Firm Handshakes & Plain Speaking

I’ve found that people are often surprised by my handshake. I don’t squeeze or anything, but I was taught by my father—a Navy man—that a handshake should be firm. What’s the use of one otherwise?

I’m no feminist. I like men to open doors for me and pull out my chair and stand when I stand. (I do get weirded out when they kiss my hand, but then again, I have issues with personal space. Handshakes are good. No one’s lips have to touch me, and we can keep plenty of distance between bodies.) So my handshake is not about me trying to prove anything, which is, I think, what some people feel when faced with a woman who has a strong grip. No, for me it’s more about representing myself as myself: honest and capable and such. I’ve shaken with people whose hands are limp and damp as fishes, and it hardly inspires confidence. It just makes you want to wipe the touch of them off. I’d rather not be the person you’re sorry you came into contact with. So I try for a solid handshake.

The plain speaking thing is about honesty, too, and even more so about clarity. I can do “polite conversation.” I was brought up in extremely polite society. It’s hard work for me, though, to filter. But see it from my point of view, that of someone with Asperger’s: Someone has said something to you that you dislike. Maybe it’s meant to be affectionate and funny—they’ve saddled you with a nickname, they’ve made a joke about something you did, they’ve laughingly suggested you were second-best for the job when you’ve been very proud of the fact you were first pick (Benedict)—and you are supposed to laugh it off and never say that it bothered you. Instead you circumlocute and dance around as the conversation moves on. Later this person is going to walk away and never remember they said anything that might have been upsetting to you. Indeed, in his or her mind it was harmless and not worth the space of memory. But you will remember it for a long time, maybe forever. This person has placed a burden on you, and you are supposed to carry it willingly.

If you were to say anything, if you were to go so far as to assert yourself in the matter . . . Well, you might as well take a lump of fossilized dinosaur feces from your coat and thump it onto the table. People then have the option of either looking at it, mouths agape as they try to think of something to say, or pretending not to see it. Just as with the words should you speak up: they will either stare at you, not knowing how to answer, or they will pretend not to have heard. Because to speak your mind and admit a hurt feeling is a faux pas. It somehow shows poor sportsmanship. You’re actually supposed to go on getting your feelings hurt and privately nursing your wounds all life long. This doesn’t make sense to me. Does not compute.

I realize that sometimes by saying what I mean I’ve inadvertently bruised an ego. But I usually don’t know that at the time; it has to come back to me by some other source, or sometimes someone’s reaction makes sense in hindsight, should I take the time to think about it. (In fairness, I’m equally oblivious to flirts and never know when someone is attracted to me unless they all but say it, else by the time they make a move I’m sinking my teeth in because I’ve mistaken it for a physical attack on my person. You laugh, but it’s happened. Really.) Still, I would much rather the person just say, “Please stop. That isn’t funny,” or whatever. This may seem like a childish thing to say to someone: “Stop it!” But there’s a freedom of speech children have that we lose as adults. Instead we go through life being sad and angry about things because we’ve prevented ourselves from being allowed to let it out and thus move on.

I guess I mean to say that I don’t mean to be malicious, and so to those I’ve unintentionally barbed, I am sorry. And I also mean to beg pardon for the times my direct form of communication has left people speechless because there’s been no fallback response for, “I don’t like that.” Well, there’s an apology, I guess, but it’s also impolite to corner someone into apologizing to you. They’re so tricky, all these rules. And I like to err on the side of being sure I’m understood. Hence, I speak plainly.

I once had a relatively famous someone say to me: “M, you know what I like about you? I always know where I stand. I may not always like where I stand, or what you have to say, but at least I know where I can get an honest opinion.”

Yes, and also a firm handshake.

By the way, if you ever do want to “turn on my filter” or switch me to “polite mode,” thereby assuring I will “go easy” on you or those around you, all you need do is give me a signal. As I’ve said, I can do it, but someone needs to tell me when I’m supposed to. It’s just too much work to do it all the time. A girl’s gotta let her hair down and all that.

2 thoughts on “Firm Handshakes & Plain Speaking”

  1. I have a firm handshake too, and I think some people get a little weirded out by it. Yet I’m sort of repulsed by weak handshakes. As for plain speaking, I think that’s why most of my friends are men. I’ve found most men usually say what they mean while women try to dance around with words. It’s like being an Aes Sedai!

    1. Well, Americans have a reputation for being plain spoken, too (though I know you’re Canadian). I’ve had conversations with British people where I go in to help them with something and:

      ME: What’s the problem then?
      THEM: (taken aback) Uh, uh . . . tea?
      ME: Your problem is tea?
      THEM: Would you like some?
      ME: Not if there’s a problem with it. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to help you with that.

      And so on and so forth. They want to ease in and talk around the issue, but how is anything supposed to get done that way? Even if one does manage to fix the problem, it takes forever because no one wants to just SAY it.

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