December 11, 2005 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Please explain to me about hugging and social touching in human relationships.

Do you hug/socially touch your parents? Siblings (male/female)? Single friends (male/female)? Coupled friends (male/female)? What kind of touching: Greetings? Brief arm/knee touches as punctuations during conversation? Platonic neck rubs? Affectionate hand-holding? Jokey sexual touching (like butt pinching)? Do you touch differently depending on the depth of your friendship with a person? Depending on how warm/physically oriented the other person is?

At what times and in what circumstances does social touching indicate flirting?
posted by xo to Human Relations (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I hug my parents, sister, and some female friends. I hug some male friends in certain circumstances, but that's more the exception than the rule.

Other than greetings and goodbyes, I rarely use physical contact with someone I'm not flirting with, except to get their attention.

Why do you ask?
posted by justkevin at 7:34 PM on December 11, 2005

It seems to be very social-group-specific:
I'm from England, used to hug my parents and lip-kiss them as a child.
Living in the US for 20 years I hug my kids and cheek-kiss them.
My Brazilian friends are much more into hugs & kisses than my family.
My US friends are much less into hugs than we, and are are almost never seen to kiss (as social interaction).
posted by anadem at 7:51 PM on December 11, 2005

Do you hug/socially touch your parents? Yes. I hug my father, but we shake hands more often. I hug my mother, and kiss my mother (both on cheek and mouth).
Siblings (male/female)? I have two sisters, and we don't ever touch.
Single friends (male/female)? Oddly, I have almost no physical contact with my two best friends (both female; I'm male).
What kind of touching:
Greetings? Hand-slap, hand-shake casually. I cheek-kiss some female friends on goodbye.
Brief arm/knee touches as punctuations during conversation? Almost never. I prefer direct eye contact.
Platonic neck rubs? Not as much since high school. I take requests, though.
Affectionate hand-holding? It's been known to happen on dates with women, but never for long stretches. My hands are usually clammy, so it makes me uncomfortable.
Jokey sexual touching (like butt pinching)? Surprisingly, I get my ass grabbed (and various) more often than I do it anymore. Mainly by married, older co-workers; I have no idea what to do with it. As for my end, it's not worth the risk these days.
Do you touch differently depending on the depth of your friendship with a person? Absolutely. But to me your question implies distinct depths that relationships can slot into, and I don't think touching habits would necessarily follow those distinctions.
Depending on how warm/physically oriented the other person is? I think physical orientation is just another stage of touching. If you're slouched on a couch with a girl it's way different than if you were sitting in separate chairs with a foot of space between each other. Campfires are a delightful exception to any of this, however.

At what times and in what circumstances does social touching indicate flirting? I can't think of any standards for this; I evaluate social touching/flirtation on a case-by-case basis.

I think you'll find that as you interact with more and more people in your life things start to get more and more complicated. As easy as it is to categorize people in general, touching is never a group thing (orgies aside) and thus defies categorization. It's a specific interaction between two individuals that are unique to any other two individuals.

the internets are different. muah!
posted by carsonb at 8:16 PM on December 11, 2005

Almost none, including with family. (American male mid-20's.) Receiving friendly hugs/kisses is great, but giving them unprompted is very uncomfortable for me.

I've been told on several occasions that this is "unhealthy" and/or "pathological" -- is it? I've always just chalked it up to differences in upbringing (from being of Asian descent).
posted by DaShiv at 8:19 PM on December 11, 2005

xo. heh.
posted by carsonb at 8:21 PM on December 11, 2005

Most of my close male friends hug, especially if we haven't seen each other in awhile. Same with the females.
For me, it depends on my relationship with the person. Some people are definitely more open than others and will usually give off the vibe if they are uncomfortable with it.
posted by black8 at 8:26 PM on December 11, 2005

I think it has a lot to do with the individual. I have a lot of Latin American friends. Kissing and hugging them is fine, and nothing has ever made me uncomfortable because their behavior is routine and seems genuine. But when people act out of character, it freaks me out. I've had to shower after being given an unsolicited neck rub but an uncomfortable colleague.

Personally, I am from a very affectionate wasp family. We hug and kiss, but mostly within the family. I kiss and hug some friends, but only those who seem to enjoy demonstrative behavior. Being from reserved culture, I kiss and hug only when I am really comfortable.

There are exceptions though. Gay men lip-kiss very casually, much like straight guys shake hands. I have professors who lip kiss me, and it's definitely just a gay thing. But gay men are really interested in someone, we'll hold off for the real thing, offering a hand or a casual hug. At least this is how I do it.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:35 PM on December 11, 2005

Sorry. If gay men are really interested in someone sexually, they/we will back off and wait for the real thing.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:37 PM on December 11, 2005

I'll agree with the gay man observation. I flirt viciously with the guys at work, but it's sexual only in content and never in intent.
posted by carsonb at 8:46 PM on December 11, 2005

Family: Barely hugging, sometimes. No kissing, etc. It feels awkward and weird.

