DEAR MISS MANNERS: With sexual harassment in the workplace getting so much attention these days, imagine how much happier we would all be if hugging were not permitted among co-workers.
I am so tired of having my space invaded and feeling obligated to accept a hug. My skill at giving a light pat on the back or shoulder with minimal frontal touching is improving. However, a handshake can be equally affirming of one’s appreciation of another and is so civilized!
GENTLE READER: Indeed. Over the years, Miss Manners has watched the hug become increasingly separated from the emotion that is supposed to prompt it.
The bizarre notion that hugging should inspire affectionate goodwill, rather than express it, was promulgated in the pop psychology movement of the 1960s, perhaps not unrelated to chemical and erotic stimuli.
But then, in the inevitable yearning for respectability, it took on moral overtones. Promiscuous hugging was credited with demonstrating benevolence: a general love and acceptance of humanity. And it was touted as therapy: Hugging being an end in itself, it would bring comfort to the forlorn, no matter who administered it.
It was at this stage that Miss Manners encountered one of the leading gurus on the subject. Not traveling in such circles, she did not recognize him, although she knew that they were both scheduled to address a book convention. Imagine her surprise when he told the audience that just previously, alone on the elevator with her, he had decided that she needed a hug but refrained because he thought she might not take it well.
The idea was that surely any lady not so uptight would welcome a strange man’s grabbing her in the confines of an elevator.
And now that hugging has been degraded to mean nothing more than an ordinary greeting, other ladies, perhaps not quite so uptight as Miss Manners prides herself on being (now that she knows the standard), are also in danger of being criticized.
She agrees with you that the handshake is quite cordial enough for most situations, which would free the hug to mean something warmer. Meanwhile, she also recommends performing a slight wave in front of your face, accompanied by a regretful smile. The assumption will be that you have something catching, but so be it.