Hey! Can You Let Me In? It’s Kind Of Cold Out Here!

Last night I was sitting in a court room with about 20 other people for a court-mandated program called Focus on the Children.  Everyone in the room was there because they were either filing for divorce or custody of their children, or both.  We all needed to be there, because the information being given had some value, but none of us wanted to be there, and if we had our choice, we’d be home.  Therein the reason behind making the program mandated.  Mandated is forced.  Mandated is not always positive.

So there’s the scene:  Twenty strangers together in a place and time not of our choosing, under negative circumstances.  And I could feel it.  The walls of personal space were reinforced like fortresses.  I counted 50 chairs and with only 20 people, no one sat next to each other.  Hell, even I put the literature they gave me in the seat next to me as a warning: “Move on.  This seat is taken.”

I shocked myself with that one.  Me…Miss Open…Miss Trusting…Miss What You See Is What You Get.  But everyone in the room was doing the same thing.  Eyes straight ahead, arms held close to their body, and with the exception of that one guy who kept asking questions about mental stability issues of a spouse, no one spoke.  I could almost see the barriers that encased each one of us.

Then my thoughts jumped to my friends, most of who I’ve met by hanging around the martial arts center where my sons take classes.  There was a time when all of us would do the same thing as those in the court room.  We would sit with the space of an empty chair between us, but at least we’d sort of look at each other, smile, look away, smile again, make some sort of comment and then stop talking until the time came to do it all again.  Now, though, it’s a hug-fest whenever any of us walks through the door, pulling up the chairs for each other so close that our knees touch when we sit.

So where’s the tipping point?  When do we make it okay to drop the shields and let others into our personal space?  What triggers the green light to peel away the layers of our person and reveal it to others?

For me, I have no boundaries – sometimes a liability – and let just about anybody into my space.  That’s just the way I roll and sometimes I forget others don’t think like me.  When I get in close proximity to someone I don’t know, I can feel the energy pressing outwards.  And, yes, I have been known to ignore protocol and enter their space anyway.

For everyone it’s different.  Remember the woman at the grocery store?  It took but one hug to go from stranger to friends.  I have a really good friend who, after something like three years, has shown me a side of her I never would have guessed.  It took her that long to shed the last of her last few layers.

So what is it for you?  What do you look for in someone?  Is there some special quality that makes it okay to touch your knee with theirs when sitting together?  Better yet, is it you who makes okay…or is it the other person?

Remember, a stranger is only a stranger until you know their name.

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About Diana Murdock

California-grown, writer of contemporary and YA paranormal with enough energy to write, raise two boys, run, and dream.

Posted on December 14, 2011, in Friendships, Health, Personal, Relationships and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Ah, excellent questions, Diana. I’m like you ~ I have no boundaries and I’m sure I offend people all the time, but they are nice enough not to tell me. I’m a hugger, sorry folks, that’s just the way it is. Unfortunately for me, I have a horrid sixth sense when it comes to bad people. They might look all nice and sweet on the outside, but inside they are just trolls waiting to steal my soul. It’s happened a few times and I’m more reserved now than I was before. I don’t just let everyone in all the way anymore, they have to wait at the door for a bit. It’s weird, it’s awkward at times, but it’s saving my sanity and if they are true friends, they’ll wait for me. And vice versa. I have a good friend, like yours, that I’m just discovering things about. We’ve known each other nine years!

    I don’t know if there is a set tipping point with people or if it’s a person-by-person thing. Hmm. Now I’ll be watching people all day to see how they react to others. Cool!

    • Like you I can tell when it comes to bad people. I couldn’t have said it better “They might look all nice and sweet on the outside, but inside they are just trolls waiting to steal my soul.”

  2. Excellent post!

    I spend a lot of time in Spain – the Canaries actually – and it’s very different there. Almost everyone talks to everyone else, invited or not. It’s just the natural thing to do in that culture. The Canaries are very cosmopolitan too, so you don’t even know what language to use (assuming you know more than one), but the fact is, most people get along and, with very little political correctness to deal with along with an effective police force, few people feel threatened by others, even alone and at night.

    It’s not perfect, far from it, but it’s a damned sight better than the reserved Brits and from what I read and hear of the US too at times.

  3. Dogs and babies. That is usually the ice breaker for me. Everywhere I take my dogs, people (strangers) approach me and talk to me about my dogs. I am the same way when I see an adorable baby in line at the grocery store, and I always comment on what they are wearing. It is the innocence of a dog or child and non-threatening common denominator that connects two strangers, like a bridge over icy waters.

    I love taking my dogs places. They attract “dog lovers” and keep mean people away. (Yes, people who don’t love dogs are mean!) When Steve and I went to San Diego this past summer, we took the dogs with us. We met so many people who stopped and asked us about our dogs. Most of them missed their dogs at home and just wanted to pet ours. It was a wonderful experience, and our pups loved all the attention.

