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How to Hug

     There’s only one way to hug. You knew that. How come everyone gets it wrong? From today on, you’ll know the proper way to hug. Not proper as in stiff ’n formal—proper as in the right way; the way that will make people love you instead of running and hiding when you approach them with your arms outstretched.

     A hug is an expression of love, or of concern or, if you live in Southern California, it’s simply a friendly greeting. Therefore the hug must not be controlling, aggressive or maudlin. No pat-pat-patting on the back during the hug. What are those pats for anyway? Grown men do it; proper ladies do it; I’ve never figured out why.

     It looks like the hugger doesn’t know what to do with his extra hand flung over your back. So he pats. Heaven forbid you should pat back. Did you ever see such a sight? Two people ensconced in an embrace, their hands pat-pat-patting each other’s backs?

     I don’t know what’s with the patting. Sometimes I catch myself doing it, until, horror-struck, I try to stop but it’s hard. My hand keeps on pat-pat-patting until I finally break free from the hug. Which I’m sure is as much a relief to my hug-ee as it is to me.

     No, a proper hug is just a hug. A warm embrace with a quick release—unless you’re hugging to comfort a friend who’s recently suffered a tragedy; then you want to hold him or her long enough to share their pain. Otherwise, a hug should be two arms encircling a friend, briefly and lightly, with a quick release.

     Because, you know, when you hug someone, they’re under your control. Unless they hug you back, harder and longer; then you’re under their control and that’s not what hugs are about. Hugs are about “Glad to see you!” Hugs are about “Sorry you lost your job.” Hugs are about, “I care.” So none of this grabbing and squeezing and not letting go. No controlling hugging—that’s the worst.

     There are initiated hugs and reciprocal hugs. They share the same characteristics. Initiated hugs are when you reach out to a friend or acquaintance who looks like she wouldn’t mind being hugged. This is tricky: never initiate a hug if you’re not sure the targeted hug-ee will welcome having your arms surrounding him or her. This could have disastrous results. But if you’re filled with love and goodwill and just can’t keep yourself from hugging someone without assessing the situation first, I can only say one thing: make it quick and light. And no patting!!!

     Reciprocal hugs happen when someone has taken you in their grasp and you can’t get away. The only thing left to do is to hug back. But you have your pride so make yours a proper hug: light, friendly and quick—no patting!—and then squirm your way out of the hugger’s grip. No matter what it takes. You’re the boss here.

     There are wonderful reciprocal hugs, too. Those are when, unexpectedly, someone you’ve run into is so glad to see you, he spontaneously gives you a quick embrace. Of course you hug him back! What else could you do? How often is someone so glad to see you, they can’t help themselves from hugging you?

     Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that. I’m sure you have lots of friends. And you’ll have lots more, once you master the art of proper hugging.

Short version: A proper hug is light, friendly and quick and involves no pat-pat-patting on the back. A proper hug is one that is welcome to the hug-ee.

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