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May 13, 2012

The Hug Effect

(Thanks to Hall of the Black Dragon)
There is something magical about a hug. It's very hard to explain what that magical effect is, I guess much like most emotional things.

Sure, scientists have probably explained it in scientific terms that take all of the beauty and romance out of it. So I'm not going to go look for that.

Instead, I just want to talk about it from a feeling point of view.

When you're feeling a bit low, it's a wonder how just somebody coming over and giving you a hug will all of a sudden totally lift your spirits out of that funk that you're in. Or, if it doesn't do that, it may at least make you feel more able to deal with the emotional stress that you're feeling right at that moment. It's that physical aspect of touch, there's just something about it. It adds a layer of intimacy, I think, that shows that somebody really cares about you and your well-being.

Of course, nothing is better than a hug (and other things, obviously) between two people who truly love one another and want to spend the rest of their lives together. Romantic love can produce some wonderful hugs where the entire body is pressed together full-length, with both bodies almost melting into each other. Yes, those are definitely special.

But what about outside of a romantic relationship? Those hugs can be pretty damned special too, in their own way. While there is no full-body melding, there is definitely contact. Whether it's one of those "safe" hugs where you touch each other as little as possible, or even a closer hug where your bodies are pressed together (just not as intimately as a romantic hug), both can satisfy a need that we as humans have. That need for some kind of physical representation that somebody cares. I think it's something the world needs more of.

There are always gender issues that crop up, of course. Men generally don't hug other men unless extreme circumstances seem to warrant it. A tremendously sad occasion like attending a funeral, or a very happy one like scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal. Just a general pick-me-up, though? A conversation between two guys about something that's bothering one of them? There will most likely be no hug there. But women do it all the time.

And for mixed-gender friendships, there's always that fine dance of finding the comfort zone for both parties. Is he going to see this as more than just a friendly hug? Is she going to think I want to move this further than just friendship? Or maybe you're just not a believer in hugging somebody of the opposite gender who isn't married to you or in a relationship with you.

All of those considerations have to be dealt with. But after they are, the resulting hugs can be glorious. Not only because of the resulting feeling they can give you, but because it shows an utter trust in you that they are sharing. Giving somebody a hug, or allowing them to hug you, opens up a vulnerability in you because you're letting that person even more into your emotional presence. Sure, you may have talked a lot, and maybe even about some very personal things. But now you're allowing them into your private space. The space you keep for people you really care about. Yes, you're pretty sure the other person feels the same way or you wouldn't be doing it.

But it's still a vulnerability.

Of course, some people don't even bother with those considerations and totally surprise you, hugging you out of the blue. Like meeting somebody's mother for the first time and she proceeds to give you a hug when you take your leave. Wonderful surprises indeed.

Or perhaps you've become friends with somebody online, and so you've already moved past all of that. I know a few women online where, if and when we ever meet, I'm in for the hug of my life, I'm sure.

It's not just hugs, either, though they are the culmination of all of this, that Holy Grail that you finally reach where the person's comfort level is to the point of being able to hug you.

Sometimes it's just a touch. Some people are naturally touchy people, and you can usually tell that. They'll touch your arm or shoulder when they're talking to you. While I'm not saying it doesn't mean anything, it isn't quite in the same league. I'm sure even these people will not touch some people if they get a bad vibe off of them or something.

But not that many people are, in this age where we take a stranglehold on our personal space and try not to let anybody into it except a select few. Many of us don't like being touched, and that also translates into not liking to touch other people. Or maybe that's a bit too extreme and you just don't habitually do it. You don't fear it or anything, but it's just not something you do.

There are friends of mine who I remember the first time they actually touched me. It may have just been a light slap on the arm or a touch on the shoulder or whatever. And it may have just been in the flow of a conversation, perhaps even in a group conversation.

But it still struck me in a marvelous way. What it said to me is that this person is actually comfortable enough with me to touch me. That this person does care about me. It's an intimacy (not a romantic intimacy, but an intimacy nonetheless) that they have finally decided to share with you. And if it comes in the middle of a conversation or in some other off-hand manner, it demonstrates that this comfortableness is honestly being felt and not just calculated (like some people will touch you on the arm or shoulder if they are trying to convince you to do something, to name one example). They touched you without even thinking about it.

