defending the handshake

mike-ocain-quote-i-dont-remember-who-came-up-with-the-handshake-idea (1)

i’m not a hugger. i’m comfortable embracing my children but in general, hugs make me feel edgy and encroached upon. this includes my parents and siblings, though it makes me a little sad that my aversion causes them distress. i don’t want people to feel rejected, but i don’t want to feel uncomfortable either. hugging simply isn’t my thing. it’s possible there are complicated emotional and psychological reasons behind my aversion but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. my mother tells me i wasn’t a cuddly child, and i remember that phase in grade seven, when girls engaged in hugs upon encountering each other with a fervor reminiscent of a multi-year absence, with horror. i’m trying to be more touchy-feely with those i’m closest to, but with regard to the rest of the world, i’m of the opinion that i don’t really need to change.

there are a few friends i’m okay with hugging some of the time. not always and not as a matter of course, but i’m there for them if they’re in distress or need emotional reassurance. in those cases, hugs don’t bother me; they feel appropriate. beyond family and close friends, however, i’m uninterested. when did handing out hugs to all and sundry become the norm? why do i have to engage intimately – and i consider hugs to be fairly intimate – with people i’ve just met?

this came up on the weekend, during a girls’ night at a friend’s house. there were several women there i hadn’t met before, lovely ladies who i enjoyed chatting and spending time with. the awkwardness came when it was time for me to depart. i got ready to make my goodbyes but a handshake was eschewed by my targets in favour of pulling me close and wrapping me in unfamiliar arms. i did not enjoy it.

people don’t respect the hug boundary. when i express myself and state that hugs are something i prefer not to bestow, people’s reactions can be quite hostile: “what’s wrong with you? hugs feel good. it’s an expression of friendship. why don’t you like them? you should figure out your issues.”

enforcing my boundaries should be a good thing, but apparently that’s only true if other people agree with them. refusing a hug rarely goes over well. it takes courage to speak up and express my needs, yet the response i receive when i try to hold my ground on this issue makes me feel selfish. expressing myself honestly, then hearing “i know you don’t like hugs, but i’m going to give you one anyhow” is a real kick in the teeth.

i miss the handshake. i can get behind that level of stranger intimacy. i’m good at them, and i should be; i practiced from a young age, after reading  a multiplicity of magazine articles that suggested a good handshake was an important life skill to develop. it should be firm, but not too firm. a dry palm is best. don’t pump the hand repeatedly; two to three shakes are more than sufficient. remember, nothing is worse than a limp handshake; it’s a hideous experience.

when did the handshake start to disappear from daily life as the preferred form of greeting? it’s been around awhile. people shook hands to say “hello” or seal an oath as far back as the fifth century. it’s not the only form of greeting among people but for a long time, it was the most popular one. when did pulling someone close and binding them in your arms start to seem like a better idea? i don’t find random hugs pleasurable at all, i feel put upon and defensive when someone tries to embrace me regardless of my preference.

perhaps the handshake is a fatality of our increasingly casual way of life. we are moving beyond the formalities that typified much of twentieth-century life in the west and the formerly ubiquitous handshake can sometimes seem rigid and out of place. hand clasps between people wearing pyjamas to a restaurant breakfast start to seem incongruous, yet it’s the type of greeting i’d prefer.

not wanting to engage in the casual hug doesn’t mean i dislike you. it doesn’t mean i’m lacking in affection. it doesn’t mean i don’t hold you in high regard. it simply means that i’m uncomfortable granting access to my body to all and sundry. i wish people would respect that rather than treating my personal preference like a behavioural misstep that needs to be corrected or ignored.

you don’t have to agree with the boundaries people impose but respecting them should not be optional.


don't hug

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