Oh, I'm happy to hug a friend, and I have no qualms whatsoever showing physical affection to people I'm comfortable with. A professional handshake is not a problem (though, like anyone, I worry about my hands being sweaty). But when people who are not in my inner circle cross that invisible boundary and make contact without my consent, my hackles go up. Way up.
Last night, this was driven home in a big way. I was actually borderline rude to the two--yes two--different people who touched me without my permission, but I maintain that my rudeness was a knee-jerk response to their even greater rudeness.
Don't touch someone without permission, okay?
A little more background is needed for this one. Let's start with crowds--namely, my hatred of being crowded. Crowds and feeling a lack of personal space make me anxious. It's not rational, but it's part of me. I deal.
While I loved living in England, one thing that I never got used to was the distinct lack of personal space people are used to there. Standing in line means being really well-acquainted with the body heat and scents of the people around you. I joke that for me, my personal space is best described by that timeless classic, Dirty Dancing: "This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don't go into yours, you don't go into mine."
So when I'm sharing crowded risers with 200 of my closest friends (Sac Choral and Sac State's University Chorus, who are joining us for this concert), I get a wee bit antsy. I can handle it, but I don't love it.
It started last night when I arrived, tired, hungry, and cranky, to dress rehearsal. I was forty minutes late, thanks to traffic from an appointment I had in San Jose. I had missed dinner, not wanting to be any later than I already was. I tiptoed into the risers, hoping Don wouldn't notice my tardiness. For this concert, I'm in the second row, the second person in, so the lady I sit next to stepped aside and I gratefully sank down onto the risers.
"Everything okay?" she whispered, as Don spoke to the orchestra.
"Oh, yes. I just had to drive here from San Jose."
Her response was somewhere along the lines of "Oh, yuck." San Jose to Sacramento should be about a two-hour drive. But it was Friday and rush hour--it took me nearly four hours.
Meanwhile a lady sitting behind us was now concerned that with my arrival, she couldn't see Don. She put a hand on my upper arm and pushed slightly to get me to move. This was her first mistake.
I stepped aside and basically ignored her whispered, "thanks!"
Then, she reached forward and started rubbing my back. She's the grandmotherly type, so I suppose she figured this was okay. Reach out and rub the back of the younger woman in front, to soothe any ruffled feathers from her previous rudeness, and to help calm the nerves of someone who had rushed in from a really nasty drive.
She was wrong again. My knee-jerk reaction--I didn't even think about it, my body just did it--was to spring forward slightly, trying to escape her hand. She apologized softly, and I tersely nodded my head in her direction. Am I rude? Possibly. But I also don't go around touching people like that.
A little while later, another woman behind me finally noticed that she had been basically resting her music folder on my head for quite some time. (It is beyond me how I can stand behind a full row of singers and not once bump them with my own folder, but half the choir hasn't picked up the concept of "hold your music close and don't stand so far forward on the risers" but that is a story for another blog post.)
With her new-found enlightenment, she apologized. I smiled over my shoulder and said, "It's okay. Tight quarters..."
She proceeded to pat me on the head.
Again, the knee-jerk reaction.
Somewhere, on one of my music scores for this concert, is a hastily-scrawled pencil marking that says, "Don't fucking touch me."
I don't feel unreasonable. For some people, physical space, and physical contact, are highly protected. I happen to be one of those people. I refuse to apologize for something that can make me anxious, no matter how well-meaning the person was.