How To Easily Decode Romantic Hugs From a Potential Partner

We spoke to the experts, obviously.
How To Tell If A Hug Is Romantic
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Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
The Knot Contributor
  • Dina writes for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in food, travel and relationships.
  • With more than 20 years of experience in service journalism, she also pens articles and recipes for publications, such as Good Housekeeping, Parents, SELF, Health, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Prevention, Fine Cooking, Weight Watchers and Diabetic Living.
  • Dina graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University and The Institute of Cul...
Updated Apr 24, 2023

Picture it: Post-first date, you and your potential partner are about to part ways when they wrap their arms around you. You hug them back and then—that's it? If the interaction leaves you scratching your head, wondering if you should interpret the embrace as a romantic hug or platonic goodbye, you've come to the right place.

Since decoding romantic hugs and friendly embraces can be tricky, we spoke with six (count 'em—six!) experts. With their relationship tips and advice, you'll be able to easily decipher between a romantic hug and a friendly hug.

Meet Our Experts:

  • Callisto Adams, Ph.D. is a dating and relationship expert and relationship coach.
  • Carol Rinkleib Ellison, Ph.D. is a psychologist with an AASECT-certified Diplomate of Sex Therapy. She runs a virtual sex therapy practice.
  • Ness Cooper is a clinical sexologist and therapist.
  • Courtney Geter is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist.
  • Zoe Webb of Atlanta Therapeutic Collective—a practice specializing in sex and relationship therapy—is a master's level therapist in training for clinical social work.
  • William Cane is the author of The Art of Hugging.

In this article:

    How to Tell if a Hug is Romantic (and How to Hug Romantically)

    Scroll on to read expert advice on determining whether a hug is romantic or not. Remember: The below guidance only pertains to scenarios where physical and romantic touch is appropriate and consent is freely given.

    Don't assume a meaning.

    There's no simple answer when it comes to interpreting whether a hug from a potential partner is romantic or not. According to psychologist and sex therapist Carol Rinkleib Ellison, Ph.D., a hug can mean different things to different people. Unfortunately, since analyzing a hug usually occurs on a first or second date (when you typically don't yet know the person very well), you likely won't have the information you need to understand their intentions.

    To be sure, ask

    The only way to know definitively is to ask, says Atlanta Therapeutic Collective's Zoe Webb. "Trying to interpret someone's feelings or desires based on their physicality can lead to some serious miscommunications."

    If you want to confirm their romantic interest and send a signal that it's mutual, Ellison suggests responding to their hug with a comment like, "That was really nice," or hugging them back. "You could also raise them one by answering the hug with a kiss on the cheek," she adds.

    Seek out signs.

    Although you can't get a reliable answer without asking, you can still look for clues: the more body contact, the more romantic the hug.

    "A romantic hug is a warm embrace," explains Ellison. "Melting into someone defines a romantic hug. You're yielding, relaxing and releasing your boundaries, letting go of the rigidity between you that holds you separate. It's merging."

    Here are some specific traits of romantic hugs to look for:

    1. Prolonged Eye Contact

    If your date holds your gaze before (and after) a hug, they're likely sending a signal that they're interested in you romantically, says sexologist Ness Cooper. "Even just five to 15 seconds of eye-to-eye contact can help you connect with your partner more and release feel-good hormones, such as oxytocin, which can help with relationship bonding."

    2. Closeness

    Increased physical closeness (think: hip touching, using both arms to hug, etc) is also an indicator of romantic interest. "A hug is likely to be romantic rather than platonic if your bodies are pressed against one another," notes relationship coach Callisto Adams, Ph.D.

    3. Aligned Body Position

    Aligned bodies with chests and torsos touching can mean romance, says Webb. (All the easier to hear those heart rates quicken!)

    4. Arm Positioning

    If someone is interested in you romantically, they might deepen a hug by alternating their arm positioning, Webb explains. For example, they could loop one of their arms over your shoulder and the other around your waist.

    5. Duration

    The duration of the embrace could also be key in determining the meaning behind it: Romantic hugs tend to last longer, whereas platonic hugs are often quick. When hugs are more than 20 seconds, bonding chemicals start to respond to the touching, notes Webb. And with longer hugs, partners can also try to sync their breathing or rub their date's back in slow circular motions.

    6. Words

    Your date might express words of affection before, during or after your embrace, deepening the hug's intention.

    7. Extra Touching

    Adding touch beyond the hug, like rubbing your hair, back, arms or waist, can also reveal romantic intentions.

    Romantic Hug vs. Friendly Hug

    To tell when a hug is platonic, look for side hugs or an A-frame stance (with shoulders and upper chests touching but hips further apart), as well as brief embraces.

    The Art of Hugging author William Crane also notes that neutral comments like, "Great to see you today," (rather than sweet nothings, like "I want you") also reveal non-romantic intentions.

    What are the Benefits of Hugging Romantically

    Sharing a romantic and consensual hug with a partner or a potential partner comes with plenty of benefits. Firstly, it can increase your bond and intimacy with them. The prolonged proximity coaxes your breathing, heart rates and nervous systems into syncing, further intensifying this bond.

    And as an added benefit, says Geter, a hug can serve as a non-sexual physical touch that signals that we value this person and their body for more than just sex. It can be a fantastic element of physical intimacy.

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