Hug or handshake?

February 4th, 2010

I am not a very affectionate person. If you approach me to give me a hug, I’ll gladly return the favor, but it is a rare occasion for me to initiate the embrace. 

This presents quite the predicament in Mass each week. For those of you who don’t know, in the Catholic Church we exchange what we call “the sign of peace.” You turn to the person next you, shake hands, and say “peace be with you.” When I was younger I always enjoyed this part because it meant Communion was coming and Mass was almost over. Now I appreciate Mass a bit more, but sharing peace is not my favorite part. 

When seated between two good friends I feel confident knowing when it comes time to exchange peace I can go in for the hug. However, when I’m not seated next to a good friend I spend the whole mass trying to decide if I should go for the hug or the handshake. My new determining factor is that if we’ve had an in-depth conversation I’ll go for the hug, if we haven’t you’re getting the handshake. The problem is that I don’t control the thoughts of the person next to me, and I apparently look like a very huggable person. 

Perhaps it is my small stature that makes me look so hug-worthy. Regardless, when I put out my hand and they stretch out their arms, I look at them dumbfounded. I quickly try to readjust myself and pretend I was going for the hug all along, but it usually results in an awkward exchange. 

A few weeks ago at Mass I turned around and shook someone’s hand and then turned to shake the person’s hand next to her. He decided we were closer than I thought, or that, like everyone else seems to think, I looked like I needed a hug, and decided to give me a hug. 

However, that hug ended up being more of a tap. Because of our distance and the awkward moment that was unfolding, my hand ended up about armpit level and his hand barely touched my shoulder. We exchanged a light pat, then laughed and turned away. It was embarrassing, but pretty funny.

I’ve decided that no matter the situation, the best way to handle an awkward moment is to laugh it off. Plus, I’ve had so many awkward moments in my life that if I didn’t laugh them off I would probably stop showing my face around campus.

But here is my question: Is there an unwritten rule about Mass etiquette that I don’t know?

There must be a simple solution to my hug/handshake dilemma. With a few of my friends we discuss if we’ll hug before Mass. It makes the whole process a lot easier, but now I kind of anticipate the confusion. 

The awkward element has become a staple in my Catholic Mass experience and my life in general. So, next time you see me, please make it clear (i.e. outstretched arms) that you want a hug or stick out your hand. Or better yet, pull me aside so we can have an in-depth conversation, then you’ll know you’re getting a hug.