Relationships

Do You Hug and Kiss Your Friends? (What About Arm Tickles?)

Issa and Molly

On this rainy Wednesday, I’d love to ask a question I’ve been curious about: Do you kiss or hug your friends? Or are you happy to not be so touchy? I probably land on one extreme…

My friends generally fall along a spectrum: some aren’t touchy at all, some will give the odd hug, and some are very physically affectionate. What about you? Other than with my husband, kids and mom, I’m not naturally that touchy with people — I don’t instigate it — but I really like when others are.

After all, it feels really good! Playing with each other’s hair, getting a quick shoulder rub, walking arm in arm on the way to dinner… It’s all so endearing and lovely when it feels right to both people.

Affection can be person-specific, too. Although my friend Susan isn’t physically demonstrative with many loved ones, she holds hands with her bestie while walking down the street. “We live 3,000 miles apart, and when we visit each other, I’m just so happy to see her.”

Of course, friendships — and their norms — can change through different life stages. “My touch-y peak was in high school,” says Lina, a mom of two in Westchester. “I was always linking arms and lying on the couch entwined with people, but I don’t have the same closeness with my current mom friends. I miss it.”

My friend Gemma, who considers herself a “toucher” at heart, agrees. “When I’m social these days, we’re usually at a restaurant, and we’re rushed we have kids to get home to — we don’t have these long luxuriating times together.” But she says she still loves putting her head on someone’s shoulder, or playing with someone’s hair, should the opportunity arise. “And fairy tickles!” she adds. “You put your arm out, and your friend tickles the inside, and maybe you watch Notting Hill.”

When you’re not getting as much physical affection, has your body ever noticed it? I remember craving a hug when I moved to a new city after college. I actually fantasized about the physical pressure of platonic arms around my shoulders. Edith Zimmerman wrote a recent story for The Cut about how she wants to reclaim sensual pleasure among friends, in part because she needs it. “My life has been pretty solitary lately, and it can be weird to go for so long without being touched,” she explained. “It’s also weird to realize I’m sort of keeping track. Does a handshake count? A one-armed hug? I hugged a few people lightly at that one party…”

Maybe touching — or not — is a cultural thing? I’m a mix of Midwestern and English and didn’t grow up hugging or kissing many people other than relatives. But others do. “In Brazil, you kiss everyone you meet, and Brazilian hugs are stronger and longer,” says my Brazilian friend Gisela. “When I moved to New York, I bumped into a fellow school mom and went to hug and kiss her and she almost leapt back.” But after 12 years in the States, Gisela has acclimated to less frequent social touch. “When I visit Brazil, I now find it weird that I have to kiss everybody. At a dinner party, I’m like, there goes my next half hour!”

A few years ago, I read a fascinating 1960s study, in which psychologist Sidney Jourard studied conversations around the world between friends in a café. Americans, he discovered, touched only twice during the interaction. The French made contact over 180 times. (!)

After four decades, I’m getting into it. Recently, my friend Gemma returned from a long work trip after we hadn’t seen each other in forever, and she texted to invite me over: “Let’s eat and drink and fall into each other’s arms.” Honestly, nothing sounded better.

So, I’m curious: How often do you touch your friends? Has it changed? Do you wish you had more? Less? Please weigh in, I’d love to hear…

P.S. Five ways to teach kids consent, and who gets the best kisses?

(Top photo from Insecure; bottom photo from Friends.)

  1. Kim says...

    Sooo true about the French. I’m half-French half-American, but grew up primarily in the US (in the Puritan north east, no less). I spent my summers in France growing up and always dreaded the kissing etiquette. One summer in college I interned for local government, and each morning I absolutely dreaded the good morning dance I repeated daily with my bosses: handshake followed by “Oh, but come on, we can faire la bise!” followed by awkward cheek kisses with middle aged men. As a teenager I also noticed how my French girl friends always wanted to hold hands when we were hanging out and were just generally much more touchy than I was used to. I don’t mind SOME touching between friends but it was enough to make me feel uncomfortable, especially in public. And let’s not even talk about the differing attitudes around nudity between friends/family… my Puritan roots recoiled!

  2. tya says...

    i was grown up in the anti-touchy family until i met my husband (and his whole family) who happened to be extremely touch-er and can just hugs everyone they meet anytime anywhere. it was really awkward for me initially, but i got used to with all the hugs and kisses so we pass this habits to our son. then last night, my son made a strong statement after all these times, “mom, i don’t like kisses, i like cuddles”. i never realized that sentence really explains how i feel. i never like kisses, but i do love hugs, but since it had become a habit, i never said anything about it. so here we are, mother and son, ‘no kisses, just hugs’.

