There’s way more to holding hands than you think—and it’s usually not that innocent, either. Example A: Justin Timberlake’s set-the-Internet-on-fire handhold with Alisha Wainwright, his costar on the upcoming film Palmer.
While the PDA is, to be fair, more PG than R-rated—no one’s ever going to yell at you to get a room—holding hands is still an intimate act. “It feels good to hold hands with someone we know because it’s all about wanting to be close to them," says Toni Coleman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach in the Washington D.C area. "We only hold hands with people we have a certain level of comfort with or attraction to."
“Holding hands invokes a positive feeling about one another, so you both feel sexy and wanted. It’s almost like foreplay."
Cue all the feels: Just like massage, kissing, and hugging, “research shows that touch, like holding hands, releases oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that gives you that feel-good buzz,” says Coleman. If you’re not in the hand-holding habit, you should try to do it more, as a surefire way to boost intimacy. “It invokes a positive feeling about one another, so you both feel sexy and wanted. It’s almost like foreplay,” she says.
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As a veteran hand holder, though, you might not realize that there are so many ways—Coleman counted at least seven—to do the not-so-dirty deed. And while hand holding is, in general, a special type of nonverbal communication that sends a message to not just each other, but people on the outside of your relationship, too, that you’re really into your connection, each specific type of handlock says something specific about your relationship.
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So, yeah, you can say a **whole lot** without words. Peep the seven different ways you and your S.O. might be holding hands—and what each style means for your bond:
1. Handhold style: Fingers intertwined
Your fingers may be intertwined, and you may also be reaching back to touch their arm, too. (I’ll call this the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.) This means you both crave a deeper connection. “Intertwined fingers say, ‘I’m into you. I want to get closer—and I can’t quite get close enough,’” says Coleman. When you’re both willing to grab each other’s hand like this, it says you’re on the same page with wanting to develop or continue a strong connection. Sweet!
2. Handhold style: Loose grip
You two may be warming up to the whole hand-holding thing. “A couple may hold with a soft grip when they don’t know each other well and are cautiously trying to start a connection,” says Coleman. “There’s a sweetness, but it’s more subtle and cautious,” she says. Pay attention to who initiates: Whoever reaches for the hand is expressing that desire for physical connection. And in some cases, your partner is signaling to others around them that, ahem, you’re “taken.”
3. Handhold style: On top and bottom
Picture this: Your partner is holding your hand with both of theirs—one of their hands is on top of yours and the other is on the bottom. They’re probably also staring into your (starry) eyes as you talk. “This is almost a type of embrace. All that skin-to-skin contact maximizes the oxytocin high,” says Coleman. This intense handhold signals that your partner is 100 percent paying attention to your every word.
4. Handhold style: Firm—but not interlaced—grip
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This all depends on where you are in your relationship. “Usually when you see this, it’s one person holding onto the other more tightly,” says Coleman. The hand-holder may be tightening their grip in a protective way to offer comfort or reassurance if the other is anxious, she says. Another possibility: A tight hold may not signal affection—it can also be something someone uses to assert their dominance. Context matters here.
5. Handhold style: Arm draped combo
You’re both sitting side by side. Their arm is draped around yours, and you’re holding their hand. Get a room, maybe? “This says, ‘I’m so into you, I want to be as close as possible, and I want the world to know how we feel about each other, too,” says Coleman. Gripping each other in this type of loving way is also showing a sign of support for the other person. Say it with me: aw.
6. Handhold style: One hand gently resting on top
Eek. Are you having the “should we breakup?” talk? When you put your hand on top of someone else’s and let it rest for a minute while you speak, it may mean that you’re delivering bad news, says Coleman.
“In certain situations, you may be touching the other person briefly on the hand to get them to look at you when they’re upset,” she says. That"s not to say this type of holding hands means you"re doomed, but you may want to pay attention to other body language cues to better feel out your status.
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7. Handhold style: Over-the-shoulder walk
Not to be confused with the over-the-shoulder sit, when you do this while walking, it’s basically a PDA cuddle. “It says, ‘We are one. Even though we’re walking down the street, we’re staying as connected as we can,” says Coleman. Hold on, baby!
Jessica MigalaJessica Migala is a health writer specializing in general wellness, fitness, nutrition, and skincare, with work published in Women’s Health, Glamour, Health, Men’s Health, and more.
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