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#444: “Do we hug? Because my feeling is that no, we don’t.”

Two cats in a fighting position with the word "awkward hug" above it.Hi Captain Awkward!

I have a social situation question: What do you do if you don’t want to hug someone, but they want to hug you?

This has happened to me about three times in the past 6 months, all with guys. I don’t think they were trying anything creepy, just trying to be friendly or comforting, but I just didn’t feel like our friendship was at the hugging level yet. In all the cases, they swung their arms up, like the Jesus statue in Brazil and I felt like I had to proceed with the hug, even though I felt uncomfortable. 

I don’t want to be rude to these guys, but I don’t want to hug them. What do you suggest? I polled my lady friends and they said to do the hug, but I don’t like that option.

Thanks!

Huggee

Dear Huggee,

Welcome to my awkward wheelhouse.

Saturday night I was at a party, and someone wanted to hug me, and I did not want to hug them, so I stepped back and gave them a fistbump.

They probably felt a bit taken aback and awkward about it.

I don’t care. I would rather risk a temporary awkward moment than have to be nestled against someone’s body when I don’t want to be.

Our culture is all about pressuring women to just go along with things they don’t want to do in order not to make men have even momentary sadfeels, so I’m not surprised your ladyfriends advised you as they did. They probably have felt exactly as you do at times, and maybe even refused a hug, only to find themselves on the receiving end of a manly tantrum of “I WAS JUST TRYING TO BE NICE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU” so they want to help you avoid such awkwardness. You risk the man-tantrum (mantrum?) pretty much anytime you decide that your time, or your smile, or your body belongs only to you.

Your blogger, JenniferP, hugging a baby orangutan in Indonesia in 2007.

The best hug I have ever experienced, hands down. Girl was a snuggler!

While it can be difficult, I think it’s good to challenge this notion and back away from hugs you don’t want even at the risk of momentarily upsetting someone.

“Sorry, not up for hugging right now.”

“I’m not much of a hugger.”

“I’d prefer not to hug today.”

“You’re nice, but I don’t feel like hugging right now.”

Do not explain why. There are a zillion reasons why. “Come for the personal space invasion, stay for the norovirus!” is a reason. “Don’t feel like it” is a reason. Anyone that drops criticism and anger on you for not wanting to hug, visibly sulks, or demands a reason is displaying their sense of entitlement. They are the ones in the wrong, and you don’t have to hug them.

If you’re wondering what to do when you offer a hug and someone steps back, the correct response is to put your arms down and take a step back and then resume normal conversational activities. You don’t have to do an apology shame dance, just take a step back and go on being friendly. Don’t read too much into it! If the person keeps generally acting like they like you, then they like you, and this wasn’t a permanent referendum on that. They’ll probably like you more for being relaxed about it, because you are showing that you are a person who respects a boundary, and you’ll know to let them take the lead for any and all hugging in the future. This is probably a good time to remind people that it’s better to ask if someone wants to be touched and give them a real opportunity to answer you than to rush in like Cristo Redentor.

Thank you so much for your generous pledge drive donations! These friendly reminders will end after Monday. I hope you have a great weekend that includes only nice hugs and the freedom to say no to unwanted hugs.

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227 comments
  1. Maz said:

    Totally. Just a couple of weeks ago at an airport I was saying a quick goodbye to some people I’d met on holiday, had a lovely hug with one, flicked on to the next and instantly (but too late) knew it was the wrong thing – it was a very short hug, he was not for hugging.. I wished I’d offered him a hand to shake, but there you go, don’t think either of our lives were ruined. Sometimes a hug is right and mutual, sometimes it’s not. We don’t always get it right, but there’s no need for any deep debriefing of the situation.

  2. It is perfectly okay to refuse a hug and say, “No thank you, hugs can make me feel uncomfortable”

    Of course I know that it’s hard to say that sometimes, but remember it doesn’t exactly ruin their life if you don’t hug them. There may be a few seconds of disappointment and then “Oh. Okay.” and that’s about it. You may even get an apology from them if they’re trying to be a decent human being.

  3. I’m not a hugger. At all. I saw my sister, who I love and miss, for the first time in over a year the other week, and we didn’t hug. I rarely hug my friends (though I do hug my boyfriend). My strategy in general it to kind of hang back when everyone is doing the whole group goodbye hug thing, and wave and say “bye! great to see you guys!” which usually is enough of a social cue to keep hugs at bay. There were a couple people, women and men, that I eventually had to be more direct with, as my stepping back or turing it into a high five were not picked up on. I went with “I’m not much of a hugger. Doesn’t mean I don’t like you, I just prefer to be the one who initiates physical contact with friends. Thanks for understanding!” The one I was concerned about offending, it turns out, was concerned I’d be offended if she hugged everyone except me. Once we used our words, we were both much happier.

    • therufs said:

      “The one I was concerned about offending, it turns out, was concerned I’d be offended if she hugged everyone except me.”

      I am not infrequently that person. I figure asking is less awkward than Unfulfilled Hug Arms, so I usually hug everyone who I know is huggy and then ask “Are you a hug person?” Then they can initiate hug arms, or say no, or whatever.

      It’s important to make sure “are you a hug person?” is an actual question and not an accusation or plea. Practice in the mirror until you are confident, especially if you might be around people you would be really excited to hug.

  4. Irian said:

    Oh dear Lord, I feel for you, Letter Writer. It took me YEARS to knock into the heads of my friends the notion that I REALLY don’t like hugging. The “nice girl” idea was so deeply ingrained in my brain that I just couldn’t say no when a friend of mine went “oh come on, I know you don’t really like this, but we know each other for years, just a short hug as hello”, so I stiffened and endured, and after they would just pat my head in a ‘see, that wasn’t so bad’ way. I hated that, and after I gained some confidence I finally managed to convince them to stop, but they still think I’m weird for that and they still forget sometimes – but now I manage by stepping back and shaking my head vigorously (a tactics I use with new acquaintances, too) and it usually works.

    I mean, there are some people I do feel comfortable hugging, but you could count them on one hand and there’d be still some fingers left. My personal space is HUGE.

    • JenniferP said:

      Oh god, the patronizing hand-patting is almost worse than the hug!

      • Worse yet, ’twas the head!

        • JenniferP said:

          AHHHHHHH!

  5. BunnyHugCat said:

    This is by far the worst thing about living in Québec. I hate, hate, HATE the two-cheek kiss (which I actually find less intimate than hugging, but still really awkward), but it’s a part of the culture. Every one does it. Even if you only just met the person. I’ve found that I’ve been most successful at avoiding hugs/kisses when I try to diffuse the situation with a joke. There’s been so many times when I’ve just said, “Oh. I don’t do the kissing thing. I’m Albertan.” And people just laugh it off and we move on. Not everyone has the luxury of being from a different area though, so I think the advice is spot-on, as per usual.

    There’s this great article I read called “No hugging please, we’re Chinese” (http://chinosandchopsticks.com/2012/06/02/chinese-hugging/) that I think is worth a read. It’s not exactly what the LW was talking about, but it gives an excellent perspective on different cultures and how different people feel about physical affection.

    • My husband’s family is Eastern European and they do the three cheek kiss (left-right-left) and I hate it because I’m always worried my breath smells or they’ll see/feel my stubble (I am a very hairy lady. LIKE A BEAR.) or something else. I’m big fan of the fist bump or distant wave. Finger guns.

    • Ohhh god this. I’m a mostly-American living in France this year, and for the longest time the next-to-cheeks air-kiss (“bise”) was just so awful and terrifying. I sort of decided I wasn’t willing to explain to every potential cheek-kisser that I didn’t like it, though, so I mostly went along with it – but I did explain to the people I planned to see a lot that I didn’t like it and preferred hugs. So now they offer me hugs instead, which is great, because I feel like there are not enough hugs in France (or at least in my life)!

      Now actually I’ve mostly gotten used to it. I guess the repeated exposure paid off. But I certainly wouldn’t’ve chosen that myself.

      • Yeah some of my Maori friends do the cheek-kiss too and in formal situations there’s hongi (nose press). I’m always like, “erm… okay….” MOST people don’t really try to hug me though so I think I give off that vibe, we also try to set up spaces so that people can’t easily walk behind those of us who hate loomers.

        • I would never cope with the nose press! Way too intimate. Cheek kisses I don’t mind with friends, hugs yeah, but face-to-face like that? No way!

          • While I’m studying it’s generally twice a year at the noho marae, particularly during the poroaki (farewell), and then sometimes the opening and/or closing of our community centre after/before the Christmas holidays. Very occasionally there’s other events, like tonight we went to a whaea’s 60th birthday and there was SO MUCH hugging and cheek kissing. (Also her sons and nephews and a couple of mokopunas – grandkids – did a haka and all the staff were hanging around the doorway watching lol, it was choice as.) A lot of the time with hongi I’ll turn my head a bit for more of a cheek press instead which seems to go down fine, though part of that is that women do cheek kisses quite often and I’m pre-trans, so it might be interesting seeing if it gets the same reactions if I’m ever in a place where I can transition and actually be taken for a guy.

    • Guava said:

      I am so with you. I come from a Mediterranean culture where the two-cheek kiss is a standard greeting even for people who’ve just been introduced. I *also* have a deadly food allergy, and am so sensitive that if someone has eaten this food – even if it was hours before – and they still have oil on their face/hands/lips, I’ll immediately break out in hives if they come into contact with my skin. And my parents still get angry with me and tell me I’m being rude if I don’t want to kiss people. For years I have carried alcohol wipes in my purse, so I can run into the bathroom when my cheeks start itching and wipe off my face. Good times!

      • zweisatz said:

        Woow, that’s some bullshit pressure. It should be enough that you don’t like it but you also have to endure rashes because of ‘politeness’, well fuck that.

    • ReanaZ said:

      UGH. This. I am a massive hugger. And am very snuggly. And I flop over all my friends and hug folks I know old and new. (But I’m pretty good at being non-pressury. I think… my preferred technique is either to open my arms up for a hug and say, “Are we hugging people here?” and gauge their response. If they say no or seem awkward/hesitant, I go for a fun-awkward high-five. Alternatively, I’ll playfully-awkwardly switch between looking like I’m going in for a hug or a handshake and say, “Eh, eh?” and let them pick.)

      But I’m American and I HATE THE CHEEK KISS THING SO MUCH. It makes me feel squicky and uncomfortable. This is made worse by the fact that I usually am unsure whether or not it’s happening until we’re halfway into it and then they’re in my face and ahhhh. No me gusta.

      But it also happens almost exclusively when I’m living in another country, which adds a different level of issue-to-navigate. Among my close friends, I’ll play the “I’m an American and we don’t do that *shudder*” card, but in new social situations, it’s really easy for that card to sound like “I’m an American judging your different cultural norms and refusing to participate in them.” So for me, it becomes a balancing act of “be uncomfortable with people up in my facespace” or “be uncomfortable refusing to engage in a common cultural practice and draw a lot of attention to myself as Other/fulfill people’s stereotypes of rude Americans stomping on others’ cultural practices.” I’m yet to find a good solution.

      • Yeah, this! I completely relate to everything you said; I too find the cheek-kiss really uncomfortable but feel awkward, as a foreigner (American in France), opting out of the culturally appropriate form of greeting. As I’ve said above, I’ve decided to just go ahead and deal with the kiss if it’s likely to be a one-time or rare thing (i.e. it’s someone I may not see again anyway), but to explain my dispreference for it to people I expect to hang out with repeatedly (and offer the option of hugging). So when one conversation to this effect can opt me out of many future kisses I go for it; otherwise I’m too lazy to deal with it. Plus the people I expect to spend lots of time with are probably gonna realize I’m not refusing to get involved in French culture, just opting out of this one manifestation of it.

        But now I’m thinking that in some cases even in temporary-acquaintance situation I can step back and be like, “sorry, I don’t like the kiss.” and then if there’s time and it seems warranted, “In the U.S. we do a hug instead. Would you like a hug?”

      • Rosa said:

        I’m a midwest-American and I remember when we didn’t hug. I still don’t like it. I want my repressed, standoffish culture back.

        The worst was meeting my boyfriend’s parents; they’d decided i was family but I had never met them before and there was Much Hugging.

    • sonamib said:

      In Belgium we also tend to do the kiss-on-the-cheek thing as a greeting (though we do it just once, not twice). People who don’t like it do exist, and it’s really easy to tell if a kiss isn’t welcome. They might start an alternate form of greeting : waving their hands, nodding their heads, offering to shake your hand, etc. If they simply don’t move forward to do the kissy thing, or actually back away, it’s obvious they don’t want to do it. I used to hate it as a child, but my grandparents and other family members always shamed me into it, despite my evident not-liking-it body language (I mean, I offered my temples and NOT my cheeks for them to kiss). Nowadays, I don’t mind it, unless there are A LOT of people to greet.

      • Randomosity said:

        Fist bump of solidarity on the family pressure front! Not kissing, but hugging. I have a large family and I was sent to “go hug so and so” every time we arrived and every time we took our leave. I never noticed if anyone else got that command, but they seemed to like hugging.

      • Melle said:

        (though we do it just once, not twice)

        Actually, that depends entirely on the area of the country you’re from, IME. I’m from a three-kisses area, for example, whereas my dad and his wife live in a two-kisses area, which leads to awkwardness every time the wife and I meet. (Which is only once or twice a year, to be fair, but you’d think after 7+ years one of us would remember.)

