For a simple gesture, hugs can be quite complicated. There’s the one-armed side hug, the back-slapper, and the awkward A-frame hug (when both people lean forward to embrace).
Here are a number of different hugs, and what body language experts say they mean if you receive them. As always, there could be many variables to your particular situation, but here are the basics of hugging.
1. The Pat on the Back
This familiar hug usually takes place between two friends that are close but not super close. They give a full embrace and lightly pat on their partner’s back.
The pat is a sign of closeness and comfort, but a slightly awkward one. It’s a way of saying, “I care about you, but lightly patting your back is the only way I know how to show it.”
2. The Shoulder Hug
The shoulder hug signifies great affection for a close friend. This hug occurs when someone pulls you close to them from the side by grabbing your shoulder.
Body language experts say that this gesture essentially replaces declarations of love and appreciation. It’s a way to replace those words that are sometimes hard to come by with an unmistakable show of familiarity and friendship.
3. Hug From Behind
This hug is usually reserved for lovers. The person who is hugging from behind is demonstrating traits of a protector and wants to show how much they cherish the person they are hugging.
Because this hug requires hands resting on the hugged person’s stomach, only people who are very comfortable with each other engage in this embrace. This type of hug can be interpreted as overbearing at times, so if the hugged person is not tense, it signifies extreme closeness.
4. The Tight Hug
Everyone has a different hugging style, and some people simply hug tighter than others. However, there are special times when the tight hug is in order for whoever is doing the embracing.
Tight hugs usually have a specific sentiment attached to them. When someone is moving away, has lost a loved one, or going through any other significant emotional event, a tight hug replaces sentimental words. By giving a tight squeeze, the hugger is acknowledging whatever event is taking place and letting the hugged person know that they care.
5. The A-Frame
This awkward embrace occurs when people feel obligated to hug but don’t want to. A hug generally requires a lot of contact with the front of your body, but A-framers aren’t having any of that.
If someone gives you an A-frame hug, it could mean any number of things. Some people just prefer handshakes or waves, so they resort to this minimal embrace when they’re forced into a hug.
It could also mean that someone wants to make their lack of romantic interest clear. It could also be as simple as the person just came from the gym and doesn’t want to cover you with sweat.
You should never read too much into one simple act. However, you can interpret a series of interactions and begin to understand how someone feels about you even if they don’t verbalize it. Hugging is a good place to start.