Friends: Depends on the friend's comfort level. I am fine with cuddling and kissing (non-mouth) my male and female friends, but am very aware that most people's comfort levels are before this amount of contact, so I try to judge it by them and usually end up limiting it to hugging. Ass-slapping and the occasional boob-poke are done in a joking, open manner, once in a great while if we're horsing around.

I accept and give neck rubs, and whatever. No knee touching/hand-holding/constant physical contact, unless in the context of cuddling.

Strangers: Hand-shaking, and that's it until we become friends.

I used to be very freaked out by physical contact from anyone. Now pretty much not at all from friends, though it remains for family.
posted by schroedinger at 8:49 PM on December 11, 2005

Gay men lip-kiss very casually, much like straight guys shake hands. I have professors who lip kiss me, and it's definitely just a gay thing. But gay men are really interested in someone, we'll hold off for the real thing, offering a hand or a casual hug.

Offering one more gay-male perspective into the mix. (This is such an individual-based question.)

I grew up as something of an "island" as a person, so it's only in the last few years (I'm 29) that I've managed to re-wire my feelings about proximity and tactile relationships with people. Having more or less raised myself since an early age, It's only through my particular group of friends that I've managed to get comfortable with all of this stuff over time.

I keep very few close friends, and I hug every single one. I walk arm-in-arm with a select few of my friends (mixed genders). I've never had friends who were into hand-holding, so this is alien to my vocabulary except in a relationship context. I never kiss someone socially unless they kiss first, and then it's only cheek-to-cheek. I don't lip-kiss anyone except boyfriends.

On a related topic, I have a fair amount of latitude towards a few ex-boyfriends to whom I remain close. All of the above still applies, but playful faux-sexual touching can get thrown into the mix; we occasionally offer clothed backrubs or neck rubs if one of us is visibly stressed or in pain; we cuddle up for movie nights, etc etc. I don't cross the sexual line with ex'es for all the usual sensible reasons.
posted by mykescipark at 8:53 PM on December 11, 2005

Definitely social-group-specific.

When I was in college, I'd hug everyone the first time I saw them when I was back in my hometown.

Now, I hug (right arm over shoulder, left arm around waist, II-type, rather than A-type, head to the left) my friends who are homosexual who I haven't seen for >~6 months, the handshake between stomaches/left-arm around shoulders, closer to A-type than I-type, with heterosexual friends whom I haven't seen for >~6 months unless they're the really close friends - then we hug closer to II-type than A-type.

My rugby friends (male and female) are very bodily contact happy. We joke about faux homosexuality and faux homosexual intimacy (I went out for a toke, returned, buddy had arm around "my" chair whilst smooching girl friend some chick-who-really-wants-him-despite-his-only-wanting-sex-from-her who released "my" chair from hostage upon my return - "Oh <name> no worries. I wanted a snuggle anyway (jokingly)."

- proceeds to get snuggled.

/hetero male
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:00 PM on December 11, 2005

Family and close friends I haven't seen for a while always get hugs for greeting and goodbye. If they're cheek-kissy people, I'll reciprocate.

Otherwise, friends get hugs for consolation, congratulation, or other special purposes. Gender and status doesn't matter.

I always introduce myself by shaking hands. I sometimes walk arm in arm with one of my parents. Generally, I only hold hands with children, romantic partners, or people in pain or distress. I hardly ever do any of the other kinds of touching listed.
posted by tangerine at 9:05 PM on December 11, 2005

Ew, I never lip-kiss anyone unless it's going to be followed with a tongue. I'm totally thrown off by it when someone else tries to kiss me on the lips in a friendly manner. I don't care how much I like you- I have no idea where your mouth has been. But then I'm a germophobe.

I'm persian, so typical greetings for anyone I give a damn about include a kiss on either cheek- lately in Iran the trend has been three kisses, both cheeks and back again. But this is, I think, more of a snobby thing to do than is common.

Hugs are cheap here in southern california. My guy friends that I'm not close with, we'll do the smacking each other on the back kind of hug, but with close guy friends, gay or straight, and with girls, authentic hugs are exchanged.

I shake hands with everyone I'm meeting for the first time, and usually a couple times afterward until we're ready for the hug. If I'm FLIRTING, though (or if I'm trying to make a strong impression on someone for any reason), I shake with both hands- take their hand in mine like a regular shake, and then put my left hand around their extended hand as well. I like to think that the two-handed shake is maneuver that nobody can resist.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:06 PM on December 11, 2005

Family: Hugs all around, not much kissing though.

