On hugging: Is it the only way?

I’m not a hugger. I don’t know how it started. Maybe I’ve always been this way. Don’t pity me. I’m not damaged. There aren’t any bad hug experiences in my childhood. I don’t even mind being hugged. Physical affection does not bother me. My natural inclination, though, is to tell someone I think they’re neato, not to hug them.

I live in a huggy world, though. In the past several years, since I became an adult and got all self-aware, I’ve noticed it more, as have the people in my life. My friends are always pointing out and joking about the fact that I don’t hug. Folks, I am friends with some epic huggers. Their hugginess just magnifies my lack of hugginess. Since I find nothing morally, ethically, or hygienically offensive about hugging, I’ve been trying to get on board with the practice.

In March of 2008, when Madeline was born, I decided to make an effort to be a better hugger. I didn’t want her to feel like I loved her less than the other people in her life just because I’m not a hugger. This turned out to be super easy. I didn’t have to remind myself to hug her. It’s an automatic impulse every time I see her. Of course, when she was an infant and didn’t walk, being with her meant holding her, which is pretty much hugging. Now that she is mobile, though, there’s still a fair amount of holding. The situation is the same with Logan. When I’m around those two, all I want to do is hold them.

I doubt that any of my adult friends expect me to have this sort of reaction to seeing them. When I’m asked/forced to hug a grownup, it’s a quick, one-time only deal. (Unless, of course, I’m hugging Dan Swartz, in which case it’s a given that my ribs are going to get cracked. If you know this guy, you know what I mean. If you don’t know him, imagine a hairy wrench, big for a wrench but small for a human.) Because hugging doesn’t come naturally to me, these hugs with grownups are nearly always awkward. I never know how long to hug or how tightly to hug, and most importantly, I don’t know what to do with my hands. When I’m hugging Madeline or Logan, these issues don’t come up. I just hold on as long as they’ll let me.

The criticisms about my lack of hugging are usually presented in jest and teasing, but I wonder if not being a hugger makes me a bad friend. Being a loyal, reliable, solid friend is important to me. What if I never get the hang of the hugging? Is there another way for me to show my affection?