Awkward Laughter

Because most things in life are humorous, even when they shouldn't be

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The Pat, Pat, Pat and Other Thoughts on Hugging


Wrapping up a lovely brunch on Sunday with a few of my closest girl friends, we stood on the sidewalk for a few moments to say our goodbyes.

“It’s like we’re all waiting to hug each other,” my friend Jodi quipped.

“Well, you know that’s not on my mind,” I retorted.

Everyone laughed. They know I’m not a hugger.

Before you get all judgy and assume I need counseling for some deep-seeded aversion to affection, let me explain. It’s not that I don’t hug people. I just subscribe to a self-imposed hugging etiquette that’s evolved over time.

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The Family Hug
Hugging family comes naturally to me. We’ve always been a fairly affectionate group, and that continues with my nephews, who I bear hug every chance I get.

The Long-Lost Friend Hug
If we haven’t seen each other in months or years, you can bet that I’ll immediately spread my arms and go in for a hug.

The Romantic Hug
If we’re dating, we’re hugging. I also insist on hand holding and the quick smooches. The same hugging protocol holds true for potential boyfriends while in the initial stages of dating.

The Gratuitous Hug
This is the type I hate! You know, the kind of hugs many people exchange every time they say hello or farewell, even if they see each other on a weekly or daily basis. They’re the American equivalent to faire la bise (French cheek kissing), which oddly enough I support 100%.

I find these perfunctory exchanges awkward. From the strange side-arm embraces to the full-frontal hellos – Blech! No thank you.

Which brings me to…

The Pat, Pat, Pat Hug
Perhaps I developed this response as a coping mechanism. When forced to participate in an unwanted hug, I keep it short by implementing a quick triple-pat on the shoulder.

“Sure, Bob, even though I just saw you yesterday and we’re not that close, let’s hug hello.” (pat, pat, pat) Done!

After discussing this topic, ad nauseam, with friends who love to make fun of me for it, I know I’m not alone. Heck, you might do it yourself and not even realize it. I know I didn’t until my early 30s.

I became aware of the pat-pat-pat maneuver when saying goodbye to an on-again, off-again ex. We had finished a conversation in which he declared that he wanted to be on again, again. I told him I needed time to consider it. He agreed. As I walked him to the door, he hugged me.

“Oh my God! Please tell me you didn’t just pat me,” he cried out in horror.

“Um, what? Don’t be silly.”

But his insight was spot on. My involuntary patting foreshadowed my feelings at the time. No, I did not want to rekindle that relationship.

And that simple gesture further shaped my hugging philosophy. Good hugs belong to family, long-separated friends and romantic relationships. Inappropriate huggers, would-be exes and the occasional distraught child (or pet) get the pat, pat, pat.

How about you? Are you a hugger? If not, how do you dodge them? Please share!

22 thoughts on “The Pat, Pat, Pat and Other Thoughts on Hugging

  1. I’m the same way. Once I was visiting my friend in Sydney. It was lunch time, she was meeting up with me during her lunch break. It was a hot summers day and I was sweaty from walking up hill from the station. Sweat was pouring off me. Then she appears on the foot path, looking all glamorous and professional and beautiful, not a hair out of place and there I am, my hair plastered to me, my clothes drenched in sweat. She leaned in for the hug and I jumped back screaming ‘NO! Don’t hug me!” When I say I ‘jumped back’ – it was like I teleported three hundred metres. One second I was standing less than an armslength from her, the next I’m pretty much across the other side of the street. Also the scream was maybe a bit over dramatic. It was a busy inner-Sydney street, there were a lot of people staring at us.

    All in all, I handled it well.


  2. I love hugging. Because I can feel it when someone hug me real. It sort of special and enlightenment.


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  4. I recently met my husband’s co-worker and his fiancee, and when we were all parting ways, he went in for the hug, which I felt was just too soon (I awkwardly reciprocated, and then I felt obligated to hug his fiancee, too, since it would have been even weirder if I’d hugged him and not her.) I feel I could use the Triple Pat Method in the future.


  5. I get this. Hugging does not come naturally to me. But over the years, I decided I wanted to become a hugger (i.e., not seem so ice-queeny/bitchy), so I worked on it. BUT OF COURSE I observe the etiquette surrounding the hug, and observe body language, signals, whatnot. If someone is uncomfortable with it, I steer clear. I’m not a monster.


  6. Ha! I know the pat-pat hug all too well. An alternative for when it’s a hug between two men who aren’t too close is the grab-hand-bump-shoulders hug. I practice both liberally.


  7. so funny. i have hugger friends and then i have friends that it’s an open joke how much she hates hugging. the pat pat is good for awkward unavoidable hugs.


  8. I’ve never been a hugger. Even when my boys were small we didn’t hug – we wrestled.


  9. I hear ya! Everyone at my work hugs goodbye before the weekend. I’m a big hugger, but…really? And if someone is standing nearby, there is an obligation to hug. It’s weird/fake. I might try holding on for longer than proper and see what happens ;).


    • Oh my goodness. I think I’d die if the folks at work felt an obligation to hug before the weekend. Most of my department works remotely, and I do genuinely hug them when I see them the couple of times of year that happens. But ugh! I don’t envy you. 🙂


  10. Yours is a solid hugs-based philosophy, my friend. I concur.


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