I’m An Awkward Hugger

Image by Matt Zhang

I love meeting new people. I’d like to think of myself as a pretty good conversationalist, and I have diverse enough interests that I can usually make some sort of connection to a person I’ve just met.

So yeah, meeting someone for the first time?


What’s not so awesome?

Hugging someone for the first time.

I confess, I’m an awkward hugger. To me, there’s nothing more anxiety-inducing than going in for that very first hug with someone I’ve recently become friends with.

The problem isn’t the first hug itself. The problem is when to attempt that first hug — when to level up the friendship from handshake / fist-bump / touch-on-the-arm / pat-on-the-back / casual-side-hug to …

The Full Frontal Hug.

Because you certainly don’t want to initiate a Full Frontal Hug with someone you barely know. That’s just creepy. But at the same time, if you wait too long to get that first hug in, they might think you’re stuck up or secretly despise them. Basically, you have to wrestle with wanting to be friendly and wanting to respect whatever personal boundaries someone might have.

Oh, and just to clarify, I’m referring to members of the opposite sex here. Initiating a Full Frontal Hug with another guy is an entirely different can of massive, pulsating worms. Because then you’re also tossing in considerations about social stigma and all that stupid guy BS.

So yes, that dreaded first hug. It kills me. Here, for instance, is the commentary of self-doubt that runs through my mind when I’m getting ready to part ways with a group of friends:

Okay, I should get going. Time to make my rounds. Let’s see …

First person … Okay, it’s Alex. He gets a handshake. Easy.

“Hey, good to see ya!”

Next person … Awww, it’s Mary! We go way back. And… oh look at that, she’s already coming in for a hug. Sweet. Just hug her back. And hug her like you mean it! There we go. Perfect.

“Byyyyyyyeeeeee. See you soon, okay?”

Next person … Ah, crap. It’s Jenna. Okay, okay. Okay. We’ve had quite a few conversations now, and I’ve gotten to know her pretty well. Before tonight, I avoided any awkwardness by simply waving goodbye from a distance whenever I was leaving. But … damn it, she’s standing right next to Mary now. And I just hugged Mary like I was never gonna see her again.

“Well, it was nice chatting with you …”

Craaaaap, I can’t very well wave goodbye to her now, right? I mean, that would be even more awkward. What if she takes that as a personal diss? What if she thinks I can’t stand her because I just hugged Mary and don’t hug her, too.

“… good luck with that … thing … you had just been telling me all about …”

Oh, man. And now, she’s looking kind of uncomfortable. Hehe, maybe she’s wondering the same thing and trying to decide whether or not to hug me. Maybe I should just …

But wait! What if she’s looking uncomfortable because she doesn’t want to hug me?

“… alright, guess I’ll see ya around!”

Ah, fuck it. Let’s just play the jock card….


Aaaaaaaand … crisis averted.

No, I’m not exaggerating here. This is what really goes through my mind when I’m up against that dreaded first hug.

And the harder I try sometimes, the worse I get. I think the pinnacle of awkwardness in my awkward hug career was when I once went in for a first hug, and I tried to imitate what I’d seen my cool hugger buddies do, and I extended only one arm out (because extending both arms would be way too needy-looking, right?), and …

She responded by stepping aside and asking if I needed to get around her.

See? That’s awkward.

I admire people who are warm and inviting and have no problem hugging everyone from best friends to loose acquaintances to perfect strangers. I truly do (though I might question their awareness of other people’s personal space). For me, if I run into a woman I’ve met a few times, and I end up getting into a conversation with her, the meat part of the interaction sandwich is great, but the hello bun and the goodbye bun fill me with nothing but shameful dread.

So, the moral of the story?

If you’re one of those non-awkward huggers, please just do us both a favor and hug me already.

And if you, too, are an awkward hugger?


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  • I hug every person I meet. Girl or otherwise. I just ask “May I have a hug?” or if I want to be kinda humerus about it I say “Wanna share an awkward moment with / hug me?” Then extend your arms and go in for the hug. I’ve yet to denied a hug or be arrested. After the first hug, you can give hugs w/o asking because they’re going to be expecting it.

