How much do you value your personal space? Do you have people who invade it?

When I was a teenager we had a family friend who used to stand just a bit too close to me. I wasn’t alone – friends said the same. He wasn’t creepy, but just didn’t realise that I would have preferred him to be a little further away.

My side, your space

I’ve been on the other end of this problem. I vividly remember walking into the first music lecture of Young man playing a trumpet in a field.  Personal space invaders: do you know one?second year of A-Levels. I was a little dishevelled and fashionably late after my hour’s bus journey. The girls in my class were all looking astounded and seemed remarkably quiet. I soon worked out why – the gorgeous trumpet player from the year above was resitting the course. Unfortunately he wasn’t so wowed by my presence.

Later on in the year, I reached up to pick a leaf out of his hair. He stepped back so quickly I nearly fell over. It made his feelings about the invasion of his personal space perfectly clear.

Little children in my personal space

As a parent, personal space doesn’t seem to exist. What is yours is also theirs. One morning I woke to Toddler asleep on mother's chest on a boat.  Personal space invaders: do you know one?find my little girl’s eye centimetres away from mine. That was a shock to the system. As they grow up, the contact gradually reduces over time. I remember a friend telling me that she missed the feel of little hands reaching up for hers. After years of sometimes feeling touched out, it can be bizarre to no longer have that constant sensation.

People often apologise for their toddler leaning on me or holding on to my leg. “It’s fine, ” I respond. “I hardly noticed – I have children, too.”

Being invaded

And here’s the thing. I was on the tube this week. I think the last time I had the pleasure was during the last millennia. In York, the closest we seem to get to strangers on public transport is if we have to sit next to someone we don’t know on the Park and Ride. It’s a bit different from being rammed into someone else’s armpit. There was no friendly banter, except from a fellow Northerner. I was with some children and needed to communicate Close-up of an alligator's eye.  Personal space invaders: do you know one?with them as they became hidden behind the next batch of passengers that embarked. No eye contact from the commuters when I spoke the children’s names.

It was suggested to me that the reason for this lack of communication is to defend that personal space. Yes, we aren’t comfortable being pressed into the man’s hairy legs (my daughter’s words). But once we look that person in the eye, there is a further degree of intimacy. And that is just one step too far.

Discomfort from invasion

So, I have a dilemma. There’s a very sweet chap I come into contact with a number of times a week. He’s considerably younger than me. This bloke is not someone I would wish to avoid. However, he stands in my personal space. For me, the reassuring thing is that I’ve checked with a couple of mates and they feel the same.

I see my options as follows:

1. Do nothing

2. Take a step back when he is taking to me (aka Mr Trumpet)

3. Put my hand out and say, “Too close”

4. Sit him down and explain

If you were in this situation, what would you do? Or as the invader, how would you like to be treated?

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10 comments

  1. It is so hard when you feel as though people are too close. I have to admit I normally try and take a step away but then, of course, they always take a step closer so it’s ever moving cycle.

    1. Oh yes! The personal space dance. I fear I may have to say something in time, but I will try stepping back for now.

  2. I find it hard but normally take a step back. We always teach the kids at school to stand at arms length, but sometimes they need to be reminded

    1. Strangely enough I hadn’t thought about talking to my children about it. There is a child in my son’s class who he says stands too close. I will chat to them later!

  3. I would take a step back, but difficult if they take a step forward too. I have a cousin who has autism, He looks and seems like a ‘normal’ person, you wouldn’t even know he has autism. But one thing he does, is stand to close to people. So now, when this does happen to me I always remind myself, that he could be like my cousin and not even realise what he is doing.

  4. I would try and sit down and explain to him as not everyone realises that it’s invading your space if that’s how they’ve always been and no one has said anything to him x

  5. This actually made me laugh because when I met my husband he used to nickname me the space invader as when I was drunk and we met in the pub, I would always stand way too close to him without realising. Obviously in our case it was a good thing and we married less than a year later, but in your case I would explain it makes you feel uncomfortable.

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