        I’m not fond of the kissing thing with people I’m not close to, either, so I’ve perfected the pre-emptive handshake, which usually works pretty well. Although rarely, I encounter the kind of bloke (and it’s always been a man, without exception) who uses said handshake to pull me in for a kiss , which even people who think I’m a bit silly for not wanting to do the kissing thing have declared obnoxious, because WTF?

        • sonamib said:

          Huh, I did know about the three-kisses (my grandma told me about it) but I thought two-kisses was an exclusively French aberration :P But yeah, I mostly grew up in Brazil, and here in Belgium I only know people from the Brussels/Charleroi area, so my knowledge about the local customs is pretty limited.

          And ugh to those men who used the handshake to pull you in for a kiss. They surely know what handshakes are, right? That must be some bullshit way for them to assert power.

    • Jiggs said:

      I’m a fellow Albertan whose husband has family in Quebec, and the worst thing about visiting there is when we go to see his one old friend (who I dislike) and we have to cheek kiss. I don’t even hug my best friends hello, so it’s double uncomfortable with the greater level of intimacy for the person I Do Not Enjoy At All.

    • Jane said:

      Holy shit, yeah. I have worked in Spain, done a workshop in France, and now am studying in Switzerland, and they all have different cheek-kissing customs, and the only consistent thing is that I am always confused and startled when I have a to cheek-kiss someone. I was raised in the Midwestern U.S., so for me kissing cheeks is once and only done in intimate family situations — my mom, my dad, my grandmothers, and one of my aunts (not even all my aunts! only one of them!)

      I have screwed up the number and level of contact (because it generally seems that it’s not a real kiss, but a face-bump, which also startled me) SO MANY TIMES. BECAUSE IT’S ALWAYS DIFFERENT.

      I also hate that while cheek-kissing will occur between Swiss dudes (usually older guys,) foreign guys are allowed to opt out, but foreign girls seem to be assumed to be okay with it. I was at a concert with a few guy friends (respectively French, German, and Indian), and when the one French guy left he shook hands with the other two, but had to do the kiss thing with me. Sigh.

    • virtulla said:

      Actually, depending on what region of France you’re in, there is either two-cheek, three-cheek or even four-cheek kissing (I think the two-cheek is the most common though). My uncle’s wife does four, we only see each other a couple of times a year, and I *always* forget and have an awkward moment (they’ve been married almost 20 years).
      I’m French and I’ve never much liked this ‘bise’ thing (don’t mind it a huge deal either, unless I *already* dislike the person offering it). In high school I didn’t really think about it unless there was a whole group of people to greet, in which case they got a collective hand-wave.
      Then I went to uni in the British Isles, was pretty relieved that they don’t do it over there (and only do the hugging with people they haven’t seen in a while, not with people they hang out with on a regular basis) and got out of the habit of doing the cheek-kissing thing. I’ve been back in France 3 years and by now I mostly remember to greet my friends in a socially appropriate manner, but with acquaintances I probably end up inadvertently snubbing them quite often. Nobody’s ever said anything though.
      With people I don’t know, I tend to just do a pre-emptive hand-shake (which does get me some weird looks, except when meeting people for the first time in a professional setting, ’cause I’m a woman and the ‘bise’ is the expected greeting for women).
      I should note that I am in fact quite a huggy person (one of my friends labelled me “hug-powered” and it is very apt), but I’m only like that with people I’m close with.
      And in American films, seeing people who are not in a romantic relationship, usually parents and children, kiss each other on the mouth – no tongue obviously – always did seem icky to me.

  6. Meredith said:

    LW, I know your question was about dudes who wanted to hug you, but I want to make explicit that all of what the Captain says about boundaries and your body belonging to only you applies to any situation, with people of any (or no) gender. I feel like there’s a societal norm that hugging is something All Women Do or that it’s an expected part of women’s domain (whatever that is). But that is silly and you should not hug *anyone* you do not want to. That’s one reason why Jedi Hugs were invented!

    • Vanessa said:

      Years ago I met up with some female friends from work for breakfast on a weekend, and when I arrived, one of them came at me with open arms and said “We never hug! Let’s hug.” I submitted, but in my head I was thinking “Well, of course we never hug. Why would we? I see you every single day.” That’s when I realized that my expectations for hugging (you’re leaving to join the Foreign Legion? okay, I guess we can hug) were definitely not the same as other women’s.

      • mustelid said:

        Rather, they were not the same as that particular woman’s.

  7. Welcome to the club, Huggee! I’m a notorious not-hugger. Backing away from the hug and/or offering a hearty handshake can work. Putting up your hands protectively and cheerfully stating that you’re not a toucher may also work, because then they will look like a dick if they grab you anyway. Some people will be secretly (or not-so-secretly) offended, but those people offended you by wanting to put their body all up on yours without prompting.

    If the hug happens before I can stop it, I usually say something like, “Oh wow, we’re hugging.” And now it’s awkward for BOTH OF US. Often people will be like, “Oh, you’re not a hugger?” and I’m like, “No.” And then you’re the talk of the in-laws’ family gatherings because you’re some kind of frigid bitch or something, but then they never try to hug you again. And I am okay with that because I do not like/know these people. My real friends know I only hug when I initiate/am drunk. They cackle knowingly when a new person tries to touch me. Embrace your own reluctance to embrace other people. It’s not required!

    PS- So jelly of that orangutan hug, CA! I would hug the fuck out of a non-human primate.

    • JenniferP said:

      I have totally said “Oh wow, we’re hugging” in the middle of an unwanted hug. ^5

      Also, I’m pretty sure that the person I fist-bumped at the party the other night will not try to hug me again, and this is a FEATURE, not a bug of making it known that you don’t want to hug.

    • HUG ALL MONKEYS! HUG ALL KITTIES! HUG ALL ANIMALS!

      I’ve hugged a giraffe, but sadly I don’t have a photo of it.

      • The Grouchybeast said:

        You need to be careful with those kitties.

        Years ago, a stranger passing by our garden mistook our cat for her cat. She picked said cat up and hugged her to her bosom, exclaiming loudly about how she mustn’t wander so far from home. I think in the few seconds it took her to realise her terrible mistake and let go, the cat had made it though about two layers of clothing.

        Our cat, really NOT a hugger.

        • We have four cats: one will crawl onto your lap/you can wear him as a scarf, another spends every moment she’s with you trying to be under your feet, another likes stroking but will tolerate hugs, and the last? The last has to be wrapped in a thick towel if you need to pick her up, because she is NOT a hugger.

          • I have a rabbit like that. She’s starting to mellow out and I can often stroke her on the ground and she’ll lick me back, but I avoid picking her up. It seems the safest option.

        • Xenophile said:

          Yes! Kitties are all about enthusiastic consent or bust. There’s an etiquette you have to follow; if you don’t know the cat, you have to introduce yourself by letting them smell your hand, and if they want you to pet them, they’ll turn their head slightly. Pet their head first, not their body, and never ever ever touch their belly unless they invite you to do so. And if they change their mind halfway through, that’s it. Consent has been withdrawn. Be honored that HRH Teh Kitteh has given you the honor of touching the royal fur. Maybe I’m just a cat lady, but I think it’s a pretty decent model for physical boundaries.

          • kanel said:

            Pretty awesome model I’d say. Then again I’m raised partly by cats.

          • KL said:

            This is perfect. Somewhat related: I have a mostly-online friend with whom I’ve spent only a little time in person. I remarked to her that I find her presence very soothing, and she said “Oh, that’s because I treat people like cats.” And it’s totally true!

          • Man it would be great if everyone was taught how to read animals *and then apply that to people*. OTOH the animal step isn’t actually necessary since it’s only in the case of physical boundaries that body language suddenly seems incomprehensible to some people.

        • My current Younger Cat is a sort-of not hugger. She’ll sometimes forget herself and purr for a couple of minutes, but that’s about it. Her favoured brand of attention is me following her around the room while she walks around and flings herself into Cute Poses here and there.

          Your two-layers-of-clothes cat reminds me of one of our previous generation. He loved being cuddled, or sitting on my stomach, but he’d go from Happy Purring Cat to Ripping Your Face Off Cat in about two seconds. He was a rescue cat and I have a feeling he’d been badly treated as a kitten; the only safe way to pat him was from behind. First time I tried it from in front, he sank his hooks into my arm so hard it left bruises.

          • Xenophile said:

            One of our cats is a rescue who was neglected when he was a kitten. When we first got him about six months ago, he wouldn’t let us touch him at all. He still freaks out and bites if you try to pick him up or cuddle when he’s not in the mood, but now, several times a day he crawls onto our laps/chests/keyboards and demands cuddles. The other day he invited me to pet his belly for the first time and I was so happy I almost cried.

            Looking back at the other pets I’ve had, they’ve all had different boundaries. The only way you can earn affection from a cat is if you treat them like an individual.

          • Randomosity said:

            “The only way you can earn affection from a cat is if you treat them like an individual.”

            This is my rule for interacting with any living being. I’ve got cats and they loves them the cuddling. All you have to do is park one hand above them and they’ll jump up and pet themselves. It’s very cute. But then, they’re cats, they’re adorable, and they know who’s in charge.

          • Jane said:

            Definitely seconding the individuality of cats — most of our cats have been rescues of some sort, but for two of them that meant NO PICKING UP EVER AND I WILL DESIGNATE THE THIRTY SECONDS WHEN PETTING IS ACCEPTABLE, but for our current cat it means I WOULD LIKE TO BE AS CLOSE TO YOU AS POSSIBLE WITHOUT ACTUALLY ENTERING YOUR SKIN. She also likes her tummy petted. The three cats my parents are fostering (raised them from kittens, now are hoping to find homes for them) sadly have not learned to respect other people’s boundaries yet, so they are all, IT’S COOL IF I CLIMB YOUR LEG AND EAT YOUR SCARF, RIGHT?

        • KL said:

          My cat gets Real Mad if you try to pick him up and hug him, but at least once a day, he climbs into my lap and puts his long cat-arms around my neck. It’s the best hug ever.

          • Nerdlinger said:

            This thread is the best!

            My friends had two brother cats, one who was a lap-cat, but hated being picked up, the other one would only tolerate being held whilst you were standing so he could hug you!

        • I wish it were socially acceptable for me to react to unwanted touch like that. Though I don’t have claws …

      • That’s a great way to get stiches. A friend has these cute furry little dogs. You just want to cuddle them. We were at her place with a new acquaintance and one of the dogs jumped up in new girl’s lap. My frnd told her to please just ask him to jump down or ignore the dog. Bloody story short: new girl didn’t keep her face to herself, got a facehugger full of fur in it and a trip to the emergency.

        • Yeah luckily I was taught very early how to approach strange animals. After nearly thirty years of it, I’ve been bitten by exactly one dog, a West Highland White that skipped all warning signs and went straight to nip. The rest of the time I can back off at the first “don’t touch me”. I’m best at it with dogs, but pretty good with other animals too – the giraffe I was *really* careful with building up to it! If I ever do end up with kids I’ll be teaching them the same things pretty early on and making sure they damn well know to always listen to the owner.

        • Dr Sarah said:

          A friend has these cute furry little dogs. You just want to cuddle them. We were at her place with a new acquaintance and one of the dogs jumped up in new girl’s lap. My frnd told her to please just ask him to jump down or ignore the dog. Bloody story short: new girl didn’t keep her face to herself, got a facehugger full of fur in it and a trip to the emergency.

          Hoping this doesn’t count as too much of a derail, but… If your friend has cute, cuddly-looking dogs that come across as affectionate but are actually going to inflict GBH if that affection is returned, is that not something she should be warning new visitors around either on arrival at her apartment or at the time of issuing the invitation? It’s pretty normal to try to pet cute creatures that jump up on our lap, and the gap between the jumping up and the automatic petting is frequently not going to be long enough for the owner to go through the spiel about how they may attack if you do x, y, or z. That’s not a case of not knowing that you should listen to the owner, but not having time to do so before something disastrous happens.

          • She got stricter after the incident and more aware. There hasn’t been something this big since.

          • I’d also like to point out (as an owner of said adorable dogs who are, in reality, terrified rescues with bad social skills) that many times we DO issue a warning, lay out in detail the desired way of interacting with our pet, and are summarily ignored.

            It’s really frustrating, both because I really do wish my dogs were friendlier and less scared of everything, and equally so because I wish my friggin friends would listen to me and stop scaring my dogs.

      • Nerdlinger said:

        YOU HUGGED A GIRAFFE????

        eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

        I’m just… my inner 4 year old who wanted to be a zoologist…flopping around with admiration and envy!

        • YES IT WAS AMAZE. We have a wildlife reserve outside the city (NOT a zoo, I get irrationally annoyed when people call it that) and most of the animals you can’t really get close to but they have giraffe feedings twice a day where you can hold the branches for them. They don’t like their faces being touched but you can stroke their necks and one of the ladies is super chill and let me hug her. Their hair is sort of coarse and flat against their skin and a WEE bit oily I think to protect against dust? They are basically the best.

          • JenniferP said:

            The orangutan was at Taman Safari Jakarta, and you could pay to pose for pictures with her. I went by there when it wasn’t busy at all, so got to spend a lot of time just chilling out with her (who cares about pictures?), so she held my hand and took me around her space to show me all her cool toys, like her tire. We played and hung out for a while, and then she made the toddler “Up!” arms and I picked her up and she hugged me and snuggled me.

            I went back by there later and she was posing with a group of people as I came to the front of the line. She saw me and hopped down from posing and ran over to me, and wanted another hug, which is when the picture in the post was taken. She was a little stinky but sooooo sweet.

