COLM O'REGAN: Hugs and kisses bring with them rights and responsibilities

XOXOXO (Hugs and Kisses): Although you might have only seen it at the end of texts or WhatsApps, it has a storied history, writes Colm O’Regan

The X was apparently a Christian cross people put at the end of a letter to signify sincerity. Then they would kiss the X as a display of their sworn oath. It was a sort of a two-layer security, a bit like now with username and password.

The origins of the hug O are more doubtful although some say it might have come from Jewish traders who would not have liked to put in an X because of “you know, how things are a bit complicated right now”.

Either way, nowadays XOXOs are ubiquitous and as they have proliferated so have their physical equivalent. There’s an awful lot more hugging now. More physical contact is good for humanity – especially men, as we learn to get in touch with our feelings and get a little oxytocin bounce instead of staring grimly out into the battlefield, our chin set and our emotions ulcerating down below.

Still hugs and kisses bring with them rights and responsibilities. There’s an issue of consent.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is the latest to be at the warm, sharp end of the new era of hugging.

While giving a TV interview he was approached by pop-star Ke$ha who asked him a number of times for a hug, and then went in for one anyway, when he refused. Cue cringe and tweetstorm.

Thankfully no one feel strongly enough to accost me on telly with a hug. I have very astutely managed my fame downwards through strategic hiding of talent, just so I can cut down on hug-ambushes.

The basic problem with hugs and kisses is that there is no way of knowing in advance who is a hugger and a kisser and who is not. Even if you did, there is no graceful way of indicating you don’t want one. You can hold out a stiff arm but it doesn’t entirely rule out the handshake being corrupted into the ‘cool one’ and then used as leverage to drag you into a “C’MERE YA BIG LUG” hug.

A lot of man-a-man hugs are not even proper hugs, more a sort of air hug, a bumping of right nipples. I’ve assumed others to be huggers because I didn’t want to appear awkward but it turns out they weren’t huggers either and what follows is the kind of cringeworthy Trumpian embrace.

Once you lean in for either, it’s very difficult to abort the move or pretend it was another move entirely. You can’t just claim it was an eye lash on their cheek or unsmudge their mascara – male or female. If you’re in a library or bookish place, you could just pretend you were reaching for a book behind their shoulder. But then you’d have to explain why you were interested in the 1934 Minutes from the Meetings of the Royal Geographic society.

What social situations can we take a tip from where two parties exit gracefully? The only one I can think of is the teenage disco hazing ritual known as looking for a shift.

I mean you were looking for a dance but it was generally known that a shift was a distinct downstream possibility. Once you had a few teenage discos under your belt and accumulated a relatively thick hide of rejection, you could be quite detached. I remember ‘the tour of duty’ for a dance and then moving swiftly on. It’s not pleasant but not crushing either.

So here it is: In social situations, do the tour: “Do you hug?/ No /Grand so. /What about you?/Yes/ Sound.”

Someone text Ke$ha the idea. But put an XOXO on the end of it.


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