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Do I Dare Ask: “The Future of The Handshake?”

I have always admired the handshake from afar. Why afar, you might ask? I will get to that, but for now, think about the meaning of the handshake through history. It has always been a mark of goodwill. I researched its origins, and according to Deep English.com, the genesis goes back to ancient Greece in the fifth century B.C. where people practiced this ritual as a sign of peace. The Romans and the knights of Medieval Europe also used a form of this gesture, but unlike the Greeks, the purpose was for the detection of hidden weapons.

The Various Meanings of the Handshake

As time went on, we know many handshakes indicated an agreement of sorts. When Ulysses S. Grant graciously allowed Robert E. Lee to concede in the Civil War, purportedly, it was with the handshake as the final say as depicted in many paintings of this historical moment. In more recent times, the handshake symbolized a binding agreement between two people until the world became excessively litigious. Nowadays, few people would accept a handshake as a contract set in stone. Nothing less than a legal document with signatures and, at times, a notarization, would finalize the agreement.

Men often see the handshake as a method of communication and compromise. Years ago, a surly cousin of mine misinterpreted another cousin’s goodwill about doing more for himself. The first cousin became extremely defensive, so my more easy-going cousin said, “No problem,” putting out his hand as a token of cooperation.

My Experiences and Thoughts About the Handshake

Most women use the handshake as a formality. For me, a hug or the touch of a shoulder is my preferred method of acknowledgment with those whom I am close to or see regularly. Until recently, did I still shake people’s hands, yes, when first meeting or other similar instances? Throughout my young adulthood, I did not think twice about it, but during the 1980s, that changed. I happened to be Co-Chair of the Central, Massachusetts NASW Chapter and had to introduce the speaker.

When he came to the podium, the friendly presenter gave me a hearty, hand-crushing handshake. I will never forget it.

My hand ached the rest of the day, and maybe longer. That was the end of taking the handshake for granted.

Eventually, I recovered from that minor but memorable impression and did not think much about the issue of handshaking. Over the last several years, being Catholic, however, I pondered this more closely. I became increasingly uncomfortable touching strangers’ hands. About six or seven years ago, a priest told the parishioners to stop shaking hands due to a nasty flu season. I cannot tell you how elated I was. I began praying, well not quite but at least hoping for the elimination of this custom forever. Unfortunately, that was wishful thinking. Once the season subsided, the practice of handshaking resumed. Since that time, I have tried to avoid it, but when a child reaches out, I feel guilty and shake their little hands. More recently, however, when attending, I have tried to find a pew where I can avoid these close encounters of the…well, any kind. Late last year, I told a little white lie in church, that’s right. When somebody reached their hand out to shake mine, I waved instead. As Mass came to an end, I felt terrible and whispered to the peacemaker that I was just getting over a cold.

Although I am not a germaphobe, I am getting older and ever so often wonder where those churchgoers’ “friendly hands might have been or not.”  Immediately, I stop my imagination from wandering. Instead, early this year, I ceased all handshaking and used the peace sign or a chipper wave as a replacement for this harmonious ritual. Before COVID, some might have questioned if I was tactile-defensive or just a “cold fish.” On the contrary, anyone who knows me is well aware that I love hugs. As I move my psychotherapy practice from eastern to central Massachusetts, most of my clients who are following me through teletherapy indicated they would miss the live hug. Occasionally, some will drive to my new office, but when they cannot, they will settle for a virtual embrace.

What Will Become of the Handshake?

I believe once Church attendance resumes that many people will be reluctant to shake another’s hand. I am curious to see if the population at large will consider suspending it all together and resort to the fist bump, which seems to be on the rise. How about the elbow bump? Can you see that in a church setting? Kumbaya? I don’t know because there is much uncertainty about what the lay of the land will look like in general. What I do know is that “old habits die hard,” such as handwashing or not.” As a result, I will be most cautious about resurrecting the handshake anytime soon.

What About You?

What do you think about the handshake? Will your resume without hesitation? Do you think it may become extinct in place of something else?

Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbetthttps://darlenecorbett.com/
Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, a pursuer of excellence, a work-in-progress, and a seeker-of-the-truth. She is also referred to as the "Unstuck Expert" in her many roles. Why? Because for over thirty years, she has been assisting people to get unstuck. Darlene's primary roles are now Therapist, Hypnotherapist, and Author/Writer. Although she loves speaking, it is now secondary and done mainly through her podcast, "Get Unstuck Now. Because of her wealth of experience, Darlene began putting her thoughts on paper.  Many of her blogs can also be found on Medium, Sixty and Me, and DarleneCorbett.com. Penning these articles set the stage for her first book, "Stop Depriving The World of You," traditionally published by Sound Wisdom. Being a believer in pushing oneself as long as one has life, Darlene has tried her hand at fiction, hoping to have something completed by the spring of 2022. Over the years, Darlene has been described as animated or effervescent which contradicts the perception of a psychotherapist. She firmly believes in the importance of being authentic and discusses platinum-style authenticity in her book.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting question. Like so many other things that are likely to change, it may take some time, but some new awareness may influence some of our future behaviors.
    It started centuries ago as a symbol of peace and security. At least in part the handshake has retained the density of its original symbolic value in the religious, political and even sports fields, and has become a daily gesture of connection in the professional sphere. But Coronavirus has forced to rethink it: no matter how friendly it is, it’s still an exchange of potentially infectious microorganisms. The hand is in fact a true receptacle of species of bacteria and viruses on our palms, we have always had them. The handshake is always a positive connection between two people. Solid or soft, embarrassed or strong, handshakes are a habit that is difficult to abandon even if we want to.
    But the global health crisis calls into question the role of physical contact in the gestures of greeting of cultures around the world: the handshake is now known as a dangerous gesture. I therefore think that all the repertoire of gestures that we have available must be rewritten. The simple request “avoid handshakes” could significantly redefine the ways of human interaction. A global response could give rise to new gestures which, in turn, will redefine the ways in which we interact with each other.

  2. Writing is a way to really reach out, so thank you again for another post, Darlene. I for one don’t think the handshake is completely nor will it be completely obsolete. Just like hugs, I think people will slowly return, (with certain guidelines accompanying them) ie’ if they do not extend their hands, the other won’t, and that hugs will be confined to those that they love and know; perhaps not to the extent like it was, but I don’t think these social gestures are gone for good. Since I am one who will not think twice about giving a hug to someone that I have compassion for, relative, good friend, I will always be ready.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your article, Darlene. I hope one day we will get to meet in person and exchange a warm hug! I learned how important a strong handshake was-how to make certain you look people in the eyes too. As I reflect on your article, I vividly remember my vibrant, vivacious, passionate, and wise music teacher and choir director in high school who exuded confidence in her firm handshake and bright smile. Her love and respect for another person seemed to travel from her heart right through her hand into the other person. The experience felt like being plugged into a battery charger. I’d watch how whoever she shook hands with would light up like they’d just met their favorite rockstar.

    I also have vivid memories of the “leave my scent” on everyone men who’d shake your hand and you’d be “marked” for the rest of the day no matter how many times you washed your hands. Ugh.

    It’s difficult to know if handshaking will not come back anytime soon, but I certainly hope hugs will for I cannot imagine going through the rest of my life without hugging the people I love and care about!

  4. Darlene, thanks for sharing this piece. It certainly is timely and something to ponder. I chuckled as I read the part about shaking hands in church. I’m Catholic also, so I certainly could relate. Although, I have to admit I haven’t attended a mass in a few years. It will be interesting to see how things resume. I’ve always done the obligatory handshake, but now I don’t know what will happen. I suspect it will take a back burner for some time.

    It is an opportunity for us to find a new way to connect and recognize that initial hello.

    Thanks for writing this one!

  5. Darlene. Thank you for sharing your research with us. You teach us a lot here and provoke the thoughts of the handshake. I can only say for me that I was taught ow important it was. Both my father and Uncle valued a good handshake and as children I recall the baby lessons in a firm handshake right down to looking the other person in the eye. Now I must have been seven or so and really didn’t shake a lot of hands. The fact that my family of origin insisted it was of value made me think it was too. As I grew I saw other ways to greet, but most dominant was the handshake. I too would not always feel comfortable as some hands would pass more information than needed to me. Lol. There was truth in the phrase about how someone shakes a hand tells you about them.. for me anyway. Human touch is imortant but there is a strong effect it has when it has been absent for some time. Then there are others Very interesting read. It will be interesting to see what evolves. I can’t imagine the office meeting starting with an elbow bump.. but it is a picture to smile upon. There is no emoji for this🤪. Great read my lady🙏👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

  6. I love the way you write and this is such an interesting and thought-provoking article. I think the handshake will return however; I do think it will be a while. I’m sorry about the bone-crushing experience. That’s horrible. I never liked the handshakes that left me smelling like the other person’s cologne however the same can be said for hugging with both men’s and women’s fragrences. I too am a hugger and when we meet in person, I will enjoy our hug!

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