We’ve just spent one full month watching grown men embracing, jumping on and kissing each other. And no one’s blinked an eyelid. That’s because all that tactile activity took place on football fields—during the FIFA World Cup finals.
Under normal conditions, physical intimacy between heterosexual men would be considered highly effeminate—and inappropriate—by viewers (and no doubt unwilling recipients of such affection). But social inhibitions are invariably thrust offside on a platform overrun by testosterone, like a battlefield—or its modern equivalent, the sporting arena, where participants have already proven their virility by jumping, boxing, kicking and outrunning each other.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Secure in their masculinity, sportsmen, soldiers (and Punjabi wedding parties) have long used hugs and kisses to broadcast their delight and high spirits. Anthropologist Desmond Morris called it the ‘Triumph display’. Off the field, the same men would shake hands formally with their friends or, if they were quite overtaken by emotion, thump one another hard on the back. Our fathers did it. So did our grandfathers.
Were they emotionally stunted? Not at all. It was just that they were brought up to view demonstrations of emotion as signs of weakness. There was a distinction, they believed, between feeling affection for a friend and showing it in anything other than a palm-crushing handshake.
Not anymore though. In the soft new world of bromance films and coloured denims, gents are opening their arms to white spirits, pink shirts—and the man hug. While men in their 20s and 30s seem to be most enthusiastic about expressing their emotions through their upper limbs, even older gents are embracing the trend. Psychologists suggest that it’s because the contemporary man is too comfortable with his sexuality to bother about being considered wimpish. Doctors say hugging increases the mood-elevating hormone oxytocin and causes declines in BP, heart disease and depression. What’s not to like about the embrace? It’s a practice everyone should wrap their arms around.
The only question is how do you get it right, and who with? Surely hugging is not appropriate with every man you come in contact with, carry as it does connotations of intimacy that should be reserved for only close friends and family? A quick poll in the office tells me that new acquaintances are not to be hugged. At least not ordinarily. However, if you have developed a bond on the very first meeting—perhaps over a few shots of tequilas—a goodbye hug may be appropriate.
Still, there are navigational rules to be kept in mind. The perfect man-on-man hug involves a quick embrace involving both sets of arms. Look straight ahead over your friend’s shoulder and give him three quick pats on the back. No lingering, no nuzzling and no contact below the chest. Like a Seal team, you should be in and out in no more than two seconds. If you’re a little shy about getting started, resort to the hug-handshake hybrid (in which the non-shaking hand does some back slapping). And yes, do the trial runs while drunk.
If you still don’t want to join the arms race, no sweat. Try and discourage potential huggers by offering them a very formal handshake. If they still don’t get the message, lock your arm with theirs to force a distance. If even that doesn’t work, push when they pull you in for the final embrace. If all else fails, plead a contagious disease.