My sweaty hands love social distancing

Why I’m never shaking hands ever again

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.” Graphic Joey Bruce

I was afraid of doors as a kid.

One of my earliest childhood memories is getting up in my grade 3 classroom to go use the bathroom, walking over to the closed door, and not being able to open it. My face shone bright red and my hand kept slipping on the old doorknob.

Wiping my hands was pointless. As I pulled my shirt sleeve over my glistening palm in a hopeless effort to turn the doorknob, my teacher called out from across the class, “Sheena, are you okay?”

I turned my back to her as I tried without success to turn the knob with two hands this time. There was no use.

“No, Miss. I can’t open the door,” I said, barely a whisper, my head hanging. She promptly came over to help, and with ease, opened the door for me. I was home free to go to the bathroom. Being stuck like that felt like the end of the world to me. I was prepared to be teased, but no one really mentioned it.

I was never particularly popular in elementary school. Being vaguely ethnic in a white suburb and coming from a working-class family meant being very different from most of my peers. It came as no surprise that at our grade 6 graduation party, none of the popular boys asked me to dance. 

There was, however, a friend of mine who did. I was reluctant—my sweaty hands constantly being wiped on my dress in an attempt to calm the ocean forming in my palms—but I agreed. 

We danced until the song ended, likely something by the Black Eyed Peas, and as soon as our hands separated he began aggressively wiping them on his pant legs to save himself from the agony I’d inflicted upon him. It goes without saying that I stayed seated for the rest of the party.

Why do we need to touch hands for you to feel like you’ve met me? It’s better for both of us if we simply don’t.

In high school, I was safely in the middle of the popularity pyramid. With that social hierarchy security, I built the confidence to tell people that I have sweaty hands without caring how they’d react. I avoided sitting next to the door in class. If that was my assigned seat, I’d ask the person next to me or behind me to open the door if someone were to knock. Sure, it was a weird request but they never refused.

With the exception of one of my friends screaming at the top of her lungs in disgust when she touched my hand and discovered it to be moist, high school went off without a hitch.

As a journalism student in university, however, I’m now working in professional environments where a handshake is the polite way of greeting someone—this is my absolute nightmare.

Knowing that a handshake is coming only makes my sweaty hands even worse. Usually, I plan ahead by wearing cotton or denim somewhere in my outfit, but that isn’t always possible.

But we’re in a different world now. In an age of social distancing and virtual meetings, my sweaty hands and I are flourishing. 

Yes, my cabin fever gets worse by the day and I haven’t retained any memories in months, but I am beyond overjoyed that I don’t have to shake anyone’s hands.

There are no doors for me to struggle over opening, no bus poles to grip onto while my knuckles go white, and no more in-class exams being handed in with curled up edges.

Long after we reach herd immunity and we can safely gather in groups again, I plan to refuse everyone’s handshakes. Why do we need to touch hands for you to feel like you’ve met me? It’s better for both of us if we simply don’t.

When I’ve rejected handshakes in the past people have said, “I don’t care!” or things of the like, but in my unlimited hours of reflection I’ve realized—it doesn’t matter how they feel. I’m uncomfortable with it, and that should be reason enough.

So with that in mind: No, we cannot share a dance; no, I cannot open this door; and no, I will not shake your hand.