My boy cousins, only a few years younger than me, recently teased me for being a horrible hugger. I was shocked. Seriously? Me?
They proceeded to demonstrate, with each other, how hugs should be given. And I won't lie. What I saw before me was perhaps the gayest and most incestuous sight to date. There was forceful slapping on the back in that masculine, "I'm a man and you're a man and there's nothing gay about this hug" kind of way. But their torsos were also velcroed close to each other. Toe-to-toe. Chest-to-chest. A squeezy kind of hug.
I'm up for a challenge, and criticism only drives me to over-achieve, so I proceeded to spend a bulk of the evening over-hugging those in the room. I vaguely remember throwing my leg over the waist of my aunt and godmother, and clinging to her like a rhesus monkey. And I was sober.
I just wanted to show that I had this hug thing down.
And what, exactly, was wrong with my hugs before this point? My cousins' critique was brutally honest, and a pretty fair and accurate assessment, if you ask me. A recreation of my entrance and exit greeting-hug showed what my family considered to be a flaw: my anti-boob pocket.
Now, this is not what they called it. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard either one of my cousins say the word "boob." This would simultaneously make me burst out laughing and creep me out tremendously. We're family. Boobs don't exist.
And to prove that point, I've somehow developed (no pun intended) the anti-boob pocket hug; hunching my shoulders over to create a concave space against which no other chest can press. In this way, I'm free to hug all types of people with zero creep-factor. Uncles. Cousins. Dad. Priests. Waiters. Gas station attendants. Homeless dudes. My boobs remain un-hugged, and that's just fine by me.
My cousins further pointed out that in addition to the anti-boob pocket of space, I also favor leaning way out to one side or another, so only my shoulder and the recipient's shoulder touch. I may lean back, look at the face, and give it a squeeze or two, but a tight-hugger, I was not.
I'd have to say this behavior started in middle school- a time when a simple greeting-hug was every 13-year-old boy's excuse for treating developing boobs like a mammogram machine. Seriously. This was great if you were being hugged by a boy you liked, but a casual "Hey, how was your weekend" hug from the creepy dude in jazz band was an unwelcome experience.
I'm not opposed to the kind of hug that is so intense and full of desire that it leaves two people doing what amounts to a tiny cha-cha just to keep their balance- such is the force of a great hug. These are the hugs that take place on a well-lit parking lot, when all of the other cars have emptied out and the huggers remain, momentarily unwilling to do what they know needs to be done: go in to their respective cars and drive home to separate places. These are the hugs that make heads spin and breath shallow. Hearts beat and lids close. Lips part and legs weaken. No anti-boob pocket necessary.
And perhaps that's what it is. It's a kind of hug that only a select few will receive from me in my lifetime. Not that a cousin or cousin's new girlfriend or uncle or mailman would want to hug me in that way. It's just that I've seemed to make a clear delineation between social and/or family hugs and romantic hugs. I so revere the romantic hug that I don't want anything like it spent on friends and family, no matter how much I may love them.
This does not apply to the gays, of course. And I'm talking about gay men. (Sorry, ladies.) Herein lies my practice of boob-smashing happy-to-see-you hugs. There's nary a gay in St. Louis that I haven't hugged with such gusto that I've probably turned them more gay. But, it's nice. And not at all creepy. In this situation, I'm safe knowing that my boobs are, to my hug recipient, no different than the heels of my feet. Only boob-ier. Which probably makes them gross. Which is good. In this case. Anyway...
Other than the gays, I've embraced (pun intented) my anti-boob pocket Christian side-hug. It says, "Hey! I'm friendly! I'm happy to see you!" in a way that seems okay with everyone but my two cousins and those they hug. And with them, I've learned to temporarily remove my hug-guard in that over-exaggerated way that says, "Like this? THIS? Is this how you freaky people hug?" It includes leaping across the room and flinging myself in their arms. Engaging in a face-to-face Heimlich maneuver with pressed faces and back slaps so forceful that red, stinging hand prints are sure to be left. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it all the way.
No one will hug like me.