On Holding Hands

I have had sex with a lot of men. I have held hands with very few.

There’s an intimacy to holding hands. I don’t know anything like it. Fingers are sticky, palms clammy, arm lengths uneven. When you hold hands with someone you have to learn how you fit together. You have to negotiate the way your knuckles interlock.

God forbid they trace their thumb across the back of your hand, their fingertips across your lifelines. Callouses betray secrets.

I chew my cuticles. I bit my nails as a child until my parents trained me out of it, but my hand inevitably finds its way to my mouth. My teeth tear away little strips of skin. Infections sneak in, blooming red along the nail. Occasionally I’m cruel to myself and I taste blood as little red pearls well up in the exposed flap of tissue.

My hands are not cute. I have short fingers and eerie blue veins. Milk spots cover my nails. Three decades of anxious chewing have taken their toll. I am not embarrassed by my hands, small like a child’s. They are strong. They make words for me. But I do not pamper them with polish or expensive moisturizer and it shows.

My primary love language is touch. People assume it is words of affirmation and it’s true that I can articulate myself with lurid delight when I’m in the right state of mind. But in the hard moments, the ones that scare the shit out of me, words get all tangled up in my throat. I stutter or duck my head, mortified by my vulnerability.

In contrast, my hands are fluent in every language. My thumb finds a sensitive spot on their jaw. My fingers ease through hair, gently rub an earlobe. With the right hand holding mine, I can have a silent conversation for hours.

‘I’m with you. This matters. Remember me.’

This essay was first published on my Patreon, where I write exclusive essays about intimacy and relationships each month. Subscribe here.

Photo by Kate Hliznitsova.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

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