Confessions of a serial hugger

By Reade Brower | Apr 11, 2019

Hugging is front and center, thanks to former Vice President Joe Biden.

Below are the confessions of a serial hugger; a tactile person, believing appropriate human contact moves us forward.

Getting into someone's bubble

Personal space is about respect; it helps when it is a two-way street. Those who don’t like uninitiated touching should speak; huggers aren’t mind readers.

When I was volunteering at Pine Tree Camp for the disabled, a mentally challenged woman stood next to me. As we waited to be served dinner, we talked about the upcoming dance. “Are you excited?” I asked. She nodded. I asked if she would save a dance for me; she looked at my wedding band, saying, “You’re married, is that OK with your wife?" I said it would be fine.

She shared what she was doing; she was in her early 20s, continuing her education and life skills. As we talked, her roommate approached and started non-stop talking, getting into her grill, excited about the dance. My new friend put both hands up, palms out, saying to her friend, “Personal space, personal space.” Her friend was breaking the “bubble” and her message to back off was clear, concise, polite and kind.

It was perhaps the best display of honesty and forthrightness ever.

In our society, we don’t often do this. Instead, we complain to others or hold it, letting it fester. Sometimes it comes out years or decades later.

My history

Is it my Italian heritage where aunts and uncles hugged us that set me up to be a serial hugger? Is it a natural longing for human touch?

Since the HR director at my company informed me my hugging made someone “uncomfortable,” more than a decade ago, this has been a subject of interest. It was mortifying at first; it had me thinking about inadvertent habits like cheek kissing, shoulder touching, etc.

My rule for hugging was simple; if a person was huggable, I hugged. If they put off a reserved aura, I didn’t.

In the case above, it turned out the person uncomfortable was not the person hugged; it was somebody witnessing it. Society gets uncomfortable watching people “make out” when body parts get intimate, but hugging? This did not seem over the line.

Where is the line?

After that incident, several non-hugger friends weighed in.

One explained hugging was an intimate experience reserved for her husband. Even though she often traveled, without her spouse, to overnight athletic events, with men, this was her line, and needed to be respected and understood.

Another woman gave no concrete reason, explaining she just didn’t like it. When asked how she handled it, she shrugged and said she just went with it; it was not a big deal. When I asked if anyone went over her line, she nodded, telling me someone grabbed her rear end a while back. She turned around and slugged him in the nose, breaking it.

Years ago, a coworker was having a bad day and, assuming a hug might help, I began the clench. She stiffened like a board. I apologized.

Two days later she approached, asking for a hug; she smiled cautiously, saying she had “been practicing.” She went on to share about the scar on her neck and her ex being in prison. Her mistrust of men, especially when surprised, made sense.

A funny story

When I took over the Portland Press Herald, Gov. LePage and Sen. Collins' offices emailed, asking to meet.

I replied that I was not “day-to-day” and planned to leave editorial decisions to the publisher, who would remain, adding I would love to meet.

LePage told me where to go (in no uncertain terms), saying meeting would be “a waste of time" if I wasn’t "replacing the hacks in place.” Collins said she would be delighted to meet.

Senator Susan met me in a local restaurant, stating she understood and respected my position. She shared some thoughts on our political coverage and then we talked about health care, charity, life; without realizing it, looking down, my hands were across the table.

We were sharing life stories and somehow I was holding her hands, in a restaurant, in what was definably a “Seinfeld” moment. How do I release? What was I thinking; we’ve only known each other 30 minutes. Perhaps shooing a make-believe summer fly was a good plan. That moment, in retrospect, was interesting because we were connecting on a human level; it didn’t matter how long we had known each other or how different our politics might be.

Summary

Strangers and acquaintances can both connect through touch.

Getting into people’s personal space is never cool. Dirty jokes and inappropriate videos in mixed company fall into a similar category. One non-hugging woman thought it OK to share “racy videos” and “colorful language” at an after-race party; some (me included) found it uncomfortable.

Being uncomfortable to say anything is understandable (I was forever quiet), but that doesn’t move the issue. Waiting years or decades to speak up is head-scratching and seems agenda-driven.

Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” — Verna Myers, author and speaker (b. 1960)

Comments (6)
Posted by: gary oakley | Apr 22, 2019 09:01

As a lifetime Hugger this whole issue has left me stranded. I understand intellectually, but suffer as what I thought of as an offering of friendship and support is interpreted as aggression.

 



Posted by: Leslie Lavender | Apr 13, 2019 09:13

Reade, thanks for your comment. Richard.....I don't believe all non-huggers feel unsafe. For me, it just makes me uncomfortable to be hugged by someone I don't really know. The example I gave was during a time when I was in a strange place in my life.

I have never liked hugging strangers. We teach our children early on to protect their bodies, we use phrases like "stranger danger" (and sometimes the danger comes from a family friend or relative). So, yes, Reade shaming a non-hugger is not OK because it undermines what we teach our kids.

I also worked for a company where hugging was an unspoken expectation. While I did not feel the hugging was sexual in any way, it was in my mind a power play. If you were a hugger you were part of the team. If you weren't a hugger.....well your loyalty might be in question.

I don't think the majority of huggers have nefarious motives but for me, I appreciate having my space.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Apr 12, 2019 15:39

We never know what the other person had for trauma that caused them to feel unsafe to hug. Have found that if I am respectful they may be able to share the reason in their own time. When they do it is a gift of trust to us. If it is going to cost Joe Biden his freedom to be who he is I hope he forgets running for office. The cost would be too great; not only for him, but for us.



Posted by: Reade Brower | Apr 12, 2019 14:51

Being a no-judgment zone is important. Shaming - NEVER okay. Learning - ALWAYS okay. "Pouty Faces", wherever you are; may you all seize this and allow Leslie her space. "Bubbles" are, by definition, personal.....



Posted by: Leslie Lavender | Apr 12, 2019 09:32

Several years ago, shortly after the death of my first husband (when I was still pretty shook from his sudden demise yet trying not to withdraw completely from the world), I was invited to a casual party as the guest of a friend. As I was being introduced to people I would offer my hand and a smile and a "Nice to meet you". One woman leaned in for a hug. I backed up and offered my hand. She got a pouty look on her face and said, "What? No hug?". I said, "Not today". From then on my friend said that in conversation the woman referred to me as "that lady who wouldn't hug me"!



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Apr 11, 2019 08:43

PHEW! Someone had courage to tackle this thorny subject head on. Why am I not surprised that it was Reade? My prayer partner and I are "Holy Huggers" and it may seem to those watching us that we will never let go. We are spiritually connected and sincerely appreciate each other as a God given gift.  Have determined to leave my guard down, be sure of my motives and not give way to fear. 
1 John 4:18 The Message Bible  There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.



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