Life used to be simple. You saw a man, you took his hand, and you shook it. One to three strong shakes. Transaction complete. But in this new era, there are a multitude of ways for men to greet each other, and it’s become downright awkward and perplexing, to the detriment of many exchanges.
Now when I go to greet another man, there’s no telling what kind of histrionics we’ll perform to acknowledge one another. If we’re meeting for the first or second time, the handshake is as certain as a hug is for your mother. We’re still kind of strangers so let’s not make this any more awkward than it already is.
The trouble comes when we men actually know and like each other, and care to welcome the other in a warm, personable way. A cold, unpassionate handshake there simply won’t do. So we resort to the option that seems best to us at the time.
One such popular option is the thumbs-clasp-then-fingers-slide-into-a-snap shake. Like diving at the Olympics, the increased degree of difficulty here yields happy rewards when properly executed, yet looks like a painful belly flop when it fails. Some cultures and social groups pull this one off seamlessly. I on the other hand often fail to connect the thumb clasp and completely lose the chance to perform the slide and snap. Sorry about that, are you content that our hands did stuff so we can move past this butchered ritual and remain friends?
Sometimes though we just don’t care to be so warm and fuzzy. In that case we may extend the fist for a bump. A bump kinda says, “It’s good to see you but there’s no need to snuggle.” The problem with inviting a bump is that you may be inviting a world of confusion. Bumps are not highly common in most circles. If you have a room of shakers, claspers, and snappers, your fist will look like a cold, fleshy rock. Are you going to extend that and punch me in my eyebrow or is this a gesture of endearment? Then we remember you like us and aren’t belligerent toward your friends, so we adjust accordingly. The problem with that fist is you may want to go patty cake style, one bump on top, then bottom, then together. If we’re not on the same page, we will be waving fists at each other, simulating baboon interaction. If you’re willing to take that risk, let’s go for it and see what happens.
Let’s not forget alternative handshake option #3. Guys my age are still fairly active, competitive, playful, and prone to high-fiving. If we’re shooting hoops or celebrating kickball homers, then of course we’ll five away without problems. But when you bring those fives to the bar after work, you are inviting disorientation. When the high five is presented here, the handshake extender is rendered perplexed. And there’s no saving face. He will also look like a fuddy-duddy. The guy who came to the party a little too serious. The high fivers were primed for a round of Jagerbombs and you just went Mich Ultra.
Just like any communication, the employed greeting of young men is determined by the occasion, mood, and setting. With so many variations of welcome at our disposal, we are bound to look foolish from time to time in attempts to read one another’s minds and execute an impeccable embrace. But it’s no reason not to try, and a clumsy encounter is far better than one of apathy.