Tetchy About Touchy

I’m not a touchy-feely person.

Sometimes, I wish I was… I see friends who are more “touchy” than I am, and they’re all being so friendly and warm and touchy with each other, and often I envy them. But I just can’t do it myself.

I am *very* aware and protective of my personal space, and if you invade it without the proper authorization, I start quoting Bugs Bunny:

“Of course you know… this means War.”

Now, I know cultural practices become involved. I think that here in America, the distance of one-arm’s length from your body is the general rule of “personal space”… referring of course to the radius. Swoop that imaginary gap all around you, and that’s our own American-style Bubble we use to bounce around the cosmos in.

From what I understand, by world-wide standards… that’s a pretty big bubble. I believe the Personal Space Bubble Concept (PSBC… I just made that up!) is much smaller in Mexico… I learned that when I used to work summer’s at a Metals company, where about 90% of the workforce were illegal Mexicans. (That’s not an unfounded generalization meant to offend and insult. Just stating a fact. Seriously, I.N.S. went through there once and pulled out everyone that didn’t have a green card… the place was practically empty.) Every time I was working, and had to demonstrate a procedure to one or more guys who barely spoke English (which was wonderful lesson in the concept of “language barriers”), they would stand INCREDIBLY close to me. Honestly, our faces were almost touching. Even when I stepped backwards to give myself some room, they’d just move forward again. Rather than follow my gut instinct… which is to flat-out Head-butt them… I would eventually have to sternly stop them with my outstretched arm and slowly and clearly say, “No!” (It felt odd, talking to men probably twice my age as if they’re little children with learning disorders… but that’s just another thing that comes with the language barrier.) I was not down with their idea of Personal Space… but who knows, maybe they were just consciously messing with me. *shrug*

I don’t really know what the PSBC is in other countries… I’m curious to know. (If you do, or have experience, please comment.) Might be handy to know… would hate to travel to Norway or something, only to find out the hard way that their PSBC is 10+ feet.

But the invasion of Personal Space is not limited to misunderstandings between cultures. No, there are plenty of Americans, born in America and never left, that live in blissful ignorance when it comes to accidental invasions. (“Accidental Invasion”… there’s a term you’d never hear applied to Napoleon or Hitler)

Now, there’s certain situations, where I’ll give allowances to total strangers if they have to invade personal space. Airplanes, for example. Sure, they’re big… but that just means they can throw MORE people inside them. They’re packed, cramped, and not everyone is having a good day. So, when sitting in the seats, or waiting for the loo, you accept that you’re going to be feeling like a sardine for however long the flight lasts. So, when someone can’t help but notice what brand of deodorant you wear… you can forgive them for their trespasses, or at least give a little more leeway.

Supermarket checkout lines… however, are NOT one of those forgiveable instances.

To the guy that is in SUCH a rush to get out… who feels that even though there’s 5 people in front of him in line, he will *obviously* get out faster if he’s 17 inches closer from where he was standing… BACK THE F**K UP! If you’re going to stand THAT close behind me while in line, you better be wearing a condom! I’m there to buy milk and deli meats, NOT to get violated! When the person in front of you moves forward, take a second and wait. Let a gap of a few feet form between you and the person in front of you (Me!)… do NOT immediately close the gap to mere micrometers! I swear to Jeebus, I’m gonna spin around and wack you across the ignorant skull with the plastic hand-basket! (It probably won’t dent the obviously thick bone, but at least I’ll feel better.)

Respect the personal space!

Now, if you’re female, and invading my personal space (without authorization), I’ll mainly just back up myself, or find some other excuse to get away from you. (Because I can’t justify any violence against women) But if you’re a male? Then you need to keep something in mind: “Personal Space” can also be referred to as another term…. “Striking Distance”.

(Now, I haven’t actually been in a fight since 6th grade, but I’m surprised how often I want to come to blows with the average joe on a weekly basis.)

I don’t know where I got so edgy about this. Now, my parents aren’t exactly “touchy-feely”… but they have their moments.

To those that are now Gasping in surprise… No, I haven’t been molested. Don’t jump to conclusions… I’ll throw you towards all the conclusions you’ll need.

