Who Doesn’t Want a Hug and Kiss?

Everyone wants a hug and a kiss, right? Well, no, not absolutely everyone. What kind of displays of affection are unwanted? Let me count the ways.

I, for one, could do without the symbolic kisses, in which two ladies touch cheeks and make a “mwaa” noise, then repeat on the other side. Fortunately, I run in circles where that just doesn’t happen. (Or I run in circles in order to avoid them.)

Kisses on the lips are sometimes unwelcome, depending on how well you know the person. I once knew a grandmother who quailed when her small grandchildren insisted on kissing her on the lips. Usually, when you see this sort of kiss moving in, you can move quickly enough so that the peck lands on the cheek instead. If you can’t avoid a kiss on the lips, be sure to return a dry, pinched, spitless peck, so the kisser may get the idea and not go back for more.

Hugs are quite variable. Some people like the full-on hug, which science tells us should last 20 seconds or more for proper fulfillment or endorphins or something. I don’t recommend trying this with someone you’re just meeting. In those cases, a handshake is perhaps preferable. Others prefer the less intimate, A-frame hug, in which both parties keep their distance and lean in only the tops of their bodies for the squeeze. “Buddy-hugs,” involving one arm across the back and shoulder, are pretty acceptable, especially between men at sporting events and sometimes in office situations that are really casual. (Offices are not generally safe places to display affection, though. You’re there to work, not snuggle.)

In general, you should avoid hugging anyone you just met. (Although that’s how I met my husband, in a group of people who all hugged. I didn’t want to offer a hearty handshake and feel left out. But I digress.) Also to be avoided are huggers who, shall we say, lack certain standards of hygiene, as well as those who go the other way and wear too much cologne.

Teachers have a particular problem with hugging. Sometimes a hug seems perfectly natural to console a young child or as a way of praising a child for completing a drawing that looks something like a horse. But teachers these days are wary. How much hug is appropriate? How old can a child be and still receive a hug that’s not creepy? (Four or five, probably. Fifteen or sixteen, no.) And is anyone watching who might report you? Some schools have zero-tolerance policies, as though hugs have been weaponized.

One of the stickiest situations is when a child doesn’t want to hug or kiss a relative. The sight of a large, looming face, perhaps with a thick layer of lipstick, moving in on a tiny, helpless face, can be terrifying. A hug might lead to unpleasant, unwanted tickling that could result in embarrassingly wet underwear. But children are frequently told, “Go kiss Grandma” or “Hug Uncle Bill now,” an order that’s difficult to refuse.

Some experts say – and I agree with them – that children should not be forced to kiss and hug when they don’t want to. It teaches them a lesson about bodily autonomy that contradicts the other lessons we try to impart – that they shouldn’t let other people touch them unless they invite or want the touch. Indiscriminate touching can lead to grooming far more than learning about two mommies can.

Bodily autonomy is a lesson that needs to start early and continue until adulthood or even beyond. Think about bra-snapping in junior high. Think about being pinned against the locker and kissed. Think about a slap on the ass with a towel in the locker room. Then think about molesters out in the real world. It’s a continuum. Accepting unwanted touch can lead to disaster.

I’m not saying that icky grandma kisses will lead to child rape. I’m just saying that the choice should be up to the prospective kissee or huggee. (Personally, I’m awfully fond of kisses on my head or forehead, or on my neck, with perhaps a discreet nuzzle thrown in for good measure. But that’s TMI. Never mind.)

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