Confession of a non-hugger

Confession of a non-hugger


During daily Mass today, the priest in his homily said that since we’re all one big happy family, we should hug one another during the Sign of Peace. For my part I said to my buddy sitting next to me, “Don’t even think about it.”

Yes, I hear all the time how stiff and frozen we New England, European-heritage Catholics are, especially compared to our Hispanic brethren. Hey, I thought we were all about cultural diversity. Well, in my culture we don’t get all huggy with strangers and mere acquaintances. At least, I don’t.

I have several reasons for my stance. For one thing, this was a Mass at my workplace in the new Archdiocesan Pastoral Center. Even though this is a religious celebration, I think it would be inappropriate for me to start hugging my co-workers. Second, while the people to my left and right were men—in which case a biff to the shoulder is as close to a hug as they’ll get from me—in front and behind me were women, including three much younger, unmarried women.

Maybe I’m old fashioned or just over-sensitive, but out of respect for my wife, as a policy with rare exceptions, I don’t hug women outside my family, especially younger unmarried women. (One exception was last Friday when one of my long-time temps left us. She wanted to give me a hug in thanks and goodbye and I agreed since it was her last day and it seemed to be the thing to do at the moment.) It seems to me that a hug is just too intimate to be shared with just anyone, only one step removed from a kiss. You may say I’m being silly, but I say that it’s a partially a byproduct of an oversexualized culture and partially my own desire to make hugging more than just a fleeting fancy.

Maybe I’m old fashioned or just over-sensitive, but out of respect for my wife ... I don’t hug women outside my family.

Several years ago I volunteered in my parish’s youth ministry program and the youth minister, an old friend, insisted that the adult volunteers should be giving all the kids hugs whenever we see them because they don’t normally feel the love from the Church. (Suffice to say that this was pre-2002.) I flatly refused because that just seemed like he was asking for problems. Sure enough, the program’s decline started about the time one of the volunteers was revealed as showing too much interest in one of the kids. Nothing illegal, immoral, or even unethical, just … inappropriate.

Now, if you’re one of those affectionate people who likes to hug everyone you meet, that’s fine for you. But keep in mind that there are those of us out there who don’t feel the same way, so please don’t get offended. It’s just not my culture and cultural differences aren’t bad. They’re just different.

Photo credit: Kalandrakas on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

  • I agree that hugs should not be forced by ANY MEANS. For all this talk about multiculturalism, we fail to recognize that not all cultures are “huggy.”  And some people feel very, VERY uncomfortable, since you’re violating their sense of proper, intimate space. 

    And I’m hispanic, and I don’t hug strangers.  Amigos o quizá compañeros, sí, someone I don’t know, no, because that could be considered a lack of respect in some circles.

  • Better hope you don’t have to start doing the Holy Kiss soon.  I was reading somewhere that the Early Church had to make a rule that no one could open their mouth during the kiss of peace.

  • I am a priest in Switzerland and it has been 20 years since I saw people hugging each other, i.e., since I was in the States.  Didn’t miss it a bit.  There is no need for it.  WHAT are you trying to convey by a hug?  Hugging is an intimate expression that I don’t feel for other guys!  There’s just no need for it.  Nobody does it here and yet they have very profound friendships (I am speaking of friends).  They do exchange the 3 kisses and yet that is far less intimate because you are only touching the cheeks and the body is separated from the other body.

    Best, don Jeffry

  • I have several reasons for my stance.

    I don’t think there is need to explain a “stance” on this.

    I’m with you about getting too close in proximity to others of the opposite sex. I think people should be careful about getting “too close” to to the opposite sex and risk sending the wrong impression. It seems only natural to me and more instinctive than intellectual.

    Like many other people, I am not “huggy”. This type of thing doesn’t make me happy, it makes me uncomfortable. And I am quite affectionate with my family, I just have a thing about personal space.

    For all this talk about multiculturalism, we fail to recognize that not all cultures are “huggy.”

    As far as multi-culturalism goes, I’m half West Indian, and we are about the stiffest people in the world in terms of PDA (I have heard it is from our British background). I actually have no idea if that is the source of my “issue” but the point is if people want to make a multi-cultural argument, I’m sure one is as good as the next.

