As I get older, I am noticing that man-hugging is becoming more and more common, so I thought for my boys’ sake, as well as for the general public, the topic deserved a little discussion.
There are two distinct types of man hugs. The half and half, and the full hug. The half and half starts with a hand shake, then moves into a one-armed hug, and the full hug is, of course, self-explanatory. The problem with man hugs is that since there are two distinctly different types, it is sometimes difficult to gauge which one is appropriate, which one is coming, or in the case of the half and half, whether one is coming at all.
The half and half is the tamest of the two man hugs, though both are fraught with potential disaster. In its basic form, the half and half is this: shake hands with the right while simultaneously doing a left-handed shoulder double slap. The potential for disaster comes in the execution. Without a clear historical precedence of man hugs with a particular male, the only way to know if you’re doing the half and half is if one guy keeps coming forward after the hand shake has begun. This requires quick, decisive action from the other party if he was not expecting the half and half. If he does not act fast enough to keep his momentum and get the left arm up and over, the hug is a total loss. When men are hugging, there is no room for error. The slightest misstep, and things get uncomfortable. The last thing you want is the start-and-stop, or the stutter-shake-stall-and-hug. The worst thing that can occur during a man hug is awkwardness. Hugs are already uncomfortable enough for us, so we need the mechanics of the hug to go very smoothly.
Even with the smoothest hug execution, there are requirements for relieving the innate uncomfortable-ness that comes with hugging another man. Hard back slaps are a rule. Under some circumstances - like if someone has died and it is a condolence hug – a stationary hand on the back is considered marginally OK, but rubbing of any kind is never allowed. Talking throughout the hug is also very helpful for relieving the natural tension. Things like, “Great to see you, man,” or “Take care of yourself” are fine, but never anything too long or drawn out. Man hugs are short, crisp affairs. If you are hugging a relative or a best friend, and the situation warrants - like if someone has died and it is a condolence hug - “I love you, man” may be uttered, but it must be loud, and it must have “man” on the end.
Also, this should go without saying, but during any man hug situation, the bodily contact should be initiated by leaning forward from the waist. No body parts below the waist should be anywhere close to touching. Not even feet.
Speaking of the above-the-waist rule, it is important to keep the handshake high. The last thing you want is for the hands to get forced downward toward waist level during the lean-in. As far as the initial handshake goes, the half and half is actually a lot easier with the bro grip instead of the business grip. The bro grip is where the elbows are down and the hands are up. Your thumbpits still match up the same, but your fingers wrap around the base of the other guys thumb instead of the bottom of his hand. It’s the grip you would use if you were trying to pull that same guy up and over a wall or a cliff, or helping him out of a Dumpster. With the bro grip, you can both push your forearm against the other guy’s chest, creating a comfortable air gap between your bodies while doing the double back slap. The back slap can be an open palm, or a closed fist back bump, but in either case, the harder the better to help relieve natural awkward tensions.
The full hug is a little easier, in that it does not have as many moving parts, but it is no walk in the park either. Again, execution is key to eliminating any excessive awkwardness. If you’re going in for the full hug with no intermediate hand shake, it’s very helpful to throw up the right hand and arm at a 45 degree angle early on, well before you are in handshake range. You must also give the lean to the left, with the left hand and arm down at a 45 degree angle. This should clearly signal to the hugee that there will be no handshake, hopefully eliminating the awkward un-received outstretched hand, and the even more awkward need for a quick hand pull-back. When the unrequited hand extension and subsequent pullback occurs, it leads to excessive and uncomfortable laughter and talking about the hug. You never want to have to talk about the hug. The hugging itself is stressful enough.
Obviously, the full hug ends up with a lot more body contact than the half and half, and should be used sparingly. One major full hug concern is a drastic height difference in the huggers. Ideally, both parties would be of roughly equal height so that the heads can be safely out over the shoulders on their own. The last thing you want is one guy’s chin on the other guy’s shoulder, or worse yet, his face buried in the other guy’s chest. No good. If you must hug, stick with the half and half on any height differential over four inches. Also, due to the increased body contact area with the full hug, the hug duration should be much less than the half and half. Half of the half and half is a good rule, along with harder back slapping. Louder talking can’t hurt, either.
Whether you are going full or half and half, the most important thing to remember is to lean to the left. The absolute worst thing that can happen during any type of man hug is for both of you to try and go to the same side, resulting in faces accidentally coming too close, as if you’re both going in for a kiss. This causes immediate recoiling from both parties, and ratchets up the awkward tensions tenfold. The end result of the same-side-near-kiss is usually a lot of uncomfortable laughter and an overly exaggerated business hand shake. Sure, it was funny, but not the fun kind of funny. Everyone involved, even witnesses, walk away with higher blood pressure. No one wins with a same-side mistake. Remember, no matter what your political views are, when it comes to man hugs, you lean to the left!
Above all, since you never know what is coming, you need to be on your toes and prepared for anything. Man hugs seem to be here to stay, so please, men, do us all a favor. If you’re new to man hugs, practice with your wife or girlfriend until you get it right. I mean left.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen
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