  3. JessicaD says...

    My grandfather died when my grandmother was still a relatively young age. She never dated or remarried and wasn’t overly affectionate, but when we would visit (infrequently b/c we lived far away), she would sweep us into hugs that would go on for ages. It was nice and fine for me, but I remember my mom bursting into tears when she realized that my grandma was *hungry* for physical touch and got it so infrequently. I still think about that and ask for a hug from friends who might not get them so often.

  4. Lil j says...

    Ooooooo, I love a good warm hug! From girl friends, guy friends, church friends, a dear co-worker in need, whomever. It causes me to take a deeeeep sigh of contentment. Obv, I am a “toucher” – I reach out in deep conversation to hold onto whomever I’m speaking with by the hand or the upper arm, or just reach out, period, even if we don’t actually touch. Once in a foreign country at a conference, we had to pantomime to guess the person being “acted out” and the one for me was a high-pitched greeting and upper arm rub with a giant cheek-splitting smile – ha! Everyone immediately guessed me. However, I am totally an intuitive “reader” as well – I would never head for a stranger or even a close friend if there weren’t clues of welcome. One of my very best college friends told me one day early in our friendship that she hated to be hugged, and ever since then I was hyper-aware and thankful for her saying something to me. Sometimes now she asks me for one, but not often. Funny, though, my husband’s family would kiss on the lips as adults and I was totally taken aback. For me, that had always been reserved for romance (even though they just pecked). My older brother always hated being touched too growing up, so I consider it a gift when he reaches out for me. Sometimes my best-est friend (who loves hugs, naps together, movie hang-outs, etc) gives me a hard, too tight hug, but I just count it as FIERCE love from her, and soak it in. They have four kiddos, and I have one, so we all love each other UP! We’re all so intricately put together! I love reading everyone’s reactions and commentary. Sending loving comforting touch to you all (if you want it!) Maybe I need to be a devotee of this hugging saint! https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/culture/article/2017/01/12/gurus-healing-touch-my-embrace-indias-hugging-saint

  5. Lara says...

    I live in Europe, where you kiss on both cheeks. I love to hug and hold my family and close friends. I love to throw my arm around my close girl-friends and mom when I’m with them, or link my arm through theirs. I’ve lived in SE Asia when physical touch is not really custom outside of family and married couples. PDA is a big no-no! My family is British but I grew up in the States in the South, where women seem to show more physical affection to their friends than in Britain. They hug HARD and they mean it!
    The right touch can convey a lot, you never know how much someone might need that touch. But I like to get to know someone to see what they’re comfortable with and what they respond happily too. And with friends and colleagues of the opposite sex, I am cautious to signals. Some of y’all get a two cheek kiss and some don’t ; )

  6. Katie says...

    I don’t always like to be touched but I love smelling my best friends’ hair! And I know they smell me too because once my maid of honor hadn’t seen me in a while and said “You smell like Katie!!” Weird, but I knew them in HS so it’s comforting when we’re back together. Group naps are a favorite too – not touching but cozy together.

  7. Caroline says...

    When I was going through a tough breakup one of my saving graces was babysitting my best friend’s toddlers. Not only was it wonderful to take care of someone else for a few hours but that touch barrier is so much thinner with kids. They love to hug, and climb, and snuggle. And my favorite…climb into your lap to read a book!

  8. Heather says...

    I live in Chile and everyone kisses. There aren’t so many hugs but rather, lean-in cheek kisses. When we moved here we knew no one and while I am not affectionate, I think I enjoyed it. It made me feel like I had instant connections. It’s completely natural now and when I head back to Texas for visits I have to coach myself to not say ‘Hola’, ‘Gracias’ or kiss anyone!

  9. Tiffani Green says...

    I tell my friends that I love them all the time, but I’m not much of a hugger. I typically hug people when I haven’t seen them for a long time, when I’m not going to see them for a long time or when they’re going through something difficult. I’m known for my firm boundaries around touch in my friend group and I have a great appreciation for the friends who respect that and ask before they touch me. But with that said, I’m softening a bit as both I and my friendships get older.

