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Posts Tagged ‘touching’

NTKOG #51: The kind of affectionate, magnetically vivacious woman who doles out hugs like candy at a parade and punctuates every conversation with casual contact.

I am: an armchair person, not a couch person. As in, I will not even sit two people to a three-person couch with someone I have known for years. And if my leg accidentally grazes yours, rest assured I will apologize until you become semantically satiated with the word “sorry”.

I am not: super comfortable with personal contact. Can you tell?

The Scene: In an effort to grow slightly less neurotic about never touching anyone ever ever ever, I’ve been attempting to — um, touch strangers in what I consider to be inappropriate ways? Okay. That doesn’t sound quite as noble when you say it aloud. Nonetheless, a trio of interactions:

The Acquaintance Hug: A few mornings ago, one of my co-workers entered the office in a fairly deflated mood. She’s usually warm and vibrant, very sweet girl, but whatever combination of events — some confluence of relationship and finances and all the thousand slights the world sometimes likes to heap on you before breakfast — had chipped her veneer.

“Dude,” I said, standing up. “You need a hug?”

I was only a little horrified when she actually folded herself into my awkwardly proffered embrace. Then I stood there, not moving, waiting for her to leave. Apparently she didn’t think it was weird, and I was glad to be emotionally available, I guess, but dude: not. a. hugger.

The Coquette Tap: I see women all the time who, when talking to a man, will flirtatiously tap on his arm to get his attention or signal that he ought to pay attention to the totally brilliant thing she just said. This, to me, is weird. I mean, shouldn’t your voice and face be all the verbal italics you need in conversation? Is the point of the tap just a reminder? Hey! Bodies! We have them! We maybe could use them to hook up as a result of this conversation?

No single story here, but I’ve made a conscious effort to use this technique when talking to random guys I meet — especially on the T, where we’re stuck sitting in close proximity anyway. I tend to reach out for the casual upper-arm tap to underscore the fact that I’m joking when I say mean-funny things, just to lighten my tone. Because, yeah, I’m one of those smart girls who’s kind of a jerk to guys. Regret to inform! Basic results of this: the guys don’t seem to notice it one way or the other, but I always feel profoundly awkward afterwards.

The Fist Bump: Last night, as I was wandering around Cambridge trying to find the School of Government for a professor’s office hours, I got hopelessly lost and decided to ask the next grad student-aged passerby for directions. A guy passed me and I tapped his shoulder. When he spun around, I saw he was cute. Cutecute. I mean, so attractive that he was almost ugly — like a young Robert De Niro with designer stubble and the kind of Mediterranean beachy blue eyes you just want to bathe in.

TKOG: Uh, excuse me, do you know where the Kennedy School of Government is?
Seriously Movie Star-ish Leading Man: I’m sorry, I have completely no idea where that is.
TKOG: We. We have so much in common right now.
SMSLM: Yeah, I’m really feeling that bond.
TKOG: Pound it?

I offered him my fist and he switched his cigarette to the other hand and, y’know, knuckle-bumped, then