And it feels good.

It's even better when you are good enough friends that they just realize when you might need a hug. No questions asked, no request needed.

Those are the friendships to cherish.


  1. I really loved this blog. It kind of made me cry though. I feel bad that when you are upset or stressed & could use a hug I'm not there to give it to you. I hope you know that any time you need a hug from Mom I am sending you one. That's what moms are for, to make our kids feel better. I'm always there for you whenever you need me. You should get lots of comments on this one. LOVE YOU

  2. Ohhh, you knew I'd be a fan of this one! Yes, I'm one of those friends of yours who will hug you the first time we lay eyes on one another, which I am determined is going to happen. In my family, from what I gather, hugging didn't always happen with the fervor we indulge in now. When I was very small, we had a slew of deaths of very vital, key people in our family in the space of 2 years. THAT was the pivotal point where my Mom says everyone began to hug Hello and Goodbye.

    You know how excited I get when my family reunion rolls around, because it means I will get a ton of hugs for 3-4 days straight! My heart gets polished and glowy and my spirit is all recharged for the rest of the year. I've said it many times before and will continue to say it: Hugs should be a form of World Currency. We would have a lot less problems if they were.

    That being said, I do know many people think and feel differently. (Marticus is one of them!) And I respect their boundaries, most of the time. If they won't let me hug them, then I usually make do with a touch on the arm, because yes, I'm a touchy person like you mentioned. This comes as no surprise to you, I'm sure. :)

    You left out the fact that hugs are GOOD for us on a physiological/medical level. They lower heartrate, lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, increase blood flow and dilate blood vessels. The heart increases its pumping of oxygenated blood for about 28 minutes after a hug (a good one - not the one armed air pat kind), thus, sending vital nutrients to the whole body. Oxytocin is released along with serotonin in the brain when we're hugged. It is suggested that for general good health, we get 3-5 hugs daily; optimum health, 5-10 hugs daily. Sadly, most of us are in the deficit. I know I am, and I'm not happy about it!

    Great article, Dave. Hugs to you, buddy, of the virtual kind, until we get around to the in person version. :)

    - Dawnie

  3. Aww, thanks, Mom. I probably will get the usual number of comments, but I appreciate the kind words. :)

    Dawnie, I knew you'd love this post, yes indeed. :)

    I totally agree with you on the fact that they should be currency!!! "That muffin will cost you 1.5 hugs." :)

    No, the fact that you're a touchy person does not surprise me in the least. I feel "touched" every time I read a comment or post from you. I just picture you saying whatever I'm reading, and reaching over to touch the arm or shoulder.

    I left out the health benefits partially because I wanted to stay in the emotional realm and partially because it was a Sunday morning and I didn't want to do research. :) I knew it had good physical health effects too, so thank you for mentioning them here.

    I think we're all hug deficient, at least to some extent. And I'm envious of those who aren't. We will have to rectify that some day. :)

    Thanks for the great comment, Dawnie!

  4. Btw, I reposted on my FB wall, Dave. This was definitely a post worth resharing, so I hope you get some visits as a result! :)

  5. Cool! Thank you for doing that. I'll keep an eye out.

    This and my "Love Analytics" post from last week sometime are, in a way, related. And probably the ones I'm most proud of since I came back to blogging.

  6. Interesting blog. My family is a group of huggers. We hug and say I love you every time we part, simply because we know tomorrow isn't guaranteed :)

    I would say most of my close friends are huggers as well. Gender makes no difference- we usually hug hello & good bye. I also have certain friends who are kissers. We peck along with the hug!

    I am NOT one of those people who hugs everybody and quite frankly, I am uncomfortable hugging someone I do not know well. And you are right. There is a deeper level of intimacy & closeness with the people I never question about hugging. In my opinion, that can never be a bad thing!

  7. Hi Raquel!!!

    I have to say that there's only been one female friend who has been a "kisser" like that, but I like that too!

    I totally understand about being uncomfortable hugging someone you don't know well. I think it's just a personal thing that you know when the time is right. Of course, that first hug can be a bit awkward, because neither one of you is sure the other one wants one. But after that? Awesomeness. :)

    Thanks for your comment!


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