Do You Know How to Hug?

by | Nov 5, 2013 | Uncategorized

Group hug image courtesy Flickr user Joris Louwes
Group hug image courtesy Flickr user Joris Louwes

Hugging: you’re doing it right.

The hug seems instinctual, no? We’ve been doing it, or rather, have had it done to us since the day we got out of the womb. And yet, just like long distance running and cell phone etiquette, we all think we know how to do it and yet many of us do it so awkwardly. And if you’re reading this thinking, I know who to hug, when to hug and how to hug … then you’re probably one of the main offenders.

A recent article in the Omaha World Herald (yes, because there’s not a whole lot else to write about in Omaha, trust me, I’ve lived there) specifically provides etiquette on the man hug. The intent of the articles is  to avoid any embarrassing faux pas, especially for men … because we seem to be especially inept at any sign of physical affection. But we’re not the only ones: provides a list of the 23 Most Awkward Hugs in History (even the ladies can be culprits of poor hugs).

The confusion with the hug probably stems from what it means to us and how we do. I live with 30 men, all of whom I am united to through our desire to live out the gospel and all of whom I call brother. And in that Tommy-Boy fashion, you say, “Brothers don’t shake hands, brothers gotta hug.”

But different ages, races, ethnic backgrounds and family of origin narratives mean that we have 30 different interpretations of how to hug. Some guys hug me with vicious slaps to the back as if they’re E Honda from Street Fighter 2. Others signal an embrace with one hand, but give the old Adrian Peterson stiff-arm with the other arm to your shoulder–it seems like a compromise between intimacy and distance, while actually doing neither well. Some feel as though everyone should get the same hug and others only give hugs to the closest of friends. It’s really hit or miss and the hug can sometimes signal your ‘in-ness’ level, and that can be confusing if your internal hug-gauge is busted.

As a result, articles like the one from the Omaha World Herald or even school policy manuals on the appropriate way to hug — A frame with a gentle bow at the waist so that the head leans in and the butt leans out — have to clarify what is appropriate. A hug is supposed to be an act of welcoming, beholding, and intimacy.1 But when we’re not sure what kind of hug to give, it winds up evoking fear and discomfort. Although hug etiquette takes away the squeamishness, it also does away with the intimacy, so that hugging is just going through the motions, rather than an expression of love. In other words, the crushing embrace of the law has squeezed the spirit out of the picture.

If you’re going to do it, my suggestions are to do without fear, full of conviction, and with warmth and generosity. Follow the lead of this Dave Matthew’s video:



Group hug image courtesy Flickr user Joris Louwes

  1. The root of the word intimacy (or intimate) comes from either the Latin intimus, which means innermost, or intimare (which means to impress upon). I’ve heard it said that intimacy comes from the prefix in, or without, and tim, or fear. In other words,  to be without fear.

Jeff Sullivan, SJ   /   All posts by Jeff