Fancy Coffee Friday: Musings on Personal Space

“This is my dance space… This is your dance space.  You don’t go into mine and I don’t go into yours.” – Johnny Castle

(That happens about minute 2:55 in the video… go ahead, swoon over dreamy Patrick Swayze… you know you want to.)

Angry Porcupine! via http://www.photoree.com

I have personal space issues.  Like Vampires or Satan, I don’t go into someone’s dwelling or personal space unless I’m invited in (or they’re family, close friends, have given me prior permission, are harboring the newest shipment of peanut butter kisses that only come out around Halloween)… and I expect the same courtesy.  Invading my space uninvited is one of those triggers that can cause me to go from happy panda to angry porcupine.

I’m adaptable – personal space in Europe was much, much smaller than it is in the USA.  I got that, I knew that going in, I was fine.  But here in the good ole USA – personal space is vast.  You don’t sit next to people in waiting rooms unless there is no other option.  You sit in entirely different rows from other patrons in movie theatres until or unless you have to sit in the same row, let alone next to someone.

Here’s something many people don’t know about me.  I was not a “hugger” until college.  I blame college friends for turning me into an occasional hugger… damn you college (and current) friends!  I was FINE in my personal space bubble.  I was fine with waving Hello and Goodbye and the occasional handshake.  Then I met all these people who wanted to pull me in for a big hug.

I can laugh now at the memories of those first hugs, but at the time – I was flipping out!  Whichever friend had decided it was a good idea to hug me would go for it – wrapping arms around me in a big ole squeeze – and I would stand there, stock still, deer-in-the-headlights eyes, not breathing…. and they didn’t stop hugging.  It felt like millenia was passing for the duration of those hugs and in an effort to expedite the, what I hoped would be rapid, end of these hugs, I’d futilely raise my arms from the elbows and give a “there, there” pat on their back.  That usually sufficed and the hug would end.  I’d take a deep breath of relief at my release.

Yeah, this is a pretty good depiction of what I look like when someone attempts to go in for a hug. via cheezburger.com

Yeah, this is a pretty good depiction of what I look like when someone attempts to go in for a hug. via cheezburger.com

Oh, they worked on me.  They hugged, they one-arm-shoulder-squeezed, some even added on the freakish kiss-on-the-cheek (stop doing that!  I don’t know where your mouth has been!  Cultures for which this is a norm get a pass because I’m cultured, damn it.).  My GODS!  There was no END to their incessant touching!?

Eventually, I grew to trust these people and many went from friends to “chosen family”; hell, I even married one of them – one of the worst offenders even!  (Did you notice the emphasis on “these”?  Yeah… more on that.  Keep reading.)

But those people who I allow into my personal space are few and far between.  I’ve not made a full leap to a “Hugger” (with a capital H), choosing to hug, touch, let alone get close to their personal space, only a handful of people with regularity.

What people who I don’t hug regularly appear oblivious to when they go in for one is the panic, the deer-in-the-headlights look, that I’ve held my breath and in my head I’m wondering, “Just how long do I have to let them hug me…and will they notice if I don’t really hug them back?”  People I don’t particularly know who go in for a hug often receive my right side (I’m right-handed) and a one-arm-pseudo-squeeze with the “there, there” pat as I turn my head away or I thrust out my hand as I take a step back if I think of that move fast enough.

This is not to say that I don’t like hugs.  There are people in this world whose hugs I quite enjoy, thankfully Mr. Muse is Numero Uno of those people.  If this were proper Victorian society, I venture to guess that most people in the world would be presented my offered hand, fully encased in a glove.

Needless, after reading all of that, I bet you figured out that I like my space, because you, my Dear Reader, are a very smart person.

I spend a good deal of each day alone.  If I’m around people for too long I become a very angry porcupine, all coarse and bristly, flinging quills about left and right (porcupines don’t actually “fling” quills).  I even have my own room in the house.  My room, my stuff, my mess, my space.  It’s not set up how I’d like it to be at the moment, but it works for now; one day it’ll become my “She Cave” Study complete with a “Stay Out” sign on the door.  Okay, there won’t be a sign on the door.

But this personal space issue isn’t just my own space – it’s everyone’s.  For example, Mr. Muse likes to do woodworking.  He has a large shop to do that in and I leave him to it.  I seldom venture into the shop because that’s “his space”.  He tells me I’m welcome any time, but for me it’s taboo to enter without invitation.  I don’t want to interrupt his personal “me time”.  Once he asked me into the shop to make “Aldo Leopold benches” and I went, but I was very concerned about using things in a way he didn’t want them used.  I realize that it’s our money that bought the tools, but in my mind, everything in the shop is “his”.

Mr. Muse is bemused by my formality over the my space/your space issue.  I’m not a cuddler, he is.  I don’t like to be interrupted when I’m working on something, he doesn’t mind.  He understands, yet doesn’t (to a certain extent), and that is okay. I don’t like being touched unless an invitation is extended and as long as I remain a happy panda, all is well.  I also get a little slappy/punchy if I’m held onto for “too long” which can vary greatly depending on the day.

Let’s agree to keep physical touching to a minimum and just shake hands on it… but only if we have to.

Are you a “Hugger”?

How do you feel about your personal space?

Most awkward personal space moment?

