From the Braver Institute
These informal get-togethers are usually a fine time and I enjoy talking with my extended family, but there is one thing at these gatherings that brings out my inner recluse. This one thing can, at times, cause me to avoid such occasions completely. This awful thing that has the power to send me running for the security of the deep woods is—you guessed it— the hug.
Ever since I was a young child I have had a rather strong aversion to hugging. The level of discomfort I feel in these situations is probably akin to what a germaphobe might feel like in a lab full of open petri dishes.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for hugs for me, but that time and place is usually reserved for my children, a girlfriend, relatives of the deceased at funerals, and Ma Braver (but only when she demands a hug and that isn’t all that often since we are cut from the same wool). Really, I don’t get my anti-hugging from her side of the family though. I probably get it from my great-grandmother on my dad’s side, Winogene. I never saw it but apparently she had an unpleasant streak a mile wide. I suspect hugs were something she avoided as well.
This dislike of hugging is probably closely related to my dislike of people getting too close to me. I want space around me, mostly because I am a big guy and when I move I would probably hurt people when clumsy me crashes into them. The space I keep around me is more of a safety zone to protect others.
My size also doesn’t work well with babies. Apparently people like to hold other people’s babies. Apparently people also like other people to hold their babies because I couldn’t count the number of times people have asked me if I want to hold their baby.
My answer is always no. Holding babies is very awkward for me. I have these long arms that are not well suited for baby holding. It winds up looking more like the baby is laying on a couple of logs that have been felled sideby side except that the logs would probably be more comfortable for the baby.
On the other hand, I had no problem holding my daughters when they were babies, but that was different. They were my babies and I wanted to hold them.
Anyway, back to hugging.
The biggest problem I have in my hug avoidance is how to do it and not hurt feelings. When someone approaches me with open arms I really want to throw up my hands and say Whoa! Back Off! Unfortunately I am not at a point in my life yet where I can just speak my mind at every occasion. I reluctantly follow through with the hug and it seems to last for a lifetime even if it is only a few seconds.
If I can, I will try to make sure that hugging me is impossible by having my arms full, or taking off my jacket at that moment, at the same time addressing the potential hugger with a warm greeting, hoping that it will act as a verbal hug surrogate. Sometimes this works but more often than not I hear something to the effect of “after you set that down I’m going to give you a big hug” and then I inevitably end up holding two bags of groceries all afternoon or feigning to struggle removing my jacket for the rest of the day.
I think it would be so much easier to just say “it’s good to see you” and maybe shake hands, but I know the women in my family would never go for that. Shaking hands is good enough for guys. Guys don’t hug except for mafiosos and Leo Buscaglia, and he’s dead.
I just need to work up some way to convey the message that I don’t want to hug or get a hug from anyone yet make it clear that it is not because I don’t like the person. Right now I suspect there is a reader out there thinking “Oh come on Braver, step outside of your comfort zone. Hugs are fun.” To them I would say that this is not an issue of me stepping outside of my comfort zone but more an issue of others invading it.
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Waye Braver can be contacted on Facebook or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Braver Institute at www.braverinsitute.com