Monday, November 19, 2012

Hugging it out

I'm not a hugger. When people sit right beside me when there are spots further away, I scream a little inside. It even annoys me when someone uses the washroom stall beside me when the other ones are empty. Traffic jams accelerate my heart rate to the point that I once had to pull off the highway and sit in the grass doing deep breathing exercises until I was calm enough to re-join the metal sardine pack.

I wonder what sets our comfort level with personal space. Nature, nuture, or both? Recently I was reading through my teenage diaries, which are considerably less funny and more frightening than my pre-teen diaries. It occurred to me that between the ages of 10 and 15, I had virtually no physical contact with another person. My parents are very undemonstrative and rarely showed affection toward me during my teens.

Despite not being a hugger, I felt horribly lonely and unloved. It's a good thing I was an ugly duckling, because I would have been on the fast track to teen motherhood otherwise. Reading my diary entries about when I met my now-husband is like watching a starving person being placed in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet, and whenever I do The Five Love Languages quiz, touch comes up as one of the top two.

So why the need for a huge amount of personal space if my primary love language is touch? I think it's because I'm emotionally reserved and touch means so much to me that I'm uncomfortable feeling people up left and right. Jay's family are huggers and it's always kind of freaked me out, because it feels too intimate for the relationship. Can't we just smile and nod?

Well, no. The world wants its insincere gestures and it's become too much effort to try to avoid them. As I've gotten older, I've gotten better at faking the casual hugs and pats on the arm, the air kisses, not squirming away when someone gets in my space. It almost looks natural.

56 comments:

  1. I'm with you, with me it is part of my WASP heritage. Mrs. C is 1/2 Italian, we can arrive or leave a family gathering without doing the "Hello"/"Goodbye" Tour thing. I try and get away with the wave to all thing. I generally end up hugging and fake kissing numerous people that I have no idea who they are. Hate it!!

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    1. I try to do the "wave to all" thing too. It works about half the time.

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  2. Holy cow, I could have written this. Not as well, of course, but the idea of it. I have the weirdest dynamic of craving to be touched, yet not wanting to be touched by anyone, save for a very few people. And you put into words what I have never been able to..."So why the need for a huge amount of personal space if my primary love language is touch? I think it's because I'm emotionally reserved and touch means so much to me that I'm uncomfortable feeling people up left and right." Thanks for the enlightening moment!

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    1. You're welcome. It took me a long time to figure this out - who ever heard of a reserved touchy-feely person? But I'm very affectionate with my husband and kids. I just prefer to limit the hands-on stuff to them

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  3. I'm mixed up like that too. I hate hugging. I hate crowds. I looked at your picture of the personal space maker and laughed, then hung my head in shame...sigh...I totally want one of those. My least-language of love is touch. But I love to cuddle, if, that is, you are in my inner circle ie hubby and son. Otherwise get out of my space!

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    1. Wouldn't it be awesome if you could buy those protectors? Imagine going Christmas shopping with one!

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  4. HEHEHE I loved the picture and I couldnt help but laugh at that pregnant teenager bit.

    For me though I am one of those touch people. I actually become anxious without touch. When I was in the Army I insited on lots of high fives because it was the best middle ground that was office approperiate. (I normally touch people when I talk to them)

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    1. That is so interesting - anxious without touch. I can imagine it only when I think of how I feel when I haven't seen my husband or kids by awhile.

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  5. I'm not thrilled with others touching me. It's gotten worse as I've gotten older, largely due to the fact that little kids are always touching me. If there isn't a child hanging on me, I see that as my time to have some space, and I don't want anyone getting in it. Except my husband, of course. :)

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    1. You're right - having kids has made it worse. I tolerate it because I have to.

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  6. wow i could've written this word for word. the only person i'm a hugger with is my daughter. everyone else, including my own husband sometimes, i'd prefer Nathan's personal space protector. especially at work. and at social gatherings, restaurants, daycare, grocery stores...

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    1. Grocery stores *shudder*. When I was in university I did my grocery shopping around midnight just to avoid the crowds. Sometimes I'm still tempted to do that!

