I’ve got something to confess. I am a skanky, extra-marital hugger. Always have been and probably always will be. I come from a long line of huggers on both sides. My mom hugs everyone, whether they feel like a hug or not. My grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts on both sides are all into the full, double-armed embrace. And shocker—we’d hug our friends, too.
Somewhere in my growing-up years though, Christians started calling normal hugs “frontal hugs” (ew?) and started talking about how they were too intimate for anyone other than married husbands and wives.
So you know, one thing leads to another, and we got the Christian side-hug—the heaven-sent solution for our desire for those terrible frontal hugs (definitely ew). A recently engaged Jill Duggar, of 19 Kids & Counting fame, most recently publicized this quick fix as “a good medium between super closeness and too distant.” If I was engaged and my fiancé greeted me like that, we’d better be taking a selfie because otherwise my fiery southern roots might emerge to set off some bottle rockets in his general direction.
You know it. You’ve probably experienced it. It’s that terrifying, are-we-posing-for-a-picture greeting that is apparently the only one with stamp on bottom reading “Made in Christian American Sub-Culture.” Now, I realize not everyone likes hugs and kisses on the cheek, but goodness, it’s time to wake up and at least realize that American (mostly evangelical sub-) culture is slightly behind the rest of the Western world when it comes to greetings and partings. You could get two kisses from a French person before an American might even bother to saunter up to you to give you a side hug.
I’m not even sure exactly what the CSH (that’s what the kids call it) says exactly and the nefarious one-armed hugger probably isn’t sure either. My best guess is that the answer lies somewhere on the continuum from “Dang, girl, you are too hot to hug and keep my mind out of the gutter,” to “Uh, you have terrible __________.” (Fill in the blank with your pet peeve of choice—breath, body odor, unkempt eyebrows, squishy midsection, etc.)
Phew. Thank goodness. Think of all the sinning we’ve avoided by inventing this! How on earth did we even think of it? We’ll have to take a ride in the WayBack Machine to find out. (Insert melodic beeps.)
The room is dim apart from the rotating neon stage light, illuminating a spiky-haired guy with a guitar slung across his back. The music fades out, even while his hands are outstretched. He hangs his head, and the lights come up slightly. He props the guitar on the wobbly guitar stand and dismisses the band. Gangly, swaying girls and overly stoic pimply boys slink back into cracked leather sofas and broken folding chairs. He pulls a faded, tiny-print Bible from his back pocket and says a prayer.
It’s freezing cold outside. Winter has been going on for long enough now that fall—let alone summer—is a distant memory, and the room is strewn with fuchsia paper hearts and twisted ruby-colored streamers. If you’re thinking it’s Valentine’s Day. You’re wrong. It’s actually biblical sexuality month.
The soul-patch man opens his Bible and reads from every teenager’s favorite and least favorite book, “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”
Snap back to 2014, and you’ll find that quoting Song of Solomon out of context to preteens and teenagers in the late 90s probably had some unintended consequences—one of which is likely our now favorite side hug. If you hug someone in the normal, age-old style, you will awaken dangerous love! Beware.
Stepping back from my snark for a minute, I respect the fact that youth leaders, pastors and everyone and their brother were attempting to deal with staggering rates of teenage pregnancy, STDs, and an increasingly sexualized culture. (HD Porn On-Demand wasn’t quite possible yet.) But instead of helping to encourage normal, non-sexual touch, the side-hug mentality actually takes one of the few avenues for innocent, healthy human interaction off the table. I’m not saying that all real hugs are innocent and not creepy, but there is something to be said about expressing genuine human emotion with our bodies.
For single adults, there are real consequences of taking bear hugs, two arm hugs or embraces off the table (or making them too infrequent). All people—whether single or married—need physical affection, and sadly, it’s become really awkward to get it. Many people go to churches that are so large that hugging everyone during the greeting time wouldn’t be advisable because you’d be there until three in the afternoon, and because there are so many people that you’re often sitting by people you’ve never seen before. Hugging or even side hugging a complete stranger might not be advisable.
So most of the time, many singles go without. We learn to stuff that toddler-like, I-just-need-a-hug thought deep down, shake a hand and check our handy-dandy little pocket computers.
I don’t really have any deeper thoughts on the subject. If you see your friend across the room, on the street, in church, at your party or on the moon, and you’re glad to see them, don’t wave. Make your FitBit happy and walk over there to give them a hug.