  10. Rachel says...

    I am a very affectionate person and have always loved hugs, handholds, and kisses. My two best girl friends were in the same program as me for 6 years of school. I sat between them and some days we would all hold hands. I adore them! I still remember hugging my Mom’s legs in her long, flowy when she was little and how sweet she always smelt! Affectionate relationships mean so much to me.

  11. Hannah says...

    I lived abroad for four months in Nepal and I wasn’t touched or hugged the whole time I was there (the Nepalese aren’t big on contact). I met a Belgian couple the week before I was due to fly home. The woman noticed that I’d been having a hard time and folded me up into a big hug when she left. It had been so long since anyone touched me I actually cried with the relief of being held. It sounds dramatic but going from the UK where everyone touches their friends and family a lot (at least in my social circles) it had felt so utterly isolating and lonely living somewhere by myself.

  12. Mo says...

    I’m an American living in Montreal and here everyone greets eachother with a double cheek kiss, one on each side! It took a bit to get used to and sometimes it’s a lot, but there’s also something so sweet and charming about it and I know part of me will miss it when we leave.

  13. jssatx says...

    Perfect meme for this post. That’s all. :)

  14. Berni says...

    I’ve always been reluctant of being and getting touched. I actually hate being touched on the subway or by people I don’t know or don’t particularly like, but since I’ve gotten older and my reputation of not liking to be touched has gotten around I’ve found myself aching for touch, and I do not know how to get it or ask for it. I sometimes daydream on how I would hug somebody. I am single and never had a boyfriend so I also daydream about holding someone’s hand or sleeping next to someone and being held. I wish I hadn’t reject all the love and touch I once was given.

  15. Kimberly says...

    This is so enlightening. I am truly thrilled that there is a whole spectrum and not a particular “normal”. I think it definitely depends on the person, it definitely depends on the context and it definitely changes in time. With that said, in regard to friends, I only hug my two best friends. It is awkward to even think about hugging others! I do not like acquaintance/socially obligatory hugs (extended family/in-laws). I am going to school for Elementary Education and I am absolutely going to be clear that I will take all of the high 5’s but please do not hug me! Hugs are personal! I am incredibly affectionate with my husband, children amd parents but the thought of other people all up in my personal space bubble is anxiety-inducing.

  16. pamela gene daley says...

    My spouse of 32 years died unexpectedly 3 years ago – I have hardly been touched since and I am bereft – now on several counts! My friends have either left me (“you’re too much!”) or don’t like to touch and I’m too poor/and don’t like nail things or hair things beyond cuts. Makes being alone much lonelier. My poor kitty!! She gets hugged so much she bites me!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Sending a long hug your way with a few gentle back pats. Xoxoxoxo

  17. Marcelle says...

    As a brazilian…. yep! we do hug and kiss a lot! <3

  18. Sadie says...

    I love touchy-feely friendships in theory, but I’m stolidly Midwestern and I feel like this is up there with dancing naturally– it requires a level of letting go I’m just not prepared for. Now I live in one of the parts of England where people kiss on the cheek and it’s taken so much getting used to! I just don’t recognise the cues when someone is leaning in for a cheek kiss. I always think they are going to whisper something to me. Then I look like an asshole because they’re given me a kiss and I haven’t even tried to kiss back. I’m starting to get used to it. Someday I may even attempt it myself.

  19. All. The. Time. My friends and I are all so affectionate with each other – cuddle puddles, hugs, kisses…affection doesn’t have to be and isn’t always sexual.

  20. Meagan R. says...

    I’m definitely affectionate with my friends! I compliment them at any opportunity but we’re also physically affectionate–men and women. We lay legs across laps on the couch, put our arms around each other’s shoulders while out and about, and they all know that it’s a rule in my house that you get hugged when you arrive and when you leave. Even my friend who is not much of a hugger has adjusted and admits he actually likes the guaranteed hug when leaving my home. He instigates it! It makes my heart happy.

  21. Lynn says...

    I was rewatching Grace and Frankie and in an early episode, while sitting together on a curb after a long night out, Frankie asks Grace to tickle her arm. It reminded me of being kids and drawing on each other’s backs.

    Other than childhood touching, I am a hugger only around very close friends. Otherwise, PERSONAL SPACE, people.

