Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld hugged each time they passed in the White House?

Think George W. Bush was hugging his Secret Service guys whenever they all went out for a bike ride at Camp David?

If hugs really are the new handshakes, it's the last thing American men need right now.

For one thing, it puts too much pressure on the huggee, especially at a time that's stressful enough.

It reminds me of life back in the '60s and '70s, when you never knew if another guy would greet you with a regular handshake or a soul handshake or some other crazy handshake with various grips and slaps and fingers shooting off in different directions.

Now you have to worry about a possible hugging incident each time you greet another guy, when all you want to do is say "hi" and move on.

Even the hugger has to be feeling some pressure when he attempts to wrap a couple of beefy arms around another guy.

Will my attempt to hug be rejected?

Is this one of those uptight, nonhuggable types who's going to freak out on me?

Who needs all that stress?

Just shake hands and get on with it, I say.

Here's another reason to discourage hugs over handshakes: Most men do not hug well.

Time listed three different hugs in favor these days, and I can assure you most men would screw up all three.

The first is "The Full Frontal," described as: "Total body contact, heart-to-heart embrace and firm squeeze. For parents, children and good friends."

The second is "The Butt-out Hug" - the magazine uses another euphemism for butt, which this column is too classy to repeat - described as: "Nothing touches below the shoulders. Reserved for the office, bad dates and references to Vince Vaughn."

The third is "The Hip-Hop Hug," also called "the man hug and hetero hug. Shake with right hand and hug with left, two slaps on the back."

That last hug, of course, is the one pro and college athletes bestow on one another.

But it looks goofy when done by anyone older than 30. And it should be done very sparingly by white people, as it requires a measure of cool to pull off.

And isn't having to choose the right hug another form of stress that guys don't need?

OK, here comes Fred. Do I give him the Full-Frontal hug or the Hip-Hop thing or what?

The fact is, hugging is too intimate a gesture for a lot of guys, especially older guys who grew up with John Wayne movies and the idea that men were supposed to keep their emotions in check and not make a big deal out of everything.

When a guy comes up to them in full man-hug mode, these older men get a look of pure terror in their eyes and think: Uh-oh, the Duke wouldn't go for this.

And the fact is, the Duke wouldn't go for this.

The Duke would punch out any guy who tried to hug him, and then he'd probably punch out the guy's horse, too, just to make a point.

Understand, I'm not making a judgment on the Duke.

I'm just saying it was a different time and the Duke wasn't the kind of touchy-feely guy who could handle a man-hug, even after wiping out an enemy machine-gun nest or a dozen loud drunks in a barroom brawl.

The Duke could handle a shot of whiskey, sure.

But a hug was out of the question.

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