It was a late summer evening, the nights finally cooling down to the point where a light jacket was finally a good idea. The air still felt warm, but the slightest chill would ripple across bare arms, teasing up goosebumps and tiny shivers. We were on our second date, and she took my hand as we crossed the busy street. But she continued to hold it as we walked up the block to the restaurant. She asked me if it was okay, and I couldn’t figure out a polite way to say no. After a dozen or so steps, I unlatched under the pretense of buttoning my jacket, and then didn’t take her hand again. I was annoyed with myself.
Another date (in from out of town for a long weekend) was disappointed when I wasn’t ready to take her hand in public. We’d been at a rock festival together, and though I’d kiss her on the cheek here and there, or put my arm around her as we watched a raucous punk band kill it on stage, I wouldn’t walk from venue to venue with her hand in mine. I told her that holding hands where I live would send a message I wasn't ready to deliver just yet. She wasn’t so pleased to hear that, but I think she understood.
I tend to be guarded about physical affection in a public environment, though I’ve been known to steal a quick kiss when the moment was right. It's not a statement about my level of interest in a woman, or trying to keep our date on the down-low; it's about controlling the message until I'm ready for the statement to be made. Because holding hands does make a statement, and it’s different from walking together, or walking even arm-in-arm.
What I love about holding hands is the reason I’m not so comfortable doing it with someone I’m not dating exclusively. It’s a warm and cozy way of interacting, and makes for easy non-verbal communication (the squeeze, the thumb caress, the grip switch). It’s both innocuous and intimate, skin against skin. It’s romantic, but it’s also comforting — that reassuring touch we all crave; a return to our earliest days when Mom or Dad would envelop our hands in their larger ones, and we knew we were safe.
A woman taking your arm as you walk together doesn’t send the same kind of message as when you’re walking hand in hand — it may show that you’re on a date, or are close friends, or that she just doesn’t want to slip in her heels as you navigate an uneven sidewalk. As the man, you choose between keeping your arm pressed back against your own body, or keeping your hand in your pocket (I prefer the latter — there’s something ‘40s cool about ambling down the street with a doll’s hand through the crook of your elbow).
But holding hands? That says you two are “together.”
The question I’ve been asking myself though, came after yet another date (this one a third), when we were walking through downtown after a sloshy brunch, the duck confit benedict, the company, and several cocktails filling me with a sense of ease and well-being. When she took my hand as we walked to the next bar, and then again as we crossed back into my neighborhood, I just went with it. Maybe the drinks and the winter sun and the feeling that I was right where I needed to be were enough.
So the question is, “What if holding hands isn’t that big a deal?”
I mean, everyone I know loves it. And if you want your date to feel desired and appreciated, taking her hand definitely will do that. It’s a bold move. You know…unless she’s the one who’s not there yet, and finds it creepy or condescending.
Wait. Should a man ever take a woman’s hand early on? Should we defer to her until the nature of the relationship is established? As a man, should I let the woman grab my hand and decide when it’s time to let it go, rather than getting uneasy and finding a reason to stop?
Is it more manly to just go with it and hold your date’s hand in public?
Also… am I overthinking the whole thing?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all just held hands all the time? Simone’s too old for me to take her hand when we cross the street, but sometimes, when we’re walking through the neighborhood to grab dinner or head to the bookstore, she’ll grab mine for a few minutes, and it fills my heart. And I love to hold my baby niece’s hand whenever she’ll deign to let me. I adore the way her tiny hand fits into mine, and how natural it is for her to reach out to me like that.
I’ll never get to hold my own father’s hand again, and I’ll miss that forever.
So what if 2017 was the year of holding hands? What if that one small gesture could help us reconnect with each other, putting aside the vitriol and disgust that filled the current year, bringing a hint of graciousness and human warmth and kindness back in the world, two hands at a time?
In many cultures, adults hold hands often — men walk hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm in the Middle East and Mediterranean countries, and you see women holding hands just about everywhere else in the world.
What if we could stop worrying about the message we think two adults holding hands conveys (that of exclusivity or romantic attachment), and just embrace the idea of two people connecting meaningfully for a few fleeting moments, squeezing a little tighter before we let go?
I’m a hugger—I hug family and friends, colleagues, employees, and clients. It’s just something that feels right for me, and I love the comfy blanket of affection and kindness that remains wrapped around us after a solid hug. It’s an intentional gesture that adds meaning and beauty to the world.
Maybe holding hands could be the same?
Happy hand-holding new year, my friends. Let’s fill 2017 with love, hugs, and grace.