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My boyfriend shares an apartment with an older man who has a physical disability which prevents him from walking. The housemate is very kind and intelligent. However, sometimes when I am alone with him he will ask me to come over and give him a hug. We generally get along very well and I like him but I don't feel comfortable giving him a hug (though I have complied so far).

I would like to change the terms of the situation without making things awkward. I think if he knew that I didn't want to hug he would understand and not ask again. But I don't know how to say so without making it uncomfortable or hurting his feelings. I think, given the disability, he is sort of used to being, in some sense, the baby of the family (despite being 60) and is used to affectionate attention.

Can anyone offer any advice for this situation? Perhaps how to delicately word my refusal. Thanks!

  • 2
    are we talking a standard hello style hug, or something which feels more romantic? – WendyG Jan 24 at 10:39
  • 2
    I'd really like to know the answer to WendyG's comment. I'm worried that since this person waits for you to be alone to ask, it's not an innocent hug. – MlleMei Jan 24 at 15:30
15

First things first: You are absolutely within your rights to refuse to hug anyone, no one should ever make you feel obligated to do anything you aren't comfortable with.

I am an advocate for open and honest communication. You seem to think that this gentleman will be okay with this once you broach the subject, which can be the worst barrier.

I might phrase the refusal something like this (following a request): "I really don't feel like a hug right now" It's a simple statement and if he presses you for details you can simply explain that you aren't a big hugger and don't really enjoy hugs. I might follow this statement with a question that changes the subject, something that is interesting for him to talk about, if you know any of his interests this could be something to bring up. By doing this you have closed the subject for the time being.

If he asks for a hug on another visit you could say again that you don't really like them and bring it back to the conversation you had before about not wanting to hug.

7

I wasn't going to write an answer since my usual strategy for that is hiding (so no one can ask me for a hug or anything less) but the other answers here are suggesting to raise the issue just after a request for a hug has been made and I think there is a better approach.

Saying no to someone asking for a hug is absolutely valid in any situation. However, since you gave this person hugs in the past, the fact that you suddenly refuse to do so might confuse him.

So instead of telling him "no" just after he asked for a hug, I would suggest to not wait for the hug proposition. Instead, wait for a calm and private moment and inform him that you won't hug him anymore.

From experience, it's way easier to be informed of something that to be blandly said "no" to (but I have no experience in which I wanted to hug someone and this person refused).

You can phrase it something like that:

Hey, I wanted to tell you something for a while. I'm not a big fan of hugs and, please don't take it against you, but I won't give you any hugs in the future. However, I want to reassure you that I really like spending time with you and that I believe you to be a wonderful person.

The first sentence here as an introduction. You are telling the other person that you are going to talk about a sensitive topic and that it might not be easy to hear.

The "I'm not a big fan of hugs" is a general statement, so it's not specifically targetting the other person and can prevent the other person to feel attacked (which would be a good thing).

"please don't take it against you" is to be extra careful since you really don't want them to think that this is about them (but if you do want them to know that this is specifically against them, there is no problem with that. Just remove this sentence and make it clear that it is about them).

"I won't give you any hugs in the future": you state clearly what you will do and make it clear that it's not negotiable. If you are okay with other forme of physical contact, you can add it after that "but I will be glad to shake your hand".

The last part is here to reassure the other person that you still love them and that you wanting no physical contact as nothing to do with the fact that you don't like them anymore. I would encourage you to personalize this last part as much as possible. Personalize sentences/private jokes make people feel close to each other in a none physical way.

5

All of this sounds rather innocent... except one REALLY BIG RED FLAG.

These four words change the whole situation

sometimes when I am alone with [the housemate] he will ask [for] a hug.

Hugging without your boyfriend present is a really big problem - it is not "just hugging".

You are right to feel weird about this.

You don't say that this only happens when your boyfriend is not there, so I assume sometimes he is there - but my advice would be the same if that's wrong.

Can anyone offer any advice for this situation?

Yes - you need to firmly stand up for yourself before something happens

The first person you need to address this with is your boyfriend1

I don't know if you are aware of this but [roommate] is asking me for hugs when you aren't around.
At first it seemed harmless, and I just wanted to be nice.
However, it is making me increasingly uncomfortable.
Can you explain to him that I am not a hugger? I'm not going to hug him anymore. I think it would soften the blow if you explain that I'm not a hugger before it comes up again.

