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  • April 2nd, 2017



By Joel M. Vance

Lovers say it to their significant others, grandmas say it to their grandchildren, even gushy types say it to their dogs (often to the consternation of the dogs).
“Gimme a hug!” It’s the universal expression of affection. Or is it? After all when a Mafia don gives you a hug and a kiss the next step is off a dock with your loafers stuck in concrete.
And Judas famously kissed and probably hugged Jesus as an act of betrayal. It’s a wonder kissing and hugging survived in Christianity, although without it as a prelude to more intimate contact, there possibly wouldn’t be any Christians today.
It’s safer to shake hands, a custom designed to indicate no weapon in the shaking hand, than it is to hug where the hands are behind the back of the hugee, possibly armed with a knife. When Brutus gave Julius Caesar a hug the next step was a knife in the back.
Et tu, Brutus? Actually, Brutus was just part of a mob that iced Julie—probably didn’t hug him. But he could have….
The hug has become as common as a handshake in today’s society. It was not always so. Except among certain ethnic groups where affection is a freestyle event, most white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of today’s oldest living generation grew up in a non-hug environment. It was okay to hug babies and very small children, but once a child got to the age where it took private baths, hugging was out. You might get an embarrassed pat on the back, but that was about it.
I know, since I am of that generation. Perhaps my folks did hug me, but if they did I don’t remember it. It took me many years to get over that childhood reticence, but now I am an enthusiastic hugger and so is virtually every one I know. Once in a while I hug an elderly person and feel him or her stiffen slightly and then I recognize a fellow introvert raised in a hugless home.
Close dancing, what has been called “belt buckle polishing,” is nothing more than a ritualized form of hugging. While frottage, the rubbing of one’s clothed body against that of someone of the opposite sex, has been outlawed in some places, punishable by arrest and imprisonment, dancing is sanctioned frottage unless you happen to be a hardshell Baptist.
But there is no proscription among Baptists against an old auntie with overwhelming lavender cologne hugging a mortified eight-year-old niece or nephew, creating a lifelong fear of the hug. If hugless parents create an inhibited adult, gross, reeking aunties are worse. With a combination of the two you’re looking at an adult who will have more phobias than Norman Bates.
Fortunately close encounters with young people of the same age, eddying in a swirl of pheromones, can help to erase those awful memories. High school hugging loosens inhibitions (hugging which, in my long-ago, often occurred in the dark in automobiles that never heard of power accessories and whose radios tinnily played “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” Later on fatherhood forever banished any lingering mulligrubs about hugging—you can’t have babies and not hug them.
Yet even in today’s huggy society there are limits. The New York Times reported that hugging has become the young person’s “favorite social greeting” in the United States apparently replacing the high five. Predictably, elders have decided that hugging, like rock and roll, is detrimental to the morals of the nation’s youth and some high schools where hugging has become endemic, have decreed either a total hugging ban or a three-second rule.
Presumably all teachers in those latter schools are equipped with stop watches and whistles. Three seconds is unreasonable—hardly enough time to establish a grip and give the obligatory pat on the back. It’s akin to air kisses or clapping with one hand.
However, a three-second hug is better than the Draconian policy that once was in place at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. There a hug was punishable as a sexual assault if the hugger didn’t get “continuing and active” assent to the hug. If you jumped up to give your wife of 50 years a hug, she’d better be shouting, “Yes, oh yes, my prince! Hug me now as we have for lo! These many years!” and keep shouting it during the duration of the hug or you risked being dragged kicking and screaming to the stocks, perhaps branded on the forehead with a huge scarlet “H” for “Hugger.”
Fortunately, the authorities at the college came to what little sense remained and revised the policy.
There actually is a hugging site on the internet (called, no surprise, The Hug Site: http://www.uta.fi/~ms54336/halia.htm). It lists “positions” for hugging in different situations, a sort of Kama Sutra of the embrace. Yes, there are hugging positions. I once hugged a side-hugger, a woman who was so shy that she turned sideways and essentially reached backward to hug. It was an unnerving experience for both of us.
Ask.com, which supposedly has the definitive answer to anything you ask, says there are different ways to hug and much depends on the preferred intimacy. “Greet your husband or your longterm boyfriend with a full body hug,” says a respondent on Ask.com, not adding that it’s smart not to do that each in the presence of the other.
