If I had to describe myself, I could easily think of a long list of flattering, and perhaps some not-so flattering, nouns and adjectives. For example, I am a writer, a runner, a photographer, weirdo, a proud aunt, an awkward goofball, so on. One word you will never see on that list: a hugger. I am just not much of a hugger, and if given the opportunity between a hug and an enthusiastic there-there pat on your shoulder, I’m choosing the latter.
When someone hugs me, my social awkwardness immediately takes center stage. My body stiffens up, and I automatically start counting the seconds until I am free to move my body again.
My ambivalence, and sometimes active avoidance of hugs, did not develop over time as I have gotten older. Even as a young kid, I was not a fan of hugging. My dad would ask me, “Can I have a hug, Lara?” My response was always a firm “no,” and now and then, it would be an emphatic, “NO.” God bless my dad, he always respected my response and never forced me to hug him. He taught me an important lesson at a very young age, and I am grateful to him for that.
He, however, would tease me about my No Hugs policy, by saying, “When you get older, I am going to tell your future boyfriends that you don’t like to hug.” Joke was on him, though – due to my non-existent self-esteem and sometimes crippling anxiety, I did not date anyone in high school or college. Can’t tease me in front of someone who doesn’t exist!
While growing up, my one brother would now and then trap me in a bear hug for way longer than what’s socially acceptable. He recently asked if that was why I don’t like hugging as an adult. I assured him that it was not. Whenever he did that, it never felt like he showing me affection, and it was more like he was either establishing dominance over, just trying to annoy me., or a combination of both
I did have a moment in middle school where an unwanted hug made me wish the floor would open up and swallow me whole. My middle school hired a substitute teacher who used to teach at the Catholic school where I previously attended. In fact, this teacher was one of my brother’s teacher the year that my mother died.
Mrs. K was not a woman who could blend into any background. She was fairly tall, loud, and had a body type similar to Robin Williams’ character in Mrs. Doubtfire, which had come out that year. Since middle schoolers are assholes, myself included, that is what we called her behind her back.
She spotted me in a semi-crowded hallway and called out: “Lara?!? Is that you?”
My heart sank. I had hoped that she did not recognize me since it had been a couple of years since I attended Catholic school. Mrs. K enveloped me into a tight embrace, smooshing my face against her giant chest. As I heard my classmates snickering around me, I never wanted to disappear so much, and I went into my defense mechanism: playing possum.
Dead arms, stiff posture, and wide eyes, darting back and forth, looking for an exit.
Looking back, I understand that she was showing affectionate to a kid whose mother died not that long ago. However, as a 13-year-old child who had been bullied for years, the last thing I ever wanted was any attention being focused on me.
There are, of course, exceptions to my No Hugs policy. I hug my boyfriend, and basically do everything I can to invade his personal space when we’re hanging out. I love hugging him and can never get enough of his hugs.
My other exception is that I will ask my nieces, nephews, or my friends’ kids if they want to give me a hug. Will it ever be one of those smooshy hugs that cause one or both parties to go “OOMPH” in joy, not a chance. Although my heart can sometimes be icy cold, I would never imprint my feelings about hugs to any kids. If a kid is a hugger and wants to show me affection, I am not that dead inside where I’d go, “Back off, kiddo.”
My youngest niece does not like to hug. Last time I saw her, I asked if she would give me a hug and she turned me down. I said, “That’s okay. Can I get a fist bump?” She turned that down! Whaaaat. Not going to lie, my pride took a hit on that one; however, I will always respect her wishes, like my father respected mine.
Fast forward to my double mastectomy in 2012, which left me with no feeling in my own chest. If I hug someone, I experience no feeling or sensation in the chest, and as a result, my neurosis related to hugging quadrupled. Am I hugging too tight? Do my implants feel like two squishy water balloons? Make it stop. Oh lord, when can this fresh hell end?
Thanks a lot, cancer!
Now, when someone goes in for a hug, I immediately go on the defense and angle my body so that all they get is a side hug. If I am feeling particularly affectionate, I will throw in a couple of pats on the shoulder.
Just a word of advice to the huggers of the world out there: if you’re going in for a hug and the intended target of your hug says, “I really don’t like to hug,” PLEASE DO NOT REPLY “Oh that’s okay” and go in for the hug anyway. This has happened to me so many times that one day, I’m just going to turn around and start running away to avoid the hug. I am not playing hard to get- I seriously do not want to be hugged.
One time, one of my runner friends said to me, “I felt bad the one time I hugged you before I remembered you don’t like hugs. You looked a little terrified.”
“I probably was.”
As a non-hugger, I am a little hesitant about re-entering society because I know there are so many huggers out there, jonesing for a hug, looking for that sweet sweet physical connection. Between the fear of the coronavirus and my desire to not be hugged, I am going to be ducking and weaving any incoming hugs like a punt returner running back for a touchdown.
“Lara! It’s so nice to see you! Come here!”
Stutter step! Pivot!
“Lara, I have missed you!”
Maybe in this coronavirus world, society will back away from hugs and revert back to bowing and curtsies. A girl can dream…