Are You Blowing Your Hugs?

How to enjoy hugging without smushing your boobs or feeling infantilized.

Robert Cormack
Mar 30 · 6 min read
Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

I love bear hugs — but not the bear.” MineOhMine

I’m no expert on hugging, other than I had a rich aunt who squeezed me like orange all through my childhood. My parents told me I wouldn’t get an inheritance from her if I didn’t stop squealing, so I smiled and smelled like my aunt’s perfume for the next ten years. Later in life, I had flashbacks every time someone gave me a hug, which eventually turned into an orange phobia.

I’m dealing with it, believe me, but let’s get back to hugs — your hugs — and why you’re blowing it worse than my aunt.

Hugging, if done right, is very therapeutic. This comes from many experts, some of whom wouldn’t know a good hug from a bad one since they’re so busy studying everyone else. Anyway, they claim hugging activates the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body. With credentials like that, you have to believe it’s an important nerve.

Without getting too technical, it seems activating the vagus lowers your heart rate and makes you feel like a million bucks. That’s if you’re not squeezing someone like an orange presser. Then it does the opposite. I’m a prime example. I looked thirty when I was eight. On top of that, I might’ve suffered spinal damage, seeing as my aunt was stronger than normal. By the time she lost her muscle mass, I was in university and could outrun her.

Are we natural huggers or is it a learned gift? And was my aunt directly responsible for my orange phobia?

Let me start by saying that hugging requires nothing more than common sense. If you don’t have that, don’t hug. Secondly, if you don’t know your own strength, leave little nephews with future orange phobias alone.

From there, it’s really just a matter of following basic rules. Start with the person you’re hugging. Are they taller or shorter? This determines who’s the top hugger and who’s the bottom hugger. Top huggers should concentrate on the shoulders or the head. Smaller huggers should aim for the waist (or knees if you’re a real pint-sizer).

This is known as the height-to-reach ratio, something every couple should follow if they don’t want to risk injury. Take the case of BuffyPilotKnob. She obviously ignored her height-to-reach ratio and suffered as a result. “My husband is six foot six,” she explained on Ask Women. “When I try to be a top hugger, we throw our backs out.” My aunt would’ve called that stupid.

I started out hugging mannequins. I didn’t know what smushed boobs were until I was forty.

Here’s another problem related to size. If you’re under, let’s say, five two, men seem to think hugging should include spinning you around or tossing you over their shoulders. This clearly shows a lack of respect. “It makes me feel small and infantilized,” one woman said. “And I worry about being dropped, probably into a pool of piranhas.” That would scare the crap out of me, too. After twenty years of orange phobias, the last thing I need is a piranha phobia.

Men need to stop thinking small women enjoy being swept off their feet. Romantically, yes, physically, no. How would you like it if a woman tossed you over their shoulder? You’d probably bawl your eyes out.

Women, by nature, are more respectful, and less likely to rest their drinks on small men’s heads.

Anthropologists at the Leipzig Zoo in Germany found something similar when they studied chimpanzees. Chimps don’t assume dominant roles when they hug. If you’re larger, you’re a top hugger. If you’re smaller, you jump up and down on the other’s feet. For them, it’s actually more fun being smaller.

In the same study, chimpanzees were separated into groups at night. In the morning, when reunited again, they immediately ran to hug each other. Humans, on the other hand, demand to know where their partner was all night. If the partner can’t come up with a good explanation or smells of perfume (like I did for ten years) they ain’t getting a hug.

Here’s another difference separating us from our primate brethren. Some people only want to hug their partner or close friends. They hate casual hugs like at weddings and bowling matches. There’s actually a biological reason for this. Like I said before, hugging stimulates the vagus nerve which stimulates oxytocin, better known as the “the love hormone.”

“My rule of thumb,” ForgetMeNot said, “is if the hug lasts more than ten seconds, my knee’s going for his stones.”

Others, like Mahayana, lay it out in their own provocative language. “Please do not take away my control over my body unless we’re fucking,” she said, “in which case you can do pretty much whatever you want to me.”

What bowler would argue with that?

This doesn’t mean hugging has to be a game of rules, minefields and kicks to the stones. For most people, as long as hugging doesn’t get out of hand, it’s one of life’s greatest joys. Couples should practice it daily. Take a page from those chimps at the Leipzig Zoo. Separate them for one night and they’re hugging each other like it’s a banana parade.

If it gets sexual, do what the chimps do. Make a day of it. Hell, make a whole month of it. We’ve got time on our hands with this pandemic.

Healthier, too. Hugs may be the healthiest thing you do all year.

Robert Cormack is a novelist, satirist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive) is available through Skyhorse Press. You can read Robert’s other articles and stories at

The Shadow

Inspire and entertain

Robert Cormack

Written by

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

The Shadow

We publish inspiring stories about different topics for a productive and entertaining life

Robert Cormack

Written by

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

The Shadow

We publish inspiring stories about different topics for a productive and entertaining life

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