handshakes and hugs

This week I am at a conference for my job. My industry is very small, and I am younger than most people in it by at least a decade. It is also dominated by dudes, mostly of the older and white variety. This was my second conference, and I would by lying if I said that I got much out of it besides doing some serious networking. The sessions were not applicable to where my particular business is in its life cycle, and much of what was being purveyed was fundamentally and philosophically different than what works for us. The networking was good, though, and I learned a lot on that front. I did sneak away numerous times to strip off all my uncomfortable clothes and work quietly in my hotel room. It is moments like these that make me think I am not cut out to be in an executive position where I need to be “on” for fourteen hours a day, schmoozing and socializing. Shove me in a room where I do my work and make my own hours as long as my work gets done. Meeting new people and explaining ad nauseam who we are and what we do and where we are makes me want to curl into the fetal position after just a few hours.

I have been mulling over a blog post about hugging for a while, and my experience with handshakes at this conference has given me even more fodder to consider. The two are different but similar. But with both hugging and shaking hands, there is a right and a wrong way. Let’s start with shaking hands.

Many women do it wrong. Many men do it wrong in a different way. The way you should shake hands is confidently and firmly without trying to play mercy or holding it uncomfortably long. Don’t be a cold fish with tightened fingers that don’t actually grip the hand of the person who is shaking yours. Don’t let your fingers go flacid. Don’t let your wrist go limp. It is also imperative that you do not put a death grip on the hand of the other person. If you are so firm that you almost snap my metacarpals, you’re doing it wrong. Also, it does not reflect positively on your manhood that you can aggressively squeeze my hand. Congratulations, you’re a dick.

For some reason the percentage of people who shake hands incorrectly surprises me. This is not a challenging concept. I did not grow up in an environment where learning to shake hands appropriately was a skill that was bestowed upon me. All it takes is a time or two to sort it out. This isn’t rocket science, folks. Basically, the same rule applies here that applies in every arena of life: don’t be a douche. Just be a normal human being. Confidently put your hand forward, slide it into someone else’s, move it up and down a couple of times, and voila! you’ve just successfully completed a handshake. So many people I encountered this week have been in the professional sphere for so long and have presumably been shaking hands the WRONG way all this time. This makes me curious – is it acceptable to call someone out for this? Can you at least make a face? I make a face. I cannot help myself. These people need to know that their handshaking technique is abysmal and needs serious overhauling.

Hugging is a little different, though not completely. One of the main differences with hugging is that you can ostensibly call out someone who is a bad hugger. If your relationship is intimate enough that you are hugging, you can tell someone they suck at it. After my mom died, one of my sisters asked that people share stories that they remembered about our mother. One of my dearest and oldest friends said that it was our mom who taught her how to hug. That was the way our mom was – she was “a hugger” in any and all circumstances.

Going on a trip? Hugs!

Going out for the evening? Hugs!

Running to the gas station real quick? Hugs!

Going to the basement for a minute? Hugs!

We girls are also “huggers” as a result. When people try and say silly things like, Oh, I’m not a hugger, I have to admit that I want to stab them in the face a little. My reaction is, Oh, really? You don’t like to engage in one of the most basic human interactions? You don’t like to indulge human affection, literally the basest of our needs as mammals?* Then I hug them anyway.

The thing is, just like with shaking hands, there is a right and a wrong way to hug. I’ll go ahead and speak for every woman who has ever wanted to have sex with a man and vice versa – if you want to communicate that you do not want to have sex with someone, pat them while you’re hugging them. Unless you are in a serious, committed, confident relationship with someone, or unless you are their pastor, it is never appropriate to pat someone who you are hugging.

Patting signifies dismissal. Thaaaaat’s niiiiiice, mmmmmmmk, hug’s over.

Patting is the placating move we use on baby bottoms. What makes anyone think it is appropriate to use this on grown adults, especially grown adults with whom you might want to fornicate at some point? Patting someone on the back while you hug them is awkward.

Also awkward in the hugosphere is the one-arm. Unless you have groceries, a child, or a flaming bag of shit in your other hand, you’d better go ahead and use both arms when you hug me. What is the value in letting your other arm lie there all stiff and weird? Are you afraid that if you use both arms you might have warm human feelings? Does.Not.Compute.

Seriously, the one armed hug makes me want to Jackie Chan or Chuck Norris snap that other arm. I’ll give you a reason not to hug me with both arms!

If someone has a legitimate reason for the one-armed hug, I’m all ears. But in general, there is no valid reason. Because you do not feel comfortable being a vulnerable human is not a valid reason. Get over it. We’re people. We touch each other. Sometimes we hug each other and we both have bewbs and those bewbs have to be all up in each other’s grill. Get over it.

Sure, sometimes people are weird about hugging and they get freaked out because they have sexual hangups or issues with affection. Let me say it again: GET. THE FUCK. OVER IT. We are human beings. If someone is hugging you, there is a 99%+ chance that they are doing so because they care about you, you care about them, and you have a mutual desire to facilitate one another’s comfort and happiness. All the baggage that you’re carrying around on your back and dangling from your neck and strapped to your ankles and weighing down your shoulders? Don’t let it stop you from feeling the love emanating from another human being who wants to share with you their kindness and warmth. You deserve better than that. You deserve better than to be defined by the lurid past over which you have no control. You’re in control now, so go ahead and use both hands and don’t go pat-pat-pat.

If someone is hugging you without your permission, that’s a different story. Stab that motherfucker in the throat. And then kick him/her in the groin for good measure. And maybe another quick throat stab before you run off into the night.

But if you are engaging in a consensual hug? Do it right. Throw your arms around the other person with abandon and pull them close to you and hold them for a spell. Life is short, y’all. And my reality differs from yours very little in that all any of us really wants is to love and to be loved. All the other shit is just static. Bonuses. Pluses and minuses on a scale of love. Career? Fantastic if you have someone to celebrate it with. Beautiful home? Great! If you can fill the space with loved ones. Lots of money? Fabulous if you can sometimes spend it bringing a smile to the face of someone you care about.

*I recognize that some people don’t hug because of issues related to OCD or touch and I respect that. But sometimes people just aren’t huggers because they are twats who don’t like to acknowledge their humanness in a way that might make them typical or vulnerable. And that’s rubbish.

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