Quit crushing my hand

cartoon of a crushing handshake.
Image via Flickr.com; some rights reserved.

This is the first in an occasional series about the imaginary conversations I have in my head. (Don’t worry. I’m mentally balanced. Just very imaginative, and I often work off stresses by imagining how I could have handled recent irritants better. It also helps me to draw boundaries.)

I have arthritis in my hands, visibly so if you glance at the first knuckles. And yet some people still find it necessary to absolutely crush my hands when they greet me. I’ve stopped altogether shaking the hand of one of my husband’s friends because the last time I greeted him at a soccer game my hand throbbed the entire first half of the game. I now make a point to put my hands in my pockets when I see him, in fact, but I balance it with a welcoming smile.

It’s sometimes women, but almost always men who do this annoying little power play. I’m sure they’ve heard that a powerful grip inspires confidence and admiration. But they do it at the expense of others.

Also, this little handcrusher power play is usually with other men, isn’t it. What is the point of crushing the hand of (a) a female (who usually is treated with courtesy in our society) and (b) who visibly has painful hand joints?

So I have a new game plan going forward:

  • Caution: If I don’t know the person’s grip or if I know they’re too firm, I will slip just my right hand’s fingertips into their grip and place my other hand on top of theirs to make the lukewarm mini-handshake a little warmer.
  • Confidence: If I know they’re gentle, great! Handshake as usual.
  • Wry tsk-tsking in advance: If I suspect they’ll be rough and I love them anyway, I will make a smiling reference to how they’d better be gentle with my hands this time before we shake.
  • Fuck you, this is war: If I know they’re rough and have warned them about it before and they’re a repeat offender, that’s a different story. If I’m feeling irritable, I will let them crush my hand, and then will yell embarrassingly loudly for them about how they hurt me, just as if they had slapped me out of the blue. I might even be able to cry on cue, just to mortify them. And I suspect it will be a one-time occurrence. Or (if I think they need a little guilt) I will decline to shake hands and say that your handshakes are not gentle and they cause me pain.

And if I get that strutting, smirking, boastful little response — with the person chuckling and saying he doesn’t know his own strength, or that he’s always had a strong handshake, ha-ha-ha — I’ll say this:

“Oh, so if I handed you an egg, you would not be able to stop yourself and your big old strong manly hand muscles from crushing it to a gooey mess in your hands? No? Because unless you’re simply unable to stop yourself from ‘hulking out,’ you actually do have control over the muscles in your hand. The question is why you’re willing to cause another person pain. Because you are definitely willing. You either don’t care that you hurt me, or you can’t be bothered to remember to be gentle. And that says something sad about you.” (Said with a pleasant expression, holding calm eye contact for an uncomfortably long time.) Eventually, if they don’t say anything, “Perhaps you’d like to talk about something else. I’m just letting you know that I won’t let you hurt me, just to be social with you.”

The scripts that are now running in my head (in the voices of my mother and other relatives who used to scapegoat me for protecting myself):

  • “GOD, you’re such a bitch.”
  • “Why do you have to make a big deal out of everything?”
  • “It’s not all about you, you know!”
  • “They don’t MEAN to hurt you. You shouldn’t take it personally.”

And yet it’s still pain that I feel. Pain that I can avoid. So I plan to.

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