I always laugh to myself when, during a hug, one person pats or rubs the other person on the back—as if a hug would be incomplete without it. Leaving Starbuck’s parking lot last night I glimpsed just that: A grandchild patting her grandma on the back as they said goodbye. Whenever I notice the universal hug rub it always gets me thinking: What makes a good hug? If bonding hormones increase when we hug, can we do better to make hugs more meaningful?
Those who hug well understand—consciously or not—that there’s much more being communicated by the simple act.
For years I treated hugs like handshakes, until I met Cady, the best hugger of my adolescence. She could envelop you in a loving presence unmatched by even the best patting. More than just a hard squeeze, there was a thoughtfulness behind each of her actions. It was as if her soul used the gift of touch to speak, even with layers of clothes in between.
Without uttering a word, she taught me that hugs are opportunities to connect directly with the whole of someone. She never once resorted to nervous patting and rubbing, but knew how to focus on the life present between her arms. She knew that so much of what we experience is unspeakable, especially our feelings for one another. She wasn't bothered by this lack of words, nor was she uncomfortable in her body—in fact this vulnerability was so contagious it hangs with me years later.
Next time you hug someone, let your body breathe you and allow yourself to be calm enough feel the life breathing against you. I hope you never want to let go.