            Animals or people, having both parties want to have contact and interact is seriously the best thing.

          • Awwwwww! I love how incredibly smart primates are. The video of Koko being told her pet kitten had died is about the saddest thing ever. Really do not understand people who insist that humans are the only animals with emotions and any kind of “higher intelligence” when it’s so incredibly demonstrably untrue.

            (Koko with kitty!)

          • Nerdlinger said:

            Oh man. Animals are the best – I feel like affection with them is very simple because they will always let you know if they do or do not like something.

            Chris Miller – I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched Koko videos at work! Just… my heart!

  8. kanel said:

    It’s so incredibly uncomfortable when the huggers “[swing] their arms up, like the Jesus statue in Brazil” and that way sort of force the other person to hug back.

    Being a rather shy person, I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to hugging someone and I’m not sure if we should hug or not. I sometimes end up doing a weird, small, hug-starting motion that goes into nothing and then turn away pretending nothing ever happened. People shouldn’t be overly cautious like me, but there should be some room to gracefully decline a hug without having to actually step back, and I feel like there often is. However, with the Jesus statue folks there isn’t any room at all for that. They are the ones making it weird. Stepping back and doing something else, like a fistbump or a handshake is a great suggestion. It feels good to have it written as a valid option.

    I was subjected to one of those Jesus hugs a while ago by my boyfriend’s ex at a party. I don’t feel safe around her and had tried my best to avoid her, while still being nice and polite. When I was leaving the party she flew towards me with Jesus-arms. Yikes. I wish I had had the guts to step back and go for a handshake instead. I just felt cornered and awkwardly hugged her back, even though I really, really didn’t want to. If it happens again I hope to be brave enough to step back.

    • KM said:

      I have a friend who used to spread out her arms in a pre-hug kind of way, make eye contact, then realise I didn’t want to hug and awkwardly drop her arms and say hello instead. It was so much better than being non-consensually hugged! The awkwardness went away after about one second, and it felt good that my friend didn’t want to push a hug on me.

  9. staranise said:

    I LOL’d in an unseemly matter at “rush in like Cristo Redentor.” At work. Awkward is my battlecry.

    When someone does do the Cristo Redentor move, another option is to step back and wind up for a really exaggerated high-five (with your other arm coincidentally across your chest). :D-faced enthusiasm a bonus.

    I’m usually a hugger, but sometimes I don’t want to and will say I don’t want to. One of my biggest disappointments was when a guy in my SCA group, who would repeatedly wheedle and whyyyyyy at me because I didn’t want to hug him, or hug me against my explicit wishes, was elevated to a peerage that meant he was a symbol of honour, chivalry, and–hah!–respect for women.

      • Ethyl said:

        I am so mad you beat me to that!

        • I’m still trying to remember if I’ve actually ever built that… I do love me some cultural victories, so surely I must have!

    • Oh, ew that guy. Respect for women, my tailbone.

  10. I run into the hugging thing all the time with the in-laws. They’re Italian and very, erm, effusive. I pretty much always just respond to the hugging with a stiff, one-armed, half-ass squeeze, but the cheek-kissing sends me right over the edge.

    Luckily, the men-folk in the family have caught on that when I bow out and wave hello/goodbye, that’s a good indicator that I am not a hugger. Now if only Grandma would figure that one out….

    • notemily said:

      I read this as “half ass-squeeze” and I was like “surely that’s more invasive than hugging!”

      • Now that you mention it, that might not be a terrible tactic to try on Grandma. It would certainly get a reaction. (just kidding, of course)

  11. Arms wide open is an invitation, not a requirement! You can say “No, thank you” and be perfectly polite. Any grumpy dude can then cover by turning into a stretch or something. Whatever. Not your deal.

    But I suggest being prepared to get a hand up, just in case they try to move in anyway. You can also carry around objects, like a cup of something, that’ll spill all over him on accident. Oops. Oh dear.

    Practicing strong body language and assertive refusals may help as well, because it’s harder for the dude (and onlookers, onlookers are important to these things, unfortunately) to blow off your words if you appear to Mean It. It sucks that women’s words are not taken seriously, but it’s more important that you not be hugged right now.

    I don’t get caught often, but I did get into an unwanted hug a bit ago. It was surprising to me, as I watched myself do it, and I realized how all the normal female social stuff was there, plus how I was comfortable hugging everyone else there, plus I was kind of hosting at the event, combined to get me hugging that guy. So, you know, it happens to all of us sometimes.

  12. Fairy Godmother said:

    LW, I feel your pain! Only for me, generally men are more likely to ask or pause a moment so you can say no, whereas ladies just go right in for the hug. I hate hugs! And yet somehow I, not the hugger invading my personal space without permission, get the weird looks from people. Why do people think hugs are a normal and socially acceptable method of greeting? If I had my way, we would all bow instead of touch in any way to greet each other.
    End of rant.

    • thesurfmonkey said:

      Yes! Why can’t we bow or do really anything that doesn’t involve touching other people’s bodies?

      • Indigo said:

        Well, in fairness, saying, “We should have a no-touching culture!” is just as alienating in the opposite direction for people who enjoy it. I’d personally prefer a consent culture along the lines of “would you like to…”
        I’m funny in that I love hugs with people I know, and really react badly when strangers touch me spontaneously. (Or even when someone chooses an unexpected form of touch, like the good friend who wanted to physically lift me off the ground and didn’t *warn me*. He had to squeeze me rather tightly, I was on my period, and my boobs were sore. Another reason why consent is important, dudes and ladies!)
        However, despite my love of hugs, I always try to phrase them as an offer, not a demand, and give people an out. One of the most awkward situations I’ve ever experienced was when I hugged three people leaving game night – but not the last one, for reasons that he had explained to me in a private conversation. I was totally comfortable with it, but one of the other leavers said, basically, “Oy! Be nice to the hostess, give her a hug,” and pressured him into it even though I kept saying “He really doesn’t have to”. *facepalm* Way to make what’s supposed to be a gesture of affection kind of awful.

  13. TL said:

    I hate hugs. My go-to line is simply “I don’t hug” with a smile and usually a step away. It works pretty well – even if the person has an arm already around me, they tend to let go.
    The one time it didn’t work, I repeated it three times while trying to pull away and then said “I’m going to punch you if you don’t let go of me.” (Normally I don’t advocate violence but…using my words wasn’t working and I couldn’t walk away.)
    One of my friends, in a fit of awesomeness, broke in with, “She’s not kidding. Let go.” And thus I was released.

    In one group of friends I have a one hug/season rule that works pretty well – when they get on the auto-hug train and turn to me, I say, “You want your one hug now?” or “Nope, sorry! You’ve exceeded your limit!”

    I also stiffen up whenever I’m unexpectedly touched or hugged and people who are sensitive to others’ body language tend to take the hint really well. Others need it verbalized.

    • staranise said:

      In one group of friends I have a one hug/season rule that works pretty well

      Yeah, there are friends of mine who let me hug or touch them largely as a favour to me. So I will dance on the spot flapping my hands, saying, “Oh my god you got into a doctoral program! That’s so exciting! I really feel like hugging you right now,” and they’ll go, “Hmm. It’s okay, go ahead. I’ll allow it.” It’s a negotiated agreement, and I know that them standing there awkwardly while I hug them from the side is actually a really big way of them showing affection for me and happiness in the moment.

      Because I actually love good hugging like fire–and a non-enthusiastically consensual hug is not a satisfying hug! It’s a hug where one person says “Yay!” and the other says “Please let go of me.” Sometimes when someone says it’s okay for me to hug them, they still stiffen or shrink, and I’m like, “Okay, they said yes, but in the future: take that as a no.”

      • Ethyl said:

        Yes! Enthusiastic consent is great for hugs, too! I have two friends, who are married, and I hug one and not the other UNLESS zie offers a hug to me, and that is totally ok and nobody is offended or feels awkward about it, it’s just how things are. LW, you are TOTALLY in the right and I am sending you boundary-enforcement vibes :)

  14. Another strategy, and one that I think is especially-well-suited to grandma-types, is to grasp the arms of the hug-assaulter, bringing them together in between the two of you, and give a squeeze of the hands. It’s a non-verbal way of saying, “I’m happy to see you/feel affectionate towards you, but I don’t want to hug you.”

  15. bluecandles said:

    Another not-a-hugger here (with the except of my mom). I’ve always had problems with physical affection by non-parental, non-romantic figures in my life. I used to go along with the hugs, though, because That’s What Normal People Do, Right? (TM)
    It became particularly awkward when I made French/Spanish friends as they wanted to do the kiss-on-both-cheeks thing, but once I realised I didn’t have to do that, they gradually realised my feelings and stopped doing that. And it wasn’t a problem for them because they knew about basic decency and respect for another person’s feelings.

    For anyone who does find it a problem and insists on a hug even after you’re explicit in your dislike…. weeeelll, they don’t care about your feelings, why should you be awkward to save theirs?

  16. Felicity said:

    Ugh, I wish I’d seen this a year ago.

    I had the super-awkward situation of rolling back a friendship from close to not-close. One of the many MANY issues (Hello CaptainAwkward Creepy Friend archives!) was this guy not respecting my clearly set physical boundaries (never touch my leg when we are sitting together. REALLY OH MY GOD STOP IT IT’S MY THIGH, HOW MANY TIMES — OKAY WE’RE DONE WE ARE NO LONGER FRIENDS.) I didn’t give the guy an African Violet because previous Friend Summits had apparently not helped and so I didn’t think he was worth the time and effort. After I saw him after months of avoidance, he of course went in for the hug.

    And after thinking about it for OMG a week first, I totally flubbed and LIED, said I didn’t feel huggy, something about a cold, something about wanting coffee, whatever. (I think I then got coffee and used it as a prop in holding off future attempts.) Yay me for using my words, but NAY ME for lying, which made the awkwardness…awful. Because of course fifteen minutes later a friend I DO hug comes in* and I hug him without a second thought. Arrrrrrgh. Use your HONEST words, me! Would “I don’t think we’re at a hug place, you and I” have been that much worse than being caught out? (I knooooow he saw it.)

    *I am super-huggy, which has its own boundary issues. I grew up huggy and cuddly and suddenly turned it off like a light when I got a vibe that a friend had a crush on me, and was extremely chary thereafter. I don’t hug if people don’t like it, but I also don’t like people liking it tooooo much. Arrgh.

    • You did what you had to do! You used the best tool you could! You already know this guy is a boundary crossing jerk, so why would you think he’d respect a clearly stated boundary?

      I think you totally deserve to go easy on yourself and if he saw you hugging some other guy and gets all “HEY WAIT” about it, well, let him!

    • goldenpeanut said:

      “One of the many MANY issues (Hello CaptainAwkward Creepy Friend archives!) was this guy not respecting my clearly set physical boundaries”

      This type of thing is a part of why I don’t hug. Too many huggers have turned into gropers, and if there is anything I hate more than an unwanted hug, it’s an unwanted grope.

    • Beth said:

      I don’t hug if people don’t like it, but I also don’t like people liking it tooooo much. Arrgh. and also Use your HONEST words, me! Would “I don’t think we’re at a hug place, you and I” have been that much worse than being caught out? (I knooooow he saw it.)

      Ohhhh sympathies! I am a basically very effusive, affectionate person with some complicated emotional abuse triggers; I am, basically, a cat. It’s been difficult and awkward at times to get across to people that “I really don’t want to have any kind of physical contact with you today (maybe because you cornered me between your adult beverage and a wall just now, or channeled my ex-husband in a FB conversation since I saw you last) but that doesn’t mean I’m not fond of you or won’t want to hug you on sight tomorrow.” Over time, for the most part, my friends have learned to let me initiate hugs; if I don’t, it’s a Firm and Friendly Handshake Day. But when it’s Firm and Friendly Handshake Day for Person A and HUGSQUEE Day for Person B and they’re ten feet apart, yeah, that’s distinctly uncomfortable.

      • Beth said:

        To clarify: Felicity, your Uncomfortable Hugseeker was clearly a boundary-violating jerk, and if Emergency Boundary-Enforcing Measures made him uncomfortable, so be it. The friends I describe above are in some cases mostly-pleasant people with occasionally problematic behaviors, and in some cases genuinely nice people who unwittingly tap a trigger. And yeah, there are people in my social group who are Not Actually My Friends because of the exact kind of behavior you describe. (And one who’s in danger of being relegated to that level, but damnit, I adore his wife, and he’s wicked fun to just sit and TALK to when he’s not trying to drape himself around me. Still puzzling on that one.)

        Humans: like gravitational bodies, vastly more complicated when more than two are in close proximity!

    • You know, honestly? I’d file the whole “Felicity hugged that other person after Felicity specifically stated that Felicity would not hug me because Reasons” under Not Your Problem.

      Yeah, he probably noticed. Yeah, maybe he went “Hey, wait a minute…” But he hasn’t said anything, right? And if/until he does, I’d go happily on my way assuming he didn’t even notice. Because that’s soooo not your deal to manage. Especially if the friendship is over – but even if it wasn’t. It’s not your job to make sure he doesn’t get hurt feewings.

      • felicityanne said:

        Thanks, everybody. I’m very much a relive-every-awkward-moment-ever-and-worry person, so it’s good to hear a chorus of “you’re fine, stop worrying!”

        We don’t always execute every social maneuver perfectly, and we don’t always get out of things cleanly. I’m still learning to embrace and accept the awkwardness!

