One of my best friends and her new boyfriend held hands for the entirety of my four-hour holiday party in December, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I was, to put it succinctly, perplexed — however, my reaction was a classic case of projection in that my feelings had absolutely nothing to do with them and absolutely everything to do with me.
Every time someone reaches to clasp my hand in theirs, be it a friend or boyfriend, I am immediately overcome with a feelings cocktail of 45% delight and 55% stress. I am delighted they want to hold my hand, and I am delighted by the feeling of this person’s hand in mine and mine in theirs, but I am stressed about the etiquette. What if my hand gets clammy? How do I shift the position of my hand without disturbing the equilibrium of this precarious entrapment? Given the fact that at some point we will have to part claws, which one of us should initiate the separation? If grades are being handed out for the act of hand-holding, how can I guarantee myself an A+?
Ultimately, I’m not sure whether hand-holding is a dreamy nightmare or a nightmarish dream. All I know is I love it and hate it simultaneously and would rather not deal with it at all but would also be devastated if my hands were suddenly relegated to the lesser company of spoons and toothbrushes forevermore.
Curious if I was alone in this tornado of inner turmoil, I posed the following question to the internet: “Does anyone actually like holding hands?” The responses came by the bucketful, all of which I consumed with a voraciousness previously reserved for newly released Harry Potter installments and pasted them into a document that soon reached 18 pages (a hand-holding treatise, if you will).
I read it again — once, twice, three times. Digested as a whole, the hundreds of responses lodged a fully unexpected lump in my throat. For as much as the prospect of interlaced fingers has caused me stress, I never stopped to consider its simple, extraordinary power as humanity’s connective tissue — not the kind we’re born with that binds all our organs together, but the kind we create ourselves that binds us, as people, together.
I divided the responses up by category for your viewing pleasure. Have a scroll and let me know what you think in the comments. I’ll be waiting with both hands outstretched, plus a bottle of Purell.
For some, hand-holding is the height of intimacy
1. “I think holding hands is one of the MOST intimate things you can do! On the scale of intimacy, I think it might be more intimate than sex to me. I better be kissing someone regularly before we start holding hands! I feel very strongly about this.”
2. “For me, holding hands is the litmus test of my feelings for someone else. If I want to hold your hand it means I want to be intimate with you — not just physically, but I trust you and want to get to know you better emotionally.”
3. “I feel like it’s a very intimate sign of affection. My friends and I even had a joke that it’s a sign that someone is more than a hookup if you’re willing to hold his hand!”
4. “Yes of course, but only if you LOVE the person — not like, but love. That’s how you know you’re in love.”
5. “Hand-holding is really intimate, maybe more intimate than kissing. I briefly dated a guy years ago and the kissing was fine, but his hands were always cold and unwelcoming. I had to break up with him (I didn’t mention the hand thing when I did it),”
Clamminess is a common source of stress
1. “I have extremely sweaty palms, but I love holding hands. I find it really reassuring and comforting, but it’s always way awkward to tell someone not to freak out about how sweaty my hands are (it is a pretty good filter to figure out if a person is shitty or not based on their reaction to my sweating).”
2. “I love the idea of holding hands (cute intimacy) but have paranoia that my hands are clammy, which they usually are, and the anxiety about this makes them clammy if they weren’t already.”
3. “It can say so many things and it’s unbelievably comforting, though you gotta look out for clammy hands. They do not a good hand-hold make — unless you’re super-emotional and someone holds your hands through the cold sweats — that is true love.”
4. “I love the thought of holding hands and actually holding hands, but I have a clammy hand problem, so I don’t unless I am really dating a guy and the sweaty hands won’t freak him out. And if they do freak him out, it makes me contemplate the relationship. If he can’t handle clammy hands, what else can’t he handle?!”
5. “I have incredibly sweaty hands and feet and so I’m rarely able to enjoy the act without feeling incredibly self-conscious about my clamminess! Obviously, my significant other cares about me enough that he can make a joke and not make a huge deal about it, but it still makes me feel so gross!”
A LOT of people consider hand-holding compatibility a barometer for relationship health
1. “There are people that I want to have fantastic adventures with, but at the end of the day, the person that I know that I will end up with is the person that I can also see myself talking about my Diva Cup with. It’s the person who will hold my hand in a way that makes the both of us feel comfortable, and it’s the person who will hold my hand whether or not I’m wearing makeup in public. “
2. “Feeling comfortable holding someone’s hand really is an indicator for me if that person will be staying in my life, if we match and if they are able to pull me out of my own thoughts into the real world.”