    I was taught for the sign of peace, to shake hands to the person right of you and left of you, so it doesn’t become a 3-ring circus and the focus of Mass as opposed to Communion. But that was so long ago by an orthodox nun and maybe that was for the sake of keeping second graders in line. wink

  • I also cut the people some slack and don’t always tell them to exchange the sign of peace.  It is optional in the Italian Roman Missal.

  • Agreed.  “Offer one another a sign of peace” in our culture means a handshake.  If I was instructed to hug another parishioner, I would ignore it and extend my hand for the usual shake.

  • Telling people to hug is…“icky,” for want of a better word.  It’s taken me fifty years to become something of an occasional spontaneous hugger with anyone outside of my closest family members. And that is sufficient. 

    And I like what Pansy had to say about too much hand shaking, too.  I see some people intent on making contact with as many others as possible and it just has such an irreverent free-for-all effect.

  • I am totally a hugger (and not of European descent), but I think hugging anyone other than hubby and kids during Mass is kind of weird.

  • My work has taken me to Asia for close to 15 years now, and I have observed that at the Sign of Peace in Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, a simple bow will do.  My first time to Asia, to Singapore to be specific, the a women next to me seemed to be “taken back” when I extended my hand.

    Different cultures, different traditions, with not one being better than the other in this matter.

  • Hey, I’m totally with you here. Call me a stiff and unfriendly German-American (why is nobody ever a German-American anymore? Or Irish-American?) but the only time I hug people I don’t know well is at Lord’s Days at Steubie, and those are always other girls (well, once I hugged all the members of my brother household but by then I knew them pretty well). The only people whom I hug as a form of greeting are my family, close female friends, and my boyfriend. As for my boyfriend (who’s of Italian descent) other than me and his family members he only occasionally hugs other guys. Even that’s optional, he usually goes more for a firm handshake. Once when we were at a party this girl who was obviously a hugger was giving everyone hugs and he gave her a handshake, afterwards she asked, “Do you want a hug too?” and he said, “No thank you.”

    In conclusion (because you might have lost the point of my comment in all that rambling) I don’t get the undue familiarity that’s often foisted upon us by our culture. No offense, but I’d put my foot down if my employer instructed my male coworkers to hug me, and I would be rather uncomfortable if I’d heard that my boyfriend was being instructed to hug his female coworkers.

  • I would be personally offended if someone instructed me to hug someone else!  That’s very presumptuous.  I’m an affectionate person, when and with whom it is appropriate, but sometimes I think the whole world has gone hug-happy.  Twenty years ago, hugging in the workplace was not even a concept.

  • “we should hug one another during the Sign of Peace.”

    No thanks. 

    Fr. Charles Higgins, now the pastor of Mary Immaculate in Newton, was parochial vicar at my adopted parish of St. Theresa’s in West Roxbury for several years. Even when offering the Ordinary Form Mass, Fr. Higgins routinely omits the Sign of Peace. At first it seemed kind of awkward to me, but one nice thing about a person in any circumstance of life who does things a bit differently (and “differently” in Fr. Higgins’ case usually means “more authentically”) is that it prompts you to think, “Yeah, why DO we do this? Should we be doing this at all?” etc. 

    I’ve talked to a few people about the Sign of Peace and I have come to feel that it has no place in the Mass. Isn’t the Mass meant to be “vertical,” ie, us worshiping God? If this is the case, then expressions of “horizontal” affection, ie, human to human, don’t really seem appropriate. And the Sign of Peace seems especially inappropriate to be placed chronologically AFTER the consecration.

    When the priest says, “Now let us offer each other a sign of peace,” I hesitate, look around me, and give a brief wave or nod of my head. I’ll shake a person’s hand if he or she offers it to me, but that’s it. I’m sorry, HUG someone? Um, no. What a creepy suggestion, and it’s unbelievable that in an era after all the sex abuse crimes have come to light, a priest would encourage that.

    It’s good to know some guys feel that hugging women who are not your wife/family member is inappropriate. Not all husbands feel that way. I’m not comfortable being hugged by married guys, or most guys in general, actually. I have a guy friend at church who hugs me at Christmas time, and I’m okay with that, because he’s not married and I like him as a person. A quick peck on the cheek from a male acquaintance is okay too, if you haven’t seen the person in a long time, because the contact there is minimal. Hugs probably shouldn’t happen at all between a married person and someone not his/her spouse, but if it does happen, it should be the woman who initiates it anyways.

