Social Greetings Analyzed: The Hug vs. The Handshake

It’s the most terrifying five seconds your life. An old friend, work associate, awkward family member (or basically someone that teeters that fine line between more than acquaintance, less than good friend) is coming your way and your mind races with appropriate greeting gestures. Senselessly, it almost always comes down to the polar opposites of greeting gestures: the hug or the handshake. The problem with having to make this critical decision is that no matter the choice you make, it is – 100% of the time – horrifyingly not the choice that your fellow greeter has made.

You know what I’m talking about – you choose the hug, they choose the handshake and both of you try to switch your choices resulting in the weirdest spastic dance sequence of arms simultaneously switching from open, to closed, to thrusting forward and pulling back while bodies move towards each other in a still questionable collision. Don’t forget that this frantic readjustment of limbs is always accompanied by verbal greetings which are also going downhill: “Hi! How are you it’s been so loo…ooop! Should…we…hug…or…? Yup….ok…haha! Ok so…”

The realization that you – and your greeter – have so obviously disagreed on the way to welcome each other is relationship ruining simply because of the differences in choice – hug or handshake – and their meanings. Let’s just say you chose the hug because, dammit, you’re a nice person and that’s what nice, friendly people do. They hug each other. Your soulless counterpart has chosen the handshake and even though you’re the nice one here, the choice of hug always leaves you worse off, and here’s why: When you go for the hug, you open your arms essentially saying to the person “Hello!  I want you pressed up against my body and locked there for a few moments.”

The handshake, on the other hand (pun intended!) says: “I want you to stay about *this* distance away from me. In fact, the only part of *my* body that I want to come in contact with yours is the palm of my hand here.”

So why are YOU worse off? Because, the politeness of the handshake always wins over the forwardness of the hug. When your open arms are met with that outreached stale hand, you feel as if you’ve imposed, invaded personal space, forever crossed a line. Just like that, you’re the over-affectionate, needy and unprofessional one while the dead inside hand-shaker has just been violated by your new age greeting, victimized by your forward ways.

What’s worse, is if they have a limp handshake, I mean come on, if you’re going to label yourself as a hand-shaker put some grip into it! Have you no self-respect?! Anyways, I could get into a whole separate post on weak hand shakers but I’m not going to give those weirdos the satisfaction.

So how can we avoid the hug/handshake interaction altogether? Here are a few options:

1) Keep your hands full. Scan the area and look for two full glasses, a heavy box, or a baby. A combination of all three would be particularly effective, as most people are not sure how to deal with a person holding a box full of drink wielding babies. If all else fails, come to events/gatherings with your hands covered in band-aids, because no one greets a person who has warts.

2) Be unconventional. Go for a high five, fist bump, belly bump, wink or “live long and prosper” signage. While these may be met with the same confusion as if you had chosen the hug or handshake, at least you will now be recognized as that cool/quirky/original co-worker/friend/family member/ex-girlfriend.

3) See what others do. If you’re with your sisters and you all have the same relationship to your awkward usually hand-shaking uncle, hide behind the youngest one and see what they do. Then follow suit. That’s what younger siblings are for!

4) Be verbal about it and outright say to your greeter:  “I’m going to give you a hug because it’s been so long!” or “I have to hug you because it’s International Hug Day”. Warning your fellow greeter about what is about to transpire prepares them for the physical contact they secretly so desperately crave.

After reading all of this, you may be thinking “Why don’t we all just go for the handshake every time? The hand shaker never feels as awkward as the (attempted) hugger”. True. But is that the kind of society you want to live in? Where hugging becomes reserved for married couples and frigid hand shakers rule the social events? No! Because the world could use a lot more love. So either we start hugging or we develop some wicked handshakes in their place. Personally, I am up for a combination of both.

You can read more from Taryn Parrish on Twitter.

(Image via ShutterStock.)