When hugging becomes an extreme sport, here’s how to win

     (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-222108742/stock-photo-cute-blond-boy-with-a-cat-focus-is-on-the-cat-isolated-over-white-background.html'>Boy hugging cat</a> image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    (Boy hugging cat image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    I hate hugs!

    I know that makes me sound like a curmudgeon, but I have found that engaging in huggery with another person has led not only to entanglement of necklaces, earrings and scarves, but also to shoulder injury, neck pain, facial scratches, and general discomfort. Instead of feeling comforted and embraced, I feel violated and annoyed.

    It is said that physical touch is good for humans, therefore hugging should be a good thing. Here are all these people wanting to hold you in their arms. Then why does it often feel that hugging has become an extreme sport?

    What are you getting out of it?

    Most hugs in the public arena nowadays are more about the hugger than either the huggee or the experience itself. It is not a shared engagement of affection, but a demonstration of how good one is at hugging. These super-huggers want to show how sincerely they care for you by enveloping you in a hug that is comfortable for them but, depending on your height and girth, can be devastating for you — or at least it is for me.

    I’m not talking here about hugging as a precursor to sex or one that expresses true caring and affection; I’m referring to that occasion in a public arena when someone descends on you like a yeti wanting to carry you off to its lair and not let you go until they are satisfied with their hugginess.

    Hugging used to be a way of acknowledging closeness to someone, of either gender, to say, ‘I enjoyed spending time with you.’ It’s warmer and more meaningful than a handshake, or the air kiss which leaves make-up intact, and less formal that the double-cheeked European kiss.

    When my friends and I part at the end of time spent together, there is that moment when we look at each other as awkwardly as teenagers on a first date and decide whether to hug in parting or not. This is not the hug as embrace, but a formal touching of arms and cheeks. The next time we meet the same thing occurs. In hug etiquette, having hugged once does not mean you must hug every time. Or does it?

    Some people are natural huggers. They hug no matter what. I am not.

    Perhaps I inherited my reluctance. My mother was not a good hugger, it always felt contrived, and when I entered her force field it was so highly perfumed that a hug usually involved scrunching up my nose and waiting till it was over. My father, on the other hand, was a cigar smoker. Enough said. My parents’ friends’ hugs often involved wet, icky, slobbery kisses as well, and had to do with boundaries crossed in a time before we understood boundaries, but that’s a subject for another time.

    Hug defense tactics

    I take a class in which hugging is encouraged. Whenever I run into my teacher or anyone else from that class, no matter where, they envelop me in their arms, force our cheeks together and squeeze the air out of me. Needless to say I avoid these people and haven’t returned to the class.

    I have on several occasions attended large events where hugging was on the menu. At a session of The Forum (the successor of EST) in the 1980s we formed opposing lines and were asked to inform the person opposite just how comfortable we were. That allowed each person to control how close to let another person come.

    At a Deepak Chopra meditation retreat, one hug came at me with such force that I had no defense. I was crumpled, my shoulder mauled, and when I said something, I became the one in the wrong. Hugging, it seems, trumps personal space.

    And at a more recent Tony Robbins event in Secaucus, attended by a mere 5,000-plus people, everyone was expected to hug and be hugged. I developed a defensive stance, one hand poised to defend against a shoulder, the other to hold off the person at the side. At the result I grabbed a lot more boob and whatever else was in reach, depending on the stature of the person coming in for a hug. But my shoulders and neck stayed intact.

    There is an Indian spiritual leader known as Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) who offers hugs at her events. It is said that she has embraced over 34 million people. I know some who have been hugged by her and found it meaningful. Clearly, I’m not going to be one of them.

    There are hugs I do enjoy. They usually emerge naturally and feel intrinsic to the moment. So, all I’m asking is: Be respectful. Ask people if they want to be hugged. Move in slowly and make sure you’re both comfortable before tightening the embrace a little more. Make it a shared experience, not a show of force, and you’ll both emerge from the experience feeling good.

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