    One of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed was watching a smile grow on a grumpy old man who was being stared down by a little boy sitting on the bus.

  4. As an introvert it takes a great deal of energy for me break through the barriers and form a relational interaction with people I don’t know, so I’m rarely the instigator. However I am a very friendly person so smiling, nodding, or even saying hi to strangers at the grocery store or in a checkout line are normal.

    However in a more personal setting (for example at my kid’s school) it’s very different because they aren’t total strangers but rather people I see rather often so every conversation builds on the last time we saw each other, it’s a taxing I’d prefer to avoid normally. When they instigate I’m still very jovial and show no signs of trying to flee the scene, but only because (to steal from you) it’s socially mandated that I do so.

    Ultimately I’m a very busy person and I have an enormous array of friends already, I’d really rather not make any more friends or even acquaintances. Every relationship I have takes energy in the form of time or emotional effort that I’d rather re-invest into existing relationships. I don’t really buy into that whole “You have unlimited love” thing because to show someone love you have to give something (quality time, gifts, conversation, acts of service, even just a portion of my thought process…etc), and I’m far to realistic to think I have unlimited energy!

    I call myself logically introverted, you can call me a grumpy bastard, but those inside my circle always know they’re loved 🙂

  5. Great blog. Thank you for prompting me to take a look at that bit of social interaction. I am afraid that I fall into the category of wanting a chair (or two) between me and strangers in a room. At the same time, I am aware of how great it feels when one of those strangers reaches out to me by commenting about the circumstances in which we find ourselves and which we have in common, or the weather, or just a friendly, “hello.” I understand that i am more reserved than most, but my hope is that i can become more like that stranger that reaches out.

  6. I’m usually the one to break the ice whether people like it or not. I just can’t help it and once you break the ice, you can almost feel the relief that these other people were waiting for. Now, in the circumstances you mentioned in this blog, being in a courtroom because it’s mandatory with your ex possibly there with their lawyer, would be a time I probably would remain quiet because I don’t want to give him any more information than absolutely necessary – even if it’s my personality that shows through be it good or bad. This is when I’m grateful when this awful situation is done and no matter what the court decision, it give me a break when it’s over to reflect on the things I’m grateful for.

  7. Great blog, D. Being an introvert and naturally shy, I seldom initiate conversations with anyone (though I did learn to pretend that I’m not shy back in my late twenties/early thirties when I did some business traveling, and even more so when I became a winery host). However, I also like people and find them fascinating, so I love getting to know someone. It just takes me a long time to let down my barriers.

  8. Great post! For me it depends. If I feel the person or people are welcoming or if I feel that I can trust that person. Years ago, I would be one of those people in the court room, sometimes I still can be. Usually, I smile or say hello nothing more then that to a stranger. I attended a book convention a few years ago not knowing anyone, by the 3rd night I ended up meeting my best friend, my mentor and a few authors who I’ve kept in touch with to this day. Although it took me awhile to let them in, I’m glad to have them in my life right now. Even now it’s still hard to just let any one person in.

  9. I’m an introvert and I like my personal space. People who stand too close in a line bug me, but I’d never say anything. I also don’t like to be touched. I have hit people for trying to poke me or tease my hair. Honestly, though, it’s pure reflex. I, uh, just don’t react well. I only give hugs because people expect them, but they’re the awkward side-hugs, and I still play dodge the greeter at church. Hehe. So you can imagine I do much better on social media. 😉 I’m a one-on-one type of person. On the flip side, I’m pretty open when it comes to conversation, and have definitely shared way too much information with strangers. It’s something I’m working on.

  10. Personal space is important to me too but at the same time I’m a hugger when the time is right. People tend to start talking to me in the strangest places and I do listen and respond. I would probably be the first one to start a conversation with you in that class you had to take – especially if we had an empty chair between us which would be the perfect buffer zone!

    • LOL, from the safety of behind the glass they spoke… Moderation I guess. I find a lot of people will make eye contact with me and look away, but as soon as I say something, they’re willing, like you, to respond. Such a varied mix!

  11. I’ve been thinking a lot about personal space lately. In the class that I just finished TA’ing, a couple of my students were interested in studying the ways that people deal with personal space in public settings, like buses and waiting rooms. They did lots of observation, as well as interviews with people they encountered, but one of the things that we discussed was the way that culture governs the amount of space that people require (have you seen those videos of people packing onto subway trains in Japan? I would become absolutely claustrophobic, I think).

    I’m a huge hugger, and I actually love people… but I’ve gotten burned pretty badly by trusting too hard and “letting people in” too early, before I’ve had a chance to figure out if their intentions are positive. I think I’m much more standoffish these days, and it’s a little sad — I wish I could just be friends with everyone, and not worry that they’re going to try and stab me in the back.

