Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Awkward Hugging

My beautiful and strange friend Lesley recently had us all in tears as she told us possibly my favorite hugging story. She had just gotten her eyebrows waxed and the lady who did the waxing opened the door for her to exit but left her arms wide open. Never one to deny a hug, Lesley shrugged her shoulders and went in for the hug. Right as she made contact, she noticed the lady's surprised expression and realized that the poor lady had simply been opening the door for her to go out. Lesley found a new waxing place. This had me rolling and thinking about how awkward hugs can be.

Recently my sister has been hugging me a lot. Not because I need one or because I want one. Rather, she comes at me with open arms precisely because I don't need a hug nor do I want one and she loves to watch me squirm. Hugging makes me squirm because hugging makes me awkward. I really have never been a fan of bumping bodies, even with the people I love. (only exception is giving "squeezers" to my nephews) I've been mocked and ridiculed for my lack of affection but I wouldn't be so opposed to the hug if everyone followed the following guidelines:

* Hug only in appropriate situations. Not every goodbye warrants a hug. Nor does every greeting. I had a friend who would hug every person he hung out with, even if he had just met them. He hugged his parents every single time he saw them which was multiple times a month. I LOVE my parents but this is simply too much hugging. There is a time and place. Here are three simple rules of thumb to follow when deciding if a situation warrants a hug or not:

1) If you don't know their last name, don't hug them. You may press your body against theirs once you pass this intimacy litmus test.

2) If you've seen them recently, they don't need ANOTHER hug when you greet.

3) If you will see them again soon, no hug is needed upon departure. A head nod, a wave, and a "see ya later" will do just fine.

* Make it clear that you are initiating a hug. Don't leave your hugging partner guessing if you are coming in for the handshake or the high five. My friend Amy just told us about her hugging experience with her husband's boss. He raised one arm for an apparent high five. She went to slap him some skin and then realized a moment too late that his raised arm was actually preparing for a hug. This terribly awkward moment could be avoided if everyone made it clear nice and early that they are planning a hug.

When I first met the guy my friend Christy had just started dating, we had a classic awkward goodbye. I will very rarely initiate a hug. However, I knew how much Christy liked Andrew (she later married him) and I was so excited about him possibly being "the one" that I went in for the hug. But I went a little too late. He went for the handshake. In hindsight, that was the socially appropriate goodbye. To make matters worse, I then quickly switched hand positions to accommodate his handshake while he simultaneously switched for the hug. This awkward maneuver could have easily been avoided if I had raised my arms a bit earlier.

* Make it clear what TYPE of hug you're initiating and make sure it's appropriate. I don't need a bear hug from a new acquaintance. Nor do I expect a side hug from a long time friend. However, sometimes it is unclear what type of hug is appropriate. In these grey areas, eliminate awkwardness by positioning your body in a manner which clearly communicates to your hugging partner what you expect. Example: young girl (me) hugging her pastor. I know the family quite well but I never know what is appropriate and always let him dictate the contact. We currently alternate between firm handshakes, awkward side hugs, and occasional full frontal hugs where a wide gulf separates us and the only contact is our arms patting each others backs. It's awesome. And although it's always somewhat awkward, it could be much worse if he didn't always clarify what type of contact he was initiating.

I'm awkward enough as it is. Can we please just agree to follow these guidelines and save everyone the confusion associated with body bumping?


  1. This is a classic and wonderful post. And, as much as I like hugs, I have to say your rules are spot on. Cute photo! Who is that adorable girl with you?

  2. ok I have to break your heart... I am a Hugger, surprise! I am one of those so happy to see you grab you in a big hug and a really sad to see you go another tight squeeze. I will try and hold myself back and keep the body bumping to a minimum when I see you!

  3. just give EVERYONE you see all the time a big bear hug then they will all know that you are going to do that when they see you and there won't be any awkwardness b/c you will be known for giving GREAT bear hugs! problem solved. :)

  4. hahahah, I wondered if you would mention your awkward hug/handshake with Andrew right when I saw the title of this post.

    Rest assured that next time (and every time) I see you, I will be doing a LOT of hugging, just because now I know how uncomfortable it makes you. You totally asked for it!!!

  5. Hi Katie, I heard about your post from Christy. Below is a good article written by a high-school friend of mine that will diversify/expand your hugging protocols as they pertain to male hugging.

  6. Coach Collins- of course you are a hugger. I could have easily guessed that one.

    Lindz- hug everyone all the time? Are you crazy?

    Christy- Since I see you so rarely, hugs will always be welcome. However, if we ever live by each other, we may need to draw some boundaries.

    Andrew- thanks for inspiring this post. Also, thanks for the link- your friend is hilarious.

  7. Since you just made it abundantly clear that you never want to hug me again, I think we should establish right now that we will either do a chest bump or butt slap upon our next reunion. One or the other, you must choose. (Did I just make you feel a bit better about hugging?)

    Oh, and "intimacy litmus test" - I know what it means but my brain is stuck on thinking about how dirty it sounds.

  8. Dude, Katie- you pass all three guidelines for hugs- I know your last name, I haven't seen you recently and won't see you till you come off the mountain again. We are long overdue for a hug. That being said, I opt for the chest bump. However, a stipulation is that we must both be running at full speed and whoever doesn't fall wins. Deal? Didn't we play that in the airport with pillows in our shirts?

    Also, I just told my class about how you used to give me grave-diggers on the bench when we were both subbed out. They loved it.

  9. I love it! We have a lady who is the (official) hugger at our church. She loves hugging people as they walk in and it is like a game to try to evade her... :)

    (And I am sure you have seen this video: )