Learning from Jerry Seinfeld and Kesha: How to politely decline a hug

Learning from Jerry Seinfeld and Kesha: How to politely decline a hug
The dark lord of terrible hugs
Photo via Universal Pictures

I recently watched a video of Jerry Seinfeld rebuffing a potential hug from Kesha with some serious awkwardness. He didn't know who she was so maybe thought she was just some rando coming in for the kill. Either way, it was weird.

I am a hug-neutral person. If you want to hug me, that's cool, but I'm probably not going to initiate a hug myself. I do, however, know a few very much non-huggers who will do whatever they can to avoid your incoming bro bear hug.

Kids especially are prone to being forced to hug anyone and everyone they come across. Whenever a parent tries to force an unwilling child to hug me, I always shift the conversation elsewhere. Body autonomy forever, folks!

Learning from Jerry Seinfeld and Kesha: How to politely decline a hug


The question is:
how does someone who doesn't want a hug (a totally okay thing for lots of legit health/social/psychological/whatever reasons!) go about avoiding a hug without seeming like a dick who doesn't know who Kesha is? Hell, there's even a hilarious video of Hillary Clinton practicing to avoid a lethal Trump hug with a high-five!

I asked a few friends who are known non-huggers to see what tips they had for politely decline a hug…

Learning from Jerry Seinfeld and Kesha: How to politely decline a hug

Identify as a "non-hugger"

Quickly identifying yourself as a non-hugger gets the point across that it's not them, it's you. Had Jerry stuck his hand out for a shake, said politely, "Sorry, I'm just not a hugger, but it's great to meet you!" would have been a much smoother interaction for everyone. But saying, "no thanks," aggressively backing away, and not acknowledging the person at all pretty much sucks. I get it, she was a stranger interrupting an interview, but it could have been handled in a more classy manner.

Offer up another option

A handshake, wave, a curtsy, or the ever-popular with germaphobes, fist bump, are good alternatives with less contact. And if Obama approves of it, we approve of it…

Learning from Jerry Seinfeld and Kesha: How to politely decline a hug

Offer a side hug if you're not quick on the draw

If you didn't dodge the hug attack fast enough, do a quick shift to offer up a side hug. It's still a hug, but hopefully one more easily escaped with slightly less contact.

Put something between you

If you're carrying a coat, bag, purse, etc., pull it in front of you so that you're less "available" for a hug. Or at least if you end up in the hug, you'll have a barrier and will most likely only be in contact with your arms.

If you're desperate, just lie

If it's a stranger or someone you don't see often, just claim you have a cold or a twinge-y back. Hey, maybe you're getting a cold anyway and it's not even a lie! Either way, it's just a little white lie that will make them glad you opted not to rub your whole germ-filled torso all over them.

Use… alternate means

Former Empire staffer and known non-hugger, Caroline, gave us some sage advice:

I don't have any strategies except wearing my spiked shoulder pads and tweeting about it hoping people will remember IRL.

HA! Yeah, this about sums up what it's like as a goth non-hugger with killer fashion sense.

Don't let this happen to you…

Learning from Jerry Seinfeld and Kesha: How to politely decline a hug

What strategies do you have to get out of an unwanted hug?

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  1. I feel like this video is a really great display of how consent works. And I also feel like we should be telling the Keshas of the world that if someone declines a hug, offer a handshake/fistbump/high five. Or maybe explain who you are. Or maybe not interrupt interviews?

    Anyway, my point is, don't blame Jerry for the awkwardness. Kesha was really pushy.

    14 agree
  2. I'm surprised at how Seinfeld is coming off as the jerk here. Kesha really rudely interrupted a conversation/interview to ask to invade someone's space… REPEATEDLY. Why on Earth would anyone be obliged to pander to that?

    14 agree
    • I don't it was so much that he didn't want the hug as the way he laughs about it in a condescending matter and dismisses it with "I don't even know who that was". Also, he seems to have history of self-importance/ bloated ego which people are being reminded of here.

      • I more saw it as a bewildered nervous laugh and explanation. This seems to be exactly how I would react to someone pestering me for a hug while I repeatedly say no. I would laugh nervously and tell the person I had been talking to that I had no idea who had just been trying to invade my personal space.

        For the record, though, I'm not much of a celebrity follower, so I was previously unaware of his track record of being egotistical.

        2 agree
  3. You have to accept that it's going to be awkward for the other person and create a millisecond of awkward atmosphere between you two (+ the people watching, if any). However,you can beforehand play how you will break that atmosphere and indeed let it only be just a millisecond while you come in and say something you've rehearsed/ realized is a good phrase beforehand "Sorry, I am not a hugger!" While smiling and then offering your hand (this has the plus that they'll see you're offering something instead). I always think as long as your eyes and smile reflect that you're being sincere, people will understand/accept (maybe they'll think you are a bit strange or quirky, but they'll accept it's not about them), and if they don't… well that's a good filter for you to know who is better or more easy going to have in your life!

