Why did I let that stranger invade my space?
I recently went to a local bar to catch up with a group of girlfriends who I hadn’t seen for a while, including a friend visiting from Ireland.
We were having a grand old time which culminated in some serious chair dancing to George Michael (RIP) when I was suddenly interrupted by a man who plonked himself a little too close to me, exclaiming that all his friends were boring and he’d been wanting to come and talk to me all night. So he just decided to ‘do it’. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the idea Nike had in mind when formulating their famous line, and it gave me instant insight into someone who isn’t really used to making their own decisions. Well, not good ones, anyway.
His proximity and presence immediately made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to be rude so I engaged in (awkward) chat with him. But after 10 mins or so of our ‘decision-maker’ also revealing his imperviousness to cues, I was becoming very uncomfortable. What was my exit plan here? Not only did I feel I had to be ‘careful’ about what I said (still? In 2017?), I was completely p*@#ed off that my friends were continuing to have a blast together and I was missing out! I mouthed to one of my girlfriends for ‘help’ and she pretty much politely asked him to leave.
This situation has left me to ponder about what made this man think he had the right to impose on my personal space. Why did I let him? Actually, most women unfortunately understand how awkward (or dangerous) these encounters can be.
It also impressed on me the important responsibility we have to teach our kids a better way – with their behaviour and respect in general, and the tools to deal with such situations.
Teach our girls and boys to protect their own personal space and boundaries.
On reflection the reason I got myself stuck in this situation, was most likely to do with the fact that I was never given the tools growing up to know how to deal with it.
So do this from a young age:
- We need to talk to our kids about situations which we notice make them feel uncomfortable, really listen to them and don’t judge their answer. Ask them what would have helped them to feel more comfortable.
- Let our kids know that they have the right to say no, and teach them the polite (whilst still firm) way to do so.
- Model firm and polite words whenever you personally feel uncomfortable in a situation, and ‘play role’ with your kids.
- Help your children practice expressing things they do want, such as “I’d like to go to an Italian restaurant tonight”. Simple stuff, but it will make it easier to say ‘no’ when they don’t want something.
- Teach our children not to feel guilty or impolite if they need to pull someone up for invading their personal boundaries or even to ‘push back’ if their requests are ignored.
- In my scenario, perhaps I could have said “thanks for stopping by for a chat, but I’m here to spend some time with my girlfriends and I’d like to get back to them”.
Teach our our children how to respect other’s personal space
It seemed obvious that this man may not have been taught how to respect a woman and her personal space and behave as a gentleman.
We can’t assume that our children will intrinsically understand these values, so it’s our job to teach them them to be respectful to each other from a young age (and at any age). Here a few ideas:
- Teach our children to politely ask someone’s permission before invading their personal space in any way, and help them understand about boundaries. “Do you mind if I borrow your pencil”, “Is it ok if I play with your soccer ball” (instead of just taking it), “Hi, my name is so & so, do you mind if I join you? (if only!)
- Remind them to have pride in growing into gentleman and respectful ladies
- As adults, be a great example. Model respectful behaviour to everyone in your life and speak politely to all
- Teach them about body language signs, signals and cues and what they might mean.
- Teach them the concept of personal space.
It’s never too late to learn or pick up a life skill, I’ll certainly taking my own advice here.