I Don’t Know How To Hug

I want to be the type of person who makes other people feel comfortable, but how am I supposed to do that if I can barely hug my boyfriends?
Publish date:
February 7, 2014
friendship, intimacy, hugs

I’m not one to blame my shortcomings on bad parenting or a messed-up childhood, but if you spend the first 18 years of your life not hugging anyone or hearing, “I love you,” things can get a little awkward later in life.

I can’t remember the last time I actually initiated a hug. I hugged a dolphin once in the Bahamas. It made up for at least five years of my non-affectionate upbringing. (And yes, I felt like an asshole having gone to one of those ocean-side Dolphin parks after seeing "Blackfish." In my defense, I was with an eight-year old who really wanted to go.)

I’ve been called out on my non-affection multiple times.

“We don’t even hug, or kiss, or touch, we’re basically friends,” said an ex-boyfriend, who dumped me for a girl who was eight years younger than me.

“You get really uncomfortable when I try to kiss you in public, like you’re disgusted," said another ex-boyfriend who dumped me after I forgave him for cheating on me with a stripper.

You know how people grab each other’s arms or touch their thigh during a conversation without even thinking about it? Yeah, I’ve NEVER done that, and I notice EVERY single time it happens to me. I feel like every time I try to touch someone’s shoulder during a conversation I end up looking like a creepy uncle though. It just doesn’t feel natural.

The guy I’m dating now hugs and kisses me every time he sees me. I’ve gotten very used to it. One time he didn’t do it and I could totally tell something was wrong. That night he dropped the, “I think I need some space” bomb. So I replied, “Aww, you want to be an astronaut? That’s so great.” It was one of the worst jokes I’ve ever told.

That was the last time I ever talked to him. Just kidding, we totally did it this morning.

I had a really creepy hug happen to me about four months ago. I was at a bar and ran into a guy I dated for a few weeks who turned out to be a huge asshole. I can’t (legally) write about all the horrible things he did to me, but when the time comes he will regret calling me a whore. Is that a threat?

Anyway, we see each other and he comes over to say hello. It’s the first time we’ve seen each other since our disastrous break-up. He immediately apologizes for what he did, and I say, “Uh-huh,” and then he goes in for the hug. It was traumatic and still haunts me.

I’ve had only a small few traumatic experiences in my life. The weirdest one was my first anxiety attack at 17 while watching a reality show on TLC about little people. While lying in bed the night after I had surgery on my cervix, I had my first-ever panic attack where I thought I was going to die because I assumed something went horribly wrong during surgery. It was like the worst mushroom trip of all time. So, now when I see shows like, “Little People, Big World,” I get a slight feeling of anxiety and can’t watch it. That is totally normal, right?

So, during that hug from the monster I used to date, I froze. It didn’t help that he held me really tight and asked, “So what are you doing later?” I can still feel his stupid giant hand squeezing my waist. I felt gross, and violated, and I wanted to cry. I got myself together enough to push him away and said, “OK, bye.”

I’m the queen of French exits solely to avoid hugging. What is wrong with me? Will I ever be comfortable hugging? I don’t even like cuddling in bed for more than five minutes. If I’m in bed with a dude, I usually move all the way to the edge once he falls asleep. You know who probably does that too? Serial killers.

I want to be the type of person who makes other people feel comfortable, but how am I supposed to do that if I can barely hug my boyfriends? I can’t even remember the last time I hugged my best friend. We went to yoga last week and had to do this weird thing where we stared into each other’s eyes holding hands chanting something. If I was there by myself and had to do that with a stranger, I would’ve ran to the bathroom like a maniac to pop a Xanax.

When I was a Scientologist for three weeks (long story, will explain later) I did a course called “Communication” where I had to stare into some girl’s eyes for two hours without flinching, and if I moved or looked away we had to start over. I learned nothing from that exercise except that I’m very awkward when it comes to any sort of serious interaction.

Why does everyone have to hug anyway? What happened to the handshake? Or even just saying “hello?” The hug seems very invasive unless it’s with a close friend or family member.

I remember being in high school, thinking that I couldn’t wait to get older because I assumed all my awkwardness would go away and I would magically become very personable. I’m definitely less awkward, but my social anxiety is something that seems to never go away. Pushing myself to participate in social situations and initiating hugs is a good step, I guess.

I hugged a guy two nights ago that I met for the first time after a Future Islands concert. He was with my friend, so I felt obligated to hug him. Who the hell knows if I’ll ever see him again? He’s definitely going to want a hug from here on out. I don’t even know his last name.

But seriously, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who hug and those who do not. I guess I’ll just have to accept being the latter.