I went to a parents thing at Henry’s school, and I shook a lot of hands. Here is what I noticed:
1. A lot of people, men-people and women-people, shake hands the way I do: you keep sliding your hand forward until your thumb-pits engage, and then you shake and/or squeeze.
2. A lot of people, men-people and women-people, DO NOT do this.
Here is what everyone who didn’t do the first option did: they stopped as soon as they were holding my fingers in their fingers, and then they pressed lightly. Like a duck bill, lightly clamping my fingers. I did not know what to do at that point. They were duck-billing my fingers and I could not complete the shake. It’s like if you go for a hug, and someone grips your upper arms and stops you before you get into the hug-space, and your arms are left dangling alone.
I tried this out with Paul just now. “I need to shake your hand for a blog post,” I said, and we shook hands the way I think of as Shaking Hands: slide hands forward until you can slide them forward no more. Shake. Then I said, “Okay, I need to see where it is that it stops when people do it the other way,” and we tried that a few times but it was hard for two untrained novices to figure out where to stop if not at the thumb-pit, and then Paul got all squirmy and uncomfortable about it and we stopped trying.
But Paul does say he has encountered that handshake before. “ONLY with women, right?,” I asked, but he refused to commit. But…I can’t picture two men shaking hands that way, can you? Delicately pressing each other’s fingers? I think it must be that that is the way some women offer their hands for a handshake: stopping before the thumbs can get acquainted. And how some men have been trained to shake hands with women: like, be CAREFUL with women.
So here is my four-point theory:
1. Some women are taught to shake hands without engaging the thumb-pit, no matter who they’re shaking hands with.
2. Some women are taught to shake hands with full thumb-pit engagement, no matter who they’re shaking hands with.
3. Some men are taught to avoid the thumb-pit with women, but to engage the thumb-pit with men. (Maybe some women are also taught this?)
4. Men are never taught to avoid the thumb-pit with other men.
So then I, as a woman, encounter these options:
1. Men who have been taught to grab a woman’s fingers without engaging her thumb-pit (but would shake a man’s hand with thumb-pit engaged).
2. Men who have been taught to shake anyone’s hand, man-hands or woman-hands, with thumb-pit engaged.
3. Women who have been taught to grab anyone’s fingers, man-fingers or woman-fingers, without engaging the thumb pit.
4. Women who have been taught to grab anyone’s fingers, man-fingers or woman-fingers, with the thumb-pit engaged.
And I, as a woman, NEVER encounter:
1. Women who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits engaged, but men’s hands with only-fingers. (Or maybe I DO encounter this, but don’t realize it.)
2. Men who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits engaged, but men’s hands with only-fingers.
And my theory further theorizes that Paul, as a man, encounters these options:
1. Men who shake with thumb-pit engaged.
2. Women who have been taught to grab anyone’s fingers, men-fingers or women-fingers, without engaging the thumb pit.
3. Women who have been taught to shake everyone’s hands with the thumb-pit engaged.
And that Paul, as a man, would never encounter:
1. Women who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits, but men’s hands with only-fingers.
2. Men who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits, but men’s hands with only-fingers.
3. Any man who would shake his hand with only-fingers.
Here is what I need: data points.
Were you raised as a girl-person or as a boy-person? And how were you trained to shake hands? Were you trained to do it the same way no matter who you were shaking hands with? or were you trained to shake boy-hands differently than girl-hands? Or if you don’t remember being specifically trained one way or another, how did you grow up doing it? I don’t remember being trained; I think I picked it up from examples and social cues (i.e., seeing others do it, and participating in handshakes with others), and also I remember reading a lot of references to “good firm handshakes” and “limp/cool/fishlike handshakes,” which further developed the concept.