THE PERSONAL SPACE POLICE by Molly Beth Seremet

October 27, 2011

This is going to sound harsh. It’s probably going to make me sound like a very cold, very withdrawn, misanthropic kind of woman.  But so be it. I can’t take anymore. I must speak up on behalf of my fellow no-touchniks. I, Molly Beth Seremet, do solemnly swear that I do not like, enjoy or seek out physical contact with people I don’t know and/or don’t like. I do not like touching bodies with strangers on the tube. I really don’t enjoy it when someone I don’t know touches my arm, back, shoulder (or worse) without even knowing my name. And don’t even get me started on the Hug From the Unknown Entity.

I’m not a cold-blooded person. I’m affectionate with my family and friends. I love my fiance’s bearhugs, holding hands with my friends’ little kids when I visit, and the comfort of embrace from family. I am often the initiator of said physical contact in these friendly and intimate circles. What I don’t appreciate and actually even dread is the imposition of forced physical encounter with a stranger. I know. I sound like an overreacting weirdo. But hear me out. 

Some of my discomfort here comes from, admittedly, a gendered perspective. Unless you are under the age of five or are helping me to my feet after I’ve fallen down the subway stairs, if you are male, and I don’t know you, please don’t (and I can’t emphasize this enough), don’t touch me. Understandably, there will be days when the bus is so crowded that our personal space bubbles will mingle. But I’m doing my best to keep myself to myself, and would appreciate it if you did the same. Let’s touch shoulders; let’s not be pressed so close together that the nuns in a Catholic School down the block are panicking. These situations of commuter chaos, while still unpleasant for me, do come with the territory of living in a large city. So I deal. What I do not understand is the profusion of men who think it ok to touch a woman they have not even been introduced to. At a pub for example, we can chat without you grabbing my arm or worse, my knee. And actually that’s about the only chance you have to say more than a sentence to me. While I can appreciate that my personal space bubble is much larger than other women’s, please do me a favor and take your kindergarten lesson of “hands to yourself” to heart.

And dudes, this goes double if you spot me on the dance floor at our local watering hole, and are attracted to my cat-hair covered black clothes and/or my sparkling personality…. Or my bigger-than-proportionate bootay.  I’ll dance with you if you say “hello.” Or “hey.”  Or, really, let’s be honest here, if you make eye contact and vaguely grunt in my direction.  However, much as the U.S. government does not negotiate with terrorists, I do not do the Hokey Pokey with men who grab me from behind on the dance floor and attempt the old Friction Handshake with their crotches.  Keep your hands off my Weapons of Mass Destruction, boys, or else.

Lest you think I am being unduly harsh to the gruffer sex, I now level a distanced neurotic gaze towards my fellow ladies.  Women, I don’t like it when you touch me either. As a waitress, I don’t ever touch my customers, and I like it that way, because I know how uncomfortable I feel as a restaurant patron when my server’s hand settles on my shoulder. It’s nothing personal. I just don’t like it, and I don’t think I’m entirely alone here. Furthermore, unless were related or very close friends, I don’t want to hug you. Again, please don’t be offended. I do not want a shared pressing-of-the-entire-front-body experience with the majority of the people on this planet. A hug is a moment of intimacy, and to me, is something that I only enjoy with my intimate circle. It won’t comfort or cheer me up, no matter how good your unfamiliar intentions may be. If I’m meeting you for the first time, assuming you’re not a future mother-in-law etc., I’d much much much prefer to shake your hand. 

I’m a person who agrees with Johnny Castle: This is my dance space, and this is yours. You don’t come into mine, and I don’t come into yours. This caveat also applies to armrest hogs whose elbows drift into my midriff, close-talkers who emphasis their points with saliva to my chin, and the handsy patrons at every pub in this country and others. We’ll sit next to each other, we’ll have a great chat, I’ll enjoy myself, and I hope you will too. And I won’t touch you, at least until we’ve spent more than a few minutes breathing the same oxygen. Please do me the honor of reciprocating my hands-off policy. We can shake on it… but that’s it!

Molly Beth Seremet is a theatre practitioner, performer and writer.  She is also a caffeine-fueled crazy-cat lady with too many pairs of shoes.  She is the founder of Morse Code Theatre Company and co-producer of Sirensong Burlesque in New York City. More snark available at thatgirlinternational.blogspot.com. Contact her at seremetmo@yahoo.com.

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29 Responses to THE PERSONAL SPACE POLICE by Molly Beth Seremet

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