What's the story with President Trump's 'weird' handholding with Theresa May?

Elise Solé

President Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly have a rocky relationship, but their penchant for holding hands has both confused and amused the internet.

President Trump held British Prime Minister Theresa May’s hand on the way to a meeting. (Photo: Getty Images)

Donald and Melania Trump are in England, where on Friday they had tea with Queen Elizabeth. The day before, they met with May so she and Trump could discuss international relations.

On Thursday morning, en route to a press conference at Chequers, May’s estate in the English countryside, Trump grabbed her hand as the two descended a short flight of steps. The gesture was immediately chastised on Twitter. 

However, Susan Constantine, a body-language expert who trains law enforcement and the Department of Defense, says the president’s gesture was simply transactional. “He’s being conscientious and guiding her along in support, even lifting her hand at one point, to give her some height,” Constantine tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s gentleman-like.” 

Handholding also reflects Trump’s emotionally based behavior, says Constantine. “Trump relies on physical touch in order to feel a connection with someone, even when a relationship isn’t perfect,” she said.

It’s the second time in two days that Trump held May’s hand — on Thursday, while heading to a black-tie dinner at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, the president took her hand, leading her up a short flight of stairs, while their respective spouses trailed behind.

President Trump led British Prime Minister Theresa May up the stairs at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, England. (Photo: Getty Images)

“There, the president led with a finger grip, which reveals a bit of impatience,” says Constantine. “The gesture is less for support and more reveals his dominant personality.” A smarter idea might have been for Trump to allow May to walk ahead and if anything, graze the small of her back for support. “As is, it seems as though he’s dragging her along behind him like a caveman,” she said. 

It’s also the third time the world leaders have walked hand-in-hand. In January 2017, while walking down the White House colonnade, Trump grabbed May’s hand, to the horror of the internet. May later told Vogue, “I think he was actually being a gentleman. We were about to walk down a ramp, and he said it might be a bit awkward.”

Any affection between Trump and May may seem confusing given their hot-and-cold relationship. On Friday, he gave a controversial interview to the U.K. Sun, criticizing May’s approach to Brexit, and praising her rival — the recently resigned secretary of state, Boris Johnson — as someone who would “make a great prime minister.” Later, the president clarified his remarks, referencing “fake news.” 

“I also said that this incredible woman right here is doing a fantastic job. A great job. And I mean that,” Trump said Friday, per CNN, adding, “She’s a total professional. Because when I saw her this morning I said, ‘I want to apologize. I want to apologize because, I said such good things about you.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry; it was only the press.’ I thought that was very professional.”

On Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said to The Hill,  “As he said in his interview with the Sun, she ‘is a very good person,’ and he ‘never said anything bad about her.’ He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person.”

She added, “He is thankful for the wonderful welcome from the prime minister here in the U.K.”

Trump has drawn criticism for his style of greeting world leaders, from his 19-second handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to his “awkward” and forceful greeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and a seemingly reluctant exchange with President Barack Obama.

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