Donald and Melania Trump’s marriage is endlessly scrutinized for signs of trouble, so when Melania appeared — for the second day in a row — to avoid holding her husband’s hand, the Internet went wild with speculation.
On Tuesday, the couple landed in Rome as part of a nine-day “world peace” tour through Saudi Arabia, Israel, and finally Italy, where the pair met with Pope Francis at the Vatican and visited the Sistine Chapel.
Melania Trump with the casual 'NOPE. Still not touching you' move.
— Nerdy Wonka (@NerdyWonka) May 23, 2017
While walking down the steps of Air Force One onto the tarmac at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino International Airport Tuesday night, the president attempted to hold his wife’s hand at the exact moment she reached up to adjust flyaway strands of hair. The president’s hand hung in the air with uncertainty before he placed it on his wife’s behind.
Social media, having barely recovered from a Monday incident during which Melania appeared to swat away her husband’s hand while walking across the airport tarmac after landing in Israel, took notice.
Oops She Did It Again! Did Melania Trump Reject Donald’s Attempt to Hold Her Hand for a… https://t.co/8wW9NM4446
— Sekinat (@Sekinatlawal081) May 23, 2017
@NerdyWonka It's about time she had some cold ice behavior ???? ???????? and well deserved. He walks away all the time! He's not a gentleman.
— kerri (@kerr1320_kerri) May 23, 2017
I'm no fan of Melania Trump, but I have to admit that her instinctual, keep-walking-and-look-straight-ahead hand swat was killer
— Gloria Fallon (@GloriaFallon123) May 22, 2017
“There seems to be significant strain in their marriage since Donald Trump was elected president, and what I think we’re seeing in these small exchanges is Melania attempting to stand up for herself,” Susan Constantine, a body-language expert who trains law enforcement and the Department of Defense, tells Yahoo Beauty.
“What’s notable is that these aren’t private rebuffs — Melania knows that cameras capture her every move,” Constantine adds. “It seems like she’s sending her husband a message that she won’t play second-best anymore.”
Donald, expecting the weight of Melania’s grasp, seems uncertain when she doesn’t reciprocate and his hand hangs awkwardly before he places it on her behind, a move Constantine views as alpha-driven. “He could have put his hand on the small of her back to guide her down the stairs,” she says. “Not very respectful.”
Also notable is the distance between the couple — sure, each are capable of walking down a flight of stairs on their own, but there’s a distance between their bodies, suggesting that while they move together, they’re very much separate, notes Constantine. “By fixing her hair with the hand closest to her husband, Melania seems to reject him — she was looking down and surely noticed his hand reaching out,” she says.
The couple’s relationship has been public fodder largely since their first dance as president and first lady, which was dubbed “awkward” and “bizarre.” During a live version of “My Way” at the Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C., Melania stiffly leaned away from her husband’s face and placed her hand flatly on his chest.
On Inauguration Day, when the Trumps arrived at the White House to greet the Obamas, Donald exited the limo and bounded ahead without acknowledging his wife, fueling rumors of marital strife. That same day, a meme of Melania smiling at her husband with her face melting into a solemn frown when his back was turned, went viral, along with the hashtag #FreeMelania.
For what it’s worth, the couple was photographed gripping hands at the airport on Monday before departing Saudi Arabia for Italy, suggesting that just like any other couple, they have their ups and downs.
Read more from Yahoo Style + Beauty:
- Melania Trump Slips Into an LBD After Rocking White Suit and Candy-Cane Heels In Israel
- The Real Reason Ivanka Trump Wore a Hat in Israel
- Apparently, They Really Like Ivanka Trump In Saudi Arabia