Other then that, I mostly just hug chicks
posted by delmoi at 9:09 PM on December 11, 2005

At what times and in what circumstances does social touching indicate flirting?

If they're family, then it's not flirting.

Otherwise it depends on the person.

I'm curious as to why you're asking this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:17 PM on December 11, 2005

I hug everybody. Family, friends (male and female), friends of friends, people I have just met, the FPL guy when he restored our power after the hurricane.

Kisses on the cheek mainly for female family members and old friends. I also accept kisses on the cheek when good friends iniate them, mainly a couple of girlfriends and gay boys.

Social touching gets flirty (or, conversely, creepy) when someone touches my face or neck, begins rubbing or massaging anything, puts their face within a foot of mine (outside of a crowded bar) or tickles me. And hand holding is iffy too, now that I think about it.

I have a feeling you're asking because of a questionable boundary that exists in your life. Did the mailman kiss you on the cheek? Someone you like giving you long, lingering hugs?
posted by SassHat at 10:42 PM on December 11, 2005

Female here: I hug and kiss (mouth and cheek) my parents and siblings regularly, especially when saying hello and goodbye. We also indicate doing so over the telephone with these funny little noises I've never heard people outside my family use. I expect some decrease in the amount of kissing with my brother once he hits puberty, but we've always been very affectionate with him since he's so much younger. Maybe nothing will change.

As far as outside my family: varies wildly depending on the other particular individual and the length of time I've known them, more so than gender/sexual orientation/couplehood. Since I am physically comfortable with a range of intimacies between friends I generally let the other person set the standard. I have friends who greet me enthusiastically with a personal nickname and hug me on every meeting, and friends I only hug when we are going on or returning from a long absence.

I generally don't reach out to touch someone in conversation unless I want their attention. But I am unfazed by close proximity (legs/knees/sides touching, etc). I really don't exchange kisses of any kind with friends except the occasional joke, it just isn't in my regular social Rolodex. I'm sure if I was brought up in a culture were it was more pervasive I would do so. As is, I do perceive a kiss as having a certain level of intimacy involved: either they are a blood relative or emotional brother/sister or I'm dating them for me to feel right about giving/receiving kisses.

Affectionate hand-holding is reserved for my partner and for small children of my acquaintance (working with kids, you get used to lots of hand-holding). But arm-linking with friends happens occasionally. The only faux sexual touching among my friends is ass-slapping or close dancing and that's generally while in some state of intoxication.

I agree with previous posters that it is impossible to tell from simply the category of touching whether something constitutes flirting. It depends on the people involved and their comfort level with and perception of each other. Some people (myself included) are clueless when it comes to physical flirting because so many actions fall under the "friendly" category. Hence why I let the other person indicate how they are comfortable, so I don't come across as flirtatious.

I am also curious why you ask. Are you thinking there is a connection between familial physical affection and that exchanged with friends?
posted by nelleish at 10:56 PM on December 11, 2005

re: reason for asking: a lot of questions on Ask Metafilter are by people who seem to have mild Asperger's syndrome and are genuinely unable to understand social interactions.
posted by dydecker at 12:01 AM on December 12, 2005

If someone I know puts their arms out for a hug, I'll happily comply. If a girlfriend initiates a kiss, I'll certainly kiss back. I think I've only ever initiated either when in situations where I'm not going to see a person again (e.g., imminent deaths, leaving the country, &c.). Touching of any sort with strangers or people I don't know well is usually verboten.

Nobody in my immediate family is much for hugs and kisses though, so I didn't grow up in a situation in which touching was at all common. In fact, I think the only touching was holding my wrist while crossing a street and spanking.

My girlfriend is the same way, so we just make kissy noises instead of actual kissing at this point, and lightly touching the other's back when they're walking away is our method of hugging. Although, oddly, I always catch myself reaching for her wrist when we're crossing a busy intersection.
posted by aiko at 12:06 AM on December 12, 2005

I was born and raised in Anglo-Scottish-Jewish New Zealand. Some familes are cheek kissers, some are lip kissers. Many Maori still practise hongi (rubbing noses) in greeting, particularly in formal/traditional settings.

Hugginess varies greatly from family to family. There was an epidemic when I was at university and as I think about it, the young folk still seem to indulge more than is seemly if you ask me.

Most men my age (35) hug ostentatiously: at suitable moments they will uncomfortably embrace other men in order to demonstrate how unlike their stiff repressed dads they are. Women I am not sleeping with get "A-frame" hugs only. Everyone however can enjoy a handshake.