  17. blitzgal said:

    If I feel the urge to hug a friend, I just ask, “Is it okay if I hug you?” If they say yes, we hug. If they say no, I immediately drop the issue and continue the conversation we were having. I’m not a very demonstrative person by nature, and usually my urge to hug only comes up if I’m saying goodbye to someone who is leaving for awhile, or if I’m consoling someone who is going through a hard time. Otherwise I’m good with not touching other people at all in casual social circumstances, so I fully understand when people are not-huggers.

  18. goldenpeanut said:

    I proactively attempted to stave off hugs the other day by lifting my hand for a high five. I even said “high five”. The recipient looked at me like I was a fucking lunatic. So we hugged.

    I don’t like hugging people I don’t know well, I don’t understand why I would hug someone when I see them socially (at a party, say) when we don’t otherwise hug, but I always end up in these damn hugs. My current strategy is to give a stiff, one-armed hug in the hopes that the other person will think “damn, goldenpeanut is a lousy hugger. I’m not hugging her again.”

    • Pterinochilus murinus said:

      At Christmas last year, a relative came up to me for the obligatory hug and kiss, and I put out my hand to shake, pointedly, and she physically thrust the hand aside to come in for the hug and two-cheek kiss.

      • zweisatz said:

        O.O Ugh.

  19. Jolly said:

    For. Real.

    I don’t even like hugging my family members (who I actually like), let alone some guy I met at a convention or whatever. Basically, all people who I am not sleeping with are completely, 100% in the high-five/handshake group. +100000 to the “anyone who takes issue to it isn’t worth worrying about” idea. If they get offended at me politely expecting them to respect my personal boundaries, that is just so very not my problem. And like so many other awkward situations that sometimes ensue when the other person momentarily forgets how things like “respect” and “social grace” work, you are totally free to end the conversation by suddenly have another place to be. “Why don’t I want to hug you? awwww come on just one hug? No, thank you. I don’t want a hug. Excuse me, [I need to get another drink/use the restroom/talk to someone who isn't you/don't even give a reason for leaving the conversation, just go]” and walk away. Hopefully they realize they were being pushy and annoying and totally in the wrong, or if they DO think badly of you, that is their problem. Either way: you’re totally good here.

    • Jolly said:

      Also, as others have said, it has been my experience as a non-hugger that the large majority of people I’ve switched out hugs for handshakes/high-fives with are actually totally cool about it. So, I wouldn’t fret too much over it, since most people are pretty cool, and people who aren’t cool don’t deserve you worrying yourself on their account.

  20. As someone who’s closer to Camp All Hugs All The Time, would it help to offer that most of the touchy-feely types I know (myself included) are totally down if you’re not into all the pda? It’s good to have boundaries around that kind of thing that are based on your own comfort level, and no one, huggy or not, owes it to another person to put their own comfort and safety aside for another.

    • RedJohn said:

      As a fellow member of Camp All Hugs All The Time, I second this so, so much. I’m moving in for a hug because I’m exuberantly happy, and if someone doesn’t want to hug, I *really* prefer being brought up short with a “I don’t hug, sorry.” than making a friend uncomfortable by effusive PDA. Non-jerk huggers are okay with boundaries! I’m a male so I can’t speak to experiences of jerks making presumptions of claim to women’s time/bodies and throwing mantrums (best portmanteau) at your failure to accede to their wishes for a hug, but I also don’t think they’re weird patriarchal ownership behavior ends at hug enforcement either. So in general I’d say any non-jerk hugger would much prefer to know your boundaries so not to cross them than make you unhappy by unwanted hugs.

      • ninjamom said:

        I’ve adopted an ask first policy. Today a coworker was really, really upset, some of it about work stuff but mostly her personal life is at an extremely bad place. I asked her if she wanted a hug and when she hesitated, I offered a Jedi hug instead (with “It’s a mind hug”) which at least got her to laugh for a minute.

  21. stentord said:

    I’ve transitioned over the last few years from a hardcore non-hugger to a most-of-the-time-yes-hugger. If I offer a hug and the person says “sorry, I’m not much of a hugger,” that’s perfect — I don’t need to know why you don’t like hugs, since I remember how in the past I didn’t like hugs because … I just didn’t like hugs. Turning it into a fist bump is awesome if you have a close, affectionate relationship and want to signal that without the full-body-contact aspect of a hug.

  22. Erin said:

    I am not generally a huggy person except in rare circumstances with people I feel extremely comfortable with. And yet – I think I was the awkward hugger today! I unexpectedly ran into a girlfriend who I haven’t seen in ages and I was so happy to see her that I went in for a hug. Too late my brain was yelling at me that she’s not a huggy person what am I doing ACK! She did hug me back but I made it the shortest hug ever. Awkward!

    Contrast that to the other day: a different girlfriend had just ended her romantic relationship and I knew she was upset. As soon as I got to her apartment I hugged her and didn’t let go until she ended it. She thanked me later for that hug, saying it made her feel loved.

    I’d so much rather be a part of the second hug experience than the first! The Captain’s advice is spot on (as always) and I hope it works for the LW.

  23. Marvel said:

    I feel you on this, LW. I’m a guy and I’m really… touch-phobic, I guess? I don’t touch other people casually unless I’m sleeping with them, and I don’t like other people touching me casually unless similar circumstances apply. It kind of freaks me out, in fact, and I will often freeze awkwardly until they let go, especially if I’m not having a very good day.

    Unfortunately for me a lot of my friends and social groups are VERY huggy. I’m in theater and casual touch is kind of a thing there. Before I knew how to refuse hugs, I used to get more and more anxious whenever it came to the end of a show because I was that paranoid about people trying to hug me. I’m willing to tolerate hugs if I really like you, but I have to REALLY like you, so learning to say “sorry, I’m not really a hugger” was a godsend for me, and that’s mostly what I do now. I’ve had a couple of people go “come onnn, I’m not gonna see you for a while and I’ll miss you” and similar guilt tactics but I just repeat “I really wouldn’t be comfortable with it, sorry” until they go the fuck away, and I’ve never had anyone cross the line and try to touch me after that. People who pressure you for hugs when you’ve already said no are the ones being rude, so don’t be afraid to lay down a firm boundary if need be. If they do go beyond that boundary, they have crossed the line from “rude” to “total asshole.”

    Oddly, getting a reputation for being Not A Hugger can actually strengthen certain relationships, because then the people you DO agree to hug are able to take it as the compliment that it is. At least, that’s what I’ve found.

  24. I am a total hugger – but only with people I know. I don’t want people I have barely spoken to in my personal space! What is wrong with them?! I also hate hugs when I’m upset (save from with a very few people) as they trigger my anxiety like nobody’s business. I try and kind of embrace the awkwardness – step back with an arm across my stomach and wave and say bye. That said, it is really bad when people just COME AT YOU for the hugs. Often if you really stiffen up, that works? I will also be utilising ‘oh, we’re hugging, wow’ from now on!

  25. ona555 said:

    I love to hug… people that I know well and also like a whole bunch. I have not done the fistbump, but I have done the whole stiff arm/handshake gesture in response to people who want to bear hug upon first introduction, and I have also done the high five as well as, for people who wouldn’t take no hugs for an answer–

    *Stiffen up with arms either crossed in front or down by my sides and lean back away from the hug
    *Say hello very enthusiastically then turn sideways and ignore them, usually acting as though I was already engaged in conversation and I had no idea they were trying to hug me, then turn my attention back after the hug-tentions have worn off
    *Coughed up a lung as they lunged in for the full body grab. Almost nobody wants to hug you when they think you have the internal plague
    Done the air hug-then-hasty-retreat when I feel that the hugging is obligatory, like I have hugged these last five people and then whoops, someone in line I’d rather not hug but who’s coming in anyway (not a great option)

    In short, boundaries are awesome, and there are all sorts of ways to enforce them.

  26. Caitlin said:

    Part of my job is to supervise undergrad student workers. One of our student workers is a very friendly girl who used to hug everybody goodbye when her shift ended. It was very much friendly, non-creepy-seeming hugging, but it was like it didn’t even occur to her that people might NOT want to hug goodbye, especially when you’re just getting off work and going to see these same people again in a few days at the most. And as much as I like a good hug now and then, that was just…too much hugging.

    I still kind of wish I had dealt with the situation by Using My Words, but I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate/called for to say something as her supervisor and I was a little afraid of hurting her feelings as…not exactly a friend, because I try not to be too buddy-buddy with student workers, but as someone she was friendly with. I had arguments with myself over whether or not I should say anything–on the one hand, this girl seems totally harmless! on the other hand, what if she goes and hugs someone with bigger touch issues than me because no one ever pointed out to her that maybe you shouldn’t do that?–and it turned into me never saying anything because I was a big mass of awkward about it. If I saw that hugs were imminent and did not feel like hugging, I would back away, but sometimes I would get caught off-guard and surprise hugged, which, even coming from a very sweet and not at all threatening girl who was both younger and smaller than I am, was not fun. But even when the unpleasant Surprise Hugs were happening I felt too awkward to say anything. So I just didn’t hug back. Didn’t pull away or go “whoa, no hugging!”, but just kept my arms at my sides and said nothing. And after a couple of incidents like that she stopped going in for Surprise Hugs, and now she still works here and is still really friendly but has not tried to Surprise Hug me in over a year.

    So while I highly recommend Using Your Words in situations like that, body language can be a pretty good communicator if words are hard for you.

    • Ethyl said:

      I am boggling at the idea that someone would hug coworkers goodbye at the end of the day. I wonder if it’s too late for you to say something to her before she gets out in the “real world” and gets in trouble for it….?

  27. TRUE STORY TIME: My social group used to include a dude with a very poor sense of personal boundaries and appropriate behavior. He used to touch my hair while commenting on it despite my telling him NOT TO, and he used to do the same to a friend of mine who had dredlocks despite her also telling him not to. (He stopped fondling her head when her HUSBAND loudly told him to knock it off – not sure if it was because MAN SAID IT or because he said it loudly and drew attention)

    We all met up in a public place once and dude was greeting everyone by name except me. Although we’d met numerous times and he’d fondled my hair numerous times (he would just sidle up behind me and start stroking/petting my head/hair. he was a foot taller than me and had enormous hands.) he did not use my name the entire time we were all together, referring to me consistently as “hey you.” When I got up to leave, he demanded a hug from me, as he had from everyone else who left. I demurred and he got upset and insistent and then tried to turn it into a racial thing, exerting as much pressure on me as he could.

    I told him that I’m not in the habit of hugging people in general, let alone people who don’t bother to remember my name. I was really nervous the whole time because he was being very bullying but in a socially acceptable way, and because people in our group were constantly making excuses for him (or leaving the group so as not to deal with him). But the moment passed, I escaped un-hugged, and other people started resisting hugs from him too.

    There’s this really big social pressure on people in general but especially women to be physically affectionate even when they don’t want to be… even when it feels threatening. It’s ok to resist, though. And when you do, people either will be totally cool and understanding or they’ll be jerks about it, and if they’re jerks about it, they’d be jerks anyway so whatever.

    • Eeeeeewwwww! Patting and stroking your hair?? And then not using your name?? And then expecting HUGS??? No, pal, I am NOT going to validate all that shit by giving you a great big hug!!!!

      “Yes, it’s racial — if ‘intrusive and overbearing’ is your race!”

    • That’s so gross! Hugging, BOLLOCKS, he’s a groper, a horrible groper creep.

      My reaction if someone touches my hair who has no business doing so – ie. everyone except my husband and my hairdresser – is the same as if an insect flies right into my face. I pull away and will likely bat their hand away as well. It’s not even something I think about, and it doesn’t matter who it is – I’ll react to my mother that way (actually she’s the primary culprit; it’s the same with tweaking my clothing … STOP IT!). I can only imagine how I’d have responded to someone like that predatory sleazebag you encountered, brigidkeely.

    • Nerdlinger said:

      UGH. My brain is screaming EW GO AWAY on your behalf!

      I am in the camp where hair-touching is WAY more intimate and inappropriate than a hug / cheek-kiss. I personally love giving and receiving physical affection but dear god, if I don’t know you, and we are not mutually familiar, and have not built a relationship – and you grabl/touch me without asking – the daggers will start flying out of my eyes. And if that’s not enough, out of my mouth as well.

      Thing is, if I can ask for permission (and I do because everyone has different preferences and comfort levels) than so can you (figurative you, not you people in this thread).

  28. nerdnik said:

    I run into this problem with my students, and it is SUPER uncomfortable (they are high school freshmen). I feel like every time any of them goes in for the hug, something awkward happens. Today I got viciously headbutted by a hugger, and also had my nose smashed into a collarbone. With male students I have to lay down the “one-arm rule” because so many of them get WAY too overzealous. It is just a mess. I think I may try the Captain’s tack and just go for fist bumps instead… save myself some awkwardness.

    • C0nnecticutGirl said:

      ^ so much this. I work with mostly sixth graders and I am not comfortable hugging them, especially some of the boys. However at the school I work at its almost like a sin not to hug your students. I usually opt for the side-by-side one armed hug. Awkward but less so then having people in my personal space who I don’t want there.

      • Oh, this. I work with Year 4 (8 – 9 years old) and I choose not to be hugged by them. “Don’t touch the teacher” is one of the first rules I give a new class. The children accept this, but oh! the flack I get from some of the other teachers about the children’s needs and rights to a cuddle. Me! I have rights too!

        • Good grief, my age must be showing. Hugging a teacher just did. not. happen. in my school days (the 70s). As for “the children’s rights and needs to a cuddle” – that seems so over the bounds of what a teacher should be doing!

