DEAR ABBY: I am not a hugger. In fact, I pretty much always hate it. But people think I'm rude when I don't open my arms to hug after they've opened theirs. And they also think I'm rude when I tell them I'm not really a hugger. It happens with friends, fellow church congregants and audience members (I'm an entertainer) all the time. Although I let the hugs happen, I'm usually holding my breath the whole time.
Once I've "Hey girl'd" someone and offered my warmest smile, what more can I do? I don't want people I like to think I don't like them, or I'm not happy to see them. But I'm fed up with faking it and participating in this ritual that makes me so uncomfortable. If there's a polite, clear way to convey this to people without seeming cold or unappreciative, please let me know what it is. -- BRACING FOR THE EMBRACE
DEAR BRACING: You are not alone in feeling the way you do. Not everyone is comfortable with being hugged. I think you should simply be honest about your feelings and tell the huggers that you become claustrophobic when people hug you, and to please understand that your reluctance isn't personal. If you make it about you rather than them, it shouldn't come across as rejection.