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About The Amusing Muse

Deep thinker whose mind operates at warped speed. Philosopher pondering the big (and little) things in life. Storyteller. Office Ninja. Model. Teller of bad jokes. User of big words.
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20 Responses to Fancy Coffee Friday: Musings on Personal Space

  1. I’m a hugger, what can I say? I’m in hospitality and clients want to hug me all the time – go figure. The flip side/worst invasion of “my space” are angry clients yelling in my face. Most awkward – a pregnant woman (raging close enough her ample belly touched mine) spitting in my face as she screamed expletives because I closed the bar (legally obligated) at her brother’s wedding. Yikes.

    • I find that being in the modeling industry, so many people hug – it’s pretty ridiculous – that I’ve gotten really good at completely faking enthusiasm when they come at me with arms open. I feel so dirty afterwards, buuuuuuuut, whatcha gonna do? It’s bad enough that those of us who would rather not hug begin to go in for one, recognize the deer-in-the-headlights look on the other, pause, often say “I don’t like hugging” and then head in for a hug anyway because we’re both laughing over the fact that we get where the other is coming from. We’re suddenly in this secret group of non-huggers who will hug just because we find it pretty hilarious that we have a compatriot.

      And that is an awesome scene in Dirty Dancing!

  2. PS – I could watch that scene from Dirty Dancing a thousand times and never get tired of it 🙂

  3. William says:

    I wasn’t a hugger but friends have turned me more into one. Your traits and Mr. Muses traits mirror mine and my wifes.

    • LOL I remember the first time we worked together, it’s pretty well described in my response to Notes To Ponder’s comment. The industry-standard of hugging and the recognition in each other that neither of us liked to hug but we kind of laughed and did it anyway.

  4. I am a hugger. I would say that I am a hugger with boundaries. Firstly if I think a person is approachable and huggable, I ask. Huggers or I should say, discreet and tasteful huggers have a certain code, like a drug addict and dealer, one can always tell the other. However, I am miffed when the universal sign to end the hug (letting the arms drop) is not adhered to. THAT is an invasion of personal space, a definite breach of hugging etiquette! I am, like you, very selfish with my personal space and hate having it invaded without consent. In fact, I have no issues telling people that they have, in effect, declared war by entering my no fly zone. Most awkward was a hug from a date that I really never wanted t see again, I gave the end of hug signal and she kept squeezing and squeezing…the horror, the horror

    • I had to laugh hard at the “squeezing and squeezing”; I’m guessing there was a stench of desperation that accompanied that squeeze. I’ve had dates like that, and those where the guy went in for a kiss and my hand shot out for a shake as I gave a short salute with the other and a “Well…. thank you for an interesting evening.” I excel at awkward.

      And between my analogies of vampires and Satan and your’s of addicts and dealers, I’m sure that the webcrawlers are going to LOVE this post and I’ll end up with some very interesting search terms and phrases that land people on this post. 😛

  5. Aging cowgirl says:

    Not a hugger, more of a hand shaker. All those years of bankering. Prefer interacting with people “in their element” but will change aisles in the grocery store to avoid them…that does sound wrong, doesn’t it? I can remember youngest daughter asking “Mom, do you know everybody?” and having to explain they were likely a customer that I helped with home financing, but I didn’t remember their name. Most awkward – I admit it, they all feel awkward!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I think I learned that from you – although I tend to be oblivious to people when I’m out-and-about and frequently find I have people yelling my name trying to get me to turn around. I just don’t hear them, or if I do – I don’t expect people to be calling for me, so surely that calling out isn’t meant for me!

  6. Okay, I guess I am one of the bad guys here. I’m a hugger. I’m a tight, kiss you on the neck hugger. Maybe that classifies me as a pervert of some sort. Don’t care. It is often the highlight of spending time with women I like to be around.
    Guilty! But I will try to remember next time we work together.

  7. John says:

    I am a hugger – a serial hugger.

    That said, I truly appreciate the “personal space” thing. My desk used to be “mine,” becoming a father & everything, I’ve loosened this, but it still feels surreal. I remember, a few days before getting married, my in-laws were over & my brother-in-law sat down at *my* desk to do something on *my* computer and, holy shit, I lost it. I’m still not proud of that moment.

    In high school, the principal was . . . an outgoing personality. He was jovial. When he shook your hand, he patted you on the left shoulder. I remember a Japanese dignitary coming in to give some speech, and I happened to be there at the introductions — Japanese guy bowed and the principal took his hand to shake it and patted the guy on the shoulder, like he did with everyone. “Deer in headlights” just about sums up the look the Japanese dignitary gave back.

    • lol When meeting someone from another culture, and you know you are in advance, research appropriate contact! 😉 Okay – that’s what I do.

      I can honestly laugh about my non-huggy status, can deal with people I’ve met and had a conversation with feeling compelled to hug (as much as I might not care for it), but I’m still amazed when people I’ve never met or just met and have barely exchanged words beyond introductions going in for the hug or worse yet, hug and kiss.

      I also realize that American society does not care much for the standoffish – it’s finding a good balance between being comfortable and allowing a little bit of “societal normality” at the same time.

  8. Now I feel like I should turn myself in before I hug again.

  9. Pingback: Fancy Coffee Friday: Resting on my Laurels & Deep Thoughts | musingsoftheamusingmuse

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