Hi, my name is Lindsay, and I don’t wanna hug you. (Yet!)
Like most of you, I wanted to be one of the cool kids in junior high. I wore overalls with one strap undone. I wore Dr. Martens. On important occasions, I wore three Lip Smackers on a chain around my neck. Then it happened: I went from being on the cusp of cool (that Lip Smackers look was solid) to complete and utter social banishment when I didn’t hug the Regina George of my suburban junior high.
There she was in the middle of the hallway, arms outstretched, extending an invitation. She held the edges of her flannel shirt between her palm and three fingers. Her long, perfect arms straight, her wrists a little curled, head tilted to the side, she looked at me and said “Hiiiiiiiiii.” Her allure was overpowered by the one personality trait that would stick with me long after those Dr. Martens went out of style, came back in, and then out again.
I am not a hugger.
It’s not because I don’t like people. Or because I’m scared of germs or because I had a bad childhood or anything even close to that. In fact, I’m not a hugger precisely because I love a hug. I have a lot of respect for the hug! Hug hug hug hug hug hug hug HUG. It’s just that when we decide to press our bodies and faces together, I want it to mean something. Does that make me cold? Don’t call me cold. If you need to call me anything, call me conscientious. Here, an outline of what it means to be a conscientious hugger.
I’m Not Gonna Wanna Hug You If…
We see and talk to each other all the time.
You might be my best friend, but you’re walking away from our banal, in-person exchanges hug-free. Here’s your sweater. Thanks for lending it to me! Bye!
It’s just that you and I both know we’re going to text each other about something, anything, as soon as we’re out of earshot. A hug seems like a more permanent seal of goodbye. We have no such seal, buddy! And I’m happy we don’t.
The setting is…inconvenient.
It’s been a while! I’m happy you’re here at this group dinner and I’m excited to see you. But I’m in the middle of a long table and the chairs are close to one another and if we all get up to give a one-second, mostly meaningless hug, it’s chaos. Heavy coats pull chairs to the floor. The people next to us have to squeeze their seats so far in that necklaces dip in salsa. A quick hand-squeeze when you’re seated and a heartfelt “hello” is going to be better for everyone. No hug for you!
We’ve reached a consensus, but we’re still angry.
Yoooo, I’m definitely pleased we’ve reached some sort of common ground, but I’m not ready to fake that I’m OK with what just went down. You don’t like me right now and I don’t like you. That’s cool! No need to put a hug-shaped bow on this pile of shit. Let’s wait.
It’s hot. Really hot.
Do I want to wear you as a human blanket for even half a second? I do not. Also, I’m kinda nervous about how sweaty I am. Keep your 98.6 degree fire away from me! High five, sister.
We’re meeting for the first time in a professional setting.
During my first client meeting ever at my first real job ever, I was shocked that a hug-greeting was on the table.
The men were shaking hands with the men and the women were hugging. Why was I supposed to wrap my arms around Susan? Was it because I was young? Because I was a young woman? Because women, regardless of age, are supposed to be open to affection at all times in all situations? Have you ever heard someone say, “He’s just not a hugger?”
Since that meeting a decade ago, I’ve been quick to offer a welcoming handshake when meeting work peeps for the first time, and the decision has actually lessened any anxiety about what to do in these situations. I’ve got a plan that I like, and I feel good about it.
We’re meeting for the first time in a social setting.
Pressing our torsos together with our asses out won’t make us emotionally connected or closer or instant friends. A meaningless hug will just make us feel weird.
Because in my experience, when you hug a stranger, you don’t linger afterward. You run. Which is to say, you smile so big and so hard that you’re afraid the sides of your mouth will crack. You frantically search out of the corner of your eye for a familiar face. Any familiar face. Is that an Apollo 13 movie poster on the wall? Oh cool, definitely need to go say hey to my old pal Tom Hanks!
But, potential new friend (not you, Hanks), you know what will bring us together? A friendly smile and a conversation and a mutual, if unspoken, decision to get to know one another.
What I’m getting at, as a conscientious hugger, is that I reject the perfunctory in order to maximize the significance. When we do hug, it should mean something.
And if we’re in agreement on that point, and we’re not at work or penned in a small space, and the heat index is less than 87 degrees Fahrenheit, well then, get in here, you.