    2 agree
  4. my friend goes for the handshake "bro hug" http://www.study-body-language.com/hugging-2.html which often involves explaining this type of bro hug and reclaiming it for women, which is usually an entertaining interaction. It may still be too huggy for some, but it works for her- the handshake in the middle means that the arms keep bodies from touching

    1 agrees
  5. When the person is coming in for the hug, you can catch both their hands and bring them in between the two of you for an Oprah-like "good to see you!" shake. It's an option that still provides an intimate greeting without having someone all up on you, and no explanation required!

    I actually learned this in a self-defense class (boundaries are boundaries!)

    10 agree
  6. I have been known to do the opposite, actually: I make hugs really intensely awkward for the person initiating them. I place my arms really awkwardly or linger or put a shoulder into the hug. I like to think that they will remember the weird hug and rethink it with the next person.

    4 agree
  7. No, you don't need to politely turn down a stranger trying to do something to your body you don't want! Wtf? I don't even like Seinfeld (and I love Kesha), but he was in no way in the wrong here, and no, he could not have handled it better. He clearly felt uncomfortable, and when someone is making you uncomfortable, you do not need to find a polite way to tell them to stop. You are allowed to just say "no" and back away.

    10 agree
    • Also, it shouldn't be necessary to make the point it's "not them, it's you". It is absolutely is on them for not verbally making sure a person is okay with a hug before trying to hug them. You always ask. Always.

      1 agrees
      • It's common cultural practice for Americans to hug in certain social situations, so it's a little unfair to expect every hugger to ask for consent or be offended if they don't. Chances are that person is uncomfortable too, and just doing it to be polite. As a first-generation American, I've been there.

        2 agree
  8. I feel like if this had been anyone else we would not be policing how people say "no" to unwanted touching/contact of their person. Seinfeld is a jerk in many ways, but everything about this situation was weird and rude for HIM! She doesn't know him, interrupts a conversation, and then repeatedly demands he hug her. He didn't do anything wrong, why is he obligated to couch a reasonable statement ("Can I hug you?" No.- no more needed!) in passive aggressive niceties? This kind of crap has been foisted on women forever. No one is required to spare the feelings of a stranger who has no respect for your personal space or boundaries.

    1 agrees
  9. This can be really hard with family members. Hugs-as-greetings are just expected in some families, & when one person isn't a hugger (or when you join a family that's into hugging & you're not), it's difficult to be the odd person out. "But I'm your mother-in-law / uncle / 2nd-cousin / step-sister / etc. etc." they all say. It just sucks.

    3 agree
  10. I, personally, AM a hugger – with people I care about. I refuse to soften my consent by pretending to people I don't want to touch that I just don't ~do~ that. I want to get the point across that I do not want it from YOU specifically. I don't think anyone is obligated to make their "no" palatable to the person they're saying "no" to. I think Jerry was completely in the right here and it's weird, creepy, and invasive that Kesha pleaded for a hug. I also understand laughing afterward. It was uncomfortable! Can we not police people's ability to retract consent?

    4 agree
    • I agree so much with you. I saw the laughing afterwards as trying to make the situation less awkward for people who would see the interview later. I don't like how Jerry is getting flak for his reaction. Maybe he's an uppity asshole, I don't know, but even assholes deserve to have personal space respected.

      3 agree
  11. I think he was quite in the right and exactly as polite as he should have been. If he'd said, "Ew, no, get away from me strange woman," then perhaps he would be due a gentle chiding for not softening the blow. But he didn't. He said "no thanks" and politely but firmly enforced his boundaries.

    3 agree
    • If Jerry Seinfeld had instead been a pregnant woman and the unwanted hug was unwanted belly touching, none of us would be questioning if this response was rude or too harsh. We'd be singing the praises of this firm "no thanks."

      4 agree
  12. In the 'new age' ('neo-hippie'? 'neo-tribal'? 'transformational festival'? whatever you get my point) crowd hugging without consent is so par for the course that people look at you sideways if you aren't a hugger or decline a hug. Often there is no opportunity to opt-out, people just go straight in for the hug without asking all. I do not want to hug minimally clothed folks damp with sweat under any circumstances, let alone in festival situations when they are sweating out last night's intoxicants. Barf. My best friend one time stopped a well-meaning shirtless dude going in for a hug by putting her hands out in front of her and straight up saying 'I don't consent to this hug'. He was obviously perplexed as this went against the aforementioned obligate hug culture, but it led to an interesting discussion around consent, and fortunately the kid was open-minded. Cheers to this conversation!

    1 agrees

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