  • I am totally in agreement with you. People act hostile when I am reserved and they become frankly uncharitable. People are not taught about respecting people’s physical boundaries ,modesty is unknown and sneered at.  At Mass they seem bent on intruding into our interior life by accosting us physically, and chattering endlessly. It is an orchestrated attack to keep us from actually spending the time in union with God in prayer because they are all worshipping each other instead…do I hear hands clapping?
    no? thank goodness.

  • Actually Joanne, Mass is not just vertical, it is supposed to be horizontal as well. It is communion, not just with God, but with the whole Body of Christ, the community, which is the Church. So it is not just a “me and thee” experience.

    However, that theological understanding has been used to introduce a whole host of touchy-feely innovations, from the grip-and-grin before Mass to the huggy Sign of Peace to what have you.

  • “Mass is not just vertical, it is supposed to be horizontal as well.

    Hm. Will have to think about that. At first glance, though, I’d still have to say I prefer no outward Sign of Peace. I can show “horizontal” regard for the Christian community in the Mass by my prayers, and I suppose in fact, at least some of those prayers are actually made concrete in the form of the Prayers of the Faithful. And just being at Mass at all shows a desire for communion with the Catholic faithful.

    “People act hostile when I am reserved”

    I am always afraid that the people around me will interpret my lack of participation in the Sign of Peace as hostility towards them, or snobbishness, or something negative. I do smile to the people around me that I know before and after Mass, which I alway have done, but now seems even more important since I have started refraining from handshaking, etc, at the Sign of Peace time. I have also recently started wearing a chapel veil, so probably people just think that the two, ie, nonparticipation in the Sign of Peace and wearing a chapel veil, are related, which I guess they are.

  • During daily Mass today, the priest in his homily said that since we’re all one big happy family, we should hug one another during the Sign of Peace.

    He’s wrong.

    If we are, indeed, “one big happy family,” we should love each other enough to carry each family member with us into Heaven as best as we can.

    Note that this remark was made during the <u>homily.</u> Preachin’ huggin’ ain’t exactly preachin’ heaven.

    The priest should be informed of his inappropriate (at best) catechesis.

    On the other hand, Dom o’ mine, you’re blessed to be able to attend daily Mass at work! grin

  • At my parish we’re are asked to say a quick hello to the other parishioners around us prior to the start of Mass, which sounds like a much better way then hugs.

  • I agree with Domenico about the horizontal aspect.  It’s supposed to be a sign of peace which the Eucharist has effected among us. Supposedly, in the earliest days, if there was known rencor or animosity between you and another, the both of you would be denied communion, until peace had been established. 

    Now, the offer of peace to one another IS optional in the rubrics, although the initial part is not (the priest offering peace and the people responding).  I think catechesis about deepening the meaning of the Sign, so it’s not _just_ a social moment, may help, as well as sensitivity to others who do not feel comfortable hugging.

  • (One exception was last Friday when one of my long-time temps left us. She wanted to give me a hug in thanks and goodbye and I agreed since it was her last day and it seemed to be the thing to do at the moment.)

    Dom, in this case the woman initiated the act, which is within her prerogative when done reasonably. It would not have been within yours. Same goes for kissing a woman’s hand; that is, only when she offers it for that purpose.

  • Hi, Kelly!

    Good to know that neither of us will be offended if the other is not all huggy during the Mass!  We can hug before or afterwards, perhaps, or on Ellison 6!

    Hope to see you soon around Boston somewhere smile

  • Hello Dom,

    The mass has both vertical and horizontal theological dimensions – and I think it’s hard to deny that this is one more proof of how the latter has been emphasized in American liturgical practice to the detriment of the former.

    I might note that I just returned from spending the summer in Poland.  The universal pacticer seemed to be – when the Sign was used at all – for parishioners to give each other a curt nod.  To say the least, I was impressed.  And relieved.

    There was one exception to that: the English language mass offered in downtown Krakow, frequented mostly by Americans.

  • You have every right to limit your hugging Dom.  But tbh you look like you could be the cuddliest man alive!

    As far as youth ministry and hugging kids, when I did (waaaay before 02) I made it a rule that I never initiated a hug with a kid.  If they initiated it, that was fine.  I understand the philosophy of not hugging kids, but we are a tactile species.  And while we do live in a overly sexualized society, its important to model non sexual affirming touch with children and teens.

    that’s my two cents

    Oh and Mrs Clark, if we were to ever meet in person, I apologize in advance for the huge hug you will receive from me.