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Embraceable you: A handy guide to the human hug

I actually view the hug as a welcome human connection – a sort of “soul massage” when you might need it most. illustration.1 / 2
As I’ve amassed more nieces, nephews and female friends, I have become a more proficient hugger. Illustration.2 / 2

FARGO - I am a born-again hugger.

I actually hail from a family of women, which means we are a bit more apt to cuddle and hug. On the other hand, we can be very stoic and Midwestern. So my family falls somewhere between a very demonstrative, “Come and give your Aunt Rosalia and your Uncle Carmine a big hug” family and a “Welcome back from military school, Spencer. Now that you are a mature 8-year-old, we will only shake hands” family.

I used to resist hugging with every fiber of my being. If given a hug, I would stand there in frozen terror, like a wild fawn searching furtively for the nearest hedge to dash behind. But as I’ve amassed more nieces, nephews and female friends, I have become a more proficient hugger. And now I actually view the hug as a welcome human connection – a sort of “soul massage” when you might need it most.

The funny thing is that all humans seem to hug differently. So much so that, one day, while embarking on a long road trip, I started to mentally categorize them. My list seems to outline a mixed herd of huggers, varying from the bear-hugging uncle to the hugstage (the person who reacts to hugs as if he were taken hostage).

Here’s my far-from-definitive list:

-- The Spleen Crusher. For this type, hugging isn’t just a job. It’s a religion. This person hugs with an enthusiasm and strength that is comforting, if sometimes painful. It’s kind of like being hugged by an oddly compassionate pro wrestler.

-- The Master. This person gives the perfect hug when you need it most. She doesn’t let go first, either. This is the kind of hug that is so instantly nurturing and healing that it may make you burst into tears. Fortunately, they are good tears.

-- The Passive Resister. This is the hug I received – or, more accurately, doled out – to my nephew from the time he was 6 until he was 20. He basically stood there and tolerated my hug because his mother had taught him that it might be insulting to run screaming into another room.

-- The Awkwug. The awkwug is a painful thing to watch. It’s when two people try to hug each other but are so uncomfortable with the process that they wind up looking like unskilled and extremely uncoordinated mimes.

Arms make inept cradling motions. Two bodies jerkily lurch together like shy tweens at their first boy-girl dance. The actual grasp is a sad, gauche thing, punctuated by nervous back-patting and the world’s shortest and most embarrassed clinch. If your first date ends with such a hug, you may want to reconsider whether there should be a second one.

-- The “We’re Just Friends.” This is a perfectly normal hug, except that one person feels compelled to pat the other person comfortingly on the back. In this moment, the hugger announces: “There, there. I am fond of you, but you are just my friend so I am patting you on the back as if I am patting a delightful toddler’s head.”

We often see a more macho form of this hug between two men, who will heartily clap each other on the back as if they are trying to dislodge a chunk of steak caught in the other’s windpipe. I call this the “I am capable of hugging you, but I want you to know that I will later juggle anvils while screaming at ESPN” hug.

-- The Scandinavian Side-hug. I gained a whole new insight into this form of hugging after moving to the more reserved Red River Valley. Western Dakota Germans prefer a warm, unbridled hug, possibly because they are always looking for an opportunity to break out into a spontaneous polka.

But Scandinavians tend to be a bit more cautious. They want to know someone for a while before they consent to a full-on embrace. We need to be accepting of this. If you have the type of husband who said you looked “fine” on your wedding day, he will probably not hug easily, frequently nor robustly.

Instead, you will learn to stand side by side and embrace gingerly with one arm – just in case others are watching and judging you on any wanton displays of affection. This not only prevents you from getting all mushy with someone you’ve only known for 35 years, it also keeps one arm free to carry the Jell-O salad to Solvig’s daughter’s bridal shower at the church.

-- The Leachy McLecherson. On the other end of the spectrum is the person who views hugging as a full-body contact sport. This hug varies from the Spleen Crusher in that it seems to carry questionable, slightly skeevy undertones. After one of these hugs, the giver will know whether you still have your appendix or not. And you will know that you want to file a police report.

Sometimes, you can’t spell “hug” without “Ug.”


By Tammy Swift, Forum News Service. Swift writes for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

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