After I first went away to college, the first time I went home was at Thanksgiving. (I was one of the only people in my dorm that DIDN’T go home every weekend… I was the *only* one that didn’t want to) When I first saw my Dad when I arrived home… the man hugged me.

I can NEVER recall a time before that when that man hugged me. I almost jumped backed and screamed, “Who are you, and what have you done with my father?!” (Which is also what I said when, after years of hearing his complaining about people that drive “obnoxious” pickup trucks, the man went and bought a pickup truck.) Definitely NOT something I was used to… and it felt very awkward.

The only other “touching” the man ever did on a regular basis, that I can think of… is when he’s having a conversation with you. He’ll just lean over and randomly touch you… on the arm or on the leg, while he’s talking. When I’m riding in the car with him, and I’m in the front seat with him, he’ll do it at least 4 times during a short car ride. Now, that’s probably just his way of “connecting” with people he’s talking with… but it annoys the hell out of me.

My Mom also touches me in annoying ways. The other day, it was the end of the weekend. I had no plans nor did I go anywhere… so I didn’t shave. I was fixing my plate for dinner, and she just reaches out and puts her hand on my face, making a “scruffy” comment… my initial reaction to whenever she does that is to flinch. She still has not figured out, after 32 years of that body language… I don’t like it. I find face-touching to be a bit on the intimate side… so it feels really damn weird when a member of my family does it. Creepy to the max. I know it’s not intended that way… but who said feelings had to make sense? (Intentions and Feelings are two different things) Though, the biggest annoying touch, is when she hits me.

Stop gasping, already! Sheesh… Not THAT kind of a hit! This is the “playful thwack” on the shoulder. It doesn’t hurt, doesn’t leave a bruise, and is obviously not meant to mean anything malicious. Nevertheless… no matter WHAT the intention behind it is… I don’t like being hit. I just don’t. We’ll be talking, maybe a crack will be made by me… and because my Mom doesn’t have the lighting wit, the reaction is a “playful thwack”. Now, the first time I’ll always let slide, but I still say, in a pretty serious tone… “Thanks Mom, very funny. Please don’t hit me.” But then, hearing this… she scoffs, and thwacks again. “Mom! I asked you not to hit me!” Another scoff, another thwack… this is about the time I just turn and storm away, now thoroughly pissed off. They’ll make a comment about being “too sensitive” and brush it away. So, no matter how many times I sternly state it… no matter how often I get pissed off, regardless of the “joke” or “innocent intention”… it still doesn’t click in:


Like I said… Intentions and Feelings are 2 different things… and so is Hearing and Listening.

I know this kind of thing wouldn’t be a big deal to most people when they’re “in the moment”… and you’d think my own parents *would* have that level of privilege when it comes to touching me. (Especially because the above examples… are actually pretty rare) *shrug* They don’t. And that’s just me, I know that. I can’t give you a Freudian psychoanalytical reason as to why I’m that way, but I’m open to suggestions.

But I’m also not saying I live my life solely in my bubble, never being touched, and never touching other people. There ARE people I’m more touchy-feely with.

Once I got to college, and starting gaining good friends… I found myself getting more comfortable with casual touching. There were of course, limits. And most of the casual touching was with the opposite sex. With the guys, we all pretty much had the same macho-mentality of the Clint-Eastwood-like-stoic-independence. Any accidental homo-erotic moments were immediately followed by a low-toned coughing and approving comment about “the Game that was on last night”. An old roommate of mine liked to add a “tie-straightening” to his personal reaction. (The fact that I’ve never seen the man WEAR a tie, notwithstanding.)

When I got to Grad School… and came to California, the liberal views started pouring in. Eventually, quite a few of them started rubbing off. I came to realize that I was quite comfortable in my own sexuality, and also grew close to some men who were not of the Heterosexual persuasion. That’s about the time when I really got comfortable with the act of hugging another man. (Yeah, it’s probably related to it) Now, I don’t go around hugging every guy I know… but the ones I’m comfortable with, I have no problem. They still need the correct Authorization Level… but the benefits of those levels became expanded for my fellow males (for those that are comfortable enough to take advantage of them).

I have 4 basic levels of Authorization.

Level 4: This is pretty much everyone in the world that I *don’t* personally know. The only authorized touching that’s pretty much allowed is shaking hands… but do not go anywhere above my wrist. Passive, solitary instances of touching… such as bump, a slight gesture meant to get my attention… those will slide for the most part (just don’t do it too often). Level 4s are allowed to enter the outskirts of the Personal Bubble… but don’t get comfy. And Lord help *somebody* if you do the old “tap on the shoulder from behind”. When someone has their back to you, and you tap them on the shoulder, forcing them to turn around and face you… that’s very confrontational. If a woman is doing that to me… I’m thinking, “Great… what did I do now?”, as I prepare to get verbally chewed out. If it’s another man? Well, that’s an invitation to a Rumble. 20 minutes from then, I’ll either be in Jail or the Hospital… depending on how big the guy doing the tapping was.

The only way to make the shoulder tap non-confrontational, is that immediately after you tap them on the shoulder (2 fast taps, not the intentional ‘1…2…3’ tap that precludes fisticuffs), you move up to their side… so they don’t have to turn around, rather they just turn their head to the side to see you. Talk briefly and to the point, and it will be obvious you mean, “sorry to interrupt, hate to be rude, thank you for your time”. That’s the shoulder tap that will easily slide.

Now, if I meet someone (who always starts at Level 4), and I soon conclude that I actually like this person… they will be moved to Level 3 Authorization.

Level 3: This is where most of the people I know are. This allows all the hand-shaking of Level 4, plus adds high-fives, the rare and friendly “slap-on-the-back”, and the occasional hug. This is also where pretty much all of my family is. Though, if there were sub-levels within this level… Many family members *would* be more at the top, closer to the Level 2s. But generally, Level 3s can enter my personal bubble and hang out for awhile.

Level 2: This gets into a more exclusive-type club. Level 2 is for the REALLY good friends… the people I’m very comfortable around. Level 2s can enter my Personal Bubble and stay as long as they want. Whenever I did shows with fairly small casts, usually all the members are given at least temporary Level 2 access while we’re doing the show… because we were working so closely together. (Once the show closed, we often never saw each other again… ah, the tragedy of live theatre.) Generally speaking, if a Level 2 Authorized friend needed a shoulder rub or a neck massage… they simply have to ask me, and they’ll get it. (I wish more would request it… I used to be really good at them, and it’s been a long time since I’ve given one… and longer since I’ve received one) Also, if a friend with Level 2 Touching Authorization needs a comforting Hug, again… they’ll get it with no problem. Guys with Level 2 are the ones I’m comfortable hugging on a regular basis. Girls with Level 2, are allowed to get the hugging PLUS the occasional innocent flirtation, innuendos, and kisses on the cheek, should the situation allow it. All the stuff that I let “slide” with the lower levels… Level 2 is able to do without a problem. Now, just because someone HAS Level 2 authorization… doesn’t mean they’ll always get all the benefits. Obviously, if a female friend with Level 2 authorization is married (as several are), that will contribute and dictate to the actual behavior used when hanging out. They will NOT get the flirtation and innuendos. Guys that are married, however… WILL get the flirtation and innuendos, because I find it funny.

Level 1: Level 1 can enter my Personal Bubble… and I won’t want them to leave. There is, and only ever will be… 1 person at any one time that will be granted Level 1 Authorization with me. 1 special person that’s allowed such a sensual level of access. (Sorry, guys are not eligible for Level 1) I’m not talking just Sex… I’m talking real Intimacy. Hand-holding. Cuddling. Face-touching and playful thwacking is not only allowed, but encouraged. The last person with Level 1 Authorization liked to give playful thwacks on the butt. If I happened to walk in front of her, and my derriere is right there… she’d have to slap it. (Something she did with her friends all the time) Anyone in Level 2… could get away with it about once a day with me. But Level 1 could do it as often as she pleased… and I’d occasionally shake my booty in her face to even invite it. Arm-touching, leg-brushing, laying-head-in-lap, fingers-through-the-hair… all exclusively Level 1 benefits (giving and receiving). Level 1 is the ONLY person that’s allowed to come up to me from behind and touch me or hold me. While Level 2 gets neck and shoulder rubs, Level 1 also gets full back massages, foot rubs… and a personal favorite: Hand massages.

