Eva T. Made Vaudeville

Eva T. Made Vaudeville
New York, New York, USA
April 25
Reverend Mother (yes, for real!)
Interfaith Minister/Progressive Episcopal priest.Actress, poet, essayist; fitness freak/geek. Part time acting and dance teacher. Writer for various LGBTQ publications (from my bisexual perspective.) Bronze level competitive ballroom dancer.Extreme Cat Person.Native New Yorker who is madly in love with my city. Currently living in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn and missing Manhattan a lot. Married to my Beloved, the fair Lady Lucia, who works, with me, for the God Squad and for our feline employers, Alice and Gracie.Daughter of some-time OS blogger, Rosy Cheeks.

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MAY 28, 2009 11:46AM

What's In a Hug?

Rate: 14 Flag

Today's New York Times has an article discussing the increased prevalence of social hugging amongst teenagers; boys as well as girls.  Some high school teachers and  principals are worried about it because they're afraid it will lead to unwanted sexual touching or increase the spread of infections.  There also seems to be a general air of mystification (on the part of the adults) regarding the meaning and origins of this phenomenon.  I can't say that I have answers to their questions, but reading the article did inspire me to ponder my own experiences with hugging.

I've spent most of my adult life in very "huggy" social circles. Theater people are huggy. Church people are huggy. Interfaith seminary people are VERY huggy...

For the most part, I enjoy all the hugging that's part of my social and work lives. I haven't always, though. When I started as a student at the interfaith seminary, I found the pressure to hug perfect strangers, on the very first day of class, extremely off-putting. I do need to know people and feel something for them, before wanting to hug them. That first day, I found myself thinking, "I'm too old for peer-pressure; I'm 39!" Still, I went through the motions of, gingerly, hugging every one of my new classmates and teachers. If I hadn't, I would have offended people, and I really didn't want to do that. By the end of the year, most of the hugs were genuine. That fact didn't negate the unpleasant memory of that first day, though.

I like hugs, for the most part, I think, because I grew up with very demonstrative, physically affectionate parents. They both hugged and kissed me and my brother frequently. They were physically affectionate with each other in our presence, too, before their marriage went sour.  In our family, you didn't need a reason for hugging. It didn't have to be a good morning, good night or welcome-home-from work/school hug. We would, frequently, just fling spontaneous hugs on each other, and those tended to be the sweetest ones. Sometimes, while my parents were watching the evening news, I'd crawl up on the couch and hug them; then run back to my room and continue drawing pictures, playing with my dolls or whatever I'd been doing to amuse myself.  I could be outside playing in the yard and my mother or father would stop what they were doing, dash out and give me a quick hug, and then go back to their grown-up work.

I actually discovered, at a very young age, that hugs could sometimes heal my physical discomforts as well as the emotional sort. If I was feeling tired, hungry at a time when it wasn't possible to eat (like on the bus) or had a bit of stomach or headache coming on, I could hug my mother or father, and it would make me feel better.  I'm not sure whether they ever knew that I sometimes sought their hugs as "medicine." I didn't think it was necessary to tell them. As a little child, I probably just assumed that everyone knew that about hugs. Looking back on it, I wonder whether that was something other people experienced, too, or just part of my own, weird, mystical spirituality manifesting...

Now that I'm an instructor at the interfaith seminary, I do my best to prevent today's students from feeling the same sort of pressure (regarding hugs) that I once felt. Of course, it's still a "huggy" culture and I can't do much to change it but, as an individual, I make sure that no one feels obligated to hug or be hugged by me.

I think everyone who hugs, socially, needs to be aware that it's a privelege; not an automatic right.  We also need to be conscious of the fact that, even if hugs are brief and not too "squishy," they can feel sexual, if there's any (even subtle) attraction or chemistry between the people hugging each other. You have to prepare to deal with that energy in a safe, positive way.

This evening, I'm doing a show with my theater company. I know that, afterward, we'll go and eat in a diner (between my church folk and my theater folk, people in my circles are keeping Manhattan's diners in business) and then we'll do our usual goodbye hugs. The men in the company (all of whom are over 40, so don't have the teen guys' comfort level with physical affection) will do what they call the "guy hug." They make fun of their own awkwardness by slapping each other on the back and saying, "DUUUUUUUUUDE!" They will hug me, cautiously (I'm the only woman in the company) but without feeling the need to be jokey, as they are with each other. Maybe there is something better about the way today's boys are growing up? Anyway, I'm just glad that all the hugs in my life are good ones, these days, and not obligatory.

So...your thoughts on social hugging?

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Hugs + Chemistry = Inferno

And that's not necessarily a bad thing...

This was marvelous. Thank you for writing it.