The hug supply I enojyed as a boy dried up around puberty. Just as we should shun fucking lest it lead to immodest dancing, sometimes one sleeps with others for the pleasure of holding them afterwards.

I currently mix with quite a few Brazilians and Colombians, and the potential for misunderstanding is enormous.

Spotting inaccuracies I leave as an exercise for the reader.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:06 AM on December 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Consulted with my self-described "inveterate snuggler" partner. Raised by a non-physical mother and a bear-hugging father, her sister's an ice queen and big brother's somewhere in-between. So I reckon innate disposition has at least as much to do with it as upbringing.

Incidentally, she read the answer above and I'm in trouble now. Again, spotting why is left as an exercise for the reader.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:00 AM on December 12, 2005

Queer, twenty-four year old girl from England here.

In greeting and goodbyes, I hug my close family, and cheek-kiss my extended family. I cuddle my little sisters (when they're on my lap or we're on the sofa) and kiss them on the head all the time. If I'm wandering past my brother or sister, I might pat them affectionately on the shoulder. If I'm wandering past my Mum, I'll hug her sometimes.

I hug my more tactile friends in greeting and farewell, and hug some of my other friends if I'm a little drunk. I'll hug any reasonably close friend in greeting if I haven't seen them for more than a few weeks.

I cuddle a very select few friends if I'm sitting with them on the sofa.

I shake hands with all new acquantances and with collegues.

I will touch friends on the arm occassionally during conversation, but only those friends that I find physically attractive (this in no way means I am actually attracted to them or have any intentions), or have had a physical relationship with in the past.

I will touch on the knee or gently prod in the side or have my face reasonably close the face of someone I'm flirting with.
posted by pollystark at 2:11 AM on December 12, 2005

I hug and kiss my 2 year old son. I don't touch anyone else except girlfriends. Midwestern frigidity, I suppose.
posted by muddylemon at 3:22 AM on December 12, 2005

I don't hug anyone except my girlfriend and my mother. My father discouraged it when I was about 7. I'll accept hugs off of almost anyone without a thought though.
posted by wackybrit at 4:35 AM on December 12, 2005

Oook. Not an easy question, really. There's so many subtle variations. (demographic information- 40+, midwestern US, girl.)

Within the family- hugs, forehead kisses to the kids; hugs to parents, they kiss forehead or cheek; my sis gets a big hug but no kiss; in-laws generally get a quick one-armed hug.

Friends- depends. There are so many different kinds of hugs that it's hard to say. I hug people at church. I hug my best friend. I hug my close friends, of either sex. I hug my boyfriend. I hug some of my old boyfriends. They're all different hugs, even though they might look the same. Depending on how long it's been since we saw each other, cheek or lip kiss (sometimes a nuzzle, if we're very close and it's been a while).

I rarely hold hands (while walking) with anyone other than my kids. Usually one or the other of us is carrying something, and it's tricky to work out. Or we have such different stride length that trying to match steps would interfere with, you know, walking. When not walking, I (and most of my friends) use our hands a lot when talking, so it's hard then.

I shake hands with some people in lieu of hugs; other times as a greeting; almost always when first introduced. It depends on the person and the situation.

I snuggle with close friends of either sex. I will often wrap an arm around a friend's waist if we're standing. Some friends I will snuggle into, others I will sit right next to to without snuggling (with upper legs and shoulders touching), and yet others who I will sit next to without touching. Depending on the situation, I may do any of them with the same person. Often in a group setting, if I'm sitting close to a close friend while in a conversation, I will rest a hand on their upper leg or knee.
posted by jlkr at 5:31 AM on December 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

I hug my close family members, and kiss Mom on the cheek. I hug female friends much more often than male friends, and that's usually for giving congratulations or saying hello after a long absence/goodbye before a long absence. With males in that situation I'm much more likely to warmly shake hands...I guess I rarely shake hands with females. (I'm an American male, BTW).

I live in Japan, and there's long been an unspoken taboo with public hugging and kissing. Only recently will young girls who are close friends hug one another, again for the congrats/long-time-no-see/farewell types of situations. My Japanese gf isn't at all a shy person, but it tickles me that she gets embarassed when I give her a peck on the lips and/or a hug goodbye in a crowded area.
posted by zardoz at 6:28 AM on December 12, 2005

Jewish American hetero male. I'm pretty touchy-feely -- will hug anybody who seems like they want to hug. Prefer hugging to not. Don't mouth-kiss anybody I'm not romanticaly involved with. Can't imagine mouth-kissing my (hypothetical) children. "Air kiss" (touch cheeks, make kissing sound) relatives.

