Hug off. (For the most part)

I recently exchanged emails with someone who signs off with:



I am sure that many if not most people feel warmly about this sign off, and doubly sure that the signator means to spread good feelings. In my case it just made me think more about hugs. Here are some of the types that come to mind…

Pro Forma greeting hug.

I’ve seen you recently, I’ll see you again soon.

Description: Often performed with an eye over your shoulder a la the cocktail party chit chat. Low commitment. Glancing. Full frontal, but chest leaned in and a rapid patting is a common feature.

Duration: Its ending before it began.

Message from hugger: You exist in my world, take that as you will. Next.

How much it bugs me: Quite a bit. Mostly because it wastes time and breaks the sanctity of the personal space bubble with no real gain for hugger or hugged. I’d prefer the air kiss.

Side Hug:

Coined with a happy hugging friend with whom I confided my lack of hug love 15 years ago. 

Description: side approach, arms around, patting or shoulder squeezing.

Duration: 3 pats or 1 squeeze

Message from hugger: You exist in my world, we are in on this hug together.

How much it bugs me: Not at all. Eliminates risk of breast compression, weird mistimed bumps, and “accidental” butt grabs.

Me and You Greeting Squeeze:

Commonly seen between two close friends or family members who have a rich and varied history. For some reason they have not connected as much as they generally do/want to. 

Description: Full frontal squeeze, short pull away with eye contact secondary squeeze, upper arm pat, or even facial touch.

Duration: 5 seconds

Message from hugger: I miss you, now we can skip all the small talk because the hug reestablished our closeness and just get to business.

How much this hug bugs me: Not at all.

I’m just a hugger hug:

Just like a kiss needs to be at LEAST 20% from the kissee, this hug breaks all proper hug etiquette.

Description: This hug can come from behind, the side, leaning across a table. Your bag, baby, or lunch might well be smushed into your chest. Your chest might just be smushed into your chest. You might not be breathing for a bit so get ready. Probably accompanied by some sort of chatter that you can’t hear over the whooshing sound of your air leaving your body.

Duration: Every second is too long.

Message from hugger: No message, no regard for personal space or supposed mutuality of hugs. He/She is in and on you before you can shrink back or rearrange your cargo.

How much this bugs me: Do I need to tell you? Upside: Your participation may be irrelevant. Stand still and it will end.

Comfort hug:

Someone needs a hug.

Description: At its best the arms open and the sad person can step or lean into the hug, indicating positional preference. Often a head to chest move is necessary with stroking and murmuring as necessary. Commonly seen with children and non broken parents.

Duration: Variable. Ideally determined by the one seeking comfort the hugger should be attuned to cues from the recipient, rather than say, checking Facebook over his shoulder.

Message from hugger: Its going to be OK. (Remember this is stated in the hug, in real life you have no idea what “it” really is that is upsetting the sad soul, no need to utter this phrase when your body is doing the talking for you, inefficient and potentially false.)

How much this bugs me: Depends on the frequency. From not at all to  moderate. Assuming I  am the hugger. If I am the hugged and you are not wrapping my hair into my snotty face I thank you whole heartedly.

You and me? hug:

Checking body compatibility, making a move without major risk. Pull away and it was just a hug. Obviously.

Description: Often seen at night and in bars this hello/goodbye move lacks the platonic pat pat pat motion of most the above hugs. Potential low back involvement and often head to neck near nuzzle.

Duration: from the 1 second retreat to the many minute are we dancing now? the duration really is the story here.

Message from hugger: I want you. Let me show you. You want me too? OR I might want you, do you want me too? no? how was that hug? It is checking for a connection rather than confirming one as seen in the “me and you greeting.”

How much this bugs me: Depends on the hugger.

Elliot Mattos hug:

The unicorn of hugs. There are some people that just give good hugs. They have a way of fitting your body, sending a message of connection that doesn’t at all seem lecherous, and can spread the hug from grandma to the prickly person writing this post. Named after someone who has sadly left town, this hug is a better pick me up than a piece of chocolate. Or french fries. Or a good song. Or whatever you like.

Description: Tall, rounded, loving but not creepy person pulls you in sue for a minute you cede control and forget the 15 instructions in your head.

Duration: Never really long enough.

Message from hugger: You are in the arms of a genius. There is nothing left for you to do.

ps If any of you Burlington area people have a replacement for me for Elliot I want to hear. It has been 5 years and I could use one.

pps It looks like I am raising one natural hugger and one prickly slippery guy.

PPS Are there just two type of people? Huggers and non huggers or is it a continuum?

PPPS I had a hug today that was almost as good as an Elliot hug and it was a combo, we are friends, we wrapped something up, see you soon hug. A hybrid hug. In any case it didn’t bother me at all, but I was not able to like leave my head during the hug because I was composing this post and the whole time I was worried that he would read this and feel like he shouldn’t have hugged me and probably he doesn’t even remember hugging me, but I noted it because I was going to write about hugging because of the hug email.


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Anna Palmer

Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble,, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at

12 thoughts on “Hug off. (For the most part)”

  1. Oh dear. Please forgive my I’ve-never-met-you-but-I-stalk-your-blog-and-recognize-your-face-and-here-we-are-at-the-coffee-shop hug. That was inappropriate. I am a hugger. Often, inappropriately so. I’m from the almost-Midwest. I am sorry.

    1. No problem. First time hugs are always fine. They are a hug exception. Its once we know each other and you can probably tell how stiff I am and that means don’t hug me and you still hug me hugs that bug me.

  2. Anna, what is a signal that us tend-to-hug-but-know-not-everyone-is-like-us people can look for to assess if someone on your side of the spectrum wants, or doesn’t want, said hug? It’s easy to tell those on one end or the other end of the spectrum, but I often find myself having to make split second decisions about receptivity. Of those who don’t initiate, many still appreciate the hug. But what am I looking for to assess that? This is a brilliant post. Something I think about a lot — even though I tend to be on the other end of the spectrum (meaning I love GENUINE hugs, even from people I don’t know well; going through the motions hugs rarely satisfy).

    1. What if you open one arm wide at first and watch for a response? If the other person opens both arms and steps in it is clear, if the side slide over it can be a side hug, if they slap your hand then they probably didn’t want much. The concern of course is that your motion is ambiguous, so the response from the other person may not be the same as if you had used your natural initiation procedure. Perhaps we need to do some controlled studies?

  3. A situational continuum. I enjoy my personal space so I believe I am largely weighted towards the less frequently hugging/touching type. Which probably explains why I don’t really like dogs – they have no understanding of the concept of personal space!!

    1. Agreed, although you do seem to make an exception for small children…and I appreciate that. As does Leo. I wonder too if you got your fill of personal space violations in a house where wrestling was the norm. Maybe you just don’t need it?

  4. Because I love nothing more than breaking the rules this post has only made me hug you more. Chase after you with hugs. Hug you went you are least expecting it. Why would you ever give me this power!?!?

  5. Ha! The unicorn of hugs….I am admittedly not a hugger. My friends threaten to hug me is I mouth off which is actually quite often. I have begun to allow hugs of sorts, but not too long, not too tight and not too close.

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