Embrace for impact

Am I a hugger? Should I be?

John I. Carney
2 min readMay 28

Photo of President Gerald Ford being embraced by his wife Betty in the Oval Office of the White House. Ford’s hand is reaching towards the photographer.
President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford in the Oval Office. Photo by David Hume Kennerly, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Two or three months ago, I was in the middle of a family crisis which was wearing me and my siblings down. I was stressed and exhausted. I was at church and spoke briefly to one of my fellow church members, a retired teacher, about the situation. She consoled me.

“I know you’re not a hugger,” she said.

“I don’t know where you got that idea,” I said. “I would not turn down a hug tonight.”

I got my hug.

Yesterday, I was at a joyful family event — the wedding of my oldest nephew. It was a beautiful day at a beautiful setting, and everyone was in a good mood. I was chatting with my youngest brother and sister-in-law; I forget the context, but it had something to do with family togetherness and the joy of being there at the wedding.

“I know you’re not a hugger, John,” said Lisa.

There it was, pretty much exactly the same phrase, from a different person, in a different situation. I asked her why she thought I wasn’t a hugger.

“Because you don’t hug people,” she said.

That’s a fair answer. But it’s not that I don’t like being hugged. I don’t often initiate hugs because I’m a sweaty fat man and I would be self-conscious about giving a hug to someone who didn’t want one.

Does that mean I don’t like to hug or be hugged? No. No, it does not. I certainly wanted a hug the night I was worried about my father. I was certainly happy to get a hug from my preschool grand-niece at yesterday’s wedding.

My life, for a number of reasons, has been a solitary one, and at age 61 I’m probably too set in my ways to change. I take full responsibility for this; it’s my fault. I have my regrets, of course. As happy as I am, and was yesterday, for my family, events like weddings make me play the “what-if” game and imagine a life where I was a father or a grandfather or a groom on the dance floor with his blushing bride.

The “what-if” game is almost always counter-productive.

Anyway, you shouldn’t usually assume that anyone wants a hug. Consent is important whenever physical contact is on the table. But you also shouldn’t assume they don’t want one.

John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike