SLACK HANDED COMPLIMENT
The world I used to work in was full of men. Manly men, supermen, macho men, M-E-N men: generals, ambassadors, senators, deciders. (Sure, there were some women, but not enough.) We’d shake hands at meetings, me and these men. Meetings where I was briefing them, advising them, making sense of the big, bad world for them. And almost every time, shaking hands with these men at these meetings was a micro lesson in micro signals: what your handshake says about you.
“That’s a firm handshake,” they’d say with a hint of flirtation and thinly-concealed amazement that a woman — an attractive woman with a brain, no less — could grasp something other than a handbag so tightly. “Hm,” I’d respond with a quick upward twitch of my lips that stopped well short of a smile. After a while, I’d try to predict: is this one more a ‘nice grip’ or a ‘woah, bone crusher’ kind of guy?
I got used to it. I wore their surprise as a badge of honor. I was amused by their shock.
What never amused me, however, in all my years of glad-handing civil servants and military officers from everywhere, was the inevitable, insufferable, unforgivable flaccid fingers. You know, the guy who goes in to shake your hand and makes you feel like you just grabbed a pile of wet spaghetti?
I never understood what these guys were thinking. Didn’t they know what they were projecting with their slack shakes, their drooping digits, their wilting wrists? It made me feel creepy. And I could never get used to it. Flirting on the front lines, gawking at the gun range, making eyes in the mess hall — I took these in stride. But weak hand shakes? Puh-lease.
Get a grip, dude.