My friends,

I am gradually losing this battle against Facebook. It seems everyone on earth has an account, a sad realization I came across when I happened to be glancing at Jameelah’s page and saw that “Lolo,” one of my nieces, has an account. She’s only 9. The staff at the office have labeled me ancient, unfit to lead our organization in this technocratic society. I believe they are plotting some sort of mutiny. Yesterday, I was very happy to meet Lena, a very nice woman in her 40’s, who does not have an account. Instantly we felt a bond. Yup, me and Lena, against the evil Facebook Borg. We’ll show them, Lena, we’ll show them all!

But this post is not a rant about Facebook. That will come later in a post called “Facebook: The Unraveling of Society, One ‘Friend’ at a Time.” It’s about people hugging each other. When I went to Vietnam for the first time a decade ago, the relatives came and waited for three hours outside the airport. I was ecstatic to see them, so, like an American, I ran up and hug the first cousin I saw. It was a terrible mistake. To this day, I think he still has PTSD and on occasions wakes up in a cold sweat screaming “Those skinny arms! Those skinny arms!” Hugging is not something you do in Vietnamese culture. It would be more culturally acceptable to punch your favorite aunt in the neck than to hug her.

So why do we Americans hug so damn much? We hug goodbye. We hug hello. We hug to celebrate. We hug in condolence. We hug when it’s Tuesday. Am I the only one who wonders if hugging has become obsolete by its ubiquity? Or are hugs like bunnies and oxygen, and we can never have too many in the world? I still haven’t figured out all the unwritten rules of platonic embrace. At least on two occasions I spread my arms wide, bracing for a voluntary invasion of space, thinking of it as the American thing to do, while my Vietnamese side thinks “Jeeze, just punch me in the neck!” But nothing is as awful as being left hanging when you offer yourself for a hug.

So what are the rules? Here are some that I’ve discovered: 1. Always hug someone who solicits a hug with arms wide open; otherwise, they feel awful. 2. A hybrid “man-hug,” wherein two men will shake hands, then simultaneously lean forward to hug, is a good default hug among men 3. Where two people come to hug, then realize that the other one didn’t expect a hug, they can quickly change the hug, ending up in an acceptable one-armed “side-hug.” 4. Children shouldn’t be hugged, except by their parents; they tend to carry diseases.

Last week, I had a meeting with a new acquaintance, Rhonda, and we had a great conversation about writing, philosophy, tips on wedding planning, etc. At the end, when we parted, I automatically moved into a hug, while she simultaneously extended her hand in a handshake. We ended up hugging, but I left feeling horrible, wondering if Rhonda thought I was some sort of weirdo. Nothing is worse than being forced to hug someone. I realize I actually dislike chronic huggers, and now I have started becoming one. Hugs, like “I love you”s, should be rare, so that they are meaningful. This is one of the reasons I hate Facebook, because if you have 180 “friends,” then is anyone actually a friend?

I think for the rest of 2009, I’m not going to hug anyone. I think the world would be better if we decrease emphasis on the quantity and increase the quality of our interactions. So down with Facebook! And stop hugging people.

What do you think? Do Americans hug too much? Vote now:

  1. I agree with you. People hug way too often. It is best to not touch people at all. We all have germs! Germs everywhere! Eeeek!!
  2. It depends on the context. If someone’s pet hamster died, hug. If you met a stranger on the bus who lost a job, also hug. If you’re getting mugged, don’t hug. Unless the mugger told you his hamster died.
  3. Hugs are wonderful and necessary. Hugs and rainbows and butterflies. In a perfect world, everyone hugs everyone. The world would be a better place to live there were more hugs and drum circles.
  4. Hey, why do you hate Facebook so much? You’re a no good, very bad person! Stop dissing it! Facebook is amazing! It saved my uncle’s LIFE, ok? He was suffering from DEPRESSION, and then he went on Facebook and became a FAN of the Crocs Lover Club, and now he’s all BETTER. I’m going to update my Wall right now to let people know what a no good, very bad person you are, you hater.

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