You Call That a Hug?

People in the South sure know how to hug. In our eleven years there, I don’t think there was a single time I went to church when I wasn’t wrapped up in a big ole bear hug and squeezed tight. Heck, sometimes I even got kissed.

Unfortunately, right around the time I learned to enthusiastically throw myself into gigantic hugs, my husband and I moved back to the Pacific Northwest. And boy, do people here love their personal space. Especially the church folk. Especially the male church folk.

There needs to be some kind of brochure or handbook, when you move here from other places. People shouldn’t be left to flounder on their own.

I remember the first time I went in for a hug with one of our pastors – let’s call him “Kenny”, because his name is Kenny – who would become a good friend of ours, eventually. That first time, I came at him from the front, as per usual. What happened next was a blur.

With the kind of grace and speed you normally associate with Olympic gymnastics, Kenny feinted, whirled to the side, and ducked under my shoulder. Now we were facing the same direction, with our arms around each other, like two people waiting for a bus.

What the crap just happened? I thought. Does he have a mild form of Tourette’s? Are we in the middle of a skit? Did one of us just have a stroke?

In time, I learned that he’d grown up in a strict pastor’s home where (to minimize funny business, I guess), he’d been taught what he called “The A-frame hug,” that strange sideways thing I’d encountered. Which was less like two people hugging and more like two people hanging out. With no essential body parts touching.

Sadly, having this experience with the A-Frame did not save me from an incident that occurred a while later, in front of the whole church.

It was a Wednesday evening, and I was singing on the worship team. Standing right next to me was a guy I didn’t know well – let’s call him “Jim” – who was also singing that night. In between two of the songs, the worship leader directed everyone to turn to their neighbor and greet them with a hug.

In retrospect, maybe he didn’t say “hug.” Maybe I improvised. Anything is possible.

I turned to Jim, smiled, said “Hey!” and threw my arms around him.

And Jim’s arms stayed glued to his sides.

Within a couple of seconds, the rational side of my brain started screaming “Abort! Abort! Abort!” And I had a small window of time here, where I could have done just that, with minimal damage to my dignity. I could have acted like I was just brushing chalk dust from Jim’s back, or something.

Unfortunately, because my brain is The Land of the Free and The Home of the Crazed, there was another part of me that argued for staying the course. Just hang on for a few seconds more! It’s going to get too awkward for Jim…he’s going to have to slip an arm around you, and then you can give him a pat, release and save face.

I mean, there is a Code of Civil Conduct, right? People just do not refuse a hug.

Evidently, Jim wasn’t aware of the Code. He stood as ramrod-straight as a guard at Buckingham Palace, and as time slowly passed, it began looking more and more, to the casual observer in the congregation, like Jim was a catatonic trauma victim, and I was taking advantage of his paralysis to molest him.

Eventually, it became obvious that Jim was not going to hug me back no matter how long I stood grasping him, so I reluctantly let go. For the rest of the song service, I busied myself with cataloguing the potential cities to which I could flee, under the witness protection program.

Of course, once I got to know Jim, we had a few good laughs about the whole thing. To this day, he acts befuddled about the whole thing, saying he wasn’t used to hugging virtual strangers and was just “caught off guard” or something.

Which sounds a bit sketchy to me. But whatever.

Anyway, the next time you see me at church, or on the street, feel free to offer me a hug. But don’t be surprised if I dodge your embrace, whirl to the side, and throw my arm around your shoulder.

I’ve learned from the best, people. And Toto, I don’t think we’re in Georgia, anymore.

Cathy is a published author, friend, wife, mother, literary aficionado  and science geek extraordinaire. Follow her on twitter @cathylynnl and visit her blog at if you want your mind blown on a regular basis.


29 Comments Add yours

  1. Liz McLennan says:

    This is just plain awesome and I love, love, love that you fling yourself out there! I’m a touchy person, too and it has definitely caused a few ripples here and there. Keep on keepin’ on, Mama…everyone needs to feel connected, whether they know it or not!

    1. Ha! Well, I’m afraid the Westerners have rubbed off on me…I’m kind of back to my personal-space roots! But I sure like the hugs when I still get them…

  2. Having come from Georgia myself, I can tell you that this post is 100% true. When my Aunt Marlene would come in for a hug, you’d better take a deep breath and hold it… ’cause you weren’t comin’ up for air for a while!

    Unfortunately, us youth-group boys here in the west learned early that the church gossip mill (you know who you are) would grind our bones to powder if we were spied with any of our evil parts in proximity to a member of the opposite sex’s evil parts.

    Those of us who grew up to actually WORK in the church found that this scrutiny increased exponentially, with frequent reports going to the pastor of our lust-filled handshakes.

    1. Absolutely! The Georgians know how to hug…and there was somehow never anything untoward about them, either.

      Lust-filled handshakes…hilarious…

  3. Joy says:

    I love it, but I”m totally with Jim & Kenny. I’m not a hugger. Ask most people in the church and they’ll validate. Next time i see you, I’ll hold my hand up for a high-five, but don’t even think about getting your arms around me.

    1. I sort of straddle the fence on the whole thing, now. I’m good either way.

      Looking forward to the high-five. Or maybe a fist bump?

  4. robin lagrow says:

    I totally remember the first Kenny hug! Ha!! Here I was, visiting from Georgia, all excited about singing with him – feeling so honored that you pulled the necessary strings to bring me up on the worship team! I remember bounding over to you and Kenny and being introduced and I went in for the HUG! Bam – rejection at its finest! I stood there all baffled like – I don’t even know where my other arms is supposed to go now that’s it’s been ripped apart!! HaHaHa!! I’m glad he is a good sport – or else he may not like my comments!! I miss his music terribly! How about you guys just come on down to Georgia!

    1. You know it! You guys taught me to hug…I can’t imagine why it didn’t catch on, around here. 🙂

      Still miss those gigantic hugs, sometimes…

  5. bloggertiff says:

    We always called that a “church hug”. I hate it! I’m a hugger and that’s NOT a hug! I try to compromise by giving a “leaning hug” (a front hug with some space in between) for those who seem uncomfortable. But I’m really just a hugger at heart ❤

    1. You are a great hugger! I think now I probably wait and see what the other person is gonna do. I very rarely initiate hugs, these days! 🙂

      I think I’m about due for another one of yours…

  6. That’s too funny!

    They actually have a “side hugs only” policy between kids of opposite genders at the Christian school where my wife teaches. Which may or may not be at the same church as a pastor named Kenny and a guy named Jim….

    1. PS regarding the glam shot: this should have been taken in a late 50’s/early 60’s model convertible t-bird or corvette while driving along the Pacific Coast Highway between Malibu and Santa Barbara…..

    2. Well, I can understand having policies in place, I guess. It was somehow never any issue in the South, and I don’t understand why it wasn’t a problem there but it is here…

      But if you’re gonna error, maybe it’s best to error on the side of caution. Especially with young people. 🙂

  7. Jan says:

    Been there, done that and I was born in Michigan! We have been in several churches where full-on frontal hugs are absolutely frowned on as being “too suggestive” especially if the pastoral staff are involved. I believe in throwing yourself into it whole hog and kissing if that moves you. I even hold hands with my sisters (there are 5 of us) and kiss them too. Never give up; we all need as much love as we can get!

    1. “…whole hog and kissing…” I love it!!

      Yes, we all need love and affection. Hard to know where to draw the line…I’m glad we can all find a little humor in it, at least!

  8. Kari Olsen says:

    Hugs are amazing and somehow even being born and raised here, I missed the memo that said “get out of my comfort zone…No hugs in Oregon”. I just go for the kill when ever around people. “Get over here, put that hand away, I don’t shake hands, I HUG!!!” When I put it that way it is ALL good. People eventually begin to seek you out when they know you are the joyful “bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy,fun, fun, fun, fun, fun,” and if for some unknown reason they missed that hug on a Sunday morning they begin hunting you down, because they secretly want to be a huggy person too. One hug at a time we will change the world!!! Hugs for ALL. 🙂 cheers!

    1. “…go for the kill…” You people are slaying me. Too funny!

      And I love the idea of being hunted down for a hug…haven’t had that happen since Georgia. 🙂

      Cyber-hugs to you!

      1. bethyancey says:

        My 85 year old dad is known for hugging at his church (in Mountain Park, Portland no less). He’s been too ill to attend church the last few months, and the widows he regularly hugs miss him and those full on hugs. Mom isn’t a very good stand-in in the hug dept.

  9. Jim Ringseth says:

    I will say my name is Jim, because it is and I will say that this story is 100% true and the names were not changed to protect the innocent. lol It was pretty funny to hear what was going on in the mind of the person giving the hug at the time of the documented incident. 🙂
    Perry was spot on with his comments and I also was on staff at a church as an associate and youth pastor for 10 years before this story took place. Further more, my wife grew up as a pastor’s daughter that was part of a church that could have written the rules for hugs and ensuring that males and females never made contact unless it was your wife.
    I will say I have learned from the past. There were a few other victims of rejection after this documented occurrence but I have made progress now. So as to not traumatize anyone else, I pay more attention to the possible scenarios that could unfold when I come in contact with someone. I still have not reached the point that I will initiate any action beyond the hand shade of high five, but I try to read the body language and if someone goes in for the hug I now reciprocate accordingly.
    And yes, there probably needs to be a manual for this! lol

    1. Yes…it’s all true…and darn funny, too, at least now! Thank you for being such a good sport about the whole thing. 🙂

      I’m glad you have found a little freedom now…but if you’ve noticed…I haven’t gone in for a hug again!

      Thanks for giving me a great post.


    2. Jim Ringseth says:

      Clarification: The manual needs to be for the inept huggee’s not the huggers! Those in the West could learn a few things from those in Georgia!

  10. Jim Ringseth says:

    I now like Genese’s motto – Hugs until the heart melts.
    Hugs back at you!

    1. Jim…”hugs until the heart melts”…I LOVE this.

  11. Jerry (dad) says:

    I wish I could give you a big bear hug RIGHT now. dad

  12. Tiffany says:

    This is SO true! I live in the good o’le Pacific Northwest. Seattle to be exact. And, we are not friendly. I believe that if you are going to give a hug make it a good one. Squeeze. Really get in there. However, on more than 100 occasions, I’ve been met with the hug that consists of an arm both arms going around me, three light pats on my shoulder blades and then a quick release as if they might stay glued to me if they hug any longer.

    It is sad to me. We are not making out – we are just hugging. There is nothing wrong with a good hug. Perhaps Georgia is more my speed. 🙂

    1. You people are really making me laugh…really get in there…too much!

      You would totally LOVE Georgia. I did, and I wasn’t even a natural hugger when I moved there! That’s the kind of thing you can get used to, fast. 🙂

  13. hi-d says:

    Oh my goodness, Cathy! That was SO hilarious! I remember hearing that story from Kenny and Jim in our Lifegroup and getting some good laughs about it. Your version…with all of the detail and humor takes the cake! LOVE it!

    Don’t ever be afraid to hug me. I won’t reject you! haha…my Mom should live in the South, because she has been known to hug and kiss church folk…heck…she’ll even hug strangers she just met at the store. LOL…

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