Random Hugs

One of the odder aspects of being a curate is that all sorts of people seem to feel entitled to hug me.  I like hugs, I can be quite tactile, but only with people I know and love.  As I grew up, hugs happened between family members or with very close friends.  To be hugged by someone I have just been introduced to feels very strange.  To be hugged by someone I only ever see in the pews on a Sunday feels downright bizarre.  

It can be difficult to remember that hugs mean different things to different people, and that the same relationships can be gauged differently by those within the relationship. I was soundly hugged by several people after one particular funeral recently, which felt fine.  I had met them all before, I had listened very hard to what they had to say, we had “engaged” with each other at one of the most stressful points of their lives.  I felt comfortable with them.   A hug afterwards felt appropriate.  

It’s that word “felt”.  Do I want to hug someone?  It depends on how I feel.  Some people are comfortable to be with, some less so.  I don’t hug anyone in church during the Peace, in fact I asked one person specifically not to hug me.  That’s partially because hugging someone says “you’re special”; or it says “I want to reassure you”; and I don’t want some members of the congregation to feel excluded because they don’t get a hug when others do.  

If I am hugged by someone when I don’t want to be (and I am usually good at avoiding this!) I tend to be quite direct in asking them not to do that, and I always say “I’m not a natural hugger”.  The trouble is, that’s a lie – I am a natural hugger, but on my own terms. And when in doubt, I don’t hug.  

It never occurred to me before Ordination that I would be a “hug target”. I didn’t even consider it might be part of the expectations.  I’m not sure whether it’s because I am a woman, and so in theory am tender and caring.  (Regular readers will know this is not always the case).  But I’d love to know whether it’s a general clergy thing – are we really targets for random hugs?

6 responses to “Random Hugs

  1. Hugs! I am actually not a hugger at all outside my immediate family. There are few people on my 'ok to hug list' – but it is very difficult to get on this list – so it stays very short!

    I have never been hugely tactile, not even as a kid, and nothing seems to have changed as I grew up – or when I became a Christian.

    I will hug when I have to – that is – when someone initiates a hug without knowing my discomfort of them – but I will generally escape the hugfest that seems to happen so much at church! It's amazing how many times my shoelace comes undone at that time!

    However, I had a conversation the other day about how people can get offended if their hug is refused – and then – I guess it boils down to whether I choose to risk causing offense or put up with a few seconds of discomfort myself.

    I say – bring back the handshake! Far easier!

  2. Interesting post! I'm probably near the other end of the scale from Jo but it does vary hugely depending on my mood and what I'm doing.

    I'm quite tactile and so is my hubby. We've been complemented in the past for holding hands during the sermon (though not when I'm preaching!) Apparently it's rare to see people who've been married a while show affection for each other in public.

    I've always been someone that attracts hugs, and pecks on the cheek, during the peace, although I usually offer my hand unless I'm very good friends/family. Knowing I'm happy whatever, I let the other person decide what they feel is appropriate.

    If I've been preaching, the handshakers usually want to hug me after they clasp my hand as my nervous reaction to preaching is that my circulation goes, and my hands are therefore freezing thus the recipient of my handshake usually then feels sorry for me!

    As a Reader I haven't noticed an increased hug quotient, and only the occasional funeral family will spontaneously hug me – and that's their call, not mine. I go with what they need emotionally.

    But there are certain people and situations who put me off hugs. It would be inappropriate and impossible to type the one's that just put me on edge, though they are often men. But most difficult to cope with is when I'm really focused on preparing for a service, or stressed between services. This is when I find it very difficult to be hugged by my family – it's distracting, or if I'm 'in role' somehow wrong. This often happens when we greet or say goodbye to each other during the family rotation between services and can cause my husband in particular so offence, especially given our normal behaviour.

  3. Claire – thank you for expressing in words what I so often feel! I am not a natural hugger – something my mother found hard when I was a baby/toddler and apparently would try to fend her off!! And so in the Peace or after I have preached or any other time, I find being hugged very difficult. For some time after I witnessed my mother's terrible death under a car's wheels people wanted to hug me: I felt as if I was being rubbed raw. Yet I had to learn that for some of them it was the only way they could try to show me that they cared and wanted to tell me so but didn't have the words. I have to admit that I Iearnt to have a friend stand just to the side and front of me so that they couldn't hug me: hard for them but it was the only way I could cope.
    I found reading your blog both hard and helpful. Thank you for expressing what so many of us feel!

  4. As a home alone in the manse and a tactile person I am aware now where I can get the friendly uncomplicated hugs I personally need. After emotional visits if the other person (ususally women) initiates it we may hug. Occasionally with older folk, or frail folk I feel touch will be significant and may ask if it is ok to give them a hug before I go. I am usually very aware by that time in a conversation whether that will be recieved or is a no no…

  5. Thanks so much for your comments, all very much appreciated. I feel virtual hugs are in order (didn't get around to mentioning those on the post), and if we should meet IRL, I will ask before hugging.

    Consent seems to be the important thing!

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