How Do You Feel About Personal Space Now
It’s a meme that’s floating around the internet and goes something like, “How I feel when I see other people.” The picture is of a cat freaked out—back arched, tail strait up, and hair splayed like porcupine needles. I can relate these days.
The streets are eerily quiet, and when I encounter others on a walk we silently nod and keep our distance. And although it might feel like forever already, there will come a time when we needn’t stand so far away from others. Social distancing will be rendered moot on the other side of a vaccine.
Our perception of space depends on where we are, too. I was born on the East Coast, but I’ve lived in Iowa most of my life where I think we are hyper “space conscious.” For me, that has played out in places like the grocery store where I’ve always remained back a generous six feet while the person in front of me finishes his or her transaction. It seems wrong, even rude, to encroach.
Nothing sets off my panic response more than the idea of a close talker like the one in the Seinfeld episode, too. When it comes to conversation, I’ve always preferred to tilt back and keep a respectable talking distance so my breath (or spit) doesn’t accidentally nail someone.
These days, masks seem to be an issue. Should they be worn in public or not? Personally, I’m in favor. Anything I can do to help stop the spread of germs is a good thing, and I’m sort of germ squeamish anyhow. Talking and being around others has always been kind of perilous. We are all messily mingling into each other’s constantly-moving dust space.
WE NEED OUR SPACE, DON’T WE?
“The masks are uncomfortable, though,” you’ll hear some say. I understand this. Mine always climbs up into my eyes or shifts some other uncomfortable way. And if I ate something with onions and garlic before putting it on, that’s just unfortunate for me!
But the masks also provide a kind of personal distance. We can’t tell what others are doing with their expression behind their masks. It’s their secret, which made me think about sunglasses and a previous opinions I held. I use to be annoyed to see people wearing them indoors because I can’t see their eyes—as though it were my right. But now, I finally get that that’s the point. They are attempting to create a personal space for themselves. And who am I to demand otherwise?
Over at The Spruce in the article, “Etiquette Rules of Defining Personal Space,” Debby Mayne details the many ways we need to recognize the signals when others are telling us they need it. Are you the close talker or the one who leans back in your world?
With David and I spending all our time together these days, I’m reminded I’m particular about noise space, too. I’ve grown picky about music and talking directed at me from other rooms. My brain requires silence to focus, and my hearing is diminished.
Even though there are lots of people clamoring to get things “back to normal,” I wonder if this newfound experience with greater personal space will become more accepted and expected as we go forward. It’s healthy to honor the requirement of this need in others. Where do you need space? How do you request and make space for you?
List the times and spaces where you pay close attention to your need for space. What have you gained from quiet and private time? What would you do with more space if you had it?
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