3. “I once got in a very big fight with my ex about this. He would always try and hold my hand and whenever he did, I would feel very uncomfortable. And because I was uncomfortable, I would try and make the whole thing a joke. I would sway our hands back and forth like we were in kindergarten, I would make weird noises, and it made him so angry! Oh well. When I started dating my current boyfriend, we were walking somewhere together and I mistakenly thought he was reaching to hold my hand. I gave my hand to him and he said, ‘Actually I really don’t like holding hands. Is that okay?’ I was relieved!”
Size differences can cause problems
1. “[Holding hands is] okay…I’m taller than my husband, so we have to awkwardly stand farther apart so I’m not bending over to hold his hand.”
2. “I feel like I need to shrink half an inch to make this work. Or I need shorter arms…or to be taller. In heels on a date, it’s all good with my boyfriend. But normally, it’s just too cumbersome.”
3. “I love holding my fiance’s hand because it’s so big! We also have to hold hands like kindergarteners because his fingers are too big to interlace them with mine. He crushes my fingers.”
Alternative methods abound
1. “Strong advocate for linking arms over holding hands. Intimacy is in the elbow creases.”
2. “Nah. Piggyback or arm around shoulder.”
3. “Not as much as I like footsie.”
4. “Not much for hand-holding. But very into locking arms. It’s my ultimate sign of affection and comfort. Whether it’s a friend, a significant other or my dad, it’s my way of feeling close without getting mom’s spaghetti palms.”
5. “I would SO rather someone put their hand on my leg or arm around me than hold my hand!!”
It doesn’t always have to be a romantic gesture
1. “I like holding hands with my sister! It makes me feel like she’s five and I’m ten again.”
2. “My best friend’s grandma would squeeze and hold my hands and it felt like she was transferring all her good energy to me and/or reading my soul.”
3. “I wish hand-holding was more common among friends! It’s not in my social circle, but I think it would do a lot of good to have platonic touching be a more regular part of people’s lives.”
4. “Holding hands with female friends is such a power move. I find that women friends who hold hands can have more open and intimate relationships.”
5. “I still hold hands with my mom at 24 and will never stop. Would rather hold hands running errands at Trader Joe’s than on a date.”
Hand-holding while walking around in public can be annoying
1. “Holding hands is nice when you’re cozied up or seated. However, when walking, it’s acceptable for 30 seconds max (if at all), then it’s like, ‘Okay I need my hand back now so I can walk like a normal human.'”
2. “The only time I don’t like it is walking down the street because NO ONE walks at the same pace/height without it being awkward for one of the pair.”
3. “Not when I am walking because honestly it doesn’t make any practical sense. You have to adjust your pace and you become a sidewalk clogger, which is the worst type of person to be!! But I like holding hands with a significant other while in a stationary position.”
Counterpoint: Hand-holding while walking around in public can be helpful
1. “When walking through a crowd, my boyfriend and I always hold hands so we don’t lose each other — people always move away when we do!”
2. “Um…holding hands only feels right in public or while walking places. Holding hands at home feels like high school and can get very uncomfortable. And sweaty.”
3. “I like holding hands with my boyfriend in public, especially in large crowds because it gives me a sense of security. In any other situation, it’s just not something I’m interested in.”
And sometimes, it means a great deal more
1. “Gay guy here. I used to think holding hands with girls was so awkward and sweaty, but ever since I came out, I LOVE holding hands with guys in public. There is something so exhilarating about being so open and honest after not doing so for most of my life. Sure, it’s definitely still sweaty, but the truthfulness makes it feel soooo worth it. Plus, if the other guy is willing to hold my hand in public, it means I’m worth the possible discrimination we might face. It’s really something.”
2. “For couples, it’s such a simple gesture of love that many people in relationships (especially queer couples) don’t get to enjoy in safety.”
3. “I’m in an interracial relationship and have been with the man I love for almost 15 years! I was the first woman (besides his mom, of course) my husband ever allowed to hold his hand! … I could feel how uncomfortable it made him — people seeing us together, making judgments. He even avoided my hand sometimes until we were somewhere less public. It hurt, but I understood why he did that. We had to go through a lot to prove to our own families that our relationship wasn’t just ‘a phase.’ Showing our affection for each other in the beginning felt so taboo, we were so young. But with each long hug, kiss and walk while holding hands, it made us so much stronger.”
4. “Perhaps I am an anomaly, but I really do appreciate holding hands. As a member of the LGBT community, publicly holding hands feels almost political, even still — especially in conservative Indiana, where I live. Our hand-holding is a token of awareness, of our undeniable presence and validity in this world. A sweet and small piece of intimacy. A symbol of connectivity. A reminder to the passersby that we are here, our love is real, that I am proud of her and she is proud of me.”
Photo by Arthur Elgort/Conde Nast via Getty Images.