Earlier today, US first lady Melania Trump made headlines when she demonstrated what many adult women already know: Holding hands is the worst.
As the Trumps welcomed French president Emmanuel Macron and the French first lady Brigitte Macron to the White House, the first lady’s gaze remained stolid beneath a white hat that was equal parts Carmen Sandiego and Bianca Jagger. After greeting the Macrons, she appeared to take a deep breath, perhaps steeling herself for what would inevitably follow.
And then it happened: Donald Trump first brushed her hand with his index finger—a motion easy enough to ignore, if only for a moment. Melania’s hand hung limp at her side as the president wagged his pinky along the inside of her fingers before wrapping his fingers around hers, engaging the first lady in what appears to be public, non-consensual hand-holding. The moment is painful to watch and yet, I cannot stop.
I think it is because for once I see something of myself, however briefly, in the cipher that is Melania Trump. When she closes her lips tight and appears almost to gulp as the president worms his way into a handhold, I feel perhaps a tiny fraction of what she may feel—not rage or deeply complicated emotions tied to being married to someone like Trump, just the disgust of holding hands with another adult. I hate it, and Melania appears to hate it too.
Holding hands with another grownup is an experience that is awkward at best. Even when you do like that person, there’s a solid chance their hand is a bit clammier, softer, rougher, weaker, or smaller than you might have expected. Even when one of my dearest female friends with beautiful hands grabs mine mid-stride, I immediately start fixating on when and how it will be appropriate to let go without being unkind. If my fiancée—a person I love and sleep with nightly—forgets my feelings and attempts hand-holding, I last for three seconds, tops, before I release and link my arm around his elbow. This is a far better way of walking, clasping, and embracing than squishing our palms together.
I know that in some cultures—India, for example—it’s standard for adults (men included) to hold hands in public. More power to them—and to you, if you love it! But for me personally, it just doesn’t fly. I make exceptions only for my 100-year-old grandmother, whose hands are outrageously soft, always cool, and never clammy; small children crossing the street; and when attempting to stay with companions in crushing crowds. In other words: if you’ve been alive for a century, or if our safety may be in jeopardy, I’m down for it.
Melania Trump has in the past gone viral for her resistance to holding the hand of Donald Trump—a fate even president Macron did not escape today. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge a new norm: Some of us just really don’t want to hold hands.