Con­fes­sions of a hug­ger

The Catoosa County News - - COMMENTARY - David Car­roll

True con­fes­sion: I am a hug­ger. There, I said it. It is out in the open.

There are only two sides to this de­bate. Pro-hug­gers will re­act to this by say­ing, “Well, good for you! There’s noth­ing bet­ter than a good hug!”

Anti-hug­gers are more likely to say, “Ewww.”

I can­not ex­plain why I am a hug­ger. I don’t re­mem­ber how it started. Maybe I got a lot of hugs when I was lit­tle, and I liked that. I am an equal op­por­tu­nity hug­ger. Young, old, male, fe­male. Watch out. If you’re in my zip code, you might get hugged.

I hug my wife, of course. I hug my sons, and thank­fully, they hug back. I hug my friends and co-work­ers when they have ac­com­plished some­thing, or when they just need a lit­tle en­cour­age­ment. I hug to­tal strangers who say nice things about my work. Hugs can con­sole, and they can con­grat­u­late.

But I don’t hug as many peo­ple as I once did. Not ev­ery­body wants a hug, and not ev­ery­body likes hugs.

I have two co-work­ers who are among the friendli­est, hard­est-work­ing folks I know. How­ever, they have made it clear: they re­side in a no-hug zone. They con­sider such con­tact to be an in­va­sion of their per­sonal space. One is male, and on the fre­quent oc­ca­sions when he mer­its more than a pat on the back, I give him a “vir­tual” hug. I will ap­proach him, fake a hug, and say, “Here’s your vir­tual hug.” He smiles, and ex­presses his ap­pre­ci­a­tion that I didn’t cross the bound­ary.

An­other is fe­male. “I’ve just never been a hug­ger,” she said. “If I let you hug me, what’s next?” For her, hugs are off-lim­its, and she firmly lets you know.

The hug­ging process can be awk­ward. In my ef­forts to be more cau­tious, I will ap­proach a woman I haven’t seen in a while, and of­fer a hand­shake. Some­times that ges­ture is ac­cepted gra­ciously with no in­ci­dent. But what if she ex­pects a hug, and is in­sulted when one is not given? “What? I don’t get a hug?” That leaves me feel­ing like a jerk, be­cause truth be told, I wanted a hug too. I just wasn’t one-hun­dred per­cent sure the feel­ing was mu­tual. Of course, I’ve been on the other end of that quandary too: ex­pect­ing a hug, and then set­tling for a hand­shake. It is a let­down.

You have surely no­ticed the dif­fer­ent types of hugs. We hug a friend or rel­a­tive like we mean it: a full-bod­ied, af­fec­tion­ate hug. For a more ca­sual ac­quain­tance, there’s the neck-hug. For some­one you don’t know that well, there’s the side-hug. Our “guy” friends get the bro-hug. The most em­bar­rass­ing hug is the head­knock. Nei­ther side is sure what to do, so in the midst of all the clum­si­ness, while try­ing to de­cide be­tween the full-body, the neck-hug, or the side-hug, your head col­lides with the other per­son’s nog­gin, cre­at­ing a mas­sive headache for both par­ties.

Much like a hand­shake, your fel­low hug­ger can ei­ther com­mit to the hug, or leave you limp. (And there’s noth­ing worse than a limp hand­shake). Most peo­ple know how to hug ap­pro­pri­ately. Firm, yet gen­tle. Brief, yet mean­ing­ful. Still, there are po­ten­tial sur­prises. One of my most mem­o­rable hugs hap­pened a few years ago. On the scene of a news story, an at­trac­tive young re­porter from a com­pet­ing sta­tion greeted me warmly. I barely knew her, but soon be­came very fa­mil­iar with her. As I of­fered my hand, she pulled me in for a bonecrush­ing hug. She was about half my size, but mercy, she was strong. That’s when I learned the mean­ing of the ex­pres­sion, “She took my breath away.” When I re­gained con­scious­ness, I vowed I would be ready for her next time. There would be no more sneak at­tack hugs.

My wife had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence in her re­port­ing days. A well-known elected of­fi­cial would darn near crush her ribs when he saw her. Af­ter a few of those bone-break­ers, she learned to head the other way when

My teacher friends used to hug any stu­dent who re­quested one. They are not quite as plen­ti­ful as they once were, be­cause some teach­ers fear they will be re­ported for in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior. That is sad, but it is a sign of the times.

My grand­fa­ther Floyd Car­roll was widely known as a hug­ger. He lived quite well un­til the ripe age of 94. He was cook­ing, driv­ing, and hug­ging un­til the day he took an af­ter­noon nap and died. Maybe hug­ging kept him young.

When his wife (my grand­mother) was alive, I asked her if she was of­fended that “Pap” hugged the ladies. She said, “No, he’s like that old dog out there. He likes to chase cars, but if he caught one he wouldn’t know how to drive it.”

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of the new book “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best sto­ries. Per­son­ally au­to­graphed copies are avail­able at Chat­tanoogaRa­, or by send­ing $23 to David Car­roll Book, 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga, TN 37405. You may con­tact David at

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