Women have hugged me most of my life, but I was in my 20s when I went to a church where a one-armed man named Benny hugged me. It felt uncomfortable. But over time I learned to receive hugs from men and enjoy them.
The important lesson was that I learned the difference between safe hugs and unsafe hugs. My first awareness of an unsafe embrace came at a men’s conference. The speaker told us to move around and hug at least five other men.
A man I didn’t know grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me tightly against his body. It didn’t feel good, and I’m not sure how to describe the difference. I sense that most of us know when it happens. Maybe he held me a little too long and certainly too tightly.
Not feeling comfortable discussing it with other men at the conference, a few days later I chatted with three women at church. “Do you feel a difference in the kind of hugs you receive?” I asked.
Without hesitating, all three said they did. “I can tell if a man is trying to hit on me by the way he grabs me.” In essence, that’s the statement each of them made.
Like me, they were unable to define exactly how they knew, but they did.
That distinction helped me a great deal. A couple of years after that my wife and I moved from Atlanta to Louisville, Kentucky, for a four-year period. I joined a men’s group and became actively involved.
Occasionally I felt unsafe hugs and tried to avoid those men. One of them, Eric, invited me to have dinner with him, and I gave him an excuse. A few weeks later he asked me again, and I turned him down. He didn’t ask a third time.
About that time, I heard rumors about Eric being on the prowl for other men. I knew I had made the right decision.
I’m grateful that I sensed the difference. And I think most of us do.
How about you? Have you experienced both kind of hugs? If so, how do you explain the difference?