In the wake of #MeToo, I’ve been hearing some chatter about hugging. Some generally huggy people are second-guessing their hugging instincts. Some people are lamenting the potential end of the hug. Others are wondering how to ask about hugs without making everyone feel awkward.
Generally, I’m a fan of hugs. Hugs are a way to say hello, express affection, and connect with your friends and loved ones. Under the right circumstance, hugs can be great at work, at home, and among friends and even strangers. But there are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
In your social circle, take some time to talk explicitly about hugging. Who likes hugs? Who likes all the hugs they can possibly get in one lifetime? Who likes hugs from people they don’t know or like? Who is more or less likely to feel physically intimidated or creeped out by an unwanted or surprising hug? How will you tell each other when you aren’t in the mood for a hug? These conversations will help you understand whether your hugging culture is welcome or oppressive, and help you set the right boundaries with the right people at the right times.
If you don’t know someone well enough to have the conversation above, ask before hugging. Some people like hugs. Some people don’t. Asking takes two seconds. Here’s what it looks like. You don’t get to impose your hugging will on someone just because you enjoy the hugging feeling. “But I like hugs” is not an excuse for squeezing someone into a bear hug against their will.
Assess your ability to read body language. Some people are good at this. Others are not. Open your arms wide. If the person in front of you opens their arms back, that’s probably a sign they want a hug, unless they are from New Jersey like me and gesture wildly when speaking. If they pause or freeze or look at you oddly, back off. If they do something else that doesn’t quite compute, use your words and ask.
Take no for an answer. Some people like their physical space and boundaries, and would rather not hug or be hugged. Don’t judge the non-huggers. Don’t make them feel bad about themselves, assume they are cold or rigid, or coax them into hugs. You have no idea why they don’t like hugs.
For heterosexual men: If you direct your hugs primarily to women, you might want to reflect on this a bit. What’s that about for you? Are your hugs more sexual than you may like to admit? Are you hesitant to express affection to men? Embrace the bro-hug – it will enrich your life!
And for the people who think asking wrecks the moment, think again. A welcome hug is the best kind of hug there is!