what’s in a hug?

I’m not supposed to be blogging right now, but since I’m supposed to be writing somewhere else and I’m hitting complete writer’s block, I thought I might as well begin to have words flow from my typing fingers somehow.  So I thought I would come here to muse about hugs.

Yes, hugs.

I was never an overly physical-touch person growing up.  Then I went to Franciscan, where everyone hugged everyone.  So my “get away from me, why are you touching me,” tendencies mellowed a little.  Hug friends when you see them, hug at the sign of peace, hug goodbye.  Hug here, hug there.

But do I really want to hug at the sign of peace?  I began thinking about it when the Congregation for Worship responded to questions about the sign of peace (mostly its placement in the liturgy) with a call for a more “restrained” approach to it.  Let’s remember that Jesus is up there on the altar, and maybe there’s a different time and place to walk across church to greet your second cousin and ask them to go to breakfast after Mass.  We don’t need songs about the sign of peace or some big production.  Turn to your neighbor, shake their hand, move on. They also indicated that “familiar and worldly gestures of greeting” should be replaced with “other, more appropriate gestures.”  Hm. Hugs?

So while I haven’t stopped hugging completely, I have wondered if I should go back to only sticking my hand out (or nodding, because let’s face it, sometimes I don’t even want to shake people’s hands).  Just to clarify, I don’t hug everyone at the sign of peace. That would be creepy.  I just hug my good friends and only if there has been some indication that is what they would do, too. Because there’s the awkwardness of “does she want to hug? Or am I going to go in for the hug and she’s going to stick out her hand and we’re going to feel dumb?”   So there’s about five of you girls out there, tops.  But still.  Should I go back to hand-shaking?

Then there’s the hugs of greeting between friends.  There are some people in my circle of friends who always hug, coming and/or going.  It’s the way they say “hey, it’s really good to see you.”  And I almost didn’t write this blog post because I don’t want any of them to read it and stop hugging.  Because I’m not criticizing them or necessarily want them to stop greeting me with a hug.

But at the same time… what’s in a hug?  Especially a hug between a guy and a girl.  For these guys, it’s a sign of friendship. There’s nothing romantic in it (at least, I hope there isn’t, because they’re hugging everyone).  Yet physical touch affects different temperaments different ways.  And to most single girls, a really nice hug by a really nice guy — even a guy she isn’t romantically attached to — can affect that little single heart.  I can say this pretty honestly, because two of the best huggers in my circle of friends are not guys I’m romantically attracted to (or can ever see myself being romantically attracted to, honestly — with no offense to them) and yet I really like their hugs.  They’re strong, warm, and loving.  No strings attached.  Just some nice physical touch.

But is that good?  Is that healthy?  In our world today that gives physical displays of affection — and MORE — out like candy, should we be more reserved in the way we touch people of the opposite sex?

I was flipping through the channels the other day and found a marathon of 19 Kids and Counting.  I haven’t watched the show in years, but found myself getting sucked in because they were talking about the courtships and engagements of Jill and Jessa.  The Duggars, most of you know, are notorious for their rather strict rules concerning relationships with the opposite sex, including things like chaperones on dates and not kissing until the wedding.  While I’m not advocating that (although it doesn’t seem to affect their love life later…), they mentioned that they only give “side hugs,” and it got me thinking again.

Okay, just that phrase – side hug – makes me laugh.  But it made me think about the hugs that are passed around right and left in our circle of friends.  A hug should be an intimate exchange — unless it’s one of those awkward hugs where you stand about three feet away from each other and pat each other on the shoulder.  The Duggars described them as “chest to chest contact,” which kind of makes me squirm, but is true.  Especially with the good huggers.  So while there are some good huggers in my circle of friends, what does physical touch do to my heart?  And I’m not neccessarily talking about temptation with the hugger- I’m just talking about that yearning for more physical touch that just isn’t possible when you’re not married or dating.

