In the age of social media, who do you hug?

“Dude, I know you like my tweets, but let’s start with a handshake and see where this goes.”

I am an awkward hugger.  My problem is I don’t know who to hug.  I’m not opposed to hugging, as a practice.  I’m just very sensitive to invading someone else’s space.  Family and old friends get a hug. That’s a no-brainer…  although, manly friends and family are a little hard to figure out at times.  I have an inconsistent hugging record with most the men I know, but hugging is not the foundation of those relationships, so it’s not a big deal.

New friends and people I know through other people are my main problem areas.  There is that horrendously uncomfortable moment when such a person joins a gathering and begins to greet and hug everyone else they know better than me.  My mind immediately begins to assess the situation.  Are we at the hugging level?  If I lead with a hug, and they expect a handshake we’ll both disappear into some kind of social vortex of cumbersome regret.  If I lead with a handshake and they expect a hug, I will appear cold and aloof, maybe even overtly hostile.

Inevitably when the person reaches me, there is a clumsy pause followed by me leading with an extended hand that is held wide enough to be converted into a one-armed hug should their approach suggest they expect a friendly embrace.    The conversion is not smooth and there is usually a chuckle by everyone at my expense.   To which I respond with a smile and sheepishly remove myself from any further contact with the recipient of my hybrid shake/hug.  Thereby ensuring that we will never extend our relationship beyond the perimeter of the occasional get-together and at the same time guaranteeing we will forever dwell at the nexus of uncomfortable greetings.

I bring this up because it occurred to me at a party yesterday (where most the people in attendance received the shake/hug from me) that there is an entire virtual universe of people I now have to worry about when it comes to unwieldy greetings.  I’m referring to those folks I only know through social media.  Up until now, it has only happened at book signings and appearances where 99% of the people expect a handshake.  The other one percent initiates the hug and removes me from all responsibility in the greeting conundrum. But, I fear there will be a time in my future where I will meet my social media “friends” at some event or function where there is no book as a greetings buffer.  What then?  Do the people in my social media circles merit hugs?  Or, more accurately, do they want a hug from me?  Is it valid for me to invade their space?

I’m R.W. Ridley and this is the crap that keeps me up at night.

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