Boyfriend should take this seriously.
If he acts hesitant, make it clear how important this is to you. Look him in the eye and say, "I need your support on this," and wait.
Don't use the word please when you say this - that would send the wrong message (that he has the option to not support you on this).

Then boyfriend needs to talk to roommate - something like:

[OP] really isn't much of a hugger. She is a nice person and sometimes accommodates people she likes.
As the hugging has continued it has made her increasingly uncomfortable, because, like I said, she isn't much of a hugger. Anyway she isn't going to hug you any more please don't ask her again.

Boyfriend should address this with roommate when you are not present.

Don't go over again until your boyfriend confirms he has had this conversation with roommate.

Your response to another hug request should be, "Oh, I thought that boyfriend was going to talk to you about that. I'm not much of a hugger." DON'T hug him again for any reason (not even if he cries about it).

IF the next time you see roommate he apologizes for making you feel uncomfortable, AND never asks for another hug - there wasn't a problem.

IF roommate asks for another hug2 (maybe weeks from now "oh, sorry I forgot" no he didn't) then I'd say you cut this off at the pass before he did something.
You shouldn't be alone with him if he asks for another hug.

(If you are worried that your boyfriend wasn't firm, or was misunderstood you have the option of ignoring it once.)


Notes

1 Having him act ask your intermediary softens the blow.
He knows the roommate better than you, is the one that needs to live with the guy.
It less awkward because you aren't present, gives roommate time to process and discuss.
FWIW if I were the boyfriend in this situation I would want to know about it.
OP could do this herself... but remember that she is worried about causing offense.

2 Unless dementia is involved (and you don't mention this) his asking for another hug means that he is not respecting your boundaries.
If you say, "No hugs" then he should respect that.
You do not have to hug anyone you don't want to - whether you have a previous pattern of hugging them or not - NOTHING trumps this fact neither his disability nor anything else!

3

When someone wants to give me a hug, particularly someone I'm not close to I simply say something like "I don't like hugs" or "I'm not a hugger". If they insist I make it clear to them that I don't wan't a hug by giving them a plain "No" or something like that. Doing it this way sound less harsh than saying no strait off the bat because it gives them an explanation.

1

This may seem like an overly-simplistic solution, but the best way to avoid making an issue with someone with a disability is to say exactly what you would say to someone without a disability. Really his disability is a red herring of sorts in this question.

The fact you have hugged him in the past suggests that he thinks of you as a close friend. Close enough to hug, anyway. The fact you have complied against your better judgement suggests that he may feel a little closer to you than you do to him, which is fine, and perhaps if you can aleviate this awkward hug situation that may change for the better too. If you are friends then he should be open to a bit of friendly banter and you may be able to turn down the hugs with some humour. You just need to be confident about what you say.

Perhaps say in a jokey, friendly way:

If I give you too many hugs I might make my boyfriend jealous.

I think the secret to this sort of statement working is to keep the tone light and either quickly move on from it, perhaps change the subject, or carry on going about your business.

  • It sounds like this joke would only get the point across if all three people involved have pretty serious jealousy issues. If someone said this to me, I certainly wouldn't read it as anything other than a joke. – Erik Jan 25 at 9:27
  • @Erik That is exactly how it should sound. Most people don't "demand" hugs, or even ask for them outside of highly emotional circumstances. It's a bit weird, and dismissing it rather than refusing it seems the better option to me. – Astralbee Jan 25 at 9:37
  • 1
    @Astralbee "Really his disability is a red herring of sorts in this question." The disability is important because usually, these things are sorted out by body language. (Hugger approaches, non-huggee reacts nonverbally, hugger stops.) Which is not possible in this case. – user11235 Feb 2 at 22:10
  • @user11235 That would be a fair point if the question was about how to physically fend off an unwanted display of affection, but it isn't, nor is that the purpose of this site. The question of how not to offend someone on the basis of their disability, in my opinion, is answered by not making their disability an issue or part of your response. – Astralbee Feb 4 at 9:10

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