The side-hugger I ran into (sorry) fell under the category of this: “Greet your grandfather or your Aunt Mabel or your friend from school whom you haven’t seen for a while with what’s called a “side-saddle hug.” Maybe my side-hugger mistook me for her grandfather or some old school friend. I’d hate to think she thought of me as Aunt Mabel.
Virtually all huggers except those who have progressed to more explicit intimacy, instinctively arch their pelvises backward at the moment of hug, avoiding full frontal contact. Why this happens would be fruit for a doctoral study in psychology. And the research could be more fun than anything since the Kinsey Report.
When the greeting hug gravitates to something more intimate it becomes cuddling, that in-front-of-the-cozy-fire posture favored by lovers since fire was discovered. Spooning is a variation, often practiced by old married couples in bed and asleep. It involves one, usually the man, “spooning” himself against the backside of the other, both facing the same direction. On a bitter winter night it is the only conceivable hug position and beats a hot brick wrapped in a towel all to hell.
Our forefathers routinely slept two to a bed. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin once shared a bed and argued about whether the window should be open or shut. There is no mention of spooning, however.
Once a Missouri fisheries biologist did a survey of recreation on the Missouri River and included “spooning” as a minor activity, ranking well below trotline fishing. He endured much kidding from his fellow biologists and possibly did not know the literal description of spooning because the picture of a couple locked in a spoon on the slimy bank of the Big Muddy is less than romantic.
Perhaps the ultimate hug is in the sadly now-discarded practice of bundling. Frontier/pioneer couples would be “bundled” together in a hug, sometimes within a cocoon of blankets. It was like a straitjacket, only considerably more fun. Possibly the idea was that if the couple could endure such close quarters for an extended period of time they probably were compatible. Sometimes there was a board between the two which would seem to turn the hug into more of a lumberjacking event than a courtship.
The practice apparently came from the Old Country with the Puritans, but the Pennsylvania Dutch perfected it. The theory was that the couple would remain chaste though bundled together, usually with the girl’s parents sleeping close by, each with one eye open. Somehow though pregnancies resulted and it makes you wonder if the bundling board was full of knotholes.
Considering that every human activity, no matter how obscure or esoteric, has generated a world record, it’s no surprise that hugs have too. There is a Guinness World Record for the most hugs in 24 hours and also for the longest continuous hug (24 hours, one second).
The self-proclaimed hug champion, the Michael Jordan of huggers, is Jeff Ondash from Ohio who calls himself Teddy McHuggin. He set the most hugs record in Las Vegas (where else?) with 7,777 hugs in 24 hours. He also logged a world record 1,205 hugs in one hour. That’s 28 hugs per minute, averaging not quite three seconds per hug—obviously Teddy has been training with the high school teachers.
The marathon hug record, though, raises a question: shouldn’t it be jointly held? There is a hugger and a huggee, but they both spend the same amount of time entangled. It is a conundrum wrapped in an enigma and over all not very interesting.
It seems oxymoronic to celebrate the hug, but there is an official National Hug Day, Jan. 21. It dates to 1986 when enterprising Michiganders, from the town of Caro, came up with the idea. That being the pit of winter in a northern state when boredom, cabin fever and Seasonal Affective Disorder are rampant, the idea of a hug celebration sounds like a really good idea. For all the intimate details see http://www.nationalhuggingday.com/.
The folks in Caro are so enamored of their unusual day that they have trademarked it, like Coca Cola and request that all media mentions include the “TM” after the name (see above where I didn’t).
“Always ask first….” is mentioned and a good idea. For example, grabbing an NFL interior lineman in a hug is a good way to get the snot knocked out of you.
Hugging has been proven to have health benefits. One study has shown that hugs increase levels of oxytocin, and reduce blood pressure. And speaking of health, rather than spending big bucks as I did yesterday for a little bottle of pills, and rather than going to the doctor, just go to the comic strips. “For Better or Worse” had daddy saying, “I don’t know if I’m bored, tired or depressed,” and his daughter saying, “I wrote you a prescription, Take two hugs and call me in the morning.” Daddy, of course, immediately felt wonderful. If this revolutionary medical advice gets out, the pharmaceutical industry is screwed—-but we will all feel better in the morning.

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1 Comment

  1. Carrie Jo

    April 3rd, 2017 at 9:44 am


    Aww, cute. It’s a warm fuzzy blog… what got into you?!

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