Saturday, February 26, 2011

It's personal

Everyone who knows me really well (hint, REALLY well) knows that I give great hugs.

I'm warm, generous, and loving.

But if I don't know you very well, don't expect me to hug you. It'll happen - in rare situations where I might feel especially close to a perfect stranger to me.  But on the whole, I'm just not that kinda girl.  And please don't touch me before asking my permission.

The average personal space for someone in North American society is about a two-foot radius all around.  Normal people have this private bubble around them that is the same size all the way around.  There's a reason that there's an expression "at arm's length" because that's about the distance that is at the limit of comfortable for most folks. (An interesting aside is that in Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, where the population is larger and the culture far more group-oriented, the personal space bubble is a LOT smaller.)

People who are quite private have a larger personal space than people who are primarily social.  It can vary as much as a foot in radius!  And those people who come from abusive backgrounds, or who have spent prolonged time in a war zone (such as is often the case with military personnel) have an expanded personal space.  It could be as much as four feet out in front.  And invariably, for such folks, the bubble is larger behind than it is in front. Mine is about 3 feet or so in front, and about 3.5 to 4 feet in back.

Even though it's invisible, it's just as real as the walls of one's house are, and sometimes I wish it came with a sign: [PRIVATE PROPERTY.  

I know a couple of people who are very uhmmm, "hands-on" with people.  They have to be touching the person that they're with. They (mistakenly) believe that all touch is therapeutic.  (shudder!!) 

When someone does that with me, my skin starts to feel as though it has snakes or insects crawling all over it.  It's very uncomfortable for me.  I just want to yell at them and tell them to LAY OFF!!  

My body yells at them - but they don't seem to get the message.  First I fold my arms or bring my arms or hands close to the front of me.  Then, I start to stiffen up. Or I  back away...if that's possible. Yet these people always seem to find a way to rub my back while they're talking to me - or my shoulder, or my arm. I just want the floor to open up and swallow me!  These enforced "let's go around and hug everyone we meet" sessions that are popular in my church and many others' churches - to me are torture for 2 reasons.  The scent issue is one - and this is the other: forced intimacy.  It's a form of assault a way.  I like to have the freedom of choice whether or not to give someone else permission to touch me, let alone hug me.  Like Geraldine (of Flip Wilson fame) my motto is, "You don't KNOW me well enough to touch me!"  It's like someone walking into your house without even knocking.  Only a select few get to do that (which is why I always knock, even when visiting friends).  Not people who (for all intents and purposes) are complete strangers.

Of course once I DO know you better, you will find that I'm quite affectionate.  And that affection will be shared - with your permission - quite freely.


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