Picture two men greeting each other with a platonic hug instead of a handshake. You see it often between brothers, fathers and sons, good friends. It's a natural extension of oneself, yet, I think it's less common than seeing women hug each other. Additionally, "man hugs" have an extra feature - the pat, pat, pat.
I've noticed once men embrace they follow up with multiple pats on the back. These pats usually are offered in threes (sometimes twos.) There's a sort of symmetry to them. Man hugs show intimacy in that they include an embrace, but the moment is quick, followed by the staccato of pats. Women, on the other hand, are prone to hug each other sans pat.
There's no science here, just simple observation. And, of course, this is not a universally male trait, but I've seen it enough to wonder about it.
It interests me because I question why the pat trio is common. Gender wise, I think men use the handshake greeting more than women. No harm in its use but it is definitely a rung or two down on the physical intimacy ladder. So, when men hug each other, I believe it is a deliberate decision.
Why the pat, pat, pat finale? Is it a way to naturally countdown the end to the embrace so there's no awkward lingering? Is it a way of emphasizing the embrace, like what an exclamation point does for the end of a sentence? Is it an acquired habit or, as I noted earlier, a conscious choice? Or is it something else?
We see athletes ardently bang each other on the heads, shoulders, backs and arms in glorious teammate celebration affirming "good job" in the heat of the moment. And when I see football players grab the face guards or hit the helmets of their fellow players, I wince a little wondering if it hurts even though they are given as positive non-verbal "atta-boys." But when men greet or part from each other, the pat, pat, pat marks the end.
I love to see men hug one another. When asked about their hug style, a few male friends sort of smiled and shrugged off any explanation. Is it a thoughtless yet learned style? This seems plausible since we perform so many little acts daily on automatic pilot. For example, one routine that gnaws at me is wondering if I remembered to close the garage door. Every darn day I turn out of my driveway to go to work and every darn day the question pops up seconds later - did I close the garage door? I have yet to discover that I did not, but I put the car in reverse, every darn day, to check and be sure. I've taught myself this ridiculous ritual.
Hugging is its own ritual. Do the multiple pats give the hug an appropriate place to land? Do men think about just hugging other men, plain and simple?
Once we breach the walls of personal space, some new rules or habits come into play. I wonder not only how we arrive at these criteria but if they are universal? I imagine culture has a significant role. For example, two men greeting in Japan will bow in respectful posture, but in Italy, they will embrace fervently. Both display what is learned to be acceptable.
If a friend has been struggling with something acute or feels broken by life's eroding drumbeat, or conversely is celebrating, I find I linger with my hug and I squeeze with a little pressure around the shoulders. It's a way to emphasize the connection; to say, without words, I am with you. I would hope men feel that freedom when hugging other men, but I don't know. The triple pat could be a way to break then repair the temporarily ruptured personal space.
Even sound comes into play when the triple pat is used. With men,you can hear it across a room. It has resonance. I think it is an audible gesture equal to my silent squeezing of someone's shoulders.
But I am concerned that it is more of an exit strategy - an announcement that the hug is over. Of course the hug must end, but do men feel comfortable letting the hug dissolve softly? That's the bigger question for me -if intimacy implies softness, is there room for a hug to be enough if it is offered like a whisper? The pure act of gentle touch can be enough unamplified.
Instead of being a stop, go, red light, green light proposition, I'd like to see all of us yield to hugs so our intimate connection lingers. Let's replace the triple pat with another threesome - a three second, uninterrupted hug.
The following videos were made following separate but related tragic events in Stockholm, Paris and Manchester involving terrorism. The intention is equal and beautiful. I watched them once for the profound emotional connection and then again, to offer context to my man-hug premise. See what you think. I send lingering hugs to you all.