The art of the man hug -
Published Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 1:02 am
The art of the man hug

Craig Finnestad is old enough to remember the days when greeting another guy meant just a simple handshake.

It was quick, easy and best of all, predictable.

But it seems the man hug is becoming more popular than ever, like some kind of irresistible craft beer.

That brother-in-law who always came at you with an outstretched hand at Thanksgiving dinner might shock you next month with open arms. With the holidays approaching, guys will face even more times where they need to make split-second decisions on whether to shake or hug, and if you embrace what kind it will be.

The sports world has always been a place for hugs. Did you watch this year's NFL draft? Commissioner Roger Goodell carried out a hug-a-thon with players.

But now any guy has to be prepared.

Finnestad is a pastor, so he greets lots of people, and says he's not a hugger by nature. But the 43-year-old minister is just fine with a good hug, and definitely has been on the receiving end of heavy-duty man embraces.

“I get a big bear hug and my back pops three or four times,'' said Finnestad, leader of The Waters Edge United Methodist Church in Omaha.

There's no doubt the whole man-hug thing can be excruciatingly awkward: As you approach an old high school buddy at a reunion, he goes for a hug as you go for a shake. Suddenly you're both fumbling, like kids at a middle school dance, trying to figure out what to do with your hands, arms and bodies.

One of you finally blurts out, “How 'bout those Huskers,” and you both quickly retreat to the bar.

Mark Morman knows all about man hugs, and said that because of growing acceptance guys are more likely to encounter one these days than even a decade ago.

Morman, professor of communication at Baylor University, has done research on man hugs and said men tended to avoided them in the past because of homophobia. Younger generations don't worry about that nearly as much.

He said there's a connection between the increasing acceptance of hugs, and polls showing greater acceptance of same-sex marriage. The Pew Research Center, for example, has found that much of the shift in support for same-sex marriage is tied to young adults, who support gay rights more than earlier generations.

“They just don't have those same kinds of hang-ups,'' he said.

More about man hugs

Men might be hugging more, but the embraces last about as long as it takes a guy to pop open a cold can of Bud Light.
A typical man hug, where guys shake hands and bump shoulders, lasts about a second. Even a big bear hug last only a couple seconds.
The hugs are over in a hurry because guys don't want to seem unmasculine.
But there's nothing wrong with a quick hug. After a couple of seconds the hug has served its purpose as greeting, goodbye or congratulations, and the two guys can move on.

The more emotionally charged the setting, the more likely you'll see guys hugging.
That's why hugs are more common at graduations, funerals, sports games and other events where emotions can run high.
The emotion of the event gives guys permission to feel comfortable hugging. Guys think, “Hey, the Huskers just scored, I feel a hug coming on.”
Places where emotions are kept in check, like offices, are usually hug-free zones.
So don't expect a hug from Randy in accounting any time soon.

You'll see men of all ages hug, but it tends to be more common among younger guys.
Younger generations, such as guys in their 20s, grew up during an era of less homophobia.
They know you can hug and still be a man.

A key part of the guy hug is the back pat.
We're not just talking a couple of gentle pats.
These pats usually pack a wallop.
So what's with this aggressive patting?
Basically, the heavy-duty pats are a way of saying, I'm OK with hugging but don't think this is intimate because I could still put you in a serious headlock.

Relationships make a difference: Think about how close you feel with the other guy. If he was your college roommate and you see him at a reunion, that bond probably makes a hug feel right.
Consider the setting: The emotions of an event can make a hug seem appropriate. For example, you really can't go wrong hugging at a funeral.
You take the lead: You can help the two of you decide whether to hug or shake. If you want to hug, open your arms wide as you approach so there's no confusion. Chances are he'll follow your lead.
Use humor: If you land in one of those confusing should-we-hug-or-shake moments, make a joke about it. Just a simple, “Wow, that was awkward,” can put you both at ease.
Don't over-think it: There's no need to sweat over whether to hug or shake. Hugs are great, but the classic two-pump, firm handshake is still a winner.

Sources: Mark Morman, professor of communication, Baylor University; Kory Floyd, professor of communication, Arizona State University.

Contact the writer: Michael O'Connor    |   402-444-1122    |  

Michael is a general assignment reporter for the Living section, covering a mix of topics including human interest stories.

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