The Huggers Among Us: A Guide to Greetings

A fiery debate rousing the Internet today is the one over hugs. You may not have known this, but hugs can be divisive. There are, of course, as many types of huggers as there are types of humans. Read on for a few Hug Types you might find familiar. 

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A fiery debate rousing the Internet today is the one over hugs. You may not have known this, but hugs can be divisive. Shane Snow has written at Medium of his own personal hug troubles, sparking the debate. He explains, "When I run into a male acquaintance, I know exactly how to greet him: shake his hand ... But with females, I feel like I’m trapped between two walls of a deep-space garbage compactor. On the first meeting, we shake hands. Easy. But the next time we cross paths? Is a handshake now too formal (especially if we got along well in the first meeting)? Will a hug be awkward?"

Whatever is a person to do?

This is, in fact, a real dilemma, and it is often one only solved by the alpha person in the interaction who forges forward with whatever greeting mechanism they prefer and owns it, because a hug must be owned for it not to become awkward. Unless both hug participants are tentative and awkward, in which case ... no, that's just a terrible hug, should have just waved from afar. There are, of course, as many types of huggers as there are types of humans. Beyond Snow's Anxious (How to Do It and Not Be Creepy?) Sort of Hugger, here are a few Hugger Types you might find familiar. 

The Hug-fectionist/fetishist. You may or may not display anxiety with regard to the quality of your hugs (and the most self-actualized 'fectionists have moved beyond concern and into rewards-based achievements), but you do care deeply about the quality and content of your hello and goodbye squeezes. You've studied the definition of the word ("to press tightly especially in the arms," likely from the Old Norse word hugga, which means "to soothe.") You have been boosting your arm strength and even taking regular vitamins as part of your work toward a better hug. You time your efforts — 5 seconds? 3? 10? — for the most effective hug-duration, and as you wait to pay at the grocery store you try to flex your triceps, just for practice. At home, you hug inanimate objects, like pillows, your stuffed koala, your remote control, or a loaf of bread, to get the hug down just so. While commuting via public transportation, you hug the subway pole. When there is something huggable, you hug it. On your tombstone, should you ever die, you want them to write, "Gave Great Hugs." Your mantra: "Practice Makes Hug-fic."

The Alternative Greeter. You high-five. You salute. You shake, or clasp hands deeply and emotively. You wave. You cheek-peck. You grin a grin of pain while holding your arms stiff and close to your hips and backing away slowly, so as not to cause alarm. You do it all. But you do not hug, for reasons that are your own to keep very, very close to your body.  

The Hug Activist. You just love hugs, and you'll give them any which way you can, to strangers, friends, family members, lovers, enemies, and politicians alike. You don't understand hug debates, or anyone who doesn't like hugging. Perhaps they are germaphobes, you think, what a terrible life to lead! If your own friends don't want to hug you, you have no idea and hug them anyway, you will not take no for an answer. You plow through life with your arms open and your heart full. You believe hugs should be free like the air or the sea's blue waters, and you may be from the South, where hugging is like breathing. (If you're a child, you're not a Hug Activist, you're just cute.)

The Grandma. You're a grandma, you smell good, and your hugs are the best. (See also: Moms.)

The Political Hug. If someone picks you up in a giant bear-hug (see Obama and that guy), you allow that person to do so and you lift your arms as if to say, "What?" in a casual, inoffensive manner. You do not squirm or try to escape the hug. You're involved, but not too involved, you've got people to see, things to do, and you know everyone wants a piece of you, that's why you're running for office. Not to be confused with "The McCain."

The Hugger with Room to Move. Back at those 8th-grade dances in the gymnasium the chaperone was always insisting you keep at least a ruler's length between your body and that of your dance partner. As a grownup, you've applied that method to your physical greetings. While your arms may touch another's arms and back, your torso will forever remain in its own separate continent. After all, Pangaea broke up a long, long time ago.

The McCain. You close your eyes, you open your heart, and you go all in. Like so:

Or, in one of the most famous McCain hugs in history, with George W. Bush in 2004.

The Hard Wrap. In enthusiasm, this is much like The McCain, or a grasp from a Hug Activist. The difference is that in this as-seen-on-TV move you also lift your legs, putting your whole body into it, possibly even wrapping your legs around the being you're hugging. It's a method used frequently in movies in which heroes return from war, or people fall in love at first sight, fight, and then make up just before one of them flies to Istanbul. In its anime variation, when one character aggressively hugs another in a surprising fashion, it's called "Glomping," but I like to call it "The Love Hug."

The Having It All Hug. You might hug and kiss or hug and butt squeeze or hug and who knows what. You're dating, or married, to the person you are hugging, one hopes.

The Multimedia Back-Patter. You're always holding your phone, and when someone goes in for the hug, there it is, up high in the air. In order to free yourself and it, you sort of tap the hugger on the back with it, which makes the hugger feel comforted and you, conveniently, able to free yourself from the hugger's hugging grasp.

The Skillful, Nuanced, Multi-Faceted Teen Hug. Read about 'em in The New York Times. "There is the basic friend hug, probably the most popular, and the bear hug, of course. But now there is also the bear claw, when a boy embraces a girl awkwardly with his elbows poking out." And there are more, too. Those crazy kids!

The Business Hugger. You do not, one would presume, do this, because if you do, you are probably not still in business. The role of the proper business hugger is simple: You give people raises, and sometimes, Summer Fridays.

The International Hugger. What is this hug you speak of? When a boorish American reaches for your middle section with his or her grimy paws, you assume that person wants to pick the pocket of your Ermenegildo Zegna suit, and you peck quickly one cheek, then another, and then maybe even another, a method meant to confuse and bewilder. You also might simply have "International Hugger" affectations, which means that Semester at Sea your junior year in college was a pretty rad learning experience.

The Side-Hug Aficionado. Someone's coming toward you for a hug and you don't know if you want to do it or not, so you turn slightly to the side and wrap your arm around the hug-wanter, keeping your hips parallel to theirs. Slightly less personal than the front-to-front hug, this is also the only effective way to hug while sitting on barstools and ordering drinks. (Yes, those cats are side-hugging.)

The Special Occasions Hugger. You only do it when you have a reason, like a goodbye, a wedding, a broken heart, a graduation, or on National Hug Day.

The Will-(S)he-Won't-(A)he? Also known as "The Tentative Hugger," or "The Lurch-and-Jerk." This is when you're about to hug and then you overthink it. Does the person you're about to hug even want to hug? Are you about to do something terrible that will lead to your inevitable social ruin? You can't quite read what's happening so you lurch back as the person you intend to hug leans in, expecting your hug, and you do this, back and forth, for a few seconds, maybe, and then maybe you successfully hug, maybe you manage an awkward cheek peck, or maybe you just forget you ever had plans and get on with your life. 

The Hug Hater. Perhaps you prefer to tweet. Maybe you just don't like touching people. Maybe you don't really like to go out in public. Maybe you hate people, or commenting on websites is the best sort of hugging you do. You might like the idea of hugs, but you hate the hug itself. Maybe you are in fact a germaphobe. When someone says, "Hug it out," you roll your eyes and wonder, "Why is this fool speaking again?" If someone ventures toward you with arms outstretched, you a) flee, b) pretend you just had your pupils dilated and can't see that person, c) say you're contagious, d) say "I don't hug!" or e) all of the above.

The Sloth Hugger. You are just a sloth, clinging to a human, and asking him or her to love you.

Insets via Flickr/Mijke Schaap; Flickr/Evan Long; AP Photo; Flickr/Kenneth Moore; Flickr/Carole.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.