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The Etiquette of the Hug

It can be hard to know, in general, how to behave. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to lay it all out in one place—an etiquette column to end all etiquette columns. We’ll be tackling one befuddling situation at a time until all awkwardness has been driven from the earth. Take it to heart.

It’s a familiar moment: you’re coming to the end of an evening with a friend or business associate. He’s headed to his car and you’re headed to yours, but first you need some final physical gesture to mark your parting.

The standard is the handshake—a firm, businesslike way to conclude an interaction. It’s a perfectly respectable option (despite what the germophobes might tell you), but if you feel a sudden surge of fellowship, you may decide to go in for a hug.

At which point, things may become more complicated.

There are no half-measures here, so the single-arm shake-hug is right out. You’re either close enough to hug or you aren’t, and a bro grab will only muddle the issue. So instead of taking the easy way out, it’s time to survey the situation.

The handshake is a gesture of professionalism, so if you’re going to move beyond it, you’re going on familial warmth, which may or may not materialize after a few drinks. It can materialize in almost any environment—although playing for the Miami Heat seems to help—but you know it when you see it. Just remember: two arms, light pressure and an easy release. You’re taking a quick sip, not chugging from the bottle.

A word on hugging the opposite sex: we’d like to live in a world in which we could hug men or women indiscriminately, without taking liberties or risking misunderstanding. Sadly, we do not live in that world. So unless you know your female acquaintance well enough to sleep on her couch, we’d approach with caution.

Courage, gentlemen.