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Dear Annie: Hugger needs to respect boundaries

Dear Annie: There is an elderly man who attends daily Mass at my church. He insists on hugging many of the women after Mass as they leave the church. He is a nice man, and I don’t think he’s up to anything creepy. I think he’s probably a throwback to the ’70s when “hugging” was a big thing in churches in particular.

I, on the other hand, do not like hugging people I hardly know. I feel strongly that 1) physical displays of affection should be reserved for people you are friendly with (e.g., family, close friends, etc.) and 2) if a person says, “I prefer not to hug,” that should settle it. I’m not saying this man has ulterior motives; I just would like for my boundaries to be accepted.

I have told this man politely but in no uncertain terms, “I am not a hugger.” I have put out my hand to shake his hand before he can go in for the hug, but he insists on brushing my hand aside and hugging me anyway. It’s as if he thinks he’s going to “cure” me of whatever he thinks is my problem. This has been an ongoing problem for several years. I have tried staying in my pew and praying until he leaves, but he often hovers not far off until I depart. Sometimes he has even come over and interrupted my prayer to solicit that “hug.”

I am not a mean person. I sometimes just give in and give this man a hug. I am never unkind. Yet I know he takes it personally that I am not eager to greet him with a hug every time I see him. As for why he is so needy, I really don’t know. I know he is married and has four adult children and several grandchildren, so I presume he isn’t lonely. He seems to get plenty of hugs from the other women at church.

I should add that I am married and in my 60s. My husband and I have a happy marriage and great intimacy. I am affectionate with all my kids — including plenty of hugging, especially with my grandchildren. I wind up leaving Mass feeling guilty for having to insist on boundaries with this man. — Not a Hugger

Dear Not a Hugger: This man needs to learn to take “no, thanks” for an answer. No matter his intentions, it’s inappropriate for him to insist on hugging you after you’ve told him that you’d rather he not. And it makes my jaw drop that he would interrupt your prayers to do this.

The next time he moves in for a hug when you’ve extended your hand for a handshake, don’t feel bad backing away and taking all the space you need. If he feels embarrassed, that’s his own fault. You are not being rude. He is being disrespectful.

Dear Annie: Regarding the letter from “Grandma Blindsided by Mental Health Issue,” about living with a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder, please recommend NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness. I am on the board of NAMI Spokane.

I got involved because our adult son has OCD and depression. NAMI has many affiliates throughout the United States. We offer classes and support groups for both families and those with mental illness. All programs are free. Most of these programs are funded through memberships, donations and grants. — Gretchen M. in Spokane, WA

Dear Gretchen: NAMI is a great organization, and I’m happy to print your recommendation here. In addition to visiting the website, nami.org, those in need can call the NAMI helpline at 800-950-6264. Thank you for writing.

“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now. Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Go to http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.

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