The hug epidemic

Congratulations are due to Bubba Watson for his admirable performance in our new national sport.

Not golf. Hugging.

On Sunday, Watson won the Masters golf tournament.

And then the hugs began.

He hugged his caddie. He hugged his mother. He hugged pro after pro. He hugged his caddie again, at length and tearfully.

As I watched him enfold person after person in the warm circlet of his arms, I couldn’t help realizing how far the epidemic has spread.

Everywhere you look, people are hugging. Friends. Strangers on trains. Bears. Politicians. The first lady. Especially the first lady. One day, just for fun, she surprised all the visitors to the White House with hugs.

When did hugs become compulsory?

You meet someone for the first time, you shake her hand. You meet her a second time, and she expects a hug. Sometimes she expects the hug before the first meeting is even over.

It’s a fairly recent development. Once, we greeted people by running at them with lances. Then someone wisely came up with the handshake instead.

But candidates are no longer required simply to shake hands and kiss the occasional baby. They have to hug grandmothers and volunteers and their wives, every time they appear anywhere, to show warmth. But careful! Not too much warmth!

We’ve reached the point as a society where someone like Mitt Romney is expected to hug people in order to become president. Not dozens of people; thousands upon thousands of people. This is patently ludicrous.

In stand-offs, the person who wants a hug always wins. If you really want to avoid hugs, the only way is to carry around something large and unwieldy at all times. And even then you can sometimes be ambushed — say, by the first lady leaping out from around a corner.

This seems erroneous, at best.

Perhaps I’m biased. I come of WASPish stock, so my family hugged just once a year, during the solstice. For the most part, we depended on handshakes and small checks to express emotion, except for occasions where real warmth was needed, when we would clap one another on the shoulders and mutter, “I’m only mildly disappointed in you.”

In Singapore, you are required to seek permission before hugging someone. How idyllic life must be!

What happened to the good old-fashioned handshake? When did it become a sign of standoffishness, rather than a sign of “Hello, I have just met you, and I am unarmed”? All I ask from people I have just met is that they be unarmed. I do not need proof of their emotional warmth.

“You sound upset. Let’s hug it out.”


Alexandra Petri