Hugging

Whoa.
Whoa.
How are you all doing? Coping?

I am doing a lot better than I was last week, which was horrible. I was so angry and hurt and worried about everyone who was being enraged and re-traumatized by the despicable spectacle of Ultimate Frathole Brett Kavenaugh and his disgusting enablers, I had to fight to maintain my focus and some measure of equilibrium.
These are furious times.

I attended a clergy gathering last week and was greeted by someone I know professionally, who drew me against my will into a hug. She is much taller than I am and I wound up kind of stuffed into her armpit for a moment. It was not a terrible ordeal, just an awkward situation made awful by the fact that I was in NO MOOD to be touched by anyone without my explicit consent.

Which is why I say particularly now: let us try not to touch people with the presumption that they want to be touched. Consider whether even holding hands or touching on the arm or shoulder is really welcome. If you’re not absolutely certain, ask. I often kiss parishioners during pastoral calls — we’re kissing and hugging people but even if I’ve kissed someone many times, I’m going to check to see that we’re still good smooching. Also, I need to check in with myself to make sure I don’t exchange hugs and kisses when I’m not feeling like being so intimate. In the past, I have only given careful thought to touch when I’m sick or visiting somone else who is germy. Now, I am refreshing my awareness that we have to keep getting consent to touch in relationships; we can not presume that someone who welcomed hugs last year wants to keep giving and receiving them this year.

DO NOT HUG PEOPLE AUTOMATICALLY. It is not your privilege, it is not your right, and it’s NOT FRIENDLY. It can feel like dominance, it can feel creepy, and it can feel like a violation. DO NOT come up behind people and hug them. Do NOT wrap anyone in your arms unless they hold out their arms to you. Even what you think of as a friendly one-armed embrace is still not okay. As we saw at Queen Aretha’s homegoing service, pulling someone into you throws them off kilter and creates a literal power imbalance.

Make sure your embraces are enthusiastically welcome. If not, mitts off.

9 Replies to “Hugging”

  1. Hugging. Is. So. Awk. Ward. Especially for shorter human beings who do seem to get stuffed into an armpit or chest. Though I doubt it’s easier for very tall people, who have to bend down like cranes.

    I appreciate someone asking me first, and NOT already being 85% into the hug when they ask.

  2. I”m wondering if hugging can be something that is learned based on what you grew up with. My parents were not huggers. I can”t remember either one of them hugging me. When I married my husband his family was all huggers so I started hugging everyone since it was expected. Now I hug family and friends and really enjoy it. Type 4/2

  3. Yes! I was at a clergywomen’s gathering last week where our Bishop kept encouraging us to hug one another. I’d been having a rough experience because I’d injured my back the previous week and was quite sore – and during the closing circle encountered an over-enthusiastic hugger who definitely caused an increase in my back pain. So frustrating that our Bishop didn’t give any thought to creating space where it was expected that we should check for permission before hugging.

  4. The worst huggers are usually the men, and I hate it. And I haven’t yet found a way of telling a man who is older than me (and hey, I’m nearly 60…) to back off. They think they are being friendly, and I feel patronised and belittled and demeaned. So yes, I get this.

  5. Some of my congregation (all women) have set hug-avoidance techniques. The 3 most popular are the high 5 or 10, the straight-arm handshake and the windscreen-wiper wave with a smile, so it does not look like a “no, no, leave me alone” signal.

  6. O hug thou art a pain for those of us who are 5′ I don’t hug as a rule (family never did). What is worse is when some dear say’s “O we’re a hugging bunch-don’t be shy!” I’m not shy (well maybe a little) I just have a physical space around me in which I feel comfortable. I usually do the shoulder hug during “the peace”. Glad to hear the techniques others use!

  7. I am a person who hugs, and always with consent. If I see someone approaching me I’ll open my arms and wait to see if they walk in. This is if I’ve hugged this person before. Some folks will stand beside me when I do that, which I take for “no hug” today. If a handshake is offered first, I will shake that hand and not feel slighted. The only time I will hug someone from the rear is if they are cold, agree to let me hug them from the rear and the hug only lasts a few seconds.

    I’m finding myself in situations were I don’t want to be hugged because of mood or severe body pain and that can be challenging. I’ll often hear “but you always hug” and I fight the urge to swat at them.

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