School officials who think hugging is going to spread infections need to be caned soundly.
Big hugger right here. But... with the caveat that if it's someone new that I don't know well, I ask if they are "huggers." It may sound awkward, but better an awkward question than awkward and unwanted physical contact.
you gotta love a good hug :)

great post, Eva!!!
I hug people goodbye when I care about them.
I guess sometimes that is a touch confusing, but I would rather confuse then leave them feeling less cared for than they are.
We're gonna end up in a "Brave New World"!!! What are these teenagers thinking!? Why aren't students wearing burkas and filing down school corridors in silent, sullen, single file lines? Don't they know that anything else will lead to STD's, early pregnancy and a quick death at the hands of an angry god!?

We must protect the Children! Solitary Confinement for everyone under the age of 18! This has to happen now, or the children that are our future will cease to be!
Social hugging is fine, and hugging between students is fine (as long as there is no pressure to do so), but hugging between students and teachers can be fraught with peril, and should probably be avoided. It doesn't make me happy to say that, but as some of you know, I work in the legal department of the teachers' union, and a K-12 teacher can get into a world of trouble with any kind of physical contact. Sad but true.
Here in South Louisiana there is a lot of hugging going on between students and other students, students and teachers and students peers' parents. That's not even counting the kissing on the cheek one, two or three times. It's an import from the French and Spanish occupations here, and I love it. I was going to say I can't imagine anyone banning hugging at school, but the South is also such a rigid, rule-conscious place, that I can see how it could be proposed by some legislator, or school official for example and be followed. That would be a damned shame.
I may be alone among Southern-bred women in this, but I value personal space as much as I value intimacy. To greet someone with a hug is to offer and accept inclusion into a circle of dear friends. Hugging expresses joy or solace, solidarity or trust. Or so it should.

Hugging in lieu of a business handshake is about as friendly a gesture as being frisked. Ditto the business cheek-kiss.

As a greeting between casual acquaintances, hugging is less creepy. But like all faked emotion, it cheapens the real thing.

Also: what about cooties?
Eva....well its a pt of contention betw me &my signif other...

she is a hugger from ...birth i guess. her mom sorta lives w/us & teaches hugs...

i came from a no contact family. i was untouchable,
i thought, ever...

because i had noticeable scars on my chin....

scarface, etc...it crinkled me up
inside and i went way way inside

but now crawling back to the world, soem rough beast perhaps
is influencing my movements...somehow trying to
control them...
shyt up jim...

paranoia? nah. i understnad the somnolence of the surface world..
a hug is an entrance into...her space.
she is conducting you IN as far as you can go...

my gal found a funny article in "psychology todya" ..it said, in effect, women must now direct the entire sex act to their satisfaction. guide in,,,, etc

well she loves that & laughs like the flowers...

my love, mm, ive seen her speak in silence and reject violenc and give a
half way hug and
then a guiding hand, so called...

? James
E.out there..like jim on taxi,
bec i was naughty..ha

I think it is better to teach everyone that a hug means only affection than to teach them that within a hug lurks sexual advances therefore no one should ever hug.
We hug a lot in my clandestine organization. Old-timers scorn the practice as an import from the "other" clandestine organization. Some female members give dirty looks to the men, some of them living in a Christian charity home, who get bused in to the meetings of the C. O. while they are still vibrating. "They only want to feel your tits," said one woman to me after I hugged several men.

"Yeah, and your point would be, sister?"

Sometimes a man needs the warmth of a woman, sometimes when he's down so low he can't even see where up is anymore. If he needs to feel my tits, let him. That's what they're there for.

Wow! I just got home from my after school childcare gig, and found 11 comments. I might actually start to feel relevant, or something. First, thanks to all who responded (so far.)
Verbal Remedy: I appreciate your affirmation and agree about the caning!
AnnMarie: Yes, asking is always in order, if there's any doubt. After all, "When you ass-ume, you make an ass out of u and me."
Jeanette: The seminary students and teachers are all adults, and I never even thought about legal ramifications (during my student days.) Do you think that, if I had complained about my teachers' hugs, I could have gotten them in trouble? If that's the case, I'm glad I didn't. They were all good at their work and the emotional discomfort was mild. The hugging was just what "everyone "(staff and students alike) did.
havlin: I used to belong to a clandestine organization that had sprung from an older clandestine organization. I'm wondering whether they're the same ones. I don't belong anymore because it wasn't a place that welcomed Christians (even of the ultra-liberal sort that I am.) Now I just cause trouble on the Internet.
"Do you think that, if I had complained about my teachers' hugs, I could have gotten them in trouble? "

Maybe not years ago. But, things are really different today, and I think it's just inviting potential problems.
Hugging was not a big part of my life, but I do see value in it. I gladly hug people I know, but strangers are a different thing. I can't think of a time I refused a hug, but I would if I felt uncomfortable.

Interesting post.
Oh, what a shock! A school/schools with no sense at all! OH NO, I MIGHT GET HERPES IF I HUG SOMEONE!

Yet another example of how schools are stupid.
If find it odd that schools are freaking out about hugs (of all things) when students are doing god knows what in the bathroom or their cars during lunch break.

Worry about kids snorting blow in the gym locker room, SURE!

Worry about kids hugging . . .not really an issue!

Hugs around here are mostly family and friends. Total strangers? Not so much, and I feel for you that first day of class :)
I rather be slow. A few gentle touch?
Of course, I love warmth and affection?
Those folk who have BO and pick pockets?

Then, but why do some people gyrate hips?
Then, it's real uncool to be in those leg locks.
Why do some huggers ingest garlic and fish?

Garlic's an aphrodisiac. Yet, yuck runny nose?
Seminary? 'Um are gangster choir members.
I hate getting mascara on my britches and tie.

Don't get me wrong. I'll hug a mohawks Lady.
But, why dye hair a green and pink color. ugh.
They cling to your sore leg like a fire hydrants.

I'm orthodox or unorthodox? How'd Ya know?
I'm not a sociologist. Yes I love gentle touches.
I shirk when politico's hug and nose drip seeps.

It cost time to scrub Ya sleeveless stinky T-shirts.
Who's got time to wash in flowing muddy creeks?
I an easy to get along with. Obama trains me good.
My Momma said :`No let huggers stay until dawn.
Right-on Hello. A business hug or cheek kiss is about as friendly as being frisked. That's about the vibe I get from it.

One thing I don't like about friendly hugs is I stiffen and I feel like I'm rejecting the overture of friendship, which I might have welcomed if it had come in a non-physical form.

One problem with huggers is that so often they want to do it as their way of expressing friendship, forgetting that I always freeze in discomfort or ignoring my pointedly stuck-out hand, a hint that I'd like to say good-bye with a handshake.

For kids, it's even worse. My daughter was never a cuddly tot and when she was 3 and 4, some people would just swoop in and kiss her dimpled pink cheek. She always pulled away and made a face (not a yuck-I'm-a-boy-kisses-are-girly face, but a natural moue of discomfort) and some people would ignore it and kiss her again.

Occasionally, I had to intervene and point out that they were invading her personal space. And, yes, you might be expressing your adoration of her little blonde, blue-eyed cuteness, but she's NOT appreciating it.

Watching my daughter's reaction to hugs and kisses, even from babyhood, I think one component of personal space is innate.

Please don't invade mine.
I'm glad to see this conversation continuing. Clearly, people have complex feelings about hugging and other acts of physical affection. Respect for individual differences, it seems, is key, regardless of age.
Malusinka: I'm sorry you've had to be so vigilant about protecting your daughter from aggressive huggers. This is what I mean about respect for personal choice and bodily integrity regardless of age. Much as I loved hugging my near-and-dear ones, when I was a child, I didn't like being grabbed and squished by total strangers or casual acquaintances of my parents' either, and it happened a lot. Some adults seem to forget that young children are people. Hello? There's a brain in that cute little head!
Adults also need to remember that, even when a child makes it clear that she wants to be hugged, they shouldn't crush or smother her. Remember that she is smaller than you are. (I know, duh!) If I ever write a book on Early Childhood Education, I might be tempted to open it with the sentence: "Children are smaller than adults." Hmmm...now I have a project to ponder. I actually never thought about writing an ECE book before this moment. Perhaps, inspired by Dr. Seuss' Horton, I'll call it: "A Person's A Person, No Matter How Small."
Malusinska sums up my reaction to hugging pretty well. Except that I would be more emphatic: I HATE casual hugging, hate it. If a non-family member swoops towards me for a hug, I feel like running because from my point of view, the hug is an invasion. Unfortunately, the typical hugger is going to be mortally offended if the huggee protests or tries to escape.
Great post. I think this is a very sad commentary on our society, that officialdom would "fear" demonstrations of kindness or warmth among young people. One could just as easily argue that systematic deprivation of human affection could lead to "inappropriate" sexual behavior. We should be interested in our young people understanding the difference between friendship and sexual contact, not banning affection as a sign of potential sexual deviance. I think your last comment, that hugs in your life are now "good ones" and "not obligatory". People who understand how to show kindness to their friends and family might just turn into better all-around citizens and more emotionally grounded adults.
Terrific! As a non-hugger living in a community of huggers, I've was going to post on this very same topic. The area where I live is crawling with massage therapists, life coaches, spiritual healers and the like, most of them very nice people, but damn, the hugging that goes on! We hug when we meet for coffee, we hug when we run into one another at the hardware, we even hug at septic meetings. I love to hug my husband and a few other folks who are very close to me, but otherwise I think it feels both forced and awkward.