I'd be uncomfortable with giving or receiving neck massages from gay or straight men, unless they are professionals and I'm getting a real massage. If I'm getting or receiving a neck massage from a female, flirting or sexual tension is involved, although I likely won't admit it. :)
posted by callmejay at 8:10 AM on December 12, 2005

USian, late 20s, female. Lip kisses, cheek kisses, and hugs for family - both parents, both male and female siblings, my children (two very young boys), and some extended family (grandmother, aunt). Cheek kisses and hugs for the rest of the extended family. My own little family is quite physically affectionate because my husband and I are, so we cuddle and hug and kiss the babies a lot. My family in general is not very physically affectionate, but we kiss and hug hello/goodbye/goodnight. The lip kiss is a slightly exaggerated *mwah*, complete with pucker-up.

Close friends - hug and cheek kiss, either gender, doesn't matter single or married. Neck or back rubs fine. Touch during conversation, especially when drinking. Hand-holding or arm-linking or arm around the waist, fine.

It really depends on how "touchy" the other person is. I'm a pretty physically expressive person, but I read the cues someone else is giving off - if they're protective of their bubble, I don't intrude on it. If they're comfortable, then a touch on the arm while talking or such is quite normal. More touchy with closer friends. Joke sexual touching is okay, almost expected when drinking, but usually only with close friends.

It's flirting if there's that electricity to it, I guess. Leaning in and lightly touching a hand or shoulder, brushing something off your face and lingering a tad bit too long, or brushing hand against hair, I would consider more flirting moves than casual conversational touch. It's definitely flirting if you're finding excuses to touch the other person, but trying to make it look casual - "oh let me pick off that piece of lint" and linger a bit, or tuck in a shirt tag, stuff like that. Not to say that picking off lint is always flirting, of course, but if it's just picking lint, it's usually more straightforward, you ask directly, do it and don't linger.
posted by Melinika at 9:13 AM on December 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

I hug my mum, no kissing. I hug my brothers (no sisters), their wives/girlfriends and kids, no kissing. I also hug my in-laws, again, no kissing. My step-son, his wife and their kids are huggers/cheek-kissers. I hug back but no kissing. Friends - if they offer hugs I'll hug back but I don't normally instigate a hug. No real touching either except to, maybe, get someone's attention or if laughing.

Me instigating hugs (within my family) is new-ish for me. I used to never hug them or tell them I love them. My husband has taught me that showing affection isn't such a bad thing.

Female, almost 39 (three days, hint hint!), American living in Canada, extremely shy.
posted by deborah at 3:58 PM on December 12, 2005

I'm an early 20's male from the southeastern U.S.

I'm generally pretty comfortable with receiving hugs from just about anyone, but I usually only offer them to my female friends. Male friends I tend to place a hand on their back when expressing sympathy, their shoulder or arm for friendship, and am pretty free about initiating hand-shakes and high-fives.

Since I have somewhat of a reputation for being great at giving massages, I'm pretty free about offering them to anyone, male or female, no matter how well I know them. It takes only a casual aquaintance for me to actually initiate one without asking, since I assume that anyone who's uncomfortable with it will make it clear very quickly.

Kissing has always seemed to me like it's regionally defined as being exclusively intimate. I have a very few close female friends who occasionally kiss my cheek, but almost all lip-kisses I give/receive are part of a exclusive or friends-with-benefits relationship.

Flirting touches I express almost exclusively through my massages. I just focus more on light touching around the neck, ears, etc.
posted by ElfWord at 8:17 PM on December 14, 2005

This is an interesting question.

If this is important - I've never been in a romantic relationship but I've definitrly flirted with people (whether they realize it or not).

I haven't lip-kissed anyone - for me that implies something romantic or sexual. I have kissed (and been kissed by) dear friends on the cheek, top of the head, neck (if they're taller than me) and sometimes hands.

I'm a very huggy person and I give and receive all sorts of hugs. Not all of my friends are comfortable with hugs though.

I've held hands with people, and sometimes other parts - usually arms. Sometimes I ruffle people's hair as a joke. I've also caressed friends' faces as a sign of affection.

I'm generally very affectionate - more with my friends than with family (it's a bit uncomfortable with family). If it's someone I like I tend to linger on longer. It depends on how familiar and comfortable I am with them, and vice versa.

In our Final Banquet for our UWP crew, everyone was being really touchy-feely with each other, which was pretty interesting to experience. (Sigh I miss those days)
posted by divabat at 6:59 AM on December 15, 2005

uh, forgot - female, 20, malaysian.
posted by divabat at 7:00 AM on December 15, 2005

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