As if being in a gym setting isn’t opportunity enough for physical awkwardness – I have walked into the men’s locker room by accident twice, thanks – but add in some camaraderie and post-workout endorphins and things can get downright… touchy. You’d think with my history of inappropriate touch I’d be all weird about it but for whatever reason my issues lie in other areas (like getting all weepy that Oprah’s going off-air even though I haven’t watched her show in years (She’s like a second mother to me. (Hey, triple parentheses! I haven’t had this much parenthetical fun since I taught math!))). At any rate, I don’t mind at all when people pat my shoulder or throw their arm around my shoulders. In the right situation, I’m even a fan of the sweaty hug.
While there are as many Awkward Hugs as there are awkward occasions – hello Mr. Blind Date! – I think the Sweaty Hug is unique to a fitness environment. If you’ve ever crossed a finish line or completed a really difficult group fit class or even walked out of the bathroom onto the track (yes, the upstairs bathrooms at our Y actually open up right onto the track and yes, it is every bit as awkward as you are imagining) at the wrong moment, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the Awkward Hug where at least one party but possibly both are sweaty from head to toe and yet find themselves in an occasion that warrants hugging.
What To Do If You Are A Hugger
Yesterday a girl came up to me after Hip Hop Hustle to say hey and what a great class it was. (It was a great class – Turbo Jennie is teaching us a routine for flashmob at a wedding that, get this, starts with everyone lying on the ground before kicking our legs up into the air and flipping into a one-legged side plank. And that’s just the intro! I know, you wish you were us.) But talk about Minnesota nice – this is the only gym I’ve ever belonged to where it is routine to hug your fellow cardioholics before and after every aerobics class! The moment came. “Oh, I’m so gross!” she said by way of apology as she flung her arms out. “I’m a sweaty mess!” I declared and threw my arms around her. It was Awkward. First, because you don’t want to smell the other person or make the other person smell you and second because we were both so slippery that any aggressive hugging would have left us one kiddie pool away from a sorority Jell-O wrestling contest. And so we kind of gripped biceps, tried not to bump boobs and patted the damp spot in between the other’s shoulders. It was a good sweaty hug.
The ante for embarrassment ups considerably if you are going to attempt a mixed-gender Sweaty Hug. These are less common although I will say I’ve been party to more than a few of these. I recommend the one-arm-swing-and-pat method. It’s close enough to convey your goodwill and still sterile enough to prevent any accidental sharing of bodily fluids. A good loud laugh and a buddy-punch in the arm afterward go a long way in short circuiting the Gym Rumor Mill as well.
Man-on-man hugging is the most rare of all the consenting hugs. Fortunately basketball has taught us that if you are a man in a hugging situation with another man, the best thing to do is to smack him on the butt. Don’t ask me why touching someone’s rear is more socially acceptable than hugging them; I don’t make the rules.
What To Do If You Are Not A Hugger
When two people are not matched in their hugabilities, this is when the real Awkwardness sets in. Some huggers are aggressive – there is nothing short of kicking out one of their kneecaps that will thwart them in their attempt to sweaty hug you. I’ve found that unless the person is completely objectionable and/or scary (in which case by all means, take out their knee), the best thing to do is to let them hug you and then quickly move away, putting something like a weight bench between you and them to preclude any additional hugging.
If you absolutely cannot handle the thought of someone, especially if they are sweaty, touching you, then this is a great time for a little white lie. My favorite is, “Oh, sorry! Just got spray tanned!!” This is especially funny when you consider I’m paler than paper. Other acceptable get-out-of-hugs-free excuses include having a contagious illness (but then why are you at the gym?), having a phobia of germs, and having a killer martial arts instinct that you just can’t control. It helps if you take a step back and wave your hands in front of you while apologizing. (Funny story: Gym Buddy Allison and I were at a restaurant that had dancing. A man came up to ask her to dance. She stepped back and waved her hands in front of her in classic “no” fashion. Which he thought was a cool new dance step and started doing it back to her! You should have seen them no-noing back and forth for the 30 seconds it took her to escape. I would have helped her except I was laughing too hard.)
The most Awkward Hug of all is when you have two ambivalent huggers. They think they maybe should hug – after all, a finish line was just crossed! – and yet they’re not really huggers. So they move back and forth, maybe one of them makes a small move, until they either meet weirdly in the middle and limply pat each other or they run away screaming because they can’t handle the tension anymore. Or perhaps they think they know the other person – did they hug at the last finish line? Small world! – but aren’t sure enough to bust their move. My motto: When in doubt, hug. Unless you are a man and then stick to knuckles or fist bumps.
Other Gym Hugging Rules
– Never hug someone while they are lifting weights. Not even if you call it “spotting.”
– Never hug someone from behind. Fitness people are often very fast and strong and do not like to be startled.
– Never hug during a grapevine left or a hop-over-the-step or any other cardio move. You’ll trip up the whole class. I have seen this happen.
– Don’t hug someone in the locker room unless you are both fully clothed.
– Don’t hug someone while they are stretching – just too much potential for misplaced limbs.
Are you a hugger, a non-hugger or an ambivalent hugger? Have you ever been in an awkward physical gym situation? Anyone else feel like Oprah kinda raised them??