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  7. I'm with you on the seating...It makes me insane when someone sits right next to me on the train when there are tons of seats around not situated next to anyone. I'm usually not so personal space crazy, but during my commute to and from work, I don't want anyone anywhere near me.

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    1. Traffic makes me crazy, but I do like being alone in my car. Finishing off a long work day crammed into a small space with a bunch of strangers sounds dreadful.

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  8. I don't like it in extreme but I do like the hugging/kissing with good friends and even just friends - a lot of my European friends just do this culturally and I'm fine with that. But I hate bumping up against strangers, crowded places, etc. Love the photo, so funny!

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    1. That's why I wonder about the nature/nuture thing - I'm very affectionate with certain people, so maybe if I'd been raised differently I'd be comfortable being like that with everyone.

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  9. I find it interesting that you call casual hugs "insincere." Maybe it's because I'm a hugger, but if I give a hug it is because I really do like you and want you to know that I support you. I do respect other people's space and if I get a "no touch" vibe, I heed it.

    I am with you on the seating thing, though. Noting ticks me off more than sitting in the doctor's waiting room and some hacking gross person sits right next to me instead of across the room where there are a congregation of free chairs...

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    1. I thought that when I read the post a second time too, but left it in because so often it is insincere, or maybe as Stacie said a cultural routine that doesn't mean anything. It's funny because I write "hugs" online to people and I really do mean it: if I were there in person, I would give you a hug as comfort and support, like you said. I just don't like when it's a casual greeting, although ironically I do it automatically now because I know it's expected. No doubt I've already hugged someone who's just like me and would have preferred I didn't!

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    2. I feel the same as Courtenay - I'm a hugger and I like all the in-law hugs and everything, and consider them very sincere - at least from my end. But I understand not everyone's like that and I don't push it.

      On the other hand, I am claustrophobic. Crowded lineups and traffic jams can definitely make me a bit psycho if I let myself think about it...

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  10. Oh yes, good post. I like lots of space, until i don't want it anymore than I want everyone to come closer. My family wasn't big on touch so it's still very foreign. Probably always will be.

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    1. It's easier than it used to be, but I don't think it will ever feel entirely comfortable.

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  11. I love the looks on the faces of the passersby in this photo! Priceless. I grew up in a hugging household, but I still agree that often too much hugging occurs - especially when a parent forces a child to give hugs good-bye. Why is this necessary?

    That being said, today is National Hug a Runner day, so I thought this post was ironically timed. :D

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    1. That is HILARIOUS!! Completely unintentional, unfortunately. My brother-in-law and his wife insist their two girls hug and kiss everyone in the room before they go to bed and I've always thought that was so inappropriate. I know they're trying to teach them about family connections, but I don't like the message that you have to show physical affection to someone whether you want to or not and even if you barely know them.

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  12. I will give you fair warning before I go in for my hug...yes...I'm a big hugger. However, I'm really good at it. I'm a bit of an arm toucher too. I've always been comfortable there. Now the issue with the stalls. It should fill up furthest away from others first. I get sat next to a lot and don't know how to stop that. "Azara, I'm going to hug you now!" ((Hug))

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    1. Aw, thanks! I bet some of my discomfort is because a lot of people are forcing it to a degree or it's in a contrived setting. I can think of people like you where it didn't bother me at all; it was completely genuine and part of their personality, so it always seemed natural.

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  13. I couldn't agree more! I'm so not into people being in my personal space. I want to get that protector from the photo!!

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    1. It's awesome, isn't it? He should market it.

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  14. I tend to fall a little more in the non-hugging category, too. I definitely know exactly what you mean. And how much do I want that personal space contraption??!! Only so much! :)

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    1. I bet you could make it with a hula hoop! I just may give it a try.

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  15. I am SO glad not to be the only one irritated by someone sitting in the stall next to me when the others are empty. And it's worse when I'm on public transportation and someone sits next to me but there are empty seats ALL AROUND US. I don't now why these things work my nerves, but they do.

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    1. I just don't understand it. My natural instinct is always to give other people as much room as possible.

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  16. Interesting photo and post. I love my hugs though. Hugs! Hugs! Hugs!

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  17. I am a hugger. There, I said it. I don't really know why. It's just the way I have always been. But, I can easily recognize those people who are not huggers and I do not force it on them. So, if we ever meet? We can just fist bump....

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    1. If you tried to fist bump me, I would probably get confused and assume you were hugging me, and you would end up punching me in the boob. Which would be weird and awkward. Better stick with the hug!

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  18. Oooh I'm a hugger. Hugs ground me and make me feel connected. Hugs calm my raging head-chatter.

    Hug?

    http://truthfully.ca

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    1. Great description! I've never been offered so many virtual hugs at once. Why do I suspect y'all are killing me with kindness?

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  19. I'm a hugger, but it's totally true: a great many people, even those who do need physical touch, aren't huggers. I try to keep this in mind rather than throwing the hug on people. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, we're just hugging. Can't help it. I'm Southern. We hug. :)

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    1. I didn't know hugging was a Southern thing. Every day of blogging I learn something new.

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  20. I can totally understand this. I used to HATE when someone just came up and hugged me - what the hell - they were invading my space! For me, it was that physical touch was so important, but only for those I was really close to - and I used to have a hard time letting anyone in. Over time, I've totally turned this around and am now definitely a hugger - but I'm also much, much more open to letting others in and much happier overall.

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    1. This is the point I was awkwardly trying to make: I struggle with personal space because it reflects the emotional distance I feel with most people. I've tried to turn it around like you said, with rather painful consequences. At this point I'm happy keeping my hugs and emotional connections to a very small group of people.

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  21. I don't think I've hit the point where I can fake the hugs and kisses naturally yet. Thankfully the boyfriend and I are of a mind on this. Outside of the bedroom, very few would even suspect we are intimate because we both like our physical space.

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    1. My husband and I used to embarrass people with our PDA - then again we were in our teens at the time.

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  22. I am not a hugger, but I fake it really well! Some times I even initiate the hug, and then I ask myself "why?"

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    1. This is what I've grown into too! And sometimes I think, "You know, maybe that person didn't want to hug either. Hmm." It was interesting in the comments to see how the natural huggers said they can tell when someone isn't into it, and they restrain themselves accordingly. I just hug people indiscriminately because I assume it's what I'm supposed to do and they expect it. Argh...I'm perpetuating the cycle...

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  23. Ah, you remind me of one of my closest friends and favorite people ever. Thank goodness she carved out a blanket exception for me and allows me to violate her anti-hug policy on a regular basis.

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    1. I used to have an anti-hug policy, but now I just do it. It's not worth making a scene over. But a blanket exception to an established policy? Now that's true friendship :)

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  24. I'm not a hugger either, but I have several friends - especially from other cultures - who have an insatiable need to hughughug and rubrubrub and kisskisskiss all the time. I'm getting used to it. And sometimes I even like it. But sometimes I still just want to yell COOTIES!

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    1. I wonder if I would get in trouble with my in-laws if I yelled "COOTIES!" at the next family gathering when one of Jay's aunts tries to hug me. Probably not a good move for family harmony. I'll just yell it in my head.

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  25. This post could have been describing me. Touch is a big deal for me so casual touching via moving through a crowd or weird fake hugs just feels awkward and stressful. Nice post!

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    1. Yes, the idea of Black Friday shopping crowds makes me feel like I'm going to break out in hives.

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  26. Funny - I sometimes think that we Americans like a bigger personal space zone b/c we live in such a big damn country w/relatively few people in it: it's as if we've all internalized that geography and demand more elbow room as a result. Now that I live outside the US, I've had to get to much more squashing and squishing...not to mention cheek-kissing. I have to psych myself up for it...

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    1. There's definitely a cultural element to it. Apparently in Asia they even have people whose job it is to push people together on the subway lines, so they can fit as many people as possible on the train. Yikes!

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  27. I totally relate to this, and I, too, have mastered the art of fake hugging, etc. I love how you said you scream a little inside when someone comes and sits right next to you when there are other open chairs. I thought I was the only one who did this!!! I also hate it when people park next to me in a big parking lot where there are lots of open spots. Ha, ha!

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    1. I forgot about the parking lot thing, but I'm not a fan of that either. What's wrong with a buffer space or two?

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Lend me some sugar!