And now, for my most specific story yet, I will divulge to this small audience what is known in popular culture as the “thumb thing.” If this means nothing to you, keep reading.

For those of you who don’t know, the thumb thing is a phenomenon where a male will place his hand on a person and subsequently start grazing his thumb back and forth on said person in an absentminded fashion. 

I’m 1000% sure this sort of movement is a universally inherited genetic reflex for all men. You know how archetypes are the collective unconscious? The thumb thing is the collective unconscious for men. Moving their weak, lame little thumb back and forth on their date’s hand is their archetype. It’s like “river symbolizes change” except it’s “man moves thumb symbolizes he-has-crush-on-you.” 

This action can be motivated by the conscious or subconscious mind. It’s conscious when you’re on a date and the guy thinks, “Oh, and now I will do the thumb thing.” It’s subconscious when the guy is an unestablished romantic prospect and he thinks, “Hey, I don’t think I’m confusing her enough right now. I must cause more disorder, because that’s what my gender does best.”

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In most cases the thumb thing is harmless — a nice little gesture by your counterpart to display he’s enjoying the physical contact. In other times, however, it can be extremely misleading. 

Let’s go through examples of some classic times guys will do the thumb thing. 

On the thigh 

Now, for men who have no sense of right and wrong, setting a hand on an unsuspecting victim’s thigh just so he can placidly move his thumb around on the surface with no explanation is a go-to move. For most, a hand on the thigh alone can be written off as a thoughtless move. But if the thumb starts moving, it changes the intent from mindless objectification to flirting.

The common followup to the thumb on the thigh is a pretty straightforward ghost. After the guy has made the recipient wonder if there’s anything deeper going on in the friendship, he bolts and leaves the recipient baffled and stressed. 

On the hand 

This one can trick people into thinking it’s more innocuous than the thigh. But I would argue the hand is 100x more provocative, because it’s more ~intimate~ than anything else. Drunk, tired or clueless boys without self-control will grab your thigh or your ass any day — ugh I literally hate it here — but not your hand, because that’s serious. It’s not sexual but romantic, and it’s only what boyfriends do.

The tricky thing about the hand is it can be normal when platonic friends grab it, but when they start to move their thumb on your hand — as a boyfriend would do — it gets really confusing. For example, say you’re freaking out, and your friend is there to comfort you. He’s talking, you’re crying, everything’s fine — until BOOM! Grabs hand! Thumb is over hand! Thumb starts mOvING. AHHH! What does this mean? Why would he do this?!

No platonic friend would hold your hand and then start grazing your knuckles! What is going on?! Now he has instigated a mental catastrophe on top of your mental breakdown — boys would.

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On your shoulder 

Now, I would say the shoulder is actually the safest place for someone to do the thumb thing without creating any confusion. For someone’s hand to be on another person’s shoulder, it’s usually because you two have already established you like each other. But there are other times where that’s not the case.

What if, when you guys are squeezing together for a photo, he puts his arm over your shoulder and starts moving his thumb? Or what if he throws his arm over your shoulder casually at a party but then starts moving his thumb? Watch out — you’re never safe from these guys. The shoulder can be quite ordinary until made otherwise. 

He’s your friend of ten years and does the thumb thing, but then he also claims he has congenital thumb spazzing 

“You need to hear me out — it’s a real condition,” your very good friend says in an incredibly defensive tone after you rip your hand away from his with a confused and betrayed expression.

Listen, I’m all for validating disorders and conditions, but this is just getting to be too much. In this improbable — but very real — situation, the boy will take your hand, start grazing your hand, and when you call him out on it, he will backtrack by claiming he has no real control over his thumb. Boys, if you can’t control your thumb, keep it to yourself. 

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When you’re watching High School Musical with your friends, and your crush has his arms wrapped around his friend, and you have your arms crossed next to him, and your hands are next to each other, so he might as well grab your hand and start doing the thumb thing thereafter

You might think this is a totally overblown and specific situation, but it happens to more people than you think. When guys do the thumb thing here, you’ve got them.

I’m serious. This is the ONLY situation where a guy does this and it means he genuinely likes you. See, when you sat on the couch, he saw it as an opportunity to make physical contact with you in any way possible.

For him, the most logical way to do that was to feign interest in his friend sitting next to you, but in wrapping his arms around his friend, he got his hand closer to yours. With your hands now so close, it’s so easy just to hold hands, let the thumb do its thing and have that be the origin story of how you two started dating. 

Lower waist 

Finishing off with one of the more risque locations, the thumb thing on the waist would be a better thing if it wasn’t so damn ticklish!

Honestly, I think guys only do it here because their hand starts to fall asleep, and they need to do something with it to maintain blood flow.

Anyhow, if a boy puts his hand on your waist and does the thumb thing, just angle your body away and taze him in the gut. He’ll jump back, stunned, and that’s when you say, “Yeah, that’s what it feels like.” This might scare and confuse the boy, but we’d rather have them in that state than anything else.