  22. Katie says...

    Relating to friend love (but not touch): The other day I was standing on the subway platform waiting for my train when another train pulled up. I noticed a lovely woman sitting with her back to me wearing pretty earrings, so I thought, “cute earrings!” to myself. Then I realized it was my best friend! I tapped on the glass and she turned around. We excitedly waved at each other and mouthed “I love you!” as her train pulled away. Then we texted each other about how cute the moment was, like a rom com!, and wished one another a good day. It made my morning! Isn’t friend-love glorious!? I actually feel a little bad that men don’t get to have the intimacy that women friends have with each other. We can really be outward with our love for each other that society implies men-friends cannot. Saying and hearing, “I love you”, a long hug, holding hands, or a soft rub on the back is good for everyone, not just women. Right?

    And relating to touch, I was told once that massage is used as therapy for people dealing with eating disorders. That people with anorexia who received regular massage were able to gain weight. I don’t remember the details, but I guess the touch of another person helps. I, of course, can imagine why.

  23. Melissa says...

    My son asked me the other day why his father and I don’t kiss our families very much. It was such a sweet observation and made me realize his dad and I are very good at showing physical affection to our son and I want to keep it that way. I told him sometimes when we get older we aren’t as affectionate with our parents but it doesn’t have to be that way. I told him I wanted to kiss and hug him for the rest of my life. Let’s hope he will want to as well.

  24. Kelly P says...

    I live so far from my closest friends now so I don’t have a lot of physical contact with just friends, other than a hug when we greet and depart. When I was in my 20s though I lived close to my bestie and we used to spend Sundays cuddling on her couch together under a blanket watching You’ve Got Mail. It was the best. I have a group of college friends that still gets together for Girls Weekends and whenever we do we sleep 2-3 to a bed in a rental house. That’s another fave of mine.

  25. Shelby G. says...

    Wow, love this. I actually have had this conversation a few times over the last few months. I am the type of person who does not feel uncomfortable if someone is “in my space” and I am also very affectionate with my family and friends. However, when people prefer not to be touched I am also very aware of how important it is to honor that preference and allow someone to be in charge of their own body. My dad was raised in the southern United States in a very formal and conservative home whereas my mom was raised also in the US but in a large Mexican-American family. Because of this, I grew up (at least with my mom’s family) kissing everyone and with an extremely affectionate family. It felt like I didn’t actually spend time with my abuela if I didn’t leave her house with lipstick on my face – now at almost 30 it is still the same. I’m very pro face kissing with friends but again, I know not everyone feels this way. I can also be very expressive and will grab the arm of a friend or colleague in a meeting or during a conversation. I try to have a “friend consent” conversation when I first meet someone to gauge how comfortable they are with physical contact just because it’s so important to how I interact with people and I want them to feel comfortable.

  26. Abbe says...

    Such an interesting topic! I’m not sure if anyone else has brought this up yet, but as a woman in the workplace one thing I HATE is when a male colleague will shake hands with all the men in a group and then give me a hug!!! UGH. I do not owe you physical touch, and it makes me feel disrespected and condescended to.

    Growing up, I would kiss my parents on the cheek and give them a hug before bed, but beyond that we weren’t super physically affectionate. My mother would always braid my hair though, and I still find that really soothing. We’re also South Asian-American, and in our culture, children are often fed from a mother’s hand when they’re younger (fun fact: they’ve done studies and apparently this food actually tastes better due to the unique oils in your mother’s hands vs anyone else’s!).

    I was expected to give everyone a hug goodbye at large family gatherings, which I HATED. I’m so glad people are talking about giving children the option to not touch people! I once got in trouble because I didn’t want to say goodbye to a bunch of (mostly strange) adults at a family gathering so threw a temper tantrum instead. If/when I have kids, I want to make sure they have the language and option to say when they’re uncomfortable with touch.

    Now, I don’t mind hugging people when they go in for it, but I usually don’t initiate hugs. I do like casual physical touches with friends and my partner though — not snuggles but just like casually touching while on couch, or bumping shoulders when standing next to each other. I feel like it’s a nice in between where you’re not invading someone’s space/bodily autonomy but still giving an affectionate “hey, I like you.”

    • Mae says...

      THIS. When I lived in the South, the executive director of our organization was a man, and he would greet everyone at social and work events with hugs for the women and handshakes for the men. There’s nothing quite like it–seeing your boss shake hands, like equals, with the four men in front of you, and then lean in for a hug when you get there, even though he doesn’t know your name.

  27. Kat says...

    I was about a month into a six month exchange student program as a 17 year-old high school senior (New Yorker who went to Australia) when I realized I hadn’t had a friendly family hug in four weeks. I wanted to make a shirt that said “hug an exchange student”!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      awww what a cute idea for a shirt!