Today we're going to talk about hugs- probably the most widespread way of showing that you care. Hugs are so common and obvious that it sounds a little silly to talk about them in terms of their meaning in communication. But worry not, I'm not here to state the obvious, but rather to explain some of the finer points related to body language and hugging, such as where ,when and even why?
We will start with some background, because it's always nice to know a little more about the things we take for granted. Secondly, we will discuss some issues regarding body language and hugging – such as how to approach and where to hold. And lastly, we'll go through some common types of hugs and their meaning.
Without any further ado, let's start:
"What is the origin of hugging and do we really need it?"
Hugging, similar to kissing, is a ritual that has been around with us for a loooong time. It's one of the things that makes us human. We're social animals, we grew and evolved because we have the ability to communicate and cooperate with others, and it's one of our main advantages as a species. We are genetically wired to be surrounded by others and make physical contact with them - it's strengthening our bonds and makes us healthier and happier, simple as that.
So the exact origin of this gesture is unclear, but we can assume that we're born with the knowledge and desire to hug our loved ones. Obviously, customs and tradition shape our habits, that's why hugging, and other touch related gestures, are less common in some cultures (Asian for example) and more prominent in others (e.g. South-American)
A side note: The handshake, as a contrary example, is a gesture that's evolved through custom. It was a greeting and safety precaution in the notorious old Roman society. You simply had to check that the other guy doesn't hide a blade in his sleeve. Talking about trust issues, huh?
Do other animals hug as well?
It's a complicated question, mostly because animals have a different physical structure than ours – what can make hugging a troublesome act. Imagine how elephants would hug… it would seem a little awkward, wouldn't it?
So some animals do sort of hugging, but not truly in the same sense that human do, but usually in a more playful manner. But it doesn't mean that they lack other means to show affection – you can read more here.
A side note: we like to hug our pets but it seems that many dogs dislike that, especially the dominant aggressive types, since the act of laying limbs over them is considered as a display of submission.
"Me and my bros"
Now I want to clarify some key themes regarding body language
and hugs. I know, it's not rocket science, but paying attention to small
details can help you avoid awkward moments, or just make you a better hugger (:
I wrote about touch and determining approachability and it is especially true when it comes to hugs. So before you hug:
* Be sure they notice you – this means making eye contact and having some vocal greeting in advance. Jumping on your friend with a surprise hug can be cute, but make sure they like it, and even if then, be gentle.
* Do it slowly – approach with open arms and a smile, so they will know about your intention and a have a moment to prepare... or to withdraw. Otherwise you get one of these awkward, non reciprocal hugs.
* Make sure they're approachable – if they sit in a defensive or contemplative posture, it might not be the best moment to run and embrace them.
*Enthusiasm is great, in measure. Running to embrace someone is a nice gesture, but knocking them over is hilarious. Be sure that you know what you're doing.
The duration of the hug is dependent on the context and the level of intimacy. You can hug your relatives almost for as long as you desire, because they (hopefully) know and feel comfortable with you.
The platonic hug should be short and causal, because we don't want to imply anything sexual or romantic by it.
If you DO want to mean more than friendship, then a brief and "nervous" hug signals insecurity and discomfort to touch. Instead, try practicing making the hug slower and smoother, it needs to feel natural, not as a compulsory and calculated act. It might be helpful to count in your head slowly while embracing your crush, on average, we hug for about 3 seconds, so even a second more can leave a deeper impression.
Patting on the back (usually twice) is a nonverbal signal that tells it's time to let go – enough is enough. It can also be a sign that the other party isn't interested in this physical proximity and tries to disengage politely. This can be a sign for trouble when you expect the hug to be more empathetic and passionate, like between lovers.
Let's start with intention, because it automatically guides us to where we need to lay our hands. Instinctively, you can say that the more platonic the hug is in nature then the position of the hands will be around less intimate regions, such as: around the shoulders (e.g. the side hug) or crossing underneath the arms and around the upper back.
Lovers , as anticipated, have more freedom to touch each other and wish to express more passion and caring. In this case, the man and woman have a sort of standard setup to embrace each other:
The man will lay his arms around the waist or lower back of his lover and pull her closer around the hip area, while the woman will wrap her hands around his neck or shoulders, or will lay her hands gently on his chest.
I believe one of the reasons for this basic setup is due to the traditional role of the man to support and protect the woman, he holds and supports her while she's clinging on him. This is also reflected in many couple dancing styles, where the man's role is to support and guide the woman, while her job is to make the fancy moves.
The usual setup for a great romantic hug
Well, this is also an option...
Note: When there's a big height difference, then there are 2 options:
1. The taller person will hug around the neck, and the short around the back. It might be more convenient than the usual setup, but it looks as a sort of a 'bear hug', where one person smothers the other.
2. The taller person will bend. Maybe not the most comfortable hug, but it works (: