Greg Dennis: The intricacies of male hugging

Hugging is a wonderful way to express affection. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
But when it comes to men hugging their casual male friends, I’m sure I speak for many men when I say:
Can’t we just go back to shaking hands?
I’m not sure when it was that hugging among men became the New Normal. Maybe it started back in the Seventies, when feminist-oriented women (rightly) started pounding it into our feeble male brains that it wouldn’t kill us to show some public affection to other men, now and then.
But “then” eventually became “now” — and now we men are apparently supposed to hug everybody.
“The hug, long reserved for women, celebrating sports victories, and men from other countries, is muscling its way into everyday American Guydom,” declared a 2005 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“The male hug is complicating everything,” the article declared. “Men accustomed to the automatic hand clasp accompanied with a brisk up-and-down pump at dinner parties and college reunions, now must preface their greetings or goodbyes with intricate and split-second calculations based on body language, length of friendship and other factors.”
I’m tired of greeting a guy I know in a social setting and wondering whether we shake or hug. So what, exactly, is wrong with a simple handshake?
I never hugged those guys when we were in college. Why do I have to suddenly act like we’re hockey players celebrating the goal that just won us the Stanley Cup?
I mean, it’s kinda fun to see macho hockey brawlers embrace over the fallen body of the opposing goalie. In baseball, players make a point of the human dogpile at home plate when they win the pennant, sometimes at the risk of sustaining career-ending injuries. And it’s always nice to see Tom Brady embrace a receiver who’s just helped Tom earn his latest bonus.
But for us normal guys, it’s a whole lot simpler just to clasp our right hands and honor the ancient tradition — thereby demonstrating that we don’t have a club in our hand that’s about to take off the other guy’s head.
It turns out that the Interwebs have a lot to say about shaking hands, as they do about everything else. I never realized a simple shake could be so complex.
A site called Lifescript.com, for example, offers painfully detailed instructions on the protocol of how and when to hug someone. The site would probably be helpful for extraterrestrials and people from obscure former Soviet republics, where the only previous form of social greeting was enshrouded in clouds of bad vodka.
A site called Artofmanliness.com does a little better job on “the mechanics of the man hug” — assuring straight males that “men can still hug while remaining secure in their manhood.” Whew.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the site tells us how to “American man hug.” Begin with a handshake, continue holding the other guy’s hand, and wrap your left arm around his back. Slap his back two times, because “somehow hitting your fellow man makes the hug more manly.”
The ever helpful Wikipedia illustrates this approach with a photo of Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter sort-of-embracing pitcher Matt Wieters — as he pulls him from the game.
You can almost hear Buck thinking, “Your pitching sucks right now, Matt. But I’m going to soften the blow by hitting you on the back.”
Wikipedia claims this kind of embrace is called “the pound hug (also referred to as a pound shake, hip-hop hug, one-armed hug, dude hug, cootie hug, homie hug, shug, hetero hug, bro-grab, bro hug, brah hug, thug hug, man-hug, or a daps).”
Just in case you were wondering what a cootie hug was.
Our “manhood” can be further protected, we’re told by wikihow.com, if we hug by keeping in the “A-frame position,” where only the shoulders actually touch each other.
And the point of that is — exactly what? Isn’t touching hands in fact more personable?
I suspect a lot of this question is generation-dependent. I see high school friends hugging with regular and touching abandon.
Back in my high school days, that kind of group hug might have earned you a trip to the principal’s office. But now it’s normal and healthy.
Mark Anthony Neal, a Duke University professor of popular black culture, notes that younger black men often engage in a “hip-hop hug” — a handshake and bump.
It’s not the kind of greeting you’d expect to occur between, say, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy. But it seems to be the preferred style in the NBA, if not in the halls of Congress.
The experts who have studied the issue say male hugging is more likely, and more social validated, in emotionally charged environments — a wedding, say, or a funeral or sporting event.
Whatever the setting I’ll always greet my brother and few close male friends with a big hug.
But for everyday social discourse, a lot of us guys would just as soon go back to the simple grip and grin.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis.

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