Lessons from Seinfeld in avoiding hugs

Will we be home alone, with only a humming refrigerator to wrap around?


Nivriti Butalia

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Published: Sun 11 Jun 2017, 8:35 PM

Last updated: Sun 11 Jun 2017, 10:36 PM

Last week, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, stuck to his guns and didn't hug popstar Kesha Rose. I love this man. He was in the middle of an interview on the red carpet at the David Lynch Foundation's National Night of Laughter and Song, talking about how hard it is to sleep, and she interrupted to ask for a hug. That's rude on two counts.
He declined, politely - "no, thanks". She asked three times. He said, "no, thanks" all three times. Later, he said on camera to a different interviewer, (someone he knew for 20 years and did hug), that it's a bit off to hug a total stranger. He's just not a big fan of hugs. "Hug isn't first moment of a human, two humans. I never did that," he said.
"When you get to be my age, and you've done a few things, you have a different reality," he said. He's 63, Kesha's 30. There's research on touch and age and gender, but let's leave that for now.
Seinfeld's non-hug moment created a forest fire on Twitter. Of course, it was awkward, but good for him! So many people (like me) don't have the guts to wriggle out of such situations. But I would like to grow those guts. It takes courage to resist a hug and withstand the inevitable subsequent awkwardness. And not care more about another person's fleeting ego bruise than your own stand on personal-space invasion.
I love hugs being back in discussion. I never tire of asking people for their stand. 'Are you a hugger? Do you mind being hugged?' What if someone you don't care for comes to you all caffeinated and full of "heyyyy!" - do you duck or do you cave?
Me, I don't have a behaviour pattern etched in stone. But surely Jerry is right. Some rando leaping at you is just off. That is clear. The problem is when greeting non-randos, the people you sort-of know, the ones it's harder to be rude to because you've been seeing their faces forever, you "go way back".
Jerry's declined hug made me analyse what I do, seeing where I can tweak my own behaviour. I hug all sorts of people. Doesn't mean I always like them or I want that hug. I'm thinking now of friends' friends who, frankly, mean nothing to me, but you put up with them socially. Why? Who knows? Maybe it's that no one wants to be an outcast, if that's the fear of declining too many hugs or giving too few, even unwarranted ones. Will people desert us if we stay perpendicular? Will we be home alone, with only a humming refrigerator to wrap around? The trend of life-size Japanese dolls comes to mind. But that's different emotional territory.
Why do I cave and not duck: because like most people, I don't want to go out of my way to offend, to create even the tiniest of scenes, to not be a stick in the mud, the strange one, gosh - the unaffable weirdo. Nobody wants to be that.
But here's what's muddled: I don't hug a lot of people that I am close to. With them, I can be myself, and not mime enthusiasm. There are other ways to show affection. It doesn't always have to be so obviously demonstrated. But then also I do hug people out of love and affection. Two can co-exist, right? No wonder it's so confusing for people who don't know you, the so many contradictions.
Taking stock, I flinch whenever I don't suppress a memory of an uncomfortable hug - given or received. To give hugs that aren't reciprocated is the worst thing. To receive them is - worse? I think Jerry Seinfeld was brave. To say "No, thanks" is remarkable. Next up: the cheek peck.
- nivriti@khaleejtimes.com

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