It's OK to Not Hug

The Girl Scouts recently reminded people not to force hugs on little girls… but no one should be forced to show affection, regardless of their age and gender.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
Two friends shake hands
Maskot via Getty

As many people prepare to spend the next few days around friends and family, sitting around in one room, eating food and feeling affectionate, blah blah, etc., the Girl Scouts issued an important, timely missive: Don’t force your sweet little daughter to hug anyone!!!! “Anyone” meaning: her uncle, her auntie who wears too much powdery perfume, her smelly cousins—literally anyone! The justification being that forcing young girls to be affectionate implies that other people’s desires for physical contact and love are more important than her comfort and bodily autonomy.


People online are, predictably, in a tizzy: How dare the Girl Scouts suggest that little girls run away from smooches and hugs from their doting grandparents? But the post makes a very good point, and, if anything, it isn’t quite encompassing enough. No one should be forced to show affection, regardless of their age and gender. Not wanting to hug or be hugged is a problem grown-ups deal with, too. A recent post on Captain Awkward, a practical advice blog for adults, recently considered this same issue, from a more mature perspective: What if you want to hug one family member, but not another, who you like less? (Sounds harsh, but don’t act like you don’t have this same exact dynamic within your own social circles.) The simple answer is… Simply do not give out or accept unwanted hugs. The Captain Awkward post explains this quite well:

“Hugs are supposed to feel good. They are supposed to be friendly, affectionate, warm expressions of a bond. They are not requirements, commands, or rituals you have to unlock before you can get to the next part of exploring the castle full of zombie wizards in a video game [“Answer the sentinel’s riddle and clasp him in a warm embrace to receive the passcode”]. They are totally optional and voluntary* for adults and should fucking well be for children. If people don’t make you feel good with their hugs or you don’t feel good about hugging them, you don’t have to hug them, full stop.”

As someone who doesn’t care for hugs, and has been told she gives “weird hugs,” I deeply empathize with the seemingly frigid desire to skip this gesture. But also, because people contain multitudes, there are times I do want a hug, and so when the mood strikes, I ask for one. In time for the holidays, here’s a quick refresher on the delicate etiquette of rejecting hugs:

  • If a family member is coming in for a hug and you do not want to hug that family member, you can simply thrust your hand out for a shake;, or extend your arm to simultaneously block the hug and initiate a nice shoulder pat, instead.
  • If you walk into a home in a line of people, and everyone in front of you is doing hugs, you can employ the above; or, if you’re feeling non-confrontational, sort of just linger in the back and maybe your hosts will be hugged-out by the time they get to you.
  • You can always say, in a firm but polite voice, “I’m just not a hugger!”
  • You can also always say, in a self-deprecating tone, “You know me, cold as ice, hates hugs! Ha,” and then give a high-five, instead.
  • Walk into a room and announce that your new “thing” this year is fist-bumps (or maybe finger-guns). Then you’re the fist-bump/finger-gun guy.
  • And, when the rare mood for a hug strikes, simply ask for one by saying, “Hey, I need/could use/would like a hug.” It will feel good and thrill your hug-prone pals, which is fun and nice.

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