What You Need To Know About This Secret Handshake
I was at a dinner party recently in a circle of women gathered around a cocktail table when someone mentioned that a couple at the party seemed nice but a bit standoffish. The hostess said, “They’re elitists.” Her words were bathed in both justification for having them there and embarrassment for they way they came across.
Non-verbal communication is 2/3 of all communication, engaging all of our senses with postures, gestures, eye movements, tone of voice, touch, and use of proximity or space also known as kinesics, or the study of body language. Clothing is even on the list.
I had naturally sensed the couple’s “vibe” in the room but didn’t give it much thought, other than the common quick first impression, which was that they seemed a little pretentious. They were dressed in dry-clean-only fabrics that were a little too formal for the occasion, and too hot for the weather. Beyond judging the book by its cover, they were also acting strange, observing, rather than interacting. Walking around like one-way mirrors with no reflections. They reminded me a little of being introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Vampire in a modern day horror movie.
I reacted without thinking and said, “It’s creepy!” The women all looked at each other, they locked eyes and “shook” them silently. I understood right away what was going on. Who needs words when you have eyes?
The Female Secret Eyeshake, unlike a regular secret handshake, done by hand, is how women tell each other in a non-verbal way that they “know better” in front of others who don’t. It can be done from across the table or across the room. Some women are so good they don’t even need eye contact.
Like flatfish, they can do it from the side of their heads.
They are noticeably exaggerated if they think a woman truly doesn't know better, as a nice effort to save her from her own cluelessness (read The Courage To Choose Kindness Over Niceness). When barely noticeable, it's the kind of thing that lets a woman sense that they know she “knows better”, therefore she is not clueless but perhaps inconsiderate, rude, snarky, and insensitive. While both styles are very effective with women, they have absolutely no effect on men.
What I had meant to say had clearly come out wrong. They thought I "knew better". The woman on my left in a very forthright east coast accent said, “That doesn’t make them creepy!” Someone else said chimed in, “It’s not like they’re spooky!”
In a not so distant past I would have said it was not what I had meant and left the party riddled with self-doubt about what I had said and have feelings of guilt for saying it—wishing I had used a different word. The social anxiety from the “should-have-known-better moment” would have lingered for many days, maybe even weeks. I would have thought about calling the hostess and apologizing, then thinking, "What would be the point?" I was sure she would have said something like, “Oh, don’t worry about it!” What else was she going to say?
I imagined that too.
I imagined her saying that her feelings were hurt because, "Even though they are elitist, they're my friends." I imagined apologizing and explaining why saying it was "creepy” was totally different than saying, “They were creepy”. Then she probably would have thought I was trying to defend myself. On the other hand, if I called and said I was sorry without an explanation, I imagined her saying, “Why did you say it?"
What about the other women? Was I going to call them too, one by one, and apologize? I would have continued to replay a loop of conversations in my mind, thinking there was no point to having them, then having them again.
Next I would have asked a good friend what she thought I should do. She would have understood what I meant. She would have said something like, "You're over thinking it," and that I was a good person. She would have made me feel better by saying, “Who cares what they think?" After all, what kind of friend invites a couple to a party then disses them in front of her other friends, while they are still there? They should know better.
These days we all know better. There is no reason to argue over the way we remember the ending of a movie or the year something happened. The time that it took to open the encyclopedia at home or sift through library index cards to find information now takes minutes. We have all the informational resources we need on any word or subject at our fingertips. We can go in to deep end of anatomy or stay shallow and bob on “Ten strange things you never knew about toes”. Most conflicts today are not over what we know, but what we mean.
For this we need to use words, not "eye shakes'
At the party, I reached for my phone and Googled the definition of the word creepy. I said, “Here is what I meant by definition: ’causing an unpleasant feeling of fear or unease’. Walking around thinking you are better than others can make people feel unpleasant or apprehensive, therefore it can be creepy, it does not mean they are creepy.”
“Read it again,” Someone said. I did.
The etymology, or historical evolution of the word creepy is a good way to explain the evolution of our verbal and non-verbal communication over time. Creepy originally comes from something creeping and "having a creeping feeling in the flesh". It's modern sense, from 1858, the physical sense of creepiness became invisible, and “sensed just the same”.
The word creepy perfectly described the feeling I had felt as a kid when a “Vampire” would walk into a room during a movie. Vampires are never spooky when you first meet them. You just knew something about them was strange or eery, like their clothes or hair—just like the couple had made some people feel at the party.
Funny, right? I meant FUNNY!
It was a great opportunity to discuss the ways that elitism can cause uneasiness, even fright, or what history teaches us about it — but it wasn’t the right place, or the right time. The elitist couple was still lurking around in the shadows.
Ten minutes later we had moved on to a different topic when the woman on my left once against addressed me in her east coast accent and said, “I don’t like the dictionary definition”. I thought to myself, what could be more elitist than thinking you’re above a dictionary definition?
Note: No elitists, east coast women, or party hosts were harmed during the writing of this blog.