This is stressful, let’s hug it out … or not

Published 6:00 am Sunday, July 10, 2016

To hug or not to hug, that is the question I faced in a recent, unplanned social situation.

So there I was heading toward the door, ready to bid people adieu when it hit me: Wait, is this the moment when I’m supposed to hug people? Am I supposed to instigate this?

I said my goodbyes with a wave and walked toward the door hoping that those around me weren’t thinking, “Why didn’t he drop some hugs in here?”

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Ok, I know what you’re thinking — this was not a date. Don’t you dare question this doctor of charm, dear reader (yes, that was sarcasm).

In the days to follow, I realized we have too many social greetings anymore and it’s become too hard to know which is the proper one for each social occasion.

There’s the handshake — the simple, manly and pretty much always socially acceptable greeting and goodbye. But it requires you to find the perfect balance between vice-grip and dead fish.

And we’ve all been there, stuck in a handshake with a person you suspect bench-presses with their fingers and you think, “Was that really necessary?” Or you go in for a shake, miss and give a person your own floppy fish of a handshake.

Then there’s the knuckle-bump, which I’m surprised still exists. I’ve found myself the victim — or apathetic observer — of many failed knuckle-bumps. I usually feel no guilt over those, just a modest fascination when I think, “Ohhhh, you were going knuckle-bump. So that’s still a thing, huh?”

Now don’t get me wrong. I saw an Austin person drop a perfect knuckle-bump complete with the hand explosion and sound effects recently in 100 percent good fun. She nailed it. It worked because it was in the right place at the right time with the right people. But you really need the right circumstances.

I only remember one memorable knuckle-bump. When Ray Manzarek, co-founder of The Doors, played Austin’s Historic Paramount Theatre, I got to interview him and, trying to be professional, went in for a handshake. He flatly held out a fist for a half-hearted knuckle-bump. I paused, a bit surprised this was coming from a ‘60s rock legend, figured it was to avoid my Midwestern germs and then I just took my fist-bump. It was from a member of The Doors — I’m not complaining.

Then we have the high-five, the grandiose declaration of, “Well done, buddy.” But let’s face it, you have fewer and fewer excuses to high-five as an adult. My nieces, especially my 1-year-old niece, love high-fiving, and I’ll occasionally high-five a friend as a joke or in fun … even though we suck at it and usually end up missing and skimming hands or missing entirely (Yes, we did this once. We’re cool like that). Tip to avoid such embarrassment: Watch the elbow, or so someone told us.

But we return, of course, to Exhibit A and Social Enemy No. 1: the hug.

Now, I grew up in rural Hollandale among the farmers and Dutchmen. Let me put it this way: In elementary school, the passing head nod used by many farmers became a popular go-to greeting.

But I’ll face the music, it’s mainly just me: I tend to be a quiet person, so instigating hugs just isn’t my thing. That’s why I appreciate the obvious hug: The person walking toward with outstretched arms as if to say, “Yep, we’re hugging this out. Let’s do this.” This is what I got from both my cousins when I attended their high school graduation open houses — outstretched arms from many feet away. There we go, kids. No question needed. That’s the social hug I grew up with: You return it.

There’s really only one other solutions for this hugging dilemma: If someone doesn’t hug you at an expected time, just assume they mean no harm. They probably just became entangled in a hug of social awkwardness.