“Hug it Out” by Larissa Nemeth
I was waiting in line to get in to a venue for a show in Philadelphia recently. These congregations tend to skew a bit on the awkward side- I guess it’s due to the bizarre mix of locals, college kids who think they are locals (but aren’t), suburbanites who travelled to the city for their “big night out” and of course the wild card folks who don’t fit any type of profile I could think up.
It was a rainy and stressful trek into the city that night and I stepped sideward out of the line, courteously, to smoke a cigarette. Out of the damp and gloom stepped a man- he appeared to be homeless- twice my size or more (not that large of feat if you ever saw me). He approached me asking in a lighthearted but incredulous tone “Ha! You FOLLOWING me girl?!”. Since I definitely wasn’t, I didn’t quite know what to make of this inquiry. I laughed and returned bluntly “No, man.” Of course, next he asked me for a cigarette. Not like I NEED them, so I handed one over. I also was not positive how benign the situation was at this point- I like to think myself street-smart to a degree, so while I was sizing it up I had my hand clamped tightly over my crossbody bag, glancing back to my squad still in line. I was planning my return to them when he asked me the most utterly ridiculous thing.
“Can I get a hug?” I whipped around, shocked really- but also feeling like I needed to get the hell out of there because this COULD NOT be the start of a positive experience. I shook my head, “Ah, man, no, I’m sorry”... he stayed, badgering me a little “come on, can’t I get a hug? Just a little hug? Come onnnn, gimme a hug!” I hate that type of persistence. It’s a thing about men in general I can’t stand. Their ironclad will to continue to make a situation uncomfortable even when you’ve made it clear you want nothing more to do with it. It made it easier for my “no” to become firmer.
At this moment, he stopped. He looked me straight on in the face, his large dark eyes met mine, unblinking. His jovial tone was gone- and he said the most serious thing any stranger has ever said to me “Please. I really need a hug”.
Every ligament in my body went lax. I swiveled around and threw my arms around him and held him there, just for a second or two- silently. I let go, smiled and walked away- my group had reached security at the door to the club.
I called back to him, “You’re welcome!” because I know my hugs are awesome and also because I know I really gave him a little breath of myself, a small momentary connection-and that I wanted him to appreciate it. I did it because I knew in that instant that he really really needed it- and that in a small way I made him happy for a moment. He said as I was leaving, to the crowd at large, loud enough for them to hear “Yes. Real people- they get it. It’s real” and then something about “Aren’t we all just people? We all need to feel loved. We all need to be cared for. We need it!”. I’m pretty sure his sidewalk proclamations continued when I went inside. I didn’t look back again. The band was amazing. I went home. I retold the story to myself as I fell asleep in my bed at my house and I smiled.
“Or Not” by Cristina Byrne
Rejection is always painful or at the very least awkward but being rejected for a hug feels especially personal for some reason. Can we all agree that most people would rather avoid conflict than initiate confrontation, especially if the stakes are low. I’d say accepting a one to three second hug from someone you don’t like takes a lot less energy than avoiding the hug or ignoring the person altogether. Unless you have a really good reason, we accept it.
I went up to someone to congratulate them with a hug and got rejected. I proceeded to hug the next person in line to try and play it off but it was still awkward. At that moment I knew exactly how Keesha felt when she tried to give Jerry Seinfeld hug.
I walked away from the situation and took a moment to reflect. I realized that I invaded someone’s personal space, which I have the tendency to do. My intention is to be warm but I am sometimes unaware of what boundaries are set into place. Maybe this had nothing to do with me and this person is simply not a hugger. So the rejection was understood and forgiven, and I moved on.
But later, I saw my “rejector” hug another person. I was confused and immediately went down the dark rabbit hole of wondering questions and thoughts.
“How come some people get to invade someone’s space and others don’t?
“Does this explain how some people can get away with murder and others don't?”
"Do I smell?"
As I made my way back out of the rabbit hole, I came to the conclusion that the first question we should ask when we approach someone is, "How should I greet you?”
“And Embrace the Awkward” by Christina Ihnken
I just recently moved back to Europe from the United States and was immediately reminded that here, to greet someone, you don’t hug but kiss each other on the cheek.
In Austria you give 2 kisses, one left, one right, but only to friends and family, and even then, this is mostly something girls do. In the french part of Belgium, where I live now, one kiss on the cheek is customary.
Imagine me walking up to a restaurant and three of my husband’s new friends are waiting for us, ready to meet me. To make a good impression for my husband’s sake, I took a big step outside of my comfort zone and leaned in for a hug with the only female in the group and as I had both arms wrapped around her, she did not engage in the hug but instead she kissed my cheek. I released her immediately, remembering out loud “Sorry, forgot I'm in Europe”. We both chuckle and all was well.
Moving on to the next person, a guy, I extended my hand as in my mind only girls, friends, and family get a kiss, but he leaned in to kiss my cheek instead. As I pulled away after one kiss, I realized I left him hanging halfway for a second kiss on the other cheek. “I’m French. In France we give two kisses” he explained, and I leaned forward to receive the second kiss to not be rude. As we were indeed close to the French boarder this made perfect sense. I nervously laughed it off and replied, “same in Austria”. At this point I was already confused and embarrassed but I had one more person to greet. He didn’t extend his hand, so I thought to myself “two kisses in France, here we go”, but NOPE, I got one kiss on the cheek and as I leaned over for the second kiss, that person had already turned away to greet the next person in the circle.
Here is what we’ve learned sharing our stories. It all comes down to this:
Meeting someone for the first time can be uncomfortable for both parties. We don’t usually remember what someone said to us when we first met them, but we do remember how we felt. Therefore, wouldn’t it be nice if we meet people with the intent of making them feel welcomed instead of worrying how we are perceived?
If someone asks for a hug, give them a hug, unless they smell. If someone denies you a hug, their loss, because they must not know about the amazing health benefits of hugging. And if you made a complete fool out of yourself, move to a different country and start over, but remember to learn the local customs first.
Whatever the situation, as long as you are being genuine, you have more to gain than you have to lose.