I had been meaning to tell this story for a while and as I sit on honeymoon in Mexico by the pool there was ample time to do so. Furthermore two articles that appeared on my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds over the past week or so made this piece even more relevant. Click on the links below and ideally read them first. The first article came with the “revelation” that Hollywood actor James Franco posted a “selfie” photo on Instagram of him “cuddling” up to a male friend in bed (excuse the excessive use of speech marks). The second article was from news sharing and blogging site sensation The Huffington Post; somehow concluding 93% of men admitted cuddling with another guy (I have no idea of who, where and how many men they asked).
Recently I finally decided to come clean and declare you are suddenly not masculine if you show someone, preferably close, that you are happy to see them (I’ll save the even soppier stuff for a future article). As a man we are wired to believe showing too much happiness, love or even sadness is weak. Referring to the above articles I am making clear that I believe a cuddle is different to a hug and where it is given may alter its meaning; such as in a bed that has connotations with sex, where others may immediately rightly or wrongly assume that that is a homosexual trait for a heterosexual man to be practising. Forgetting cuddling and focussing on the art of hugging, I recently had a funny, eye opening experience of the old school views of men showing affection, which shone a mirror on how far I and others close to me had come, in their own views and actions.
I go into far more detail in my book (yet to be published) about my personality and character traits and how I used to express myself (or more correctly didn’t) to how I do today. To summarise I used to be completely insular, saying hello to someone, even a mate, would be a limp handshake at best, maybe even a little eye contact. This would even be the same for my brothers after not seeing them for a year. Meeting someone new was a whole challenge in itself, I barely uttered a hello and quickly made myself as invisible as possible unless they persisted in engaging me in conversation.
Now I’m still a naturally introverted person, but the openness to how I greet my mates and family, especially males, has been transformed. This has helped hugely from having an expressive wife, who always shows her affection openly, a best mate that does exactly the same and hugs me every time we greet. At first I used to tense up and gave the most awkward attempt ever. He noticed it a couple times and called me out on it. My father in-law and brother-in law greet me with huge hugs, and used to by pass my feeble handshake attempt and go straight in for the bear hug. I also suspect living in Sydney instead of an English suburb has changed me as it’s a wonderfully cosmopolitan city, naturally expressive, liberal, bold and colourful.
In a pay-it-forward style way when I next greeted my cousin on a trip back to England to see my ill father, I ignored the outstretched hand and hugged him at the airport. I class him as another brother. He didn’t run away or call me gay so I figured he was ok with it. Next I tried it with my brothers, this would prove to be a bigger hurdle as they were known to be “hard as nails” on the exterior and “men’s men”. Success. They may have not embraced me with open arms but this was real progress. One of my brothers even talked about his feelings, shock horror, as we went to see my father. I actually could not remember a time his ever happened. It was bloody brilliant.
Just five months later my cousin came to Australia to follow his own “Australian Dream” and attend my wedding. We hugged again. Still a little tense but he was loosening. The real impact came when he saw the way I greeted some of my mates, lad types that loved a beer and football but had curiously and ever so gradually started to hug when greeting. An even bigger impact came at our wedding. There were 90 of our closest friends and family and I reckon I hugged 90% of the blokes there. It was an occasion filled with unmeasurable joy, fun and a hefty amount of man-love and hugging. Beer helped to fuel this level of love. I even managed to make my male mates cry with my speech. My cousin quickly got the hang of the man-love and he has never looked back. There are some excellent photos from the wedding giving examples of textbook hugging.
My Uncle on the other hand, had travelled from England for the wedding and was a touch more reserved. In his sixties, but with a healthy and younger looking demeanour, he grew up at a time when men were men and women were not seen. An intelligent, caring but reserved man, except after a few red wines, he only recently opened up a few years ago and told me he had lived in Australia as a child. His dad was a hard man, a drinker and the parents split not long after returning from Down Under. His mum lived to a ripe old age and only died a few years ago, an intensely strong woman. He spoke of Australia and his dad going to the pub after work to smash back “pots” of beer and women were made to stay at home.
Just a few days after the wedding we took my Aunt and Uncle to one of our favourite restaurants for dinner before they left Sydney. After sharing a few bottles of wine my uncle waxed lyrical about Sydney, his love of Australia, the water, the atmosphere, the sun and the food. And then he began, completely deadpan, “One thing I noticed about Sydney is…the men seem to hug a lot, you guys and your friends hug and at the wedding there was a LOT of cuddling. Why is that?”
After almost spitting out my dumplings in hysterics my Aunt attempted a defence and then rolled her eyes in embarrassment, as she tends to do at him, “Oh Bri.” I casually countered that that is what Sydney is about and admitted my past steely approach had changed also. Sydney had made me a hugger. Again I must point out cuddling is different to hugging. But Bri was not done there, as we farewelled them into a taxi he gleefully grabbed my cousin (who now lives in Sydney permanently) and I and hugged both of us exclaiming, “Come here you big Aussie homos!” No offence taken Bri, we know what you meant.
Bri had come out of the closet; I had turned him into a hugger. And when we returned to London as part of our honeymoon both my brothers hugged me, truly ground breaking stuff. With one it may have only been the “clasp-hands-first-then-pull-closer-and-hug-with-your-other-arm” kind of embrace but it counted. However I saved an extra special big hug for Uncle Bri, and I noticed the awkwardness level had dropped to almost zero. Now I might well distance myself from bed-cuddling until that becomes acceptable in fifty years time but a well-meaning and genuine hug may just have a bigger impact than you think.