          • Irene said:

            When I was in private high school (started in late ’70s), hugging was definitely a Thing. But even then it was mostly certain teachers. Lots of them you wouldn’t ever think of hugging. The ones I knew who hugged students a lot definitely had certain protocols they followed (e.g., you didn’t hold students around the waist, you didn’t have hip contact, etc.). I no longer remember whether I heard one of them talking about conscious principles in the matter, or if it was something I inferred along the way. Given that I know at least one person who had specific training along those lines at around that date, though, I think it may well have been part of professional development.

          • cassandrakitty said:

            I’m about ten years younger and if any of my teachers in high school had hugged me I’d have assumed they must be drunk. It just wasn’t a thing that teachers did.

            Then again, to be fair, this was in the UK. I don’t recall any of the American teachers I had as a small child getting huggy with us either, though. The only teacher who I can remember hugging us was Libyan, and that was in kindergarden.

        • ReanaZ said:

          I disagree human contact is outside the bounds of what a teacher should be doing. Human contact (safe, respectful, appropriate, mutually wanted, consensual contact) is a basic human need and an important part of human development. Additionally, it’s one of the five languages-of-appreciation, and some people/kids need contact to know you care and appreciate them (high-fives, shoulder squeeze, back pat, etc.). Far from being outside the bounds of what teacher should be doing, it’s at the core.

          That said, so is learning effective boundary negotiation and respecting the boundaries of others. Major kudos for outlining your own boundaries to your students upfront, Alice. This is both a positive example AND important for those kids who need touches to feel appreciated (as they have a chance to self-check with “She won’t hug me because she doesn’t like to hug, not because she hates me.”).

          Vaguely related, I worked with a teacher when I taught who ended her classes with a “High-Five, Handshake, or Hug” ritual. As the kids lined up and field out, they got to pick how to say good-bye, at their comfort level, and have a moment with her. And they got a chance to verbally negotiate that consent. (I think she air-hand-shook with a few kids who didn’t want any contact–it was okay to want no contact, but it wasn’t okay to completely refuse to participate in the class activity or be a jerk about it.) It was very well-executed.

        • In my old age, I’ve recently realized that I may have been an overzealous second grader. I know that I spent some time attached to my teacher’s hip via hug during recess. I have no memory of it being encouraged or discouraged, so hopefully it wasn’t awkward.

          As I’ve been involved in education (after school science programing) I’ve hugged a child once. She was bawling her eyes out and when I asked if she wanted a hug, she launched herself at me.

    • Maz said:

      I am friends with a caretaker at a local school (yrs 1-8, so 5-12yr old kids) who has said how when a child falls and grazes their knee or something and is howling loudly, he would love to bend down and give them a hug, but as he’s male it might be Misconstrued as Something Nasty, so he sends them to the Sick Bay. Hugs eh.

      • Would he maybe be able to use the Jedi Hug? As in, make it known that it’s a thing, and when he sees a student upset he could say it so they get some comfort but he isn’t put in an awkward situation? It could be a good workaround for some of the other people above who don’t want to hug their students either!

  29. AutistLiam said:

    Any advice on how to explain to someone that “X not hugging you after she hugged me, Y and Z is not rude of her nor does it mean she hates you. It means she didn’t want to hug you and that is ALL it means”?

    X and I have a mutual acquaintance who has decided that X hates him and is interpreting all of her behaviour to fit that theory. Which is a problem but we’re mainly managing it by ignoring anything he says about how X obviously hates him and changing the subject so he has to talk about something else. He can think she hates him if he wants to but I’m not going to stand there actually listening to someone badmouth my friend. HOWEVER this particular gripe of his concerns me cos it’s come up a few times now and I’m worried that he will soon notice that I don’t hug him and try to make that all about whether or not I like him. How do I make clear that *nobody* has the right to demand hugs or handshakes from another person no matter what idea of “politeness” or “friendliness” or “common decency” he’s been brought up with?*

    *Yes, those are quotes. About someone he doesn’t like not hugging him.

    • “Anything requiring more physical contact between two people than a handshake is an act of intimacy. Some people are more comfortable with that than others, but most women are uncomfortable having physical intimacy with someone that exceeds their emotional intimacy with that person. And the more you make an issue of it, the less it feels casual and the more it feels like you think you’re entitled to something you are not, in fact, entitled to at all. So drop it, would you? I don’t want to hear another peep out of you, ever, kvetching ’cause you didn’t get your huggy wuggy.”

      • ReanaZ said:

        This dialogue makes me want to hug you.

        But only if you want it.

  30. ‘I prefer Jedi mind-hugs. What do you think of the new Star Wars film? I wish Jar Jar Binks had his own movie.’

    • That last question would probably chase ‘em away! :D

      Though if they were a terribly earnest Star Wars fan with a humour bypass, you might get stuck listening to a long explanation of why not … :(

    • Irene said:

      If you mean that Jar Jar Binks should be relegated to his own movie, so that he’d be easier to avoid, I can totally see that :-)

  31. meh said:

    Funeral hugs are what kill me. IA few years ago, I had called a friend for a ride because I was too upset to be a safe driver, and after watching me cry for a little, he looked at me and said “would a hug help?” (no, but I had been braced for an inevitable hug as the thing I’d have to endure as the price of letting someone see me that upset. Who knew I had a choice?) After that I stopped letting people unwantedly hug me, and learned to say no, and echo that no with physical resistance if I needed to

    But I just can’t do it at funerals. The crying people who clutch you? Sobbing into your neck? They gravitate toward me, and they are my worst nightmare. I can’t figure out a way to kindly say “I don’t hug” to a sobbing older lady who grabs me to cry on, and I can’t make myself take a step back and throw up my arms the way I do otherwise.

    • Oh that’s way harder. It takes ninja moves, but you can do it by turning to be by their side and walking them to a seat. Catch the elbow as they come in, sort of pivot.

      Or by handing them off to someone. Or by carrying around the tissue box, maybe. If you have something in your hands, or something to do, that might deflect. Lately I seem to do Child Management at funerals, which keeps me occupied.

      If you have to just be standing there, have a jacket that you take off and fold in front of you, like you’re hugging that. Then they’d have to kind of pry your arm free to get in there. They might still sob on your shoulder but at least then they’re coming in from the side.

    • Randomosity said:

      The last time I went to a funeral, a close friend shook hands all around and when he got to me, he just had to have a hug. I don’t like being touched to begin with, so hugs are Not Cool. I usually try to have a drink in my hand at all times when I’m among overly huggy people. People are ok with avoiding spilling liquid, but respecting boundaries is like asking for your own private space station.

      Not long after the funeral, I was at a party and yet another person shook hands and guess what. He got to me and wanted a hug. I just stuck my hand out for a handshake instead. He was astonished that I didn’t want a hug, but he shook my hand and didn’t hug me.

      Trying to set boundaries has come up with major fail. One person, instead of hugging me does a super creepy move that is Cristo Redentor with arms moving in and out while yelling “Virtual Hug because I know you hate hugs!” as loud as possible. I like my idiosyncrasies to be discreet, thankyouverymuch.

      Another also did the virtual hug with Cristo Redentor arms and “Virtual Hug” spoken and taught her kids to do that, too. Um, no. I don’t like hugs. Period. The virtual hug bit is worse. They’re demonstrating that they have every intention of ignoring my boundary because they’re hugging me whether I want it or not and they know I hate hugs.

      I have offered hugs on extremely rare occasions, and it usually involves the death of someone beloved. I’ll always ask: Do you want a hug?

      • ‘I’m not touching you!’

        • Laura said:

          Oops. I meant to say that I’d offer the hug in response to hearing about some major bad news such as someone they cared about having died. I just reread my last paragraph and yowza, it sounds like I have a nasty curse. I have other superpowers, that’s not one of them.

          • meh said:

            heheheheheh. It sounds like a trashy romance novel premise. Hugs that kill.

          • ReanaZ said:

            Somehow, I feel like if you had killer-hug-evil-powers, your unwanted hug problem would resolve itself pretty quickly.

          • ReanaZ: Real actual out-loud lolz for you. That is hilarious. :D

          • ReanaZ said:

            Yippie! I win interwebz.

        • Leah Jaclyn said:

          if you don’t like it you don’t like it, but the virtual hugs thing sounds more like a workable, if slightly childish compromise. Rather than an attempt at circumventing your boundaries.

          • I don’t understand completely what you mean?

          • ReanaZ said:

            Yeah, I interpreted it the same way, “It means a lot to us to hug you, but we respect the fact that you don’t want to be touched, so we are just doing the us-part of the hug and leaving you physically alone.”

            Now, that’s not to say you have to like it (or put up with it), but I see it as someone trying really hard to respect your boundaries (the opposite if “showing you they have no intention of doing so”–they actually are doing respecting what they see as the boundary? I didn’t get that objection.), but kind of flopping on it. That is, they heard the boundary as “I don’t like hugs touching my body.” not “I don’t like the thought of anyone expressing affection to me through the though of hugging.” I mean to say, they sound well-meaning but maybe misunderstanding what the actual boundary is? So maybe either give them a break or give them clearer boundaries?

          • Randomosity said:

            I think “I don’t like to be hugged” is pretty clear, especially when accompanied by the story of the person yelling across the room and working the Jesus arms. Hugs aren’t the only way of showing affection, and I’d much rather exchange fist bumps, handshakes or high fives. “Don’t hug me” doesn’t mean “Pretend to hug me.” In every other situation, if you tell someone you don’t like something, they don’t mime it at you and say “Virtual “.

            Elsewhere in the thread someone mentioned a T-shirt with a porcupine and “No Hugs”. How awesome is that? I want one.

          • Leah Jaclyn said:

            See, while I don’t see my self doing what that lady is doing. I would interpret I don’t like hugs to mean you don’t like the physical act of hugs, not the idea of hugs in general.
            Again, not saying you have to like it, just that you might have misinterpreted her gesture.

      • panda flannel said:

        “People are ok with avoiding spilling liquid, but respecting boundaries is like asking for your own private space station.”

        Oh god this.

        • griffykate said:

          Yes, absolutely yes. I refer to this as my Tea-Shield.

    • Jenna said:

      I have discovered that when people hear you have cancer, a LARGE PERCENTAGE will decide that you OBVIOUSLY need a hug.
      No, but, we are already standing close because I was discussing a medical thing with you, and not the entire office….and now I am too close to dodge effectively.*sigh*

      • zweisatz said:

        Maybe saying evenly, “Would you please not hug me?” It would make me feel better that they are now embarrassed :P But maybe that’s nothing for you. And it only deflects future hugs… (hopefully)

        • Jenna said:

          It’s usually just the one hug, along with an, “I’m so sorry to hear that!” or similar.
          The problem is that I am such a non-hug person that it doesn’t occur to me that they are going in for a hug until they are THERE and their arms are around me. My reflexes aren’t really what they normally are, either. So, short of using words afterwards, I don’t really have a solution.
          I do wish it were the cultural norm to ASK FIRST! Then I could say yes or no, as I wanted. Being caught off guard with a hug startles me.

          • zweisatz said:

            That sounds really uncomfortable.

            I wasn’t very clear about it, but I was going for something that was already mentioned upthread: making clear that you didn’t want to hug while hugging (because people obviously just go there). Something like “Wow, we are hugging.”

            But I could understand if this is too uncomfortable for you/you are caught so off-guard that you forget to react. Yes, people should ask first…

      • KL said:

        That really highlights how that impulse is about them and not you. If they actually stopped and thought for a second, they might consider that someone with cancer might need not to be exposed to more germs than necessary. Not that “I don’t want to” isn’t a perfectly valid answer in itself, mind you.

      • tiphane said:

        I used the compromised immune system to get out of the cancer hugs. It wasn’t entirely true near the beginning of my treatment (though it totally was near the end), but it sounded true and it was a way to deflect the hugs from people I didn’t really know or, in one case, really didn’t like who’d found out about my diagnosis through mutual friends. Even when they went in for a hug without asking I’d just take a quick step back, put up my hand and politely say, “I’m supposed to avoid close contact with people as my immune system’s kind of compromised. Doctor’s orders. Sorry.” (Totally not sorry).
        I hope everything goes well for you, Jenna.

  32. duaecat said:

    My mother used to turn it into a huge power play.
    “Oh, you’re heading out/going to bed/whatever? Come give me a hug!”
    And oh, if I ever answered something like “Running late, gotta go!” oh the tantrums I would get. Oh the sulking and the guilt trips and if it was possible racing me to the door to plant in front of it arms outstretched like a soccer goalie determined not to let me pass. Because she had give me an Order and by all that was holy I WOULD OBEY. Or I was a horrible awful daughter.

    When my own husbutt is down, I usually ask “Can I hug you?” Because sometimes he wants it, and sometimes he’d rather not be touched when he’s in a bad mood. I’m usually very happy to get hugs from him, but… and this applies to everyone. I’m fairly large chested, so even a quick hug can turn into a surprise mammogram where one or the other gets squashed between the other person’s forearm and upper arm. It’s every bit as uncomfortable, physically and socially, as it sounds!

    • Fairy Godmother said:

      So true! It’s difficult to be hugged by people when you are chesty! It turns all hugs by shorter people into automatic motorboats, and all hugs by taller people into situations where it is hard to breathe!

  33. arkadyrose said:

    I don’t hug unless I’m really, *really* comfortable with someone – and even then I have to be in the right mood for it. (There are times I don’t even want loved ones hugging me.) It takes a long time (if ever) for someone to go from acquaintance to friend to “friend I will allow to hug me”.

    Unfortunately I’ve had to downgrade one friend to no-hugs status again, because he took “Yes, you may hug me” as permission to hoik me up in the air and spin me round when he hugs me. I never agreed to that. It is not something we have negotiated; he has taken upon himself to redefine “yes you may hug me” as “yes you may treat me as your personal rag doll”. I’ve told him I don’t like it, firmly and repeatedly, but he just ignored it and carried on. So now we’re back to not hugging any more, because I can’t trust him to just accept what I’m willing to offer and not try to ride roughshod all over my boundaries again.

    • Nerdlinger said:

      Oooh – i HATE unsolicited hug hoiks! I am on the more petite side, so a lot of times people think its oh so cute and ok to try and throw me around as they please.

      • I really have nothing helpful to add here, except that “hoik” is quite possibly the world’s most perfect onomatopoeia. I love it.

  34. tawg said:

    When I was at uni, there was a vindictive hugger in my social circle. He was bigger than me, and used to take extreme delight in crushing me to his body despite knowing full well that I was not a tactile person at all (at the time I got uncomfortable having my leg pressed against another person’s in a lecture hall, and my partner at the time felt quite neglected because I would hold hands with him but not wrap my fingers around his hand etc). After the second hug-altercation, when I realised that he knew that he was violating my boundaries and simply didn’t care, I started biting him. My face got smooshed into his chest? His chest got my teeth marks. I drew blood once, and while it didn’t stop him from trying to hug me, it did impress on to everyone around us that I was not a willing participant in those hugs. I’d kick him in the knee and shove him away and say “No!” Once he tried to bear hug me and I planted both hands on his chest and locked my elbows. He told me that his brother was in hospital and that he needed a hug, and I (loudly) replied with something along the lines of “I don’t care if your whole family has died; go and hug someone else”. It had been going on for maybe a year at that point, and I wasn’t going to be guilted into letting him assault me.

    It only really sank in after that attempted-hug, and I suspect it was because there was finally some social pressure for him to leave me alone. His girlfriend had always told him to quit sulking whenever I had to beat him off, and while no one ever rushed to my defence or actively shamed him in my presence for what he was doing, there was this general atmosphere of “Well, you know she doesn’t like that – what did you really expect would happen?”

    I guess my point is that sometimes hugs are really awful, and people are really awful, and you don’t owe them anything if they have no cares at all about your personal boundaries and your comfort level. This guy thought that I would get uncomfortable with making a scene, but revealing how antagonistic his actions were was never going to be more uncomfortable than him grabbing me and pressing me against his body and holding me there. Don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong by making the biggest possible scene that you can.

    • Holy cats! He may have called that a “hug” but it sounds like assault to me! WTF.

      • addipanandosi said:

        Word.

        I do not like this guy.

    • Circle said:

      Wow. That’s seriously terrible behaviour, definitely up there in you-could-bring-charges territory. I can’t believe he kept going for ages (a year, argh!) when you were biting and kicking and clearly Not Cool With It. Ugh. Go you for standing up for yourself in the moment as best you could. I’m just sorry to hear the people around you didn’t do much to help.

      • Nerdlinger said:

        And his girlfriend telling him to cool it and stop sulking on top of it all! Fer Chrissakes.

        Mad props for fighting back and standing up for yourself!

  35. So this reminds me of a thing that happened not too long ago. Two good friends of mine who are acquaintances of each other were at my house. I hug them both, as I have known them both for a long time and am on hugging terms with both. Then Friend One says to Friend Two, “Do you hug?”.
    Friend Two replies, “Not really, no”
    Friend One: “Oh, cool. How about shaking hands?”
    Friend Two: “Shaking hands is awesome!”

    Friends One and Two shake hands! Everyone has the kind of happy consensual contact that they are comfortable with! And then we all plonk ourselves down on the sofa and play some video games!

    EVERYTHING WAS EXCELLENT.

  36. KM said:

    Aaaaargh to people who fly in for a hug without checking first, especially if they’re bigger than you so it’s not exactly easy to get away. My super-awkward strategy: push the person away, both hands planted squarely on their chest. Of course the person is bigger than me so when I try to push them they stay solid and I end up taking a step back, which is fine – the important thing is to keep the arms outstretched in a definitely-not-hugging position. Sometimes the person thinks I’m a great big meanie for pushing them, but I reckon this is one of those “useful filter” scenarios.

  37. KM said:

    Also, awww to the gorilla picture, I want to hug a gorilla now.

    • It’s an orangutan. Though hugging a gorilla would be awesome too.

      /animal pedantry

      • foolsgame said:

        Don’t say monkey! /pterry

  38. I love hugs – with the right people, at the right time. (Agreed that the model of Enthusiastic Consent is essential for good hugging.)

    I hate hugs – with the wrong people, at the wrong time. (Actually, it varies from mild distaste to outright GET OFF ME discomfort. It’s not always hate. I have put up with awkward hugs from people I didn’t really want to hug because they obviously wanted to hug/a hug at this point, and I didn’t actually feel I would hate it.)

    Handshakes are fine! I like shaking hands. I don’t mind the cheek-kiss either, where appropriate, though in general this is either (a) when I have known you a long time or (b) when in a culture that just regards kiss-kiss as equivalent to a handshake.

    Though, awkward-hugs time: my mum.

    My mum expects a hug and kiss every time I leave their home. Mostly, I don’t feel like hugging her. This has been going on for years, which is part of the reason why I really don’t ever feel like hugging her – upthread, the one hug/season rule? My mum has so far exceeded her limit of hugs when I didn’t feel like hugging her that I don’t know when she’d get her one hug/season back. I do sometimes manage to evade it when she’s sitting down when I leave by standing far enough away that I’m just giving her a goodbye peck on the cheek, but even then she grabs on to my shoulder and it’s quite clear she’d like to be hugging me. I just don’t… I mean, this is now well into the “This has been going on for years, how on earth could I ever tell her that it’s never been okay and I want it to stop?” territory.

    • zweisatz said:

      When you talk to her about it (maybe in private before the situation arises?) you don’t have to say “I don’t want to hug you, I NEVER WANTED TO HUG YOU!!”, but you can make it about what is now and, possibly, the future.
      If she figures out that you didn’t like it all along, that could be uncomfortable for her/awkward, but it’s really not your problem because she could have avoided that by asking.

    • Ugh, the cling. How I hate the cling. Where leaving someone’s house is like trying to limbo through jungle vines covered in Gorilla Glue. Ugh ugh ugh.

      I actually had to have a similar-ish conversation with Mr. Posh: I love you and I love hugging you, but I have several things I need to do before I leave the house that do not include hugging you and kissing you and hugging you again and saying goodbye and I love you and hugging you one last time and kissing you and hugging you one more last time. There was a bit of stressed-out “LET ME LEAVE THE HOUSE NOW I PROMISE I’LL COME BACK EVENTUALLY!” but we got there.

      And we moved out-of-state, so now he can’t re-inherit it from his mother. :p

  39. vix said:

    I recently saw a graceful request to please not touch. My husband and I toured a Jewish preschool to which we’re hoping to send our son. The preschool director is the rabbi’s wife. At the end of the tour, I shook her hand (I am also a woman). My husband reached out to shake her hand, and she matter-of-factly and only very slightly apologetically said she couldn’t shake his hand. He said, “I understand,” and she thanked us for coming and we thanked her for the tour and left and it wasn’t awkward at all! No one was upset or annoyed!

    EVERYTHING WAS EXCELLENT, PART TWO.

  40. leduck said:

    I have the same issue fairly often. In fact, my boss decided to hug me one day in a celebratory way after I told him I hadn’t gotten a job I had interviewed for. We hadn’t had contact before and I was startled by the hug, so as he came in, I smacked him on the shoulder, laughed, and told him not to be silly.

    Smoooth…

    I wish I’d handled that more gracefully than smacking my boss, but at least I got my point across unambiguously.

  41. Zilliah said:

    For waving Jesus arms, maybe you could go for a double high-five instead?

    • zweisatz said:

      That would be fun :D Problem: you will be standing right in front of them and be easily huggable.

  42. When I was living in Japan, people would ask “can I hug you?” and wait patiently for a yes or no. Very little awkwardness! (It did take me a while to catch on, though, despite not being much of a hugger myself.)

    Usually I just wait for the other person to initiate hugging, and if there’s none, no harm, no foul!

  43. I was kind of a thoughtless hugger when I was younger. Got trained out of it by a combination of being embarrassed when I hugged someone I admired who I later found out hated hugs, and guys in college who thought a hug meant I wanted to jump their bones. (CA, where were you when I needed you ten years ago! Dealing with people like that would’ve been so much easier! *forlorn sob*)

    From a thoughtless hugger’s perspective: yeah, being hug-blocked stings a bit, but even worse is the realization that you’ve been making people uncomfortable and they’ve just been too polite to say anything. I still can’t bring myself to say two words to the aforementioned Someone I Admired anymore because I’m so mortified that I made her skin crawl like that. If your friends are worth being friends with, they will swallow any hurt feelings and go for the fist-bump next time. If they try to pressure you into it, you are well within their rights to tell them to hug a cactus.

    (Caveat: awkward moments wherein they shuffle around trying to recover from the social c-c-c-combo breaker, as well as future awkward moments when they forget you are on the Do Not Hug List, will probably still happen. Because we are human.)

  44. Maximilia said:

    I’m really NOT a hugger. I’m not even a hand-shaker–I don’t like touching people I don’t know, PERIOD. And I don’t like touching a whole lot of people I DO know. It’s awkward where I work, since the desk that separates the customer and I is huge and really awkward, so most people don’t offer a handshake thankfully. There are some that insist, and I just look at the hand, say “Thank you” politely, and ask if there’s some other way I can help them.

  45. misspiggy said:

    Sometimes I am about to be hugged by people who would be genuinely hurt by me saying ‘I don’t hug’, so I lean in with one arm and leg, and out with the other. I end up clasping or patting them affectionately on the shoulder, and the rest of my body is free. They usually look a bit surprised, but they’re not as humiliated as if I had rejected the hug in front of everybody. (These are colleagues that I know well, like a lot and see rarely, from a work community that does a lot of hugging and cheek kissing to show solidarity, so they’re not being rude by assuming that a hug is in order.)

  46. I grew up in a cult where the standard greeting was the side-by-side one-armed hug. Many, many, MANY times I was accused as a child of “being rude” because I wouldn’t greet people with a hug. For as long as I can remember I was convinced that the cult was full of Creepy Old Men and after I escaped it turned out I was right! (NB: the guy who started it had been molesting women from the get go).

    Because of the cult my history with hugging has been complex, and whether or not I hug a person often depends on when I met them. My siblings and i usually only hug when one of us is moving inter-state or further. My husband and I rarely hug, partly because we met as teenagers when I was still very anti-hug, but also because his physique means that hugs are physically uncomfortable for me. I never hug my friends from uni; but I do hug my geek-con friends (although some only at the con and some whenever I see them).

    i recently discovered I’m more of a cuddle person than a hug person. So if a person is a cuddle-friend of mine, I am happy with extended hugs when cuddling isn’t an option. Naturally, cuddles are more intimate than hugs so only a few people get them.

  47. Mris said:

    I once made my least-favorite great-aunt impale herself on my hand. I was 14, and I didn’t want to hug her, so I just stuck my hand out to shake, and when she kept coming at me, I did not retract the hand. She went, “OOF,” my dad stood behind me smiling, and I never had to hug her again. (Without my dad backing me, I might well have gotten scolded into letting Auntie Awful hug me, since I *was* just 14. But my dad is awesome.) What I’m saying here is, you don’t have to start with my prickly adolescent strategy…but if other strategies don’t work, that one’s a keeper.

  48. aliaras said:

    Awkward question time — is there a body language communication for ‘hugs?’ that’s not pressure-y? This is one of those areas where my comfort with verbal communication varies (it’s easy when you’re trying to be comforting, but harder in social situations), so I have generally tried the “open arms slightly and headtilt like it’s a question”, but I think that’s what LW was saying bugged them :( I don’t want anyone to hug me who’s not a hugging person (and I won’t even offer if I notice that they tend not to be super-physical), which is why I make sure to telegraph my intentions and watch for tense up, headshake, stepping back, or the other person putting up body language like ‘fistbump’ or ‘high-five’. I’d never be offended by someone not wanting to hug me, that’s just Wrong and Bad, but if I’m using the same kind of communication as people who are, I might not be getting that across well :-/

    • Annafel said:

      Yeah, I was thinking about this, and coming up blank. The slightly-extended arms with head-tilt is definitely better than the full-on Cristo Redentor, but I think the best option is still asking with words, even when it’s awkward.

    • I really, really like people when they ask “Hug?” in a non-pressure-y way. Often it makes me more likely to want to hug them. ;-)

      For me, the body language you describe is fine, but then I’m not as acutely a hugs-hater as some.

    • ReanaZ said:

      I posted this upthread, but my (as a super huggy but also tries to be super boundary respecting person) go-to is the arms-open-head-tilt you mention but pause and say say, “Are you a hugging person?” and then transition immediately to a handshake or high-five if they show anything other than hugenthusiasm.

      If you want something entirely non-verbal, opening your arms for a hug (but not going in for one) and then switching to reaching out for a handshake and switching back to hug-arms a time or two while tilting a question head seems to effectively communicate “Hug or handshake?” pretty well (and they don’t have to be huge movements–subtle ones also seem to work on people who have thoughts on what the level of physical contact should be.)

