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Remember a few years back when “I’m a hugger” was a descriptor people would ascribe to themselves as casually as “I’m a Virgo?” Hugging—hello, goodbye and everything in between—was seen as friendly and kind. Now, though, we’ve noticed the tide shifting a bit, and hugging someone without their permission can come across as rude or insensitive. Let’s take a look at both sides.

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woman hugging a man
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Yes! Hug Away

It’s just a hug, right? Huggers—whether they call themselves that or not—tend to see their gestures as warm and welcoming. Studies (like this one from University Milano-Bicocca) have determined that embracing someone can boost your immune system. Hugging someone right after meeting them shows them that you’re a kind person who’s open and friendly. Anyway, it’s just a hug. What could be so uncomfortable about that?

two women shaking hands
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Hmm...Maybe Hold Off

On the other side of the coin, unwanted (or, at least, unwelcome) physical contact can be seen as disrespectful or an invasion of space. When you think about it, hugging is pretty intimate (we’d argue even more so than a peck on the cheek) so it does make sense that, if you’re not comfortable with a person yet, he or she should make sure you’re cool with a hug before going in. Besides, it’s not like you’re telling them never to hug again. Refraining from an off-the-bat bear hug is a small courtesy that might make some people feel more comfortable.

women smiling over coffee
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So, Who's Right?

Here’s our two cents: When it comes to hugging when you first meet someone, there are a few ways to avoid a faux pas. First, try to rely on context clues and the other person’s vibe. If you’re in a work setting, for example, hold off. If you’re somewhere more social, but the woman you’re being introduced to is keeping her distance, maybe start off with a handshake or wave. But if she comes sashaying toward you, arms open (and you’re on board), hug away. Also take the temperature of the room you’re in. If no one else in the room is hugging, it’s probably not the time to hug. Finally, be aware of cultural guidelines around hugging—especially if you’re traveling outside the U.S. (which, in our experience, is very generous with physical contact).

In general, use your best judgement, but don’t be too offended if your attempt at an embrace is met with the opposite of that old line: “Sorry, I’m not really a hugger.”

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