At the same time, isn’t it better to get a good hug from a friend than be completely deprived of physical touch?  After all, while physical touch isn’t my primary love language (I can’t believe I just typed that), everyone needs it.  Then there’s that question on the practical level… what about that person who comes in for a hug that you don’t want to hug?  I don’t want to share that contact unless I feel comfortable– but I guess you stand three feet away and pat them on the shoulder…

Just some thoughts this fall morning.  What are the limits of physical touch a single girl should allow herself, so as to save her heart from desires that aren’t fulfillable right now?  With a world chucking their carnal treasure at everyone, perhaps these seem to be a pretty naive and sheltered thoughts. But I think it’s worth thinking about.


13 thoughts on “what’s in a hug?

  1. Michelle says:

    I don’t have anything really insightful or helpful to say. Just a funny story about “side hugs”. My uncle gives side hugs. He never used to but for some reason he started giving side hugs. On day my mom was visiting from out of town and he gave her a side hug to say “hello…it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other…” You know. Family stuff.
    Anyway. My mom said to him “you give the worst hugs! If you’re going to hug me, hug me like you mean it.”
    It just made me laugh. It’s my mom. She’s so nice and quiet. And not really “a hugger” that it really stuck me as funny.

    I do agree with her though. Side hugs make me feel like the person thinks I’m icky and would rather not tough me…

    Also, there’s always the flashing of the peace sign with your fingers at people at the sign of the peace. That one always make laugh.

    • Joannie says:

      And what about when someone gives you a side hug and you think they’re going in for a real hug, and you have that awkward moment of reaching around with your other arm and it’s super awkward because you’re halfway committed to a hug and they’re not and it’s like, um …

  2. I agree with you Physical contact is important And now I’m going to hug you next time I see you, except it’s going to be awkward because we’ll both be thinking about this post 😉

  3. Amy says:

    I’m a hugger myself, so I don’t mind hugging a friend or family member at the sign of peace (or in greeting). But I have to laugh, because surely the Church would agree that a hug is an appropriate sign of peace for family members, especially when they’ve been smacking each other throughout Mass and yelling at each other as they’ve been getting ready for Mass? (Can you tell I’ve accompanied my nieces & nephews to Mass a few times?)

    Hope your post helped your writer’s block!

  4. Growing up in the deep south I would never think about hugs in this light. We all hugged big hugs. To me a hug is a hug, I don’t really take it to mean more. A look would be more significant if I were single/hugging someone I wanted to “save my heart from desires that weren’t fulfillable” – if I just hugged them, I’d be more prone to lump them in with everyone else, but you better bet I’d be agonizing over their every glance and word. Oh sure, there is a physical dimension or whatever, but that doesn’t translate to a yearning, usually, at least not one you are coming back to blog about. Chances are the huggee (haha) has one’s mind/heart wrapped in other ways than the physical contact alone.

    BTW I’m avoiding parishes that invite us to offer the sign of peace to one another 😉 Sure, we are Church, but save it for coffee and donuts. Oh, and if someone gross wants to hug you, think of it as your own little Calcutta for that moment and do ’em a favor. Hug!

    • Joannie says:

      yeah, and I don’t want it to look like I’m hyper sensitive to being touched or I don’t think anyone should hug. Obviously, most of the people you hug will never stir up romantic feelings at all — relatives, friends, etc. My uncle gives the best hugs in the world, and there’s only that wonderful child-like feeling of being loved. By a bear.

    • Joannie says:

      I also want to clarify that I’m not necessarily speaking about arousing feelings/temptations towards the specific hugger. I’m more just talking about that warm comfortable physical touch prying at one’s heart to then desire more physical touch (not necessarily from the hugger). maybe it’s a single girl thing.

  5. sacredmonkeysofthevatican says:

    I don’t know, I need hugs, from both men and women. It’s the only time I get to be touched (and I don’t mean that in a weird way, but in a very human way). Earlier in the summer I was in a cranky mood and then I realized I had gone for a week or two without anykind of physical touch from another human being. Affection is something we need as humans. Unless someone lends me their baby to cuddle, or I get a hug, it doesn’t seem to happen too often.

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