Knowing when to hug someone is a question that has plagued humanity since its very inception. Confounded cave-people deduced how to trap and eat their monkey brethren right away but would have to wait thousands of years before even the most basic hugging etiquette could be established. Misplaced hugs have torn apart families, ruined lives and even caused wars (probably World War I). Despite thousands of years of struggling with hug protocol, scientists have yet to unlock its deepest most powerful mysteries.
There was a period in my life where I had friends and then hugged them until we were all so tired from embracing that we had to take lengthy naps. They were like platonic orgies. It was a perfect world where everything made sense and nobody felt bad about themselves or each other. We drank, talked and warmly embraced each other deep into the morning hours. Through perseverance and community spirit, we had become masters.
Amateur huggers, who aren’t confident in themselves or their abilities, always have the same three questions:
1. “What if it feels like we are about to kiss?”
2. “How aware should I be of how close our genitals are to each other?”
3. “Is smelling them okay?”
My answer to these queries is always the same: Hugging is an art. While society has guidelines set in place to define it, some of the best huggers/artists are all about breaking through barriers and thinking outside of the box. It’s not always evident when the best time for a hug is and, occasionally, you have to make a leap of blind faith. Understanding these aspects of it helped to make me the Picasso of hugs.
Things have changed a lot since then, though, and hugging, like any skill, diminishes without practice. It is important to surround yourself with top tier huggers to keep you sharp. I once knew a man that hugged down a near homicidal maniac. But the best I could hope for today is an awkward embrace from a distant family member at the next funeral. As we get older, more awkward and bitter, many of us simply stop hugging. Luckily, the fundamental knowledge has yet to abandon me and that information came into play rather dramatically one fateful day.
I knew a guy who had just been told that he was being laid off and understood that, at some point during the day, I was probably going to have to hug him. It was a terrifying prospect. I spent the majority of my afternoon trying to come up with a plan that would get me out of it and, when I couldn’t do it, I frantically began trying to mentally prepare myself for what was to come. While pretending to work, I went over every potential outcome and how to deal with it. I had never hugged him before so I had no idea what to expect. He could have wanted everything from a short pat on the back to a full on extended consolation hug. There was even a chance he might not even want a hug at all. Holy shit, I thought to myself. How the hell was I going to plan for that contingency?
Then, right at five-thirty, he stood up and said “Well, I guess this is it.”
It sure was.
Despite rehearsing it in my mind repeatedly, I wasn’t even close to ready. I stood up and searched his body language frantically to get a sense of what was coming. But it wasn’t until I saw his eyes that I knew it had to be a hug. I offered my hand anyway and, looking a little hurt, he took it. As I brought him in with my other arm for the half-grab, his other arm got away from me and the safety barrier I had carefully orchestrated through the shake was lost. We were in full-on hug territory now and he was preparing for the squeeze. But, before he could, there was an explosion of tears. I was getting dangerously uncomfortable now. I was so out of hug practice that I really didn’t know what to do with this. I contemplated screaming in the hopes that someone would come to my aid and pull him off of me. Yet, somehow, I managed to find that part deep inside of me that still knew how to hug like a total champion. He was enveloped by my power and I felt his soul relax a little in my arms as if the pain inside him had died. I had done it. I was a king.
I hugged him so well that he knew he didn’t need that job or anything it had to offer. Suicide was off the table now and even being worried wasn’t in the cards for him after an embrace like that. In fact, the hug was so good that he probably carried its radiance all the way home to use on his wife after he told her that they were probably going to give up their newborn for adoption due to the crippling financial burden. With that single moment, I might have saved dozens of lives. Do I expect a parade in my honor? As appropriate as that would definitely be, I do not. I just think it’s a good idea for adults to hug each other once in a while.