Monday, July 12, 2010

Laura Stepp - In Praise of Man-Hugs

Ah, how sweet - but seriously, why is it only my male therapist friends, and my gay male friends are cool with hugging? Hugging doesn't make us gay or girls, neither of which is a bad thing (as I seem required to mention).

In Praise of Man-Hug

Laura Stepp

Posted: July 8, 2010 03:31 PM

This is a valentine to all you guys who aren't afraid to hug each other. Because so many of you still are -- except, of course, when you've just completed a 50-yard pass.

One would think men would feel free to give each other a squeeze in places other than a football field, what with the Big Guy in the White House reportedly embracing nine male staff members in one meeting.

Why, it has been three years since Ari Gold, tough-guy agent on HBO's Entourage, made up to manager Eric Murphy with his now-famous scene closer, "Let's hug it out, bitch!" And a video called "Man Smacks," posted earlier this month on Huffington Post, documents a respectable number of man-hugs in recent movies.

Younger men are much more likely to hug than older men, maybe because they've seen these movies. But watching men of any age hug can be downright painful.

Even if they know each other well, they take this awkward dance step toward each other (but not too close), pause to figure out how a hug might be perceived by their partner, throw their arms around each other and then step away as fast as they can, sometimes popping a punch or slapping a back just to show they're still guys.

The whole thing is over in a heartbeat, whether they're meeting or saying goodbye. A woman leaving a party can take 20 minutes hugging and kissing her way out the door. A man, if unaccompanied by a woman, will be off the couch, out the door and in bed well before then.

A recent New Yorker cartoon (passed along by my not-so-down-with-hugging-men husband) captured this hug aversion brilliantly. It showed a couple arriving for dinner and being greeted by the host couple. The two women are contentedly hugging and pecking each other on the cheek. The men are hugging as well (minus kisses), with a thought bubble floating over the man who just arrived.

"I miss handshakes," it says.

Of course some men, like some women, just aren't into emotional displays. (Many, I suspect, belong to the Republican Party, given the grief Florida Gov. Charlie Crist took from Tea Partiers and others for exchanging a quick man-hug with President Obama.)

But what interests me is that in a country where women are often applauded for demonstrating their tough, aggressive side, men take flack for being kinder, gentler. To be a man still means, if only metaphorically, to swig beer, bed women and get in fights.

Case in point: The video is called Man-Smacks, not Man-Hugs.

So what do men do about the bromance with their best male friends? A Seattle newspaper article suggested that the man who appears too affectionate with a bro might be confused with -- gasp -- a gay man.

Hugs between men "rarely last much longer than one second," the article said." As hugs extend to two seconds or more, men watching the huggers quickly begin assuming the embracers are romantic, instead of just friendly."

A recent column in South Africa's Sunday Tribune praised the bromance, then added a cautionary note: "There are times when you're going to need to tell your man friend how awesome he is by making physical contact. There are five forms of contact that are allowed: the high-five, low five, back slap, ear flick (really?) and man hug."

The columnist went on to advise men not to stroll together alone in a park or on a beach. Or listen to Britney Spears.

So very British. And sadly, still so American as well.

Writer's note: For a fascinating online discussion of man hugs, see this episode of The Early Show.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To be honest I really don't think affection and emotion in public is a good thing, let alone giving it away to the public.
And I think the fact that a woman "can spend 20 minutes hugging and kissing out the door." is a sign of foolishness and lack of understanding on intamacy and privacy.
It is not something that men should try to imitate.