Originally published on mic.com
Do you hold hands?
You may have already kissed that special someone, indulged in a couch makeout session, and even had sex; but the thrill of holding hands is as real and more important than any other type of physical intimacy.
We often view sex as the height of physical intimacy, so it seems counterintuitive that the innocent act of holding hands could be so emotionally charged. But in today’s dating era, holding hands feels more intimate than ever. And if you find yourself wanting to reach out and grab your date’s hand, that could be a sign that this relationship is the real deal.
Holding hands is a big deal. Even having sex with someone doesn’t mean you’ll hold their hand as taking someone’s hand is a sign of wanting to be close to your partner in a nonsexual way. Tarah, 25, from Ontario, told Mic that it usually takes her two to three weeks of dating before she’ll hold hands, even if they’ve already kissed or had sex.
“It’s a sign of affection, a sign of me wanting to be close to you and close with you. There’s a certain energy exchange that you can feel from holding hands with someone, especially if you have feelings for the person,” she said.
Besides the desire for physical affection, the move can also define your relationship status. If you’re not ready for the world to see you as a couple, you’re likely avoiding any acts that signify to others you’re truly “together.” And there’s nothing quite like holding hands to signal that you’re a couple. Nick, 23, from Santa Monica, California, explained that holding hands represents a shift from “someone I’m dating” to “someone I plan on indefinitely dating.”
“When you’re holding someone’s hand, you’re entwining your fingers with theirs, a physical manifestation of an emotional connection,” he told Mic. “You’re joining yourself with your partner and you shift from a ‘you and them’ to an ‘us’ in the eyes of those around you.”
There’s a reason it feels powerful. We’re hardwired to feel an increase in pleasure and a decrease in anxiety when touching another person. Physical touch releases oxytocin, a “cuddle hormone” that stimulates feelings of trust and bonding. Holding hands can even reduce pain: A 2009 study by the University of California found that women who were subjected to moderately painful heat stimuli experienced less discomfort while holding hands with their boyfriends.
One of the most powerful signals humans give each other of affection and interest is touch, said Pamela Regan, psychology professor at California State University, Los Angeles. And it can be just as romantic as sex. “It’s a promise,” Regan told Mic. “It’s a little possibility of what might happen.”
Times have redefined this gesture. The notion that holding hands is an act reserved for serious couples would have seemed bizarre not long ago. (Indeed, the thought of holding hands on a date feels straight out of a black-and-white movie.) But as casual sex has become widely accepted, it’s possible we’ve assigned more meaning to the nonsexual act of holding hands. If sex is no longer a guaranteed way to demonstrate serious feelings for another person, hand-holding can be.
“I think it remains more important in an era of perhaps more liberal sexual norms,” New York University sociology professor Dalton Conley told the New York Times in 2006. “It remains this thing to be doled out.”
Sure, some people may still be physically repulsed by the idea of holding someone’s hand. And deciding to publicly show the world that you and the guy or gal you’ve been seeing are a real couple can be scary. But if you’d like to feel more emotionally connected to your partner, holding hands can be a beautiful, romantically old-school gesture.
“It’s emotionally charged and a status symbol exactly because it is G-rated. There is nothing sexual about it; rather it conveys pure connection and support,” Ronit, 28, from Washington, D.C., told Mic. “When two people are holding hands, they operate as one unit.”