    • I hear you, Lena. I am way too open, but despite being burned on occasion, I still put myself out there. I’m a bit more wary, but still I allow it. I just try not to take any untruths or back stabbing too personally. That’s interesting about the study the students were doing. It would be interesting to see the final outcome.

  12. I am a happy extrovert. I like people in general, but I’ve learned to keep some boundaries. People in Europe, where I’m from, are more open, more friendly, than the Seattle residents. It’s hard to make friends here – the average person in Seattle likes to keep a distance from others. I will never completely understand or accept it, since I was born and raised differently. Sigh.

    • That’s probably like most people in the bigger cities. I grew up in Los Angeles and people there aren’t receptive to inviting others into their space. Even in the smaller beach cities, it’s hard to make really close friends. So, I do hear you, sista. Here’s hugs to you!

  13. What a great post– as usual– Diana! Knowing you has done much for me.

    Over the years I finally discovered I’m a recluse- not so much an introvert. Thank goodness I’ve been able to blame it on being a writer, but it goes way back to my childhood. I don’t want to embarrass myself and I know it lies just around the corner.

    I love to talk to people– to say hello and talk about minor things but then I’m off for my cave.

    I’ve met more great people I consider friends this past year in the social media, than the whole of my life before. You’re at the top of the list of people who have opened a new world for me.

    I still enjoy my solitude and I escape within my self by writing. But there is much more I want to know now thanks to open, warm, loving people like you!

    I also think that many people seal themselves in a bubble because of the social standards of today. Not wanting to do something that is viewed as inappropriate and the rules are constantly changing.

    • I agree with the social bubble thing, Dannie. Social standards clip people’s wings, I think. But in the end it’s all about what makes you comfortable and happy. Thank you for your kind words, my friend. I value your friendship as well. Hugs to you!

  14. I’m an introvert, working to be a better outgoing individual. I would have probably placed the papers on the seat beside me as well. Or my purse. I find myself doing that one a lot. I cut myself off from the world out of fear of rejection. I want to like everyone but always fear they don’t like me. I am working towards not caring how anyone feels about me. When I get to that point I’ll remove those papers, raise my “freak flag” high (a reference to Lisa Wilson’s post), sit up a little straighter and welcome anyone brave enough to take the seat next to me. 😀 I promise not to bite.

  15. What a great post, Diana. *waves* I knew there was a reason why I hadn’t deleted it from my e-mail!!
    I’ve been endevouring to more faithfully visit the blogs, so I’ve now begun subscribing to everyone’s blogs. This brings the posts to me as opposed to me having to go hunt them down. Why I never did that before, I’ll never know! *sigh*
    How are you? I was just thinking about you the other day while I was doing my Twitter networking. I use the Follow Ap, so if I haven’t interacted w/ someone in awhile, it doesn’t remember. Then this 42 year old has to. *grins*
    Anyway, I think I easily get along w/ most everybody and usually quite easily. I may write horror and listen to heavy metal/classic rock, but I’m more comfortable giggling and chatting. Kind of weird, isn’t it?

    -Jimmy

    • *Jumping up and down wildly* Yay! Jimmy! There you are! LOL. I somehow knew that about you – having a way different, softer and playful side of you. That’s a good thing. Keeps you multi-dimensional. Keeps you real. Thanks for stopping by. xxoo

  16. Interesting question. My wife and I had a similar thought exchange last summer. I am an extrovert while she is bit reserved. We were at a waterpark during a holiday weekend, expectedly it got crowded and she started getting uncomfortable due to proximity of people at the tidal pool. I reminded her that in the morning she takes a crowded train to work rubbing shoulder to shoulder, this is no way close to that. She explained going to work has a different mindset; her thoughts are pre-occupied with tasks lined up for the day and so at times you are alone in your world even in a crowded train. On the other hand, during vacation she just wants to enjoy the time, her own personal time with family. And for her that personal time goes with personal space too!! We didn’t discuss this further and ended it on a lighter note. Today it flashed again in my mind after reading your post and gave a thought on why she makes a distinction in train & waterpark. When you are going to work you are in professional attire, your actions, and attitude & to some extent your thoughts are in line with your profession. That’s your public face and you are comfortable to share it with someone strange. While on the other hand, your personal time is where you express freely, who you are or that special moment that you only want to share with people you know.

    • That’s an excellent point! I never really thought that way, since I tend to have only “one face.” But I can totally see your wife point of view. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  17. I am a lot like Tameri and you. I have very little boundaries, am very affectionate and a huge hugger. I am sure that I can make people uncomfortable with all my hugging but unless folks tell me otherwise, I’m hugging everyone.
    Although with total strangers, it’s different. I am usually more reserved until I get a sense of the person or the crowd I am in. I can be a wall flower (I know?!??!) but I can…when I don’t know anyone…
    But my natural tendency is very open and huggable! LOL! If that means I get burned or hurt from time to time, I’m ok with that. I’d rather be the way I am than more closed off…so it works for me…

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