I’ve given away thousands of hugs at art festivals and conventions wearing a "Free Hugs" button.
All kinds of people like hugs. I give away hugs to men and women. Families come up to me and first the mom asks for a hug, and then the three children line up and get hugs, and then the dad asks a hug. Guys on skateboards and ripped clothing stop and ask for a hug.
It hadn't occurred to me that a two second hug could be anything more than a "good" hug or a "bad" hug, but by now a woman will get a hug from me at a festival and sometimes she'll turn to her friends and say, "guys! guy! He gives awesome hugs! You should get a hug too!"
There are many kinds of hugs. There’s the backslapping hug and the “I’m so excited to see you” big squeeze hug and so on.
Here I describe one particular kind of hug, a compassionate and graceful hug, the kind of hug where someone says, “Wow. That was an amazing hug!”
This section is for men in particular. Many men worry about being inappropriate, that giving a hug is going to come across as sexual or as harassment. And so are confused: when is it OK or not OK to offer a hug?
There are two parts here.
The first is consent. It’s never OK to touch someone without their consent, whether it’s sexual touch or not.
So if someone doesn’t want a hug, don’t try to give them a hug.
Which goes for you too, by the way. If a woman wants to hug you and you don’t want a hug, or you don’t feel like a hug right now, or you don’t want to hug her, it’s OK for you to say “no, thanks”.
Can hugs be harassment? Sure, if the hugs are unwanted. What makes something harassment is the lack of consent.
The second part is that a hug is just a hug. It’s not sexual, it’s human touch. Our society oversexualizes everything, from selling cars to insinuating that all forms of human touch is sexual. But we don’t need to fall into that trap.
It is important to be honest. If you offer a hug, just give a hug. Don’t try to turn it into something else.
Another concern some men have is whether a full body hug is appropriate, or whether that makes a hug sexual.
Some people, men and women, prefer not to have a full body hug, and later I’ll explain how to give the kind of hug someone wants.
But, when someone does want a full body hug, it’s still just a hug.
OK, so here’s the important point to all of this: I’ve given away thousands of hugs. To women. And men. And teenagers. And children with their parents present.
And not one person, out of those thousands that I have given a hug to, has felt that the hug was inappropriate, or exploitative, or improper.
Which is because I follow the simple rules described below.
The first step for giving really awesome hugs is that I never try to get anyone to hug me.
Now, if you have a friend who gives you hugs, and you’d like a hug for yourself, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “would you give me a hug?” It's OK to make a request instead of making an offer.
But for the purpose of giving an awesome hug, the hug will only be awesome if the recipient happens to want a hug for themselves in that moment.
So there’s no point in trying to get someone to hug you, or to try to talk them into it, etc. Sure, you may be able to convince them to let you hug them, but it’s not going to be an awesome hug.
When I walk through an art festival wearing the “Free Hugs” button, everyone who gets a hug gets a hug because they themselves have come up to me and asked for a hug.
Sometimes someone will point to a friend or boyfriend or girlfriend and say “He wants a hug!” or “She wants a hug!” And I’ll pause, and wait to see if they do in fact want a hug; sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. And if they don't, I just move on.
When someone does want a hug, different people like different kinds of hugs. Some people want a long hug, some a short hug. Some want a full body hug, some want a hug leaning in and just touching shoulders.
To give someone the kind of hug they want, the second step is to mirror the other person. As they step forward for a hug, they’ll lean in to give a shoulder touching hug or to hug close. Whatever they do, I’ll do the same.
In particular, don’t grab and pull the other person towards you. Let them get as close, or to keep whatever distance, that they want. Put your arms around them, but let your arms remain gentle and relaxed. Don’t squeeze or tug or pull.
Many people only want a brief hug, some like a longer hug. However long a hug they want, they’ll let go when they’re ready, and I let go at the same time. The result is that they get a hug for exactly the length of time that they want.
The third step is how a hug becomes a wonderful hug. The kind of hug where someone says, “Wow. That. was. the. most. amazing. hug. ever!”
The method is brilliant in its simplicity: to relax while giving a hug.
It’s natural to tense up when someone hugs you, especially if they’re a stranger. You’ve let someone into your personal space, inside your defenses, and tensing muscles is protective. It’s an instinctive reaction. But tensing up makes the muscles hard, and people like to hug things that are soft.
You don’t need to do anything else. When giving a hug some people will give a big squeeze or a macho whomp on the back, both which involve exerting the muscles and thus tensing them. To create an amazing hug, all you need to do is relax your muscles.
I recommend against squeezing when first learning how to give an awesome hug. If someone squeezes you in the hug, it is possible to mirror them, and both relax and still give an awesome hug and to also squeeze them back. But it's hard. It's a lot easier to first learn the relaxing part and get that down without doing any squeezing.
In summary, the three steps to an awesome hug:
Give hugs only to people who want one;
Mirror the other person, so they get the kind of hug they want;
Presto: an awesome hug!