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Brother in arms... to hug or not to hug?

Kerry McKittrick gets a very tight grip on the vexed question of the male-on-male embrace

Just a couple of short decades ago public affection between men would have started and finished with little more than a firm handshake. If the occasion was one fraught with emotion then that handshake might have been extended to include a firm clasp on the shoulder. A hug between two men was acceptable only on the football pitch and even then only when the winning goal had been scored in the FA Cup Final.

But it appears that change is afoot, as the so-called 'man hug' is on the rise. With the arrival of such modern male entities as the New Man, the metrosexual, the hipster, and the It-boy, today's man is expected to be in touch with his feelings, leaving the stiff upper lip far behind. Now, even politicians greet each other in the public arena with back-slapping bear hugs.

Some may see it as a generational thing, with older men still preferring to keep their physical affection concealed, but with recent public man hugs between Boris Johnson and David Cameron becoming all the more common, we ask some well-known local men if they have embraced this new trend.

‘I do what feels natural at the time’

Pete Snodden (33) is the host of the Cool FM breakfast show. He lives in Bangor with his wife Julia and their daughter Ivanna (3). He says:

There’s nothing wrong with hugging a man, but if you’re asking me if I dish out man hugs I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’m don’t think I do it and I’m totally unaware if I do.

If I were to take a closer look, I would say I tend to do what feels natural at the time and hopefully that’s appropriate.

I think if you’re free-flowing and dishing out the love, then you’re probably more at one with yourself. I’m not an expert but I would say you’re probably more open with other people and in terms of your body language you’ll be more of a natural hugger.

I lost my dad a couple of months ago but I would certainly would have hugged him on occasion. I also hug friends that I haven’t seen in a while — it wouldn’t be an all encompassing squeeze, either. It’s more like a one armed hug mixed with a slap on the back.”

‘A handshake is more appropriate’

Jason Shankey (43) owns and runs Jason Shankey male grooming. He lives in Belfast with his wife Brenda and their children Lauren (13) and Will (10). He says:

Of course I do hug my kids and sometimes my friends, but not very often. I’m just not a huggy person.

My friends will come up to me with open arms and I’ll open mine but reluctantly. Inside I’m thinking let’s just hurry up and get it over with. I certainly just get in and get out and I don’t prolong the hug with big slaps on the back or anything. I think the slap is a show of bravado on men’s part, it allows men to hug while removing the possibility of any affection.

I do feel people invade my personal space when they hug me, particularly if it’s someone I don’t know very well. I’m in business meetings all the time and I find more and more people will hug before or after those. I find that inappropriate in a business environment, particularly if it’s someone you’ve only ever spoken to on the phone before. A handshake is much more appropriate.”

‘In football it’s just what you do’

Curtis Allen (26) is a forward with Glentoran FC and lives in Belfast. He says:

For everyday life I’m not a hugger but in football it’s what you do when a goal is scored. It’s not something that you ever think about, everyone just runs to the same place to celebrate.

I don’t hug my dad much either. I think the one time I would is if we scored and he was in the crowd I might run over to him.

More people do hug these days — you see more people doing the handshake with a hug thing. I think people see it on TV or in music videos. I’m more of a handshake man myself.

I think it’s all about how well you know a person. If it’s someone you’ve just met in a business meeting then you’re obviously not going to give them a hug but you might do to an old friend.”

‘I think it’s a nice, warm greeting’

Marcus Hunter-Neill (32) is also known as the entertainer Lady Portia Diamante. He lives in Bangor and says:

I hug everyone all the time and I always have done. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I thought maybe I shouldn’t. I only discover that people don’t want a hug when I’m in the middle of one and I start thinking that maybe it wasn’t a very good idea in the first place as the other person seems awkward.

Even if I shake someone’s hand I’ll probably give them a peck on the cheek too — I think it’s a nice warm greeting.

I’ve never cared what people think of me so I don’t pay much attention to etiquette. Two men in a business meeting aren’t going to go overboard with affection but we’re in a metrosexual world now so I don’t think there’s much that’s too inappropriate.

I hug my dad all the time, the same with my brother too. I’m close to all of my family, so why wouldn’t I?”

‘Hugging happens spontaneously’

John Toal (45) lives in Co Down with his wife Catriona and their three young children. He presents the John Toal programme each Saturday at 11am on BBC Radio Ulster. He says:

Definitely I would be a hugger but most of the time I just hug family. I do find that if I have someone in on the programme and they’ve told a personal or emotional story then you feel at the end that you’ve shared the experience so you share a hug too. It’s a natural thing that I don’t really think about, it just happens spontaneously.

My producer asked if I was hugging them for my benefit or for theirs, and I didn’t know.

There are friends you hug and friends you don’t hug. I wouldn’t hug the ones I see every day but if there’s someone I haven’t seen for six months home for a visit then I’ll certainly give them a hug.

I hug because I genuinely believe it’s the right thing to do but equally the other person you’re giving the hug to could be squirming for all you know.

My dad, who passed away a few years ago, wasn’t a hugger. He was an Armagh Gaelic supporter who had been going to matches since 1939 but Armagh didn’t win once until about 2002.

I met him after they were victorious and he give me a big hug in the middle of the street outside Croke Park, in Dublin. I remember thinking it took 70 years and a football match for him to hug me. A friend of mine had exactly the same experience with his dad.

I hope the man hug is on the rise. I think it’s beneficial and I think we can all do with a hug now and then.”

‘It’s an absolutely normal thing to do’

Marc Mallett (36) is a UTV presenter and lives in Belfast. He says:

Personally, I am a hugger, probably more with friends and family. If I was meeting someone for the first time I probably wouldn’t go in for a hug then.

I think I’m somewhere in between the bear hug and the one-armed version.

I’m not a great believer that there should be a time and a place to do it.

If you’re making time to spend with your friends and family then the location really shouldn’t matter. It certainly is something that is on the rise.

Us men used to be very stand-offish about things and hugging wasn’t something that was done.

Now it’s become much more acceptable and it’s not restricted to anyone. The cool modern man is not restricted when it comes to the hug.

I even hug my dad each time I see him, it’s an absolutely normal thing to do.”

Belfast Telegraph


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