Is it just me, or is the concept of “Personal Space,” disappearing from modern society? I read that personal space, is defined as the region surrounding a person, which they regard as psychologically theirs. It is an invisible bubble that forms an imaginary barrier, that if crossed, will induce feelings of discomfort, anger, or anxiety. It may even bring about defensive body language, such as: crossed arms, a frown, reduced eye contact, and often a downward gaze. That’s interesting. The exact same thing happens to me, whenever my mother-in-law is in my face, and dressing me down for something. I know she’s messing with my personal space. I just don’t have the courage to confront her.
Recent scientific analysis, and multiple research studies have determined that for Western societies, there is a definitive and measurable area that people consider their personal space. Estimated averages show it being 24” on either side, 28” in the front, and 16” in the rear. I don’t know about you, and I’m certainly not a prude, but if it’s a guy behind me; that sixteen inches, doesn’t seem to leave much room for error. At least the next time my wife is cold, it’s 3:00 am, and she wants to snuggle; I’ll have to pull out the old tape measure and say, “Sorry honey, but you need to back off three or four inches. A guy needs his personal space.”
I think part of the problem with the breakdown of societal barriers involving personal space, is that there are just too many people. This is especially true in urban environments. Wherever we go, we seem to either be waiting in long lines, or packed into enclosed spaces like waiting rooms, buses, subways and elevators. Another factor in the invasion of our personal space is that too many people are impatient. I was in my local supermarket yesterday, and was placing my groceries on the conveyor, when the person behind me pushed their cart up against me as if to gently, but steadily force me forward. We’ve all had this happen to us. I’ll usually say something like, “Excuse me, but unless you want me to run over that ninety year-old woman digging in her change person, and leave cart marks on her back – I’m not going anywhere.” I’ll then force their cart back a foot or two with my formidable bulk. Yesterday, the person behind me, just wouldn’t let up, and the cart kept bumping into the back of my legs. I finally had enough of the rudeness, glanced back with a disapproving scowl, and said, “Sister, I know you’re probably late for morning prayers, but come on; could you please back off a little?”
I learned some other interesting things while delving into the fascinating subject of personal space. The imaginary bubble we protect our sensibilities with, involves not only physical intrusions, but ones involving sound, or things such as smoke, powerful, pungent cologne or perfumes, and excessive body odor. Have you ever been in a crowded space, and been surrounded by a man with a big cigar, a woman whose three-year-old had accidentally dumped a quart of her new perfume on her, and a guy who had run out of deodorant, and figured baby wipes could do the job? Not a pleasant ride on crowded mass transit, is it? Plus, you have to keep pulling out that darn tape measure, turning to the man behind you, and saying, “Woa dude. I’m reading a little under fourteen inches here, and if you don’t back off, this can of mace, may invade your own personal space.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m particularly aggravated by extremely personal conversations entering the Patrick Dykie, “personal space zone.” There’s nothing worse than being in a room with a person having a public, often embarrassing, and almost physically painful, cell phone conversation. If this ever happened to you, didn’t you want to say, “Excuse me, but I can heeeeaaarrr…… you – and I’m taking detailed notes. I already know your name, address, phone number, the fact you have new, expensive diamond earrings, and that you’ll be alone tonight. I also learned, you don’t have a dog, and your husband just ran off with his secretary. If it’s no trouble, why don’t you just toss over your house keys, now. I can burglarize your residence this afternoon, and save us both, an awkward, and frightening encounter this evening around midnight.”
I once sat close to a woman, who pulled out her cell phone, and in a voice loud enough to rattle nearby windows, proceeded to rant about some man, who was an incredible loser. She also said he was overweight, in a dead-end job, a lousy lover, wanted to be a writer, but his work stank, and he had a freakishly large, and hideous boil on his left butt cheek. I started to feel really bad for the poor guy. That was before I realized my wife was talking about me! Thank God, I had an appointment with my proctologist that afternoon, and managed to sneak out without being noticed.
It must be tougher for women to maintain their own personal space. I’m a big man, but if an elevator door opens to a sea of sweaty faces; I’ll step back, say, “what the heck,” and take the stairs. Ladies, have you ever had elevator doors open to thirty men in business suits? Were they packed into a ten by eight-foot space like sardines? Were some of the guys smiling, and saying, “Come on in. There’s plenty of room here in the back?” When riding in a crowded elevator, I shouldn’t have to start making and enforcing rules, in order to get a pleasant, and conflict-free ride. “Okay everybody. Men to the back of the car, and keep those hands tightly folded over your stomach’s. Ladies, could you please move as close to the front as possible. Father, if you don’t mind, could you place yourself between the men and women. Be sure to keep that heavy Bible handy. You may need it. And…… you! Yes, you in the back with the trench coat, and the hairy calves and ankles. Out – Now!”
Subway trains, or transit buses are often worse for women than riding elevators . If you’ve ridden one, you may have witnessed two things. First, you’ll see that most of the women are standing, because healthy young men won’t give up their seats. The second thing is, the standing women are usually surrounded by tightly packed groups of middle aged-men. You may have also noticed that over the past ten years or so, there’s been a drastic increase in the number of fit, confident, and extremely skilled women when it comes to self-defense. Personally, I’ve seen an explosion of women who have earned advanced belts in karate, and other martial arts, have taken up, and become extremely proficient in kick-boxing, and have successfully entered the tough and dangerous world of mixed martial arts. If you think about this phenomena, it makes perfect sense They sometimes, have to be incredible fighting machines – just to get home safely from work!
Before I go, I have a little confession to make. I think I may be a hypocrite. I firmly believe in the concept of personal space, and will often, vigorously and aggressively defend it, but I don’t always mind when the fairer sex invades it just a little. At times, I will allow women to freely enter my personal space; gently, kindly, with the greatest respect, and with no repercussions. I will always acknowledge the existence of their space, and keep a respectable distance. However, you will never hear me say, “Why in the world are these ladies with lovely smiles, engaging personalities, and intoxicating perfumes, invading my personal space?” Do you think this makes me a bad person?