    Next time you end a conversation with a girl – regardless of who it is – w/o thinking about it, go in for the hug. Because if you allow yourself to think about it that’s when your brain will start telling you “She’s going to think you’re weird or creepy” or “what if her boyfriend gets jealous?”. Your brain will always want you to play it safe so sometimes you gotta ignore it.

    As the great philosopher Ice T one said: Haters gonna hate.

    Just remember, ALWAYS firmly hug with both arms.

    • Not everyone is comfortable being hugged by a stranger. Just because they don’t deny you doesn’t mean they’re okay with it. Maybe they’re just being polite.

      Sometimes it’s good to be aware of the comfort zones of others. For me, I’d rather be too aware than not aware enough.

  • Then don’t be a stranger. It’s not like I’m asking random people out the blue for a hug. When I meet someone for the first time I first formally introduce myself with a handshake “Hi how are you? This is my name what’s yours?”. Proceed to start a conversation from there. If the person doesn’t look interested (i.e not looking at you, arms crossed, etc) then it’s safe to assume s/he wouldn’t be interested in a hug. And that’s ok. If, however, the interaction is going well (i.e making eye contact, laughing, having a good time, etc) go for the hug.

    What you should be aware of is body language. Unless you know that person really well, you’re not going to know where that person’s comfort zone is. The subject of comfort zones doesn’t even apply here.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, I think comfort zones are so stupid and unnecessary. It’s definitely good to respect yourself and set boundaries. But to me, comfort zones are the metaphorical equivalent of purposely cutting your own foot off. Call comfort zones what they are, excuse zones.

    You’re asking for a hug. Not a kidney.

    • *Forgot to add my name.

    • Well, now you’re backpedaling. In your first comment, you wrote that you hug every person you meet. That’s way different than gauging whether someone you meet is comfortable with you hugging them, which is what you’re saying now, and… which is pretty much the whole point of this article in the first place.

      Either way, it’s your prerogative to think that comfort zones are stupid, but the fact is that everyone has them. And I think it’s important to be aware of the comfort zone of others.

      It’s not people making excuses. It’s people having different levels of comfort with physical touch. Why is that so wrong to you?

  • Rule of thumb for guys: If she hugs you, hug back. If you just hugged another girl, hug the other girls – even if you just met. Otherwise, handshakes are the way to go.

    Girls have a MUCH worse predicament when it comes to hugging — do we go with the full-on, double boob contact? Or the safe, side-boob, one-armed hug? Based on which one we go with, it’s a great way to tell how comfortable we feel with you.

  • I’m not backpedaling at all. What happens is that I remove things from my comment so that my post doesn’t become too long. I do hug every person I meet. I never said otherwise. What I’m saying is that I’ll introduce myself first. Usually.

    My social interactions – for the most part – go well. Over the years I’ve learned how to make someone I just met relax around me, get more comfortable, lower their defense walls, etc. Still, you can’t win them well. And that’s ok.

    You can only assume where someone’s comfort zone is. Even if you do know where it is, it doesn’t mean they’re going to stay in it their whole life. I can write you a whole essay explaining the everything that’s wrong with comfort zones and why there’s no reason to have one. But that’s a post for another time.

    If you want a hug, ask for it.

    • You’re still missing the point of this article. It has nothing to do with wanting a hug. Or having the confidence to hug a stranger. That’s easy.

      It has to do with knowing when it is a socially appropriate time to hug someone.

      It’s not as easy as you think. Trust me.

  • The “meat part” of the interactive sandwich. After you are talking about hugging, it totally sounds like you are going for a different metaphor. Obviously teaching high school has done a number on my sense of humor.

  • I can’t tell you how many times someone has come in for a hug, and ended up with a high-five. I don’t know why I do it, but it’s my way of avoiding an awkward hug, and yet making another less than comfortable situation.

  • Pingback: My Continuing Adventures in Awkward Hugging | Dennis Hong Test Site

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