      Also, I think the difference between hug-arms-head-tilt only being “mildly bugging but occasional awkward price of admission to human interaction” and being “massively bugging boundary pushing” is all about the follow-up. If you immediately dive into a hug without waiting for a response, obviously the latter. If you take “not no” or “looks uncomfortable but doesn’t say anything” as “okay to hug” you might occasionally be in the second category.

      But if you do the hug-arms-head-tilt, make them uncomfortable by the mere fact of non-verbally asking, notice they’re uncomfortable and switch rapidly to a hand-shake/high-five/giant-no-touch-goodbye-wave instead, I doubt very many people are going to fault you for the small moment of bugging them with a social convention they dislike.

      • I’m maybe not the paragon of what is a good hugger here, but I tend toward eye contact and opening my arms, without moving. That way if the person is a hugger, they can come to me, and if not, then no big deal.
        I don’t think I’ve ever been insulting or felt particularly awkward when someone has said something about not hugging.
        I’ve also begun verbally asking people that are acquaintance/ in my social circle, but not close friends if they would like hugs. Earlier I read the option of asking “Hug, handshake, hi-five?” which I may begin to implement.

    • Jolly said:

      I think that if you offer something, it is sort of on the other person to communicate “no” to you if they feel no. So the open arms and headtilt, and “hug?” are all fine. Then, if they say no, just be cool and not-awkward about it, and maybe put up for a high-five. Also, maybe pay attention to their physical response? If they’re like LW and haven’t yet come to being able to verbalize boundaries, they still might have that little delay and weird body language. If someone says yes, and seems not that into it, maybe just be like “or actually, up top!” and then high-fives, or handshake, if it is that kind of thing.

  49. BoyOrHedgehog said:

    I had a really nice moment with the *check before you hug* thing recently. At a barbecue, a friend turned up with her two and a half year old who we hadn’t seen for about three months (a *long* time for a little kid). When they got there I kissed the mum hello and then dropped down onto one knee to say hello to the little ‘un. After chatting to her for a moment I asked if it was OK if I gave her a hug. “No!” she said cheerfully, looking me straight in the eye. Her mum made a *very* slight comment to defuse the awkwardness (although why should that be awkward?) but still made it perfectly clear that her daughter had boundaries and was encouraged to express them and that she expected them to be respected.
    Anyway, after they’d been there for a few hours and I’d been getting them drinks and just generally nearby, they got up to go. So saying goodbyes I crouched down again and said “Bye, A———-, it was really nice to see you! Can I give you a hug goodbye?”
    “Yep!” she said, giving me a dimply smile and charging at me with her arms open.

    And EVERYTHING WAS EXCELLENT.

    • I LOVE it when little kids are totally confident and happy about saying “yes!” or “no!” to hugs!

      • Especially considering the pressure some people put on little kids. “YOU MUST HUG AND/OR KISS EVERYONE!” “I WILL TICKLE YOU FOREVER AND IGNORE YOUR PROTESTS!” etc

        • Jenna said:

          My mom’s mom(who died when I was very young and was apparently not missed much…) used to tickle my brother mercilessly. Then, apparently, he hit her back.
          She complained about being hit to mom, and mom reportedly said, “what were you doing to him?”
          (I take this to mean the tickling was happening out of mom’s view as well)
          In our family(mom, dad, brother, and myself) hugs were optional, and tickling was not permitted, ever.

          • arkadyrose said:

            We have tickling in our family – but only when my 5-year-old daughter expressly asks us to tickle her.

        • When I was a child, hugging older relatives was Not Optional – refusing was rude and Not Allowed. This made it really hard for me to figure out a way to deal with the grandfather who, when I was eleven-ish, would say “let’s have some hugging” and proceed to molestation.

          My sister, having had the same experience, has been very careful to help her children define and assert their boundaries and have them respected. It took some time to get our older relatives to accept, but anybody who didn’t do so would not get to meet her children.

          I don’t have children, but there are some around the livery stable where my horse lives. Occasionally one of them will be unhappy, get physically hurt or something. Recently when a pre-teen was crying, I asked if she wanted a hug. She nodded and I gave her a hug and helped her with whatever chore she was working on. And later was complimented by the mother, because the child would normally pull away from hugs. Except, apparently, when she had the option to refuse up front…

        • Silence said:

          I remember one interstate holiday to meet familoy when I was really little with manditory hugs for all these relatives I hadn’t met before to the point I decided that this was how people in this state greeted each other resulting in me hugging random sales guy my Mother talked to for too long.

    • Leah Jaclyn said:

      I have a young cousin who is really not in to hugs or really any form of physical affection, some of it is his dad’s eyerollingly sexist manly men don’t enjoy that sort of thing influence* and some of it just his personal inclinations. So what I do when I see him is ask “would you like a hug or a fist bump today” and 80 percent of the time he would like a fist bump. He’s happy, I’m happy.

      *His Daughter must give hugs, it’s pretty gross.

    • As a parent can I just shout out a quick THANK YOU for actually asking first and then respecting the kid’s answer? I’ve made it really clear to my kids that they can have physical contact and affection on their own terms but it’s so ridiculously hard getting some of the folk in their lives to respect that. (Their paternal grandparents are all about guiltshaming them into hugs if they’ve said no – “Oh, but grandma will be so sad if you don’t hug her!” – and it pisses me right the fuck off. Grandma is a grownup and can deal with temporary disappointment.)

  50. BitterAlmonds said:

    I like hugs and I appreciate both this letter and this thread. Surprise hugs have been kind of a thing in my social circles in the past, and sometimes I’m okay with that, but my little sister Does Not Do surprise hugs. She reacts strongly to unexpected touch of any kind. There’s been more than one person who thought they would surprise her with a hug and ended up with an elbow to the gut.
    This thread is full of more excellence than Bill and Ted’s Excellent Awkward Adventure.

  51. James said:

    As someone who really doesn’t like to be touched by people in general, and hates to be hugged, I’ve found that just saying “No thanks, I don’t do hugs” /usually/ works. Friends usually readily respect my boundaries, new acquaintances at parties or whatever will usually go along with a flat, no-compromise-offered refusal (although I’ve found that sometimes you need to repeat it, perhaps emphatically). Relatives are the people I’ve had the most problems with, particularly my mother.

    But it does kind of require a willingness to ignore the awkwardness and just refuse, and sometimes you need to really make your point (by, for example, saying “Hands off of me. Now.” in a really angry voice while standing stiffly).

  52. Annafel said:

    I also love hugs, *with people who are not attracted to me.* Unless I’m sleeping with them.

    There have been way too many times that Nice Guys have pulled that “just a friendly hug!” thing as an excuse to commit what amounts to a mild sexual assault. And some people upthread describe experiencing this sort of thing as a pretty major assault, sexual or not. It is Not Okay.

    Recently a friend of a friend surprise-hugged me as I was leaving a party. I wish I’d told him to get the fuck off me. In the stress of the moment, I defaulted to not making waves. (Or hurting his tender fee-fees. God forbid.) He obviously (to me) finds me attractive and enjoyed the hug for the wrong reasons. Remembering it still creeps me out. My friend, as awesome as she normally is, defended his actions when I complained to her later by saying that he’s a great guy and definitely didn’t mean it that way.

    I think it was her reaction that I find the most frustrating now, since I can usually count on my friends to have my back (and I already thought of that guy as a jerk, so I was not that surprised by his behaviour). I know what I observed, and her disbelief makes it seem like she thinks I’m paranoid or that I think too highly of myself. Nope, I’m just aware of the fact that I have large breasts. Guys of all ages have been making sure I’m aware of them since I hit puberty. Thanks.

  53. CODA said:

    Hmm, I could use some help from the awkward army on this topic.

    I am a hugger. I hug everyone I can, and I kiss, and I turn hugs into squeezes too. I love hugs!

    The only exception is my goddaughter’s father. Her mother is a very close friend of mine, and we hug and kiss hello. Her father then comes in for HIS hug and kiss. But… I don’t know him as well as I know the mother. I don’t particularly like him, because he likes to argue ‘devils advocate’ style with me. And, he gives off creepy vibes. He once made innuendo-style comments to me, when he hugs me he pulls me too close, he ALWAYS goes for the kiss even when I haven’t kissed his partner… Ugh.

    I turn my body side on, hug him with one arm, and TURN MY FACE AWAY so that if he wants a kiss, he will have to put one on my cheek but there’s no hint that I will be returning the favour. This does not stop him.

    I feel like I can’t set a boundary, because although I don’t know him as well as the mother, I have known him 4 years, I’m godmother to his daughter, and I see them a lot. I do know him well enough to hug, I just don’t want to. But the reason is not because I don’t do hugs, it’s because I specifically don’t want to hug HIM. Just him, out of every human on earth. That’s a hella awkward thing to convey!

    Any ideas?

    • ReanaZ said:

      I think you have three options. I think all are valid, depending on your comfort level, how much you value the relationships, and the priority you put on not making things uncomfortable. (For example, with people who are sweet and well-meaning, I will often avoid making waves in public and choose to be uncomfortable for the time being. But for people who make me feel icky it is Boundaries All the Way. You get to decide this.)

      Option A is status quo–deciding to minimize the hug but not rock the boat for Family and Relationship sake is okay. It means no group awkward, but lots of awkward for you personally.

      Option B is Be Direct–deciding to prioritize your own needs and comfort levels over Family and Relationship Obligation is ALSO OKAY. If they care about you, they should respect your boundaries. This can start small–politely asking not to hug or just physically refusing and doesn’t require Reasons at first, but be aware it might escalate and you’ll probably be asked for them. (“I don’t want to.” or I’m not comfortable.” are both reasons.)

      Option C is Middle Ground–is there a trusted friend who can talk to him on your behalf? If you and his wife are really good friends, maybe you can tell her in a really non-confrontational way when he’s not around (“Hey, this is awkward, because you know I like to hug and your husband is lovely (*cough*), but I just not close enough with him to want to hug./I feel uncomfortable hugging men I don’t have a close relationship with.”) and ask her to talk to him on your behalf? I wouldn’t do it if you think their relationship is potentially sketch, but if it seems they have a good marriage, I don’t think one spouse cluing another in on social missteps is weird. This has the potential to go wrong if he’s a jerk about it, but if he’s not jerk in general, just a little clueless and assuming, this would be my preferred option.

    • zweisatz said:

      No matter which intervention you chose, if you know there will be a confrontation about this in the future (i.e. you will meet him and hugging will be an option) rehearse your reaction. Your body language as well as what you want to say. This can really help making it easier to not be caught off-guard.

  54. AMM said:

    I’m a bit of a hugger, at least when I’m in the mood, and the places I hang out have fairly huggy cultures, but in fact have a mix of people who like to hug and those who don’t. Sometimes asking for a hug (in words) sounds OK, sometimes it sounds too demanding. If it feels OK to ask, I’ll ask. Other times, I’ll do that Christo Redentor pose, but not move in (so they have the option of just not responding.) I also factor in my previous experience with them — if they’ve seemed uncomfortable with a hug, I don’t try again in the future. (On the other hand, there are people I know with whom hugs have become an indispensable part of our relationship.) And there are all kinds of alternatives: there’s one person of my acquaintance who has said she just doesn’t like physical contact, but she seems happy with air hugs.

  55. Leah Jaclyn said:

    Heres the thing, I’m a huggy person, if we’ve just met and I get good vibes, I’ll hug you, our family is pretty hug-tastic, with the exception of my sister. BUT I realise as the person invading other peoples personal space, I am the one who needs to obtain consent. “Did you want a hug?” is not a hard thing to say, nor is “Are we hugging friends?” it is a tad awkward, but nowhere near as awkward as hugging someone who doesn’t want to be hugged.

    • Excellent point! I am a hugger, too – and I’ve made it a point to get in the habit of asking, “Are you a huggy-type person?” before I go in for the hug. If they say no, I’m like “Cool, no worries.”

      End of discussion. Seriously not difficult.

  56. twomoogles said:

    I am a non-hugger who participates in a *very* huggy/cuddly social group. (Think SCA types.) This is great for a lot of the people there–quite a few have social issues of some kind and this is the first group that’s really accepted a lot of us and our weirdness. But with all those different types of strangeness (and I include me in that!) there can be some boundary-stomping. After a super awkward experience with a guy cornering me into a wall in an effort to hug me I instituted a ‘no hugging when I’m at this event’ policy for myself.

    Up til that point, I’d sort of tolerated most of the hugs, a combination of not wanting to be rude/mean and freezing up when the situation comes up. But I figured this way I’d just make it a policy…anyone except my partner wouldn’t get hugged at that event, my closer friends I saw at different times understood.

    The first time this was tested someone asked me if I wanted a hug, and I said ‘no thank you, but I’ll take a firm handshake!’ cheerfully. The silliness of it made them smile and now I’ve instituted this for any hug-type situation. It works, because I now have a reputation as a non-hugger so most people ask first.

    It is sometimes still hard to be the non-toucher in a very touchy group. I have *major* issues with someone coming up behind me and surprise-touching me, and the girlfriend of a good friend is really bad for doing this. I hate trying to explain myself because sounding like I have Issues is never fun.

    I also really hate entitled-older-guy huggers. For some reason they seem the most likely to get offended when I don’t hug. On first meeting with a relative of my boyfriend’s mom, he went in for a hug, I stepped back, both Boyfriend and BoyfriendMom told him ‘she’s not really a hugger/toucher’ and he said “That’s just too bad!” and tried anyway. Not impressed, dude. Really not.

    • That In A Hat said:

      The SCA is known for hugging? I’m beginning to think it’s just an across-the-board nerd thing, maybe?

      “I also really hate entitled-older-guy huggers. For some reason they seem the most likely to get offended when I don’t hug.”

      Oh. Okay, that. That I HATE. And I’m a hugger. But yeah. I had a boss once, in a very casual sort of place (like, I was the secretary/receptionist and usually the only person in the building unless one of the two guys who ran it were in between inspections), and after my first day on the job, he wanted a hug. Well, it’s the South and the place certainly had that old-fashion Cajun family vibe, so yeah, okay.
      The next day we were talking, and I mentioned my housemates, one of whom was a guy. “You boyfriend?” “No, just friends.” “Oh, friends with benefits.”

      And I was kinda floored, because what. I’ve only been here for a week-plus, you’re my boss, and you’re making comments about my (actually nonexistent) sex-life? Wow. So, I was a little less than comfortable the next time he suggested a hug, because the concept of “inappropriate” had been so perfectly highlighted for me, and I turned it down. And yeah, he didn’t yell or anything, but he looked really put out, and there was a serious tense, uncomfortable bit for a while.

      Aaaand yeah, I reigned in the friendly pretty hard after that.

  57. Rosalind said:

    Thank you for this.

    I run into this wayyy too frequently–I have fibrocystic breast disease and hugs are sometimes painful. And a ridiculous number of my friends (male and female both) are hug-crazy: they hug hello, goodbye, when a picture is being taken, when they’re sad or happy or excited or tipsy or… But, “sorry, no hugs today, my boobs feel like they’re gonna explode and I wouldn’t want to leak blood and lymphatic fluid on my white shirt” is not a thing I can bring myself to say.

    • Bittybird said:

      Oh man, I feel you! So few people know about fibrocystic breast disease, and it’s not the kind of thing I want to explain to casual acquaintances. Worst was when I dated a handsy guy, who I DID explain it to! Did not get that no, I was NEVER going to enjoy being fondled, I would never do more than tolerate it, no matter how “gentle” he was it wouldn’t be pleasant, so maybe we could just touch something else, yeah? It HURTS!

      • ReanaZ said:

        What an douchecanoe. I actually know nothing about fibrocystic breast disease. But I do know that any partner who hears, “Hey, I know Thing is kind of sexually common, but I’m not only not into it (which is reason enough all by itself), but I actually have a medical condition that makes it exceedingly painful and Not an Option.” and responds any way other than some variant of, “Oh, sorry, I had no idea. Man, I’m embarrassed. Want to just snuggle until you feel better and maybe tell me things you do like?” should never get le sex or le relationship until said person grows the fuck up.

        Maybe if you were super “gentle” when you kicked him in the balls he would get it?

  58. Huggee said:

    LW here: I just wanted to say that all you commenters are amazing on this blog! I usually have a policy of not reading or participating in comment thread or forums because people are mean online, but y’all are really nice! It’s great to know that I’m not alone in this hug-free thing and I will definitely try using this words thing next time this comes up!

  59. AutistLiam said:

    I wonder if it would help some of us to consider Ourselves Officially Licensed To Make A Scene if people keep trying to hug us after being asked not to?

    Making A Scene ensures the boundary-pusher doesn’t have plausible deniability. When I decide that someone’s repeated attacks on my personal space must stop I go for saying loudly “No!” or “Stop!” whilst moving away and putting one hand up in front of my body like I’m directing traffic. The shock of being yelled at usually freezes people and gives me some time to leave and the loudness also makes heads turn to look at the person. There is a Scene and the person is too embarrassed to notice me walking away from them.

    • I like the way you think. We’re not afraid to make a scene if it protects someone we care of. A child or a pet. I’ve stopped countless dogs from running up to mine without any guilt. Why shouldn’t we be able to do the same for ourselves?

    • JenniferP said:

      I support this, entirely.

    • Now there’s a T-shirt idea: Officially Licensed to Make a Scene

    • Nerdlinger said:

      At least embroidered on a pillow!

  60. Tyris said:

    If, like us, you’re touch-sensitive to the point that hugs are painful (to say nothing of the panic attacks that result when they’re delivered unexpectedly), try lining yourself with spikes. If a hugger ignores the sharp “Don’t.” (delivered in much the same way as to a dog who’s trying to climb on the furniture), and gets around the forearms-held-up-in-an-X, then they too can find out what a painful hug feels like.

    Few try it twice.

  61. LunarGeography said:

    Once, I saw a button at a con with a cartoon porcupine and the words “No Hugs!” It was awesome.

    • Randomosity said:

      If this were a T-shirt, I’d so be buying one.

  62. MK said:

    I didn’t read all the comments, so I apologize if this has already been said, but there’s a trick I learned in a women’s self defense class that is gold in my opinion for unwanted hugs, especially for men (works for drunk men at parties, too!).

    We practiced this move physically from multiple attack angles (I’m calling the unwanted hug attempts attacks mostly humorously, but they can be very uncomfortable and even creepy from some people). The main idea is to turn the hug into a handshake. Women are generally socialized to go along and accept the hug, as the Captain said. Men are generally socialized to accept hand shakes, almost unconsciously. When the person puts their hands out to go in for the hug, grab one of the hands when they are at arm’s length from you (before the hug is initiated) and shake it. Then before they know what hit them, start walking past them and pat them on the back briefly with a smile or a simple “Great seeing you!” “See you later!” or whatnot. They won’t know what hit them, it won’t seem rude, and if they question it they make it awkward. Works great on slow-moving drunks. And it gets women especially out of the predicament of accepting an unwanted hug or explaining why they don’t want to be hugged and being met with nasty entitlement anger explosions and everyone going “What a prude/b****/etc.” It’s a great in between. Practice the move with friends for maximum efficacy! Try multiple hug angles (behind, in front, to the side).

    • That is cunning like a fox!

  63. I am a huge fan of hugs and casual snuggly touch between friends. But even so, what I’ve started to do in the last few years is ASK. All the time. Even with friends I’ve hugged before. I have a few friends who want to hug some times and will offer a fistbump/high-five/eyebrow-waggle on other occasions, and it’s a lot more comfortable to know I’m not accidentally doing something they may not like.

    And I find that even though I self-identify as super-huggy and snuggly, asking other people reminds me that I am also allowed to turn down a hug even if that’s what I usually want to do, and that’s been really nice for me. It’s been a helpful reminder of my own right to set boundaries for myself.

  64. I am generally a very physically affectionate person. I am usually very okay with cuddles and hugs from the majority of my friends, my parents, and my sisters. The thing is, for some reason, I feel overwhelmed at being hugged by members of my extended family and family friends. It’s not something I enjoy, and it happens with every person at both saying hello and saying goodbye. How do I change the boundaries when most of these people knew me since I was a baby and have been hugging me without hearing complaints for over twenty years?

  65. tonia994 said:

    I’m quite a hugger and most people I know are too, I find the difficulty when a friend needs comforting as my default is the hug while I think of what to say. I figured usually it’s best to just ask ‘do you want a hug?’ and if they say no, then not to take it personally.

    However, I don’t like the whole ‘if I hug some people in the room I have to hug everybody so the others aren’t offended’ thing, especially if I’m at a group gathering with family/friends, and they brought people who THEY know but I don’t. If I don’t get on with someone, I’m not going to hug them. If I don’t feel I know them well enough, I’m not going to hug them. If they are the sort to be offended if I don’t hug them, then I probably don’t want to hug them anyway. I understand it if someone knows you as much as the others and misses you out, but I don’t get the offence if the hugger doesn’t know you so well and misses you out…

  66. Sadie said:

    Can man-tantrum find its way into the vernacular on this site, please? I got excited, thinking it would be explained like darth vaders and feelings and manatees… There has to be a name for the silent, entitled tantrums we get from those we dearly love.

    • notemily said:

      MANTRUM.

  67. Rebecca M said:

    An extended friend-group of mine came up with the following hug protocol several years ago.

    1. Use words and ask.

    2. If you prefer non verbal shorthand, you can offer/request a hug by holding out your arms, (not wide, just forward and open, and not right up in their space, and not leaning in); pause, look at the person to see their response
    A. If the other person wishes to hug you, they respond by hugging you.
    B. If the other person doesn’t wish to hug you, they respond with the “namaste” gesture, which the hug-offerer returns (the arms out flows easily into namaste)

    This worked well in a group of people who were already really into process and respect for differences. I’m not sure how often the gesture-process was used, because it works best if people know it, and looks a bit odd otherwise. But it totally increased the amount of asking around hugs by people around me. I’ve also been seeing a variant where a person initiates as above (arms open, makes eye contact) and the other person either hugs, or verbally declines.

  68. That In A Hat said:

    I don’t actually watch Adventure Time, but being a hugger who uses hugging as a primary comfort tool when someone is feeling blue, I’ve taken a quote from it:

    “How ’bout one of these?”

    Delivered in the same way that the character in the show says it. It’s just goofy enough that people don’t feel uncomfortable saying no–after all, I said it kinda silly, so it can be tossed over as me joking–but if they really do want a hug, it’s right there for them.

    I will say that with or without the phrase, a hug to someone who I don’t know as a hugger is always preceded with the arms-raised-questioningly gesture, and I’ve never been put off by someone turning me down. Different comfort levels.

  69. Aarron Halfmaine said:

    To be honest I’m a bit of a Hugnostic, I’m aware of hugging as a thing, and happily accept incoming hugs, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for a hug.

    My dear ol’ mum does have a bit of a habit of the “attack hug”, where if I’ve not seen her in a while, she charges in with a battle cry of “[Naaaaaaaammmmmmeee]!! myyyyy soooooonnnn!!!” and DOES NOT LET GO for a minute or two (Note, the polite back taps of This Hug Has To End are interpreted as “I’ll pat your back as well”). It’s gotten so bad I’ve had to physically carry her into the house in order to get out of the cold. I’m just worried that Using My Words might cause an full hugging Moratorium, which isn’t where I want to be, so I’ll just laugh it off.

    Also, with close friends, have you tried substituting the Hug for a Secret Handshake? (For example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-S9hlKYaxwo). All the intimacy and the “You know I care” without actually having to touch them

  70. cassandrakitty said:

    Can we maybe brainstorm responses for situations where you’re happy to hug one person/some people in a group, but not others, and the ones who you prefer not to hug are attempting to guilt trip or socially shame you into hugging them too? I’ve mostly run into this in scenarios where I’m being cuddly with Guy Friend and Other Guy decides that if I’m up for hugging one guy then he has a right to some cuddle time too, even though I don’t know him, or we don’t get along.

    (IME this tends to tie in with situations where someone is asking for a hug but it’s pretty clear that they’re intending to use it as an excuse to indulge in some light frottage, or a game of grab-ass.)

    Also! Family gatherings where you’re happy to hug grandma, but would really rather not hug Auntie Evil who you’ve hated since childhood.

  71. uonstermong said:

    I really appreciate this article as someone who doesn’t hug men who aren’t my immediate family (or shake hands with them) for religious reasons. I’m an orthodox Jewish woman, but my family is secular and I was raised in a secular Jewish household. I think this article captures a lot of my experiences and thoughts I’ve had in adopting the practice of avoiding physical contact with men–the differences I’ve noticed in the way i construct friendships with men now, and how I relate to guys I’ve kept up friendships with from before I became observant. I’m still in college and definitely see it when people use physical contact as a power play (regardless of their gender).

  72. Jane said:

    This is cool comment thread in general — the range of what people are comfortable with is always surprising to me. I am a person who sort of likes hugs, but who assumes (do to upbringing and natural tendency, I guess) that Hugging Is Not The Thing to Do, so while I don’t always mind if someone else hugs me (and I do actively seek out hugs from my close relatives,) it would just. . . never occur to me to offer a hug to someone I didn’t know SUPER DUPER WELL. I remember asking my freshman roommate if I could hug her after knowing her for eight months when I was feeling really super sad, and it felt weird and scary.

    I also told someone earlier this year that I didn’t like being touched, not because that is strictly true, but because I know that I read any kind of touch as much, much more intimate than most people intend it to be.

    A weird hug situation that I found myself in recently was when a small group of students were splitting up after eating out for the winter holidays, and we were uncertain if we would see each other again for two weeks. This was a group of three women (including me) and one dude, and one of the women started hugs, so it seemed to be a situation where 3*2*1 = 6 hugs were required. Hugs with the other two women were accomplished with no difficulty. The thing that made it very awkward for me was that I had relatively recently asked the guy in the group out, and been turned down. I assumed that physical contact from me would not be particularly welcome, so I did the half-ass one-arm hug to avoid touching any more than possible. But as soon as I let go, he cracked a joke about this being the way that people who didn’t like each other hugged in his home state, and I was embarrassed and stupid enough to hug him again (we are good enough friends for me to have said later, “SORRY I WILL NEVER EVER HUG YOU AGAIN, I WAS OVERWHELMED AND DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.” Luckily he didn’t bring it up.)

    I guess this is why I default to “no hugging, ever”: it is so so so so much easier, and generally you are assured that you have not accidentally violated anyone’s boundaries.

  73. Mike said:

    I’m a man, and I feel uncomfortable when women that I don’t know try to touch me. The worst is the French kiss that a lot of older women like to do. Ie, touch cheeks and make a kissing noise.

    Maybe I’ll try the fistbump, but they are really offended when I don’t want to French kiss. Also the people around think it’s rude, and there is a lot of negative social pressure on me.

    Sometimes it is just the way that a particular woman behaves, especially if she has any French ancestry. Other times there is defiantly a creepy vibe.

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