Has hugging become the new handshake?

Have you noticed lately there’s a whole lot of hugging going on?

Hugging anybody and everybody seems to have sneaked into our culture over the past ten years. People I used to run into and exchange pleasantries with, now want a hug first.

Okay, I’m cool with that, but it’s been a difficult transition for someone who came from a long line of non-huggers.  In fact touching in general wasn’t the norm in my family.  We didn’t love each other any less, we just weren’t huggers.


I spent the entire weekend with a friend training for the marathon. I ran into her on Monday morning thinking a hug wouldn’t be necessary since I’d seen her less than ten hours before.  Nope.  She swooped in like a DC-10 and gripped me in a strangle hold. You’d have thought we hadn’t seen each other in 15 years.

So suddenly our culture has passed on the handshake and taken to hugging – and not just close friends, but mere acquaintances, and sometimes perfect strangers. Often, we even hug coming and going.

Whenever I join a group of people, I never know whether to hug or not to hug.  I try to size them up first before going in for the clinch.  But even then, I usually let them make the first move.

Hugging has become especially popular in church.  I hug no less than four or five people whose names I don’t even know.  A friend told me he was in the grocery store the other day and a woman in front of him turned and said “Hey.”  Thinking she was probably a church member, he grabbed her and gave her a big hug. Once the woman recovered she said “I was just going to ask you to hand me a pack of gum.”  Oops. He’s lucky he didn’t get his face slapped.

So, what’s the etiquette on hugging?  Do you hug your plumber when he comes to unclog your drain?  You’d better hug him when he arrives, because you darn sure won’t feel all that affectionate when he hands you his bill.

Why have we caught the hug bug? Mental-health professionals cite everything from increasing population density to a resurgence of community spirit. Some theories point to 9/11 bringing the country together and to The Sopranos showing that tough guys can hug too.

And let’s not forget the increasing popularity of workplace hugs, which can be especially problematic. There’s a hug, and then there’s a Hug with a capital H – the kind that can get your human resources manager involved  The consequences of a mismatched gesture can be dangerous–and not just because of a possible harassment suit.

There are many different hugs.  I’m kind of a side ways hugger – as if I were in a chorus line. It seems less desperate somehow. I know I should try to become more spontaneous, and I remind myself hugging is an innocent expression, a harmless nonverbal communication with my fellow travelers.

In a world so full of peril, what’s the harm?  So I’m learning how to become a hugger.  I’m also learning I have a lot to learn!

My best advice for you non-huggers out there is, just resort to a little coughing and sneezing fit as you approach a “huggable situation.”  That’ll cool off the huggers and have them heading for the hills.

2 thoughts on “Has hugging become the new handshake?

  1. Love it! Hugging someone I know is different from just greeting strangers. I enjoy a good hug!

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