Hand massages are what I sometimes use as an “invitation” to Level 1 status. If I have someone in Level 2 that I’d like to be Level 1… the only thing I have that could be considered a “move” is to somehow find a way to offer them a hand massage. The hand massage itself is not seemingly intimate… but it can feel that way when receiving one. I’m pretty good at them… yet, even a clumsy one can feel relaxing. I consider that my “offer-of-candidacy-should-you-so-want-it”. I have no idea if it’s ever interpreted that way. *shrug*

But it’s also innocent and non-invasive enough that I can give them by requests. Again, if a Level 2 wants one (and knows to ask), they can get one. If it’s requested by you… it’s a bonus for Level 2s. If it’s *offered* to you… then it’s an invitation for more and better things.

Though, not all who have attained Level 1, got it by hand-massage invitation. (Most didn’t) Some weren’t even in Level 2 before getting to Level 1. Oftentimes, it became a weird, case-by-case kind of situation. Those always come around and pop up, throwing monkeys into the wrenches.

Currently… there is no one with Level 1 Authorization with me.

There was one that I wanted to invite to that level… but I apparently was not at the same Authorization level with THEM. It only ever works when we consider each other to be the same level. If I want her to be a Level 1, and she sees me as only a Level 3… we’ll only ever be Level 3 friends… or not friends at all.

Maybe it’s just another example of my over-thinking things…

Maybe it doesn’t even make much sense to a normal, rational mind.

But I never said it did make sense. Nor did I ever imply that I’m normal. (Rational is up for debate)

Bottom line: I *like* being touched. I love it.

I’m just very, very, VERY picky about it.



fritz said...

Yet another post I can totally relate to! Maybe we were hatched in the same alien cabbage patch before being assigned to our families.... I was never molested either (you want to talk about culturally induced paranoia--from 4th grade I've been on the alert for any potentially skeezy moves, and would mentally rehearse what to do in the event of an attempted kidnapping while I walked to elementary school).

If I recall correctly (very big if), Americans (USA-ans) generally require 24-30" of space between themselves and the person they're talking with. The more space I have, the happier I am. Which is why, in the rare instance I find myself in a social situation, I usually put a table or other large obstacle in between me and everyone else. Latins (Mexicans, other North, Central and South Americans, and Spaniards) are usually happy with a mere 18". If you trust the PSC foreign language dept that is....

I am not and never have been touchy-feely. It actually caused my mother serious grief. Which is about the same time Dad sat us down to read a hug book (detailing different kinds of hugs) and talk about how much Mom enjoys getting hugs from her kids. Every single workday, we always saw Mom and Dad hug and kiss goodbye. Part of the routine. But for some reason, my brother and I (his excuse probably has to do w/ his near teen age at the time) just got out of the habit of hugging her. And I didn't like her goodnight kisses b/c she always had bitter tea breath. But I didn't want to offend her by telling her so. (Gosh, the things we remember!)

Everytime we visited my grandparents, Mom and Granny spent at least 2 minutes hugging (coming and going, but the leave-taking hugs were always longer). I think I got off with one minute hugs from Granny, but I didn't mind hugging her. Once or twice when I was around 10 or so, Grandpa actually wanted me to hug him goodbye. I refused. (Of course at the time, he wasn't very nice to my mom, which could have played into it.)

Hated the obligatory, 'Give Grandma a kiss," that came w/ seeing the other set of grandparents. (Dad's side of the family wasn't as demonstrative, but you were supposed to pay homage to the grand dame...giving birth to 10 kids gets you that privilege.)

In junior high and high school, in SoCal, I saw lots of hugging, mainly between other girls. I never saw the point. But I didn't play the popularity game either. So I was used to seeing others be physically affectionate w/ each other, but had no desire to participate. In fact, I was so eager to avoid all interactions with others, I developed two habits--keeping my nose buried in a book, and, when I had to stop reading to walk, I wore a "Don't bother me," expression (DH would term it more of a "Don't f* w/ me," vibe that I give off) and generally avoided all eye contact.

