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.
How to Hug
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.
The Position of the Hands
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.
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 (:
How close things get says much about the relation between the participants.
A negative example: When we’re forced into hugging with someone we don’t really like, we try to keep as much distance as possible between our body and theirs. This is especially evident in children, who lack the etiquette and sensitivity of adults.
Let me demonstrate that from my own experience: When I was around the age of 10, I was forced by mother into a dancing class. I hated it, and I wasn’t into the whole thing of dancing with girls since I considered that unmanly (yes I know.. the pride of a 10 year old).
So when I actually danced with the girl, we would keep our torsos way apart, the instructor who didn’t fancy that idea always yelled at us: “stand closer! a train could pass between you!”.
Bottom line? When there’s a physical gap, there’s also an emotional one too.
A side note: What happened to my dancing career? Well, I left the class after several months, saving my pride but missing my shot being the world champion in Tango (:
On a more serious note, I’m really glad that I took that class since this experience improved my coordination and dancing skills, what I find very useful today.
What About the Hips?
When hugging friends, we want to prevent our genitals from touching as it may send a sexual message, so we simply keep our hips apart. To further avoid this inconvenience many male friends generally pass up the full frontal hug and stick to other, less ‘touchy’ gestures such as the handshake or the ‘man hug’ (see below).
But let’s say it’s a romantic scenario and you intend to ‘make a move’, how can you escalate the frontal hug into something more?
By getting closer of course! When embracing your crush, use one hand to slide it down towards their lower back and gently pull them closer to a full body contact. You can also add a smooth rub on the back to intensify the act.
This is a powerful and emotionally charged gesture that literally brings the hearts together.
A word of caution: if you feel resistance (verbal or nonverbal) from your date, slow down and even stop, make sure they feel comfortable enough being this intimate with you.
How to Use Your Head
Holding the head of someone is a paternal gesture of protection and care. Our head is the most vital part of our body, so “entrusting” it to another’s hands is a symbol of trust and deep affection, don’t take it lightly.
Traditionally, females and children will lay their head more often than adult males as it signals vulnerability , an attribute that males avoid displaying publicly.
Using the head to nuzzle the neck or face is a cute gesture between lovers. In many parts of Eastern Asia, for example, rubbing one’s nose against the cheek of another is the equivalent to kissing in the western culture.
Types of Hugs
Now let’s look at some common examples and their meanings:
The true origin of this hugs is unknown but it probably became popular through the hip hop culture in the US. AKA the bro-hug.
Think about it as a combination of the handshake and a hug. In this hug\handshake, 2 (usually) males will make a handshake and then proceed to bump their shoulders together while their hands locked between their bodies; often followed by a simultaneous pat on the back and then a quick release.
2 things that make this hug very comfortable for men:
- A. There’s an easy flow from the handshake to the hug.
- B. The locked hands between torsos keep the bodies apart, allowing comfortable space between the platonic huggers.
I myself use this type of greeting a lot with my close friends, because it reveals more affection and familiarity than the simple handshake while you get to keep your personal space and dignity intact.
The Side Hug
“Let’s pose to the camera hug”
This one is a familiar friendly gesture, often used in a group setting. Hugging this way shows single front and great rapport between the participants (if it’s reciprocal).
It’s a neutral hug so it’s quite safe to use it early in a relationship to create affinity and Kino escalation with a potential mate. On the other hand, shy guys often get “stuck” in this hug without moving forward to more intimate gestures – what sends the girl a message that they’re not really serious.
Note: Wrapping your hand around the neck of another is a display of dominance and ownership over that person (similar to the dogs we mentioned in the first part). Even if it’s friendly and innocent by intention, it might send a message that “I own him\her”- what consequently lowers that person’s status in the eyes of others.
The Criss – Cross Hug
A romantic hug where one hand rests on the waist and the other goes up around the neck or shoulder, creating an X with the hands of the partner.
The female may put her hand on the chest of her man in this position – a sign for a deep affection.
This is an excellent setup for a passionate kiss – it’s easy to pull both the head and body closer at the same time. People who dislike being “too sticky” don’t like these kinds of intimate hugs, it’s hard to get away from them.
Behind the Back
One partner will approach and hug his lover from behind encircling them. This one is meaning is dependent on the context:
On one hand it shows deep connection and caring – what can be especially comforting when your partner feels down.
On the other hand, it’s a protective and territorial signal – you can often notice it in a scenario when one partner tries subconsciously to protect his claim over his date when another sexual threat is imminent. It’s like saying: “It’s mine and it’s guarded, don’t try anything”