Friday, July 19, 2013

I'm Just Not That Into Hugs...and I'm Okay with That

According to numerous scientific studies cited by publications like The New York Times or websites like, there's a certain power to human touch. Researchers tells us that positive touch--like hugs--can strengthen bonds, promote communication, and even increase lifespan.

Over the years, I've heard plenty of people comment on hugs. I've heard stories of people who knew something was missing in their life until they see someone they know and hug them. Then, they realize they hadn't experienced a hug in a few weeks, and it makes a difference. Others say they can't imagine going a single day without a hug.

Despite what science says, I'm just not that into hugs. In fact, I think hugs are like anything else in this world. Hugs are like strawberries or honey or milk--they provide great benefits for the majority of people, but just don't mix well with a few individuals. Some people are lactose intolerant; some people are hug intolerant.

If you're big on the hugs, don't gasp and call me a Grinch or a Scrooge for humbugging your hugging. I do get the point of hugs, and I hug my fair share of people. That doesn't change the fact that--with the exception of my husband and my child--hugs are awkward.

To be honest, touching is awkward for me. I used to think I was broken. I spent years trying to figure out what social issue I had and how I could fix it. Now, I realize that this is just me--I'm not broken any more than any other human being is. I don't like to be touched in the same why my husband doesn't like loud noises. Something about it sets me a little on edge. There's no major trauma or past sorrow to expose here. This really is just me.

I used to read studies that extolled the virtue of positive touch and hugging in all types of social interaction and relationships. Researchers talked about the depth of communication . . . the depth of friendship . . . the depth of interaction that touch can create. I was certain I was missing out on something because of my aversion to touch. Everyone was developing these incredible friendships, and I was lingering on the fringes because I didn't want to go in for a hug, link arms, or let someone play with my hair.

And then I realized that was kind of stupid. I looked at the people who I would label my closest friends. The folks I was most comfortable being myself around--the few people I shared deep, crazy, secret thoughts with. With the exception of my husband, I hardly ever touch most of these people.

One of my closest friends worked with me for years in the same office. I probably share more of my personal life with this woman than anyone else outside my immediate family, and yet over the course of eight years, we might have hugged once. Maybe twice. Maybe not at all. We didn't pat each other on the back or shoulder or do any of the things you're supposed to do according to the research. Instead, we swapped inappropriate IMs, personal stories, and hours of laughter. We still meet up for lunch at least once a month, and there's no need for hugs. We're friends. We like each other. We support each other. Neither of us feels the need to prove that with touch. I'm pretty sure she'd feel as awkward about it as I.

My sister and my mom--who I have, of course, hugged many times--live a thousand miles away. Between phone calls, texts, and Facebook, I talk to both of them more than I did when I lived nearby. I feel like I've grown closer to both of them over the years, no hugs required.

I've got friends that I interact with completely or mostly online. You can accuse me of hiding behind the computer screen because I have these social issues with things like touching, and maybe you're right. But that doesn't mean these aren't genuine friendships with real value. A quick message or a funny picture from one of these friends boosts my day and gives me that emotional bump that research associates with positive touch. Maybe there's such a thing as virtual positive touch?

One of my mostly online friends agreed with me about hugs, and it resulted in some hilarious (or offensive, depending on where you fall on the whole hugs thing) Facebook messaging. Here's a sample:

Him: Hugs are awkward. I'm not a fan either.

Me: This should be a t-shirt. "Not a fan of hugs." It would save me from so much awkwardness.

Him: I'm so going to make that.

Me: You could make an entire line of anti-hug wear. Even those creepy shorts girls wear with words across the butt.

Him: YES!

Me: And the shorts could say: "Hugs: More awkward than these shorts."

And then here's another conversation sparked in part by all the hugging that goes on Sunday mornings in church.

Me: Luckily, most people let me get away with that weird side-hug thing.

Him: I have perfected achieving the awkward side hug from every conceivable angle.

Me: I've learned who the full-frontal huggers are. If they come near me, I'll hug first. That way, I dictate the style.

Him: Yes! Sometimes you have no choice but to strike first.

Me: Yeah. We'll call that "Han Hugging."

We decided that Han Solo is probably not a fan of hugs either, and he'd totally hug first for the same reason.

Before I hurt someone's feelings, let me point out two things. One, those conversations were probably a tiny bit tongue in cheek. Two, they were also true, and I really do feel awkward when hugging people.

That doesn't mean I don't love people or even that I don't want to hug you. In fact, if I hug you or return your hug, then I really wanted to. Because I'm not going to wade through that anxiety unless I want to. And I understand what hugs mean to many, many people, and I'm okay with that. Hugs--and touch--are a type of love language, and if you speak that love language and you're my friend, then I'll speak it with you. But I have an entirely different kind of love language, as do many other people, and I'm also on board with anyone who would rather speak a non-touch kind of language.

If you really aren't that into hugs and I'm hugging you anyway, you can save us both a TON of anxiety by not hugging back. I won't be offended. I'll be happy to realize there are more of us non-huggers around.

I'm completely okay with not hugging, especially if instead we get to share awesome jokes, laughter, and the understanding that being anti-hugs doesn't make us evil meanies.

So, what about you? Where do you fall regarding hugs?


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  2. You're one of the people I thought of when writing this. I'm a bit less hug-intolerant than you, but I always appreciate that you and I don't have to hug at Thanksgiving or Christmas or whatever ;)

    1. I guess it's long over due...
      Thank you for never ever trying to hug me! ;-)

  3. Ha!!! Even with me you are a super awkward hugger! I can't decide if I am gonna be nice and never hug you again or really mean and hug you like 20 Times next time I see you!

    But if you think about it we were raised in a super loving home but not a hugging home.

    1. To be honest, depending on my mood, I'm even an awkward hugger with Chris.

  4. My husband is a non-hugger of humans, but is very affectionate with dogs. (And I promise, that's not nearly as creepy as it sounds.) My daughter is non-hugger of anyone outside our nuclear family, even the BFF she sees every day. I dole out virtual hugs almost daily on Facebook, but in real life I have a hug-related triage system:
    *If you're my husband or one of my kids, I like hugs "just because."
    *If you're a relative or close friend, I'm OK with hugs upon greeting/departing.
    *If you are an aquaintance who looks like you need a hug, I might touch you on the arm or sit there awkwardly knowing I should comfort you somehow but not really wanting to get to know you well enough to merit physical contact.
    *If you are sitting in front of me at church, you get a firm handshake and a heartfelt "Peace be with you" at the appointed time, don't bother even lifting your arms for a hug unless you are a dear friend or a little old lady.

    I'm not antisocial, but I am an introvert with well-defined personal space boundaries. Oh hell, maybe I am antisocial. I do have a friendly smile, for whatever that's worth.