Hugs Are Falsely Intimate Power Plays. Stop Imposing Them on Everyone You Meet.

What Women Really Think
Sept. 30 2013 3:26 PM

Hugs Are Falsely Intimate Power Plays. Stop Imposing Them on Everyone You Meet.

118053917
Lady Gaga shows this little boy who's boss.

Photo by Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

I never really learned how to hug. Whenever a friend, extended family member, or celebrity interview subject approaches me for the first or the 100th time, the panic sets in. Are we hugging here? Oh, we are? So my arms are going over—OK, under. One over, one under? Or is this an open-faced, one-arm-clutching-the-opposite-shoulder situation? Should our torsos graze? Is that weird? Where is your mouth—are you making a legitimate attempt to kiss my cheek right now, or are we doing one of those pretend ones? Dear God there’s no time: I have anchored my ass a foot away from your body, flattened my face into your clavicle, and am now waving my rag-doll arms limply from between your armpits. Great to see you!

In theory, a hug sounds nice. In practice, it can turn even the simplest hello into a logistical nightmare. But the most pernicious aspect of the act is the false sense of intimacy it imposes over all human relationships, from the most superficial acquaintances to the deepest friendships. It doesn’t matter if we love each other, hate each other, or don’t know each other at all—we’re all expected to awkwardly collide at the same rate, reducing a potentially intimate act into a rote affectation.

Advertisement

I am not an automaton. I can appreciate the experience of physical and emotional communion—on occasion. There are some bodies—boyfriends, parents, domesticated lions I’ve reintroduced into the wild—with which I will gladly entangle for a two-second count upon greeting. And then there is Lady Gaga.

“I will always, always, try my very best to wrap my arms around you when I meet you,” Gaga has said. (Note that even the most elite hug enthusiasts can only “try their very best” to pull the thing off.) Gaga is a member of what New York magazine has identified as the new class of power huggers who wield the embrace to cement their social dominance over all within their grasp. The artist Marina Abramović has pledged to exchange hugs for donations to her Marina Abramović Institute. (Can I pay her not to hug me?). NYU President John Sexton displays a plate in his office that reads “HUGGER.” (Is that a threat?). First lady Michelle Obama once slung an expertly toned arm around the Queen of England in direct defiance of royal protocol. (Are the Brits stuffy, or are they simply correct?).

It is time for us to recognize the hug for the charade that it is. Rarely is it a gesture of sincere fellowship, compassion, or affection. More often, it is a soulless imposition that is gravitating toward its victim at an alarming rate. So next time I see you, let's try keeping our limbs to ourselves. It's nothing personal—and that's the point.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?