I used to be a terrible hugger.
I didn’t know I was so bad until a coworker pulled me aside one day and gave me quite the intervention.
“Jen,” he began. “I have to tell you something.”
I figured what was going to come next would be about my pizza eating habits (but that’s old news).
Or how I wore the same pair of pants to work for 5 days in a row (but that’s just what happens when it’s winter).
How can someone be bad at hugging?
“When you hug, Jen,” he said, “You look you’re in pain. Like a jellyfish is stinging you. Or someone is doing the Electric Slide on top of your toes.”
I still didn’t understand.
So I started to think about the reasons people hug.
1. To say hello
It’s less formal than a kiss and more formal than a flimsy handshake.
When we hug people we’ve only met a few times, we do so gently.
When we hug the people we haven’t seen in a long time hello, we squeeze them tightly as our bodies twist and sway to try to remember each other, again.
And when we hug the people we love hello, daily – or only a few times a year – you can feel heartbeats sync up in a way that says you are everything to me.
2. When it’s time to say goodbye
These hugs last the longest, because they have to.
Because every time you take a step away from someone, fall out of the protection of their arms, could be the very last time you see them.
None of us ever knows. That’s why these hugs feel like stand up cuddles. Bodies holding on for as long as the beats on a clock will allow.
3. If you want to dodge a kiss
This one comes in handy on dates. When a guy goes in for a smooch on a first date, i’m notorious for turning my head and wrapping my left arm around their neck, to give them a parting goodbye.
Maybe, from a far, this kind of hug looks more like a WWE choke hold, that would make Hulk Hogan mighty proud.
4. To feel close to someone
Sometimes a hug is a natural instinct. It’ll happen in the middle of a conversation or as two people are waiting to cross the street or while they are looking at something visually magnificent.
It’s as if this hug screams, I just want to remind you that you’re awesome.
5. As a compliment to a ‘congratulations’
It’s what follows the “OMG I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!” and is often the kind of hug that lets the other person know you’re going to be along for the ride.
For the new job, or baby, or birthday they are about to welcome, with their own arms, into their life.
6. To give consolation
To let the person in front of you know that somehow, eventually, things will be okay.
It’s also the kind of hug that says you’re going to be along the ride. Except this ride isn’t one where we can pop the roof open and blast some Taylor Swift.
This kind of ride is going to be bumpy, emotional, unmistakably difficult. This kid of hug says you’ll be there – no matter what.
Maybe, I started to think, the reason why I was no good at giving hugs was because I never understood why people gave them. It was just something that happened naturally, without thought, but never enough.
So I started hugging more people.
I hugged the lady who did my nails because she painted a lightning strike on one of them without even asking me.
I hugged the flight attendant on my flight home to New York because she wished me a Happy Birthday as I exited the plane.
I once reached across the counter at a CVS to hug the lady ringing me up because she told me that i should really smile more and that life was not something to be taken so seriously.
Just last week, I hugged a friend of mine who sat next to me at dinner and listened to countless cries and ridiculous comments about why I’m so upset to be 26 years old.
And I began to realize, the real reason we hug is to say things we can’t say so easily with words.
But especially, to say thank you.