Weak-ass hugs.

I’m not a hugger. I don’t like hugs; I never really have. My mom tells me I’ve been “hands off my body” since I was a child.

It makes the freezing that goes along with the sexual assaults I’ve experienced ironic; you’d think I’d fight like a demon against encroachments into my personal space since it bothers me so much. That’s not how it’s historically worked.

Despite my dislike, I’ve tolerated unwanted hugs for most of my life. People don’t really think of hugs as a violation. It wasn’t until I started seeing my current therapist that I was able to articulate the boundary, able to say to friends when they dove in for the apparently obligatory, clutch-filled greetings and leave-takings, that I didn’t like hugs. That asking them to abstain, or at least ask before pulling me into an embrace was not a reflection of our friendship but a “me” thing.

Most people were good about it. A few were not. They’d approach when we met and offer the following: “I know you told me you don’t like hugs but I’m giving you one anyhow.” As if their caveat made their willingness to disregard my request acceptable.

Thanks for respecting my boundaries.

I give in on this issue often, even though I don’t really want to, because standing your ground vis a vis “no hugs” is hard. People look puzzled and sad; they give me, “why are you rejecting my love” puppy dog eyes.

Even worse is that many of the unwanted hugs are awful. If you’re going to deliberately violate my boundaries, do it well.

When I was in my early double digits – sometime around the eleven- or twelve-year-old mark – I read a book that included a section on handshakes. I’m pretty sure it was an etiquette book. I went through a phase where I devoured them. I wanted to know which fork to use. I wanted to know the proper way to address an envelope. I was obsessed with doing everything right, no matter the arena.

The demon of perfectionism is hard-wired into my brain and manifests in a multiplicity of areas. It’s a constant battle.

A handshake is an important skill to master. Perhaps it’s becoming less so; people don’t seem to shake as much as they used to. Still, it does come up. You’d think people would want to do it well but a shocking number of people don’t.

Women, in particular, do it badly. I chalk this up to the roles we still have to play in public: be quiet, be supportive, don’t make waves, don’t be a bitch or a ball-buster. Definitely don’t show determination with a firm and robust handshake.

Whatever issues I have, a weak handshake isn’t one of them. I take pride in the quality I bring to the clasp. Firm, not too vigorous, no sweaty palm, not over-enthusiastic shaking.

It’s something I do well. It’s off-putting when someone does not. When someone stretches out their hand to you and you’re met with a limp, damp, weak, and less-than-a-shake-and-more-of-a-twitch, well, that’s a miserable experience. In me, it generates an internal lip curl and a “seriously?”

I resent that they don’t do a better job with the exchange. Judgmental for sure and I should probably work on that, and I will, as soon as they hie themselves off to handshake camp.

Bad hugs engender the same reaction, although it has to fight for space with the overwhelming feeling of being attacked and constrained. But, if I have to tolerate a hug from someone, they’d better make sure they do it well.

Firm arms but don’t choke me; really, stay away from the neck. Don’t pat the back too often; this isn’t consolation (unless it is, in which case, still don’t pat the back too often; it starts to feel like you’re trying to clear my throat).

Don’t smush your pelvis up against mine. I’ve created an A-frame space. Respect the A-frame.

Don’t hold onto me for too long. This is not the last time we’ll see each other before I put out to sea.

Finally, if you ask me for a hug and I say “no” don’t take it personally. Don’t be offended. Some people have a large personal space bubble. Some people don’t like random touches. Respect that I’m one of those without engaging in the “what’s wrong with you; everyone needs hugs; without human touch, we die, you know” conversations I’ve heard over and over.

A good handshake is a must. A good hug is a must. But so is respect for other people’s boundaries.

What boundaries of yours do people regularly infringe upon?

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