Personal Space

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Two posts ago I mentioned that minor thing called Personal Space. We all need it. We are occasionally violated. We sometimes never get it. Sometimes we get too much.

In college this weird thing happened where people started hugging each other. Not that we didn’t do that before, but it seemed like a matter of greeting that became habit. I surmised in a writing assignment once that we, as a collective whole, needed that platonic expression of inclusion and even love because we were missing it from home.

A memory sticks out for me, of sitting on the bleachers at a football game surrounded by friends, leaning back into a guy friend seated behind me. It was easy and comfortable, and secure. I felt that sense of affection for him and his for me, though it would never blossom beyond friendship. Whether his intention was different from mine we’ll never know, but I valued his friendship more than the desire to have a boyfriend.

I think we all know the prevalence of the hookup and plenty of other shenanigans. I shied away from those situations because I always preferred a real relationship. I think I gave off the vibe too, because it was a rare occasion when a guy would cross the boundaries of my personal space without invitation.

Friendships are different. I was always open to hugs and today now more than ever, everybody hugs. It’s a standard that appears to be here to stay, so ya’ll best get on board. Unless you’re not a hugger, which is perfectly fine. I have a few friends who aren’t, and I get the need for boundaries. Intuition is also a powerful tool – if one pays attention to others’ cues. I don’t like hugs, or – we hardly know each other, or – my head only reaches your belly button and that’s just plain awkward.

In relationships, as I mentioned – too much affection was the kiss of death. Even my ex, who wrapped his arms around me at a bar the first time we went out – which, by the way, should have been a great big red flag – I felt like he was claiming me and it pissed me off.

What is between Todd and me is a perfect balance of love and affection, personal space, and PDA. We still hold hands in public, walking into the store or out to a restaurant. While our lives seem to have become busier and we have less down time together, perhaps there is a greater need right now to close the gap between us. Personal space is so abundant now as to require a little more violation. And no, I’m not talking about sex, you dirty-minded little trolls.

Meanwhile, Veruca is a master of violation. She has always been the child who couldn’t get enough of me, and at this age I find myself tensing up the more she invades my space. She will hug and squeeze me – I swear, bruising my face – she talks to me like I’m her child. I’ve been told this is a form of possession, or manipulation, or both. So, we continue to work on the boundaries, even as she is maturing and beginning to pull away.

And then her very own personal lesson came along this year. A new girl – we’ll call her Missy – latched on to her on the first day, called V her BFF, and won’t leave her alone. She is in every. Single. One. Of her classes. AND lunch. V has only gym class with her bestie since 3rd grade, so lunch is the prime time to catch up. Unfortunately, Missy is dominating V’s time and conversation and she is pissed. Missy also has this other endearing habit of poking V.

My solicited advice was to establish physical boundaries first. Tell Missy not to poke you. Tell her she’s welcome to sit with you and Bestie at lunch, but explain that this is also important time that you both look forward to catching up. V tells me that even Bestie is annoyed, which is kinda funny because I can’t picture sweet little demure Bestie getting pissed off. What little I know…

For what it’s worth, I think it’s gotten a bit better. I did try to encourage V to see behind Missy’s motivations – that she’s the new girl and needed to feel like she belonged, and that she saw V as a kind face. That perhaps V’s job was to help her get acclimated and meet other friends to smother hang out with too. It’s a testament to V’s [public] character that a stranger saw her as an ally.

All in all, karma for V became a teaching moment for me. And the revelation that perhaps the apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree.

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