Of course, I'm also the one who, at age 4, would hang out in the restroom at restaurants and chat with everyone who came in. It was a tossup between whether I loved washing and drying (air dryers were fascinating) my hands repeatedly or talking to all the nice ladies more. Something changed in later years b/c I rarely bother saying, "Hi," or "Bye." It's rude and disruptive to interrupt an ongoing conversation just to announce my presence.

All of the above is interesting in light of how not into PDA's I am. Ahem. Yes, there was my freshman year in college when I was guilty of gross displays of public affection, but my theory is that I was making up for lost time. I got over it by my sophomore year, much to my subsequent SO's dismay.

As an adult, I am much more comfortable meeting people half way, especially when I already know that they are touchy-feely. It's a temporary blip. So I can do the hello and goodbye hugs with a pleasant smile pasted on my face, and I'm not traumatized by it. Using your DEFCON clearance levels, I'd say that although I don't have a lot of friends, those that I do have are definitely level 2s. And I have no problem hugging my mom anymore.

(Tangent--just try avoiding any and all physical contact when you're one of the bereaved at a funeral. Having one arm around your mother helps prevent having to hug anyone else. Make it your right arm, and you're pretty much off the hook for handshakes too.)

If you've got to have a "move," hand massage is a good one! And far less of a danger for encountering stinky feet that offering foot rubs would be. =)

Oh, and I'm super touchy-feely with my son, if you want to call it that. Having had to hold him mostly 24/7 (due to his temperament), I'm very used to having him on me, and he has zero concept of space bubble right now. But he's the only one on the planet who can get away with doing certain things (that even DH can't).

Valancy Jane said...

I don't think being a cuddler or not is genetic. I'm a HUGE cuddler, (did I hug you the night we met? I prolly did. I do that.) but my parents were just fairly normal about touching.

That said, I have one weird thing. I can't sleep on a plane if someone is sitting next to me. I can practically cuddle a complete stranger just because we happen to be that close, (after one long flight, I called my seatmate's parents mom and dad when I saw them in the airport) but I just can't SLEEP with someone that CLOSE to me.

Agent Cake said...

I find myself being some what the same. Some people, even if we are good friends I am still not comfortable with being in close proximety (how ever you spell it. Sitting here in the hospital makes one not able to think).
Agent Cake requires some sort of authorization!

rickieblue said...

chinese people hate being touched, but they will run you off the sidewalk without blinking.

they also stare at you with the intensity and level of shame as an infant...meaning you get weirded out much faster than they do and look away, even if you are determined not to.

public displays of affection, not so much. you won't see a couple on the street making out in china. and it's rare to have parents that cuddle their children. i guess i'm lucky that way, because my parents and i are very cuddly with each other. my cousins and their parents are not.

i get weirded out by close talkers. i've actually stopped talking and walked away before when people start to get too close to me, for no reason. but sometimes, my intuition is off and then the person gets way too ballsy with just how close and how much they can touch me. that is just plain creepy. that's about the level i'm at right now...i'm generally creeped out by straight people.

...but now that i know you aren't the touchy type, i'll make sure to poke you with a chopstick a lot on sunday.

p.s. you are neurotic. i'm glad we're friends. :)

earpaints said...

Ah, culture. Now I’m American. Born in California. My heritage is Hawaiian Portuguese. I had to learn to stop touching people. Too many guys thought I was touching them because I wanted something, you know, body parts. ugh. I grew up believing it was polite to touch someone on the hand or arm when talking to them, passing them - saying hello, or good bye etc. in college I really had to stop. and when I did, it was like losing part of what made me = me. Even with 'touch feely" being part of my every day living, I also have space issues. When someone is too close to me in line and won't back off, I step backwards onto their instep if I can manage, or at least their toes. great when I’m wearing heels. Then I apologize "oh, I’m so sorry, I didn't realize you were standing so close to me! Here let me give you some more space so it won't happen again.” I’d love to just big fat fart in their face. Or a wet huge sneeze into them and their stuff. As I get 'old' (er) those two options are becoming less embarrassing and a lot more fun. One of these days Alice!