Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hugs not just for jocks now

Young guys join arms race at torrid pace, making it awkward for some older fellas

  • Print

PHILADELPHIA -- Joey Pasko is a hugger.

The 24-year-old illustrator from Fairmount, Pa., just isn't into the stiff handshake or the feeble wave.

"I like to hug people a lot. Like my guy friends, I'll give them a big bear hug," he said. "I'm not going to shake hands with somebody I've known for a long time. That feels too formal. I'm just not that formal of a guy."

Pasko, it turns out, has wrapped his arms around a long-term trend: in a broad range of social settings, more men are embracing, well, embracing. It's also triggering awkward moments, as hug-happy millennials encounter older men who have long measured their machismo by their palm-crushing handshakes.

"I think previous generations were more afraid to show affection to other males, because it was viewed as non-masculine or something, but bromance is in our common vernacular now, so I don't think people are too afraid of it anymore," Pasko said.

The rise in hugging can be directly traced to declines in homophobia, according to Mark McCormack, a University of Durham (England) sociologist who has studied the behaviour of young men in the United States and the United Kingdom.

"These guys don't care whether other people perceive them as gay. In the '80s and '90s, if you were perceived as gay, you'd face huge stigma for it. You'd get marginalized and insulted," he said. Now, he says, "gender behaviour isn't regulated in the same way."

In March, McCormack and colleague Eric Anderson of Winchester University published a study of British heterosexual college-age athletes. More than just hugging, 93 per cent reported having "spooned" or cuddled with a male friend.

The research made waves in the international press -- and the reaction to it made waves among McCormack's students.

"Older men are shocked that (this behaviour) is happening, and younger men are shocked that it's noteworthy," he said.

McCormack said several types of gateway hugs are facilitating the shift.

Consider the drunken, I-love-you-man grip: once men realize they're no longer being policed for such intoxicated behaviours, they might feel more comfortable hugging when sober.

It can kick off a "virtuous cycle" of hug proliferation -- an arms race, if you will.

Other influences include the tactile traditions of team sports, known for encouraging swats on the butt and exuberant post-win pigpiles. Lately, even the NFL draft has become a hugfest: each player gets a squeeze from commissioner Roger Goodell (although kissing on draft day, as gay player Michael Sam proved this year, remains controversial).

Yet another gateway is the widespread adoption of the hug-handshake hybrid (in which a handshake gets upgraded with a slap on the back) appropriated from African-American culture and favoured by President Barack Obama -- which caused a scandal for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has denied hugging the president during hurricane Sandy's aftermath.

While the man-hug is on the rise, Christie isn't the only guy fending off unwanted embraces.

Klint Kanopka, 31, an 11th-grade science teacher at Academy at Palumbo, a South Philadelphia public school, has noticed a trend among students: "They really like to hug each other a lot, and they also try to hug me."

It has happened frequently enough that he has developed a defensive stance: "I usually just leave my arms at my sides and say, 'Please don't touch me' or 'I don't like being hugged.' I just try to make the experience as awkward as possible for them, so they're not compelled to do it in the future."

Kanopka thinks increasingly informal American culture has made hugging more acceptable, but he's just not a hugger. Keeping peers at arm's-length is also an ongoing project.

"I'll try to pre-empt (a hug) with a very formal handshake," he said. "If you're firm enough, you can lock your arm to force that distance. When they try to pull you in (for a hug), you can push."

Huntingdon Valley etiquette consultant Gail Madison said the subject is unavoidable when she's working with college students and millennials.

As they enter the workforce, she said, it can be problematic.

"A lot of women have been doing this for a long time, and that's inappropriate as well," she said.

She advises clients who wish to forestall an impending hug to take a sideways stance, leading with the right shoulder to offer a businesslike handshake.

Or, offer your hand, but take a step backward to reclaim your personal space.

If all else fails, she said, plead the flu.

Madison said hugging the wrong person -- say, a boss, potential client, or girlfriend's father -- can come off as disrespectful or phoney.

"It's a sign of familiarity that's inappropriate," she said. "We need to learn a more appropriate way, which is handshaking."

But even some boomers are hugging more these days. McCormack thinks that will only increase.

He noted that studies had found that hugging has real health benefits, including increases in mood-elevating hormones such as oxytocin and declines in blood pressure, heart disease and depression.

-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2014 D6

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Bowman wants more than 'nuggets' for city in 2015 provincial budget

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A group of Horese pose for the camera in the early evening light at Southcreek Stables in Stl Norbert Wednessday. Sept  14, 2011 (RUTH BONNEVILLE) / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Will you miss the old Banana Boat building?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google