Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On Lingering Man-Hugs

Being a relatively quiet and nosy person, I tend to notice things. Things I'm not really supposed to notice, I don't think.

The other day I noticed an acquaintance of mine give his 17-year-old son a Lingering Man-Hug. He stroked his son's back, whispered something in his hear, and then drew back and kissed him on the forehead. As with most things that make me uncomfortable, I stared and watched the whole thing. Yes, it made me uncomfortable and that raised some Very Serious Questions.

Why did it make me uncomfortable?
Was it just because I was an accidental witness to what was obviously a private moment, somehow rendered more intimate by the public setting? Was it just because I was intruding? (Like when you watch a stranger eat. Such a personal, private thing to be gawped at.)

Was it because I am uncomfortable with seeing two men hug each other? I've seen my husband hug countless men, never lingering, but including a man at a parade with a "Free Hugs" sign. That doesn't make me uncomfortable. I've seen my neighbors, partners for nearly 20 years, hug each other and I just think it's sweet if I think about it at all.

Was it because they were father and son? Perhaps. It wasn't that many generations ago that for a father to show physical affection to his son was considered "unmanly". Do I have remnants of this notion that cling to me like a vestigial tail? I once received some lovely advice that I shouldn't be too affectionate with my (then 2-year-old) son because he might grow up "funny". I was appalled by this, and rightly so, I believe.

But is there a cut-off point in this physical affection? Does it at some point become uncomfortable? I think it's the cutest thing in the world when my 5-year-old son hugs his Daddy and kisses him on the mouth. Will I still think that when he's 17? Is it one of those cases where I'm judging something now and later I'll look back and realize what an idiot I am?

Or was it just the fact that it was a lingering man-hug? One that went on just a little too long for a situation outside, say, a funeral?

Or must I admit that I don't particularly like this acquaintance of mine? That I find him a bit phony and creepy even when he's just standing there, neither lingering nor hugging?

These are all questions I ask myself, not just to kill time or write a particularly ridiculous blog post, but to examine my immediate reactions to things I observe. Our guts tell us all sorts of things and sometimes all they're saying is "Lay off the refried beans right before bed." I believe in intuition; I believe that we perceive things that we can't really name and they lead us to conclusions we can't really explain. But when one is faced with a Lingering Man-Hug, one must question these conclusions. These snap, emotional judgments we make are fodder for all sorts of misconceptions, misunderstandings, prejudice and future embarrassment. They are also the sort of judgments that keep us out of danger - both emotional and physical - in certain situations. But still, I examine.

I believe it was one of the original Lingering Man-Huggers, Socrates, who said: "The unexamined life is not worth living." Do you suspect he was talking about this?

22 comments:

  1. There's so much you can say about a lingering mam hug. I suppose we should all be grateful that when it was over he kissed his son on the forehead and not his mouth. And of course I meant man hug and not mam hug but for some reason I can't change it :)

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  2. It would probably have made me feel quite uncomfortable too.

    I also follow/believe in instincts very much. And I tend to lean on them, expect them, and depend on them. The worst part? is when these instincts don't appear. They leave you to go on with no instinct at all.

    That's hard.

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    1. I usually have pretty good instincts, but I constantly question them because we are, after all, more than animals just walking around reacting by instinct.
      And yes, the blank instinct is a bit scary.

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  3. As I was walking into the groc store this afternoon I realized that I hug someone about 72% of the time when I go out in public for a significant amount of time. But I have lived in the same town almost 32 years so I know a significant percentage of the population. I didn't even begin to think about any lingering aspects of hugging; I am pretty sure I don't linger. The woman I hugged today is one of the oldest people I know, and she has sent me a birthday card several years ago. She is leaving soon to live near her daughter, and will be missed.

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    1. I realized there was ambiguity in the words "significant amount of time" - I meant when I was shopping for a longer time period or going to several stores, not hugging an individual for an extended time period.

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    2. I'm glad you cleared that up. ;) I'm a hugger, myself. I wonder how many people I make uncomfortable by hugging them? My guess would be far fewer than the people who actually needed a hug.

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    3. An increase in hugging is probably a key to a better world.

      WordVeri: lousiest

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  4. Our instincts are usually right. Not always for the right reasons, mind you, but they're usually right. Maybe you were simply uncomfortable because it's none of your dang beeswax how this man and his son hug. Or maybe it's because he creeps you out a bit anyway and you imagined yourself in his arms instead (involuntary full body shudder there - ick). Regardless, there's a reason you felt this way.

    This reminds me of a seminar I attended several years ago and found utterly fascinating. It was all about those things that are difficult to put one's finger on, but give us the heebie-jeebies, or insult us, or make us beam with pride. It's sort of like playing your Sesame Street album backwards and suddenly understanding everyone else's obsession with Nutella. I'll let you know if I remember the name of the seminar.

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    1. I completely agree with you. It was totally none of my business, and that's why I started to question my reaction. It was a strange reaction for me to have, so what were my instincts responding to? Dangling participles, perhaps?

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  5. I definitely agree with Socrates, which is probably why I lie awake for far too long at night. I agree with the comments above regarding our instincts. After having been assaulted by a university student I was tutoring, he continued to stalk me and though I never divulged his identity openly because of the open police file, at some point it became necessary to discuss the matter with the other profs in my department. Two of the women profs who had had him as a student were not surprised to hear of what had happened and admitted to having been thoroughly creeped out and feeling inexplicably uneasy around this student, to the point where they had mentioned it to their husbands. I myself, obviously, have a ways to go in developing my own less naive, protective instincts. But there's something to be said for that vibe we get- it's a protective mechanism that is part of human nature. It's often said that people 'get the creeps' from psychopaths.

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    1. That is a scary story. I agree, it is part of a protective mechanism, but sometimes it's faulty. How do we know when it's just "I don't like that guy" or when it's "I need to protect myself from that guy".

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  6. What I find interesting about this post is your awareness of your reaction to "the lingering man hug". I like that you went through each possibility of why you might have been uncomfortable. I think this type of exercise leads to much self discovery. I like that.
    I felt as though I had an ah ha moment when I read this. Now why did I have that reaction? After going through a list of my own questions, I have come to the conclusion that it is because I have learned something that I want to try to start to do myself. That is pay attention to my feelings and examine them, which may lead to a better understanding of who and why I am me.
    Thanks.

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    1. Hi, lyndagrace! Thank you for stopping by, and yippee! That was exactly my point with this. It's less about the silly hug and more about why we react the way we do to things. I love your blog, by the way.

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  7. I come from a family of huggers. My three brothers have a standard hug where they grasp right hands, pull together then slap each other on the back with left hands. My sisters and I make fun of them regularly by giving each other a man-hug-brother-style. Altho' we tease, I think a lingering hug would make us uncomfortable.
    (My husband comes from a non-demonstrative family. My brothers take delight in teasing him and trying to get a hug in. Luckily, my husband takes it well.)

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    1. I'm a hugger, myself, and generally hug with abandon and out of nerves sometimes and it can be off-putting to some people. I love that your brothers are comfortable in their affection for one another. I think there needs to be a lot more of that spread around.

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  8. i like the fact that you looked at your reaction to this, too.

    i've always been a go-with-your-gut girl. but as i've gotten older, i have learned that i am also prone to going too much with my gut -- the result being one or two pretty off-base conclusions that i had to work my way back from slowly and, sometimes, painfully.

    we feel what we feel, right? nothing wrong with that. it's admirable that you take the extra time to try to figure out why you might be feeling something and not just simply accept your emotion as signifying something Super Weird.

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    1. Hi wendy! Thanks for stopping by! I use my gut for a lot, too. I am trying to figure out a balance between instinct and reason just so I have less of those "pretty off-base conclusions". Less damage control later if I stop and examine a strong reaction when I have it. Especially if it's completely random like the one I wrote about. Thanks for reading! I love your observations!

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  9. I do this sort of thing all the time--the examining part--habitually, perpetually, probably borderline pathologically. I am always questioning my own motives and poking around for the psychological underpinnings behind the things I think and do. Sometimes I get into such a circular spin in my brain (I call it my brain chasing its own tail) that this voice speaks up to tell me that while the unexamined life is not worth living, the over examined life doesn't have much to recommend it either. (Probably not Socrates--the accent is off.) ;)

    Generally, though, I think it's a good thing and that self-awareness is a tremendous skill worthy of cultivating.

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    1. I'm a little bit pathological about this, myself. It just REALLY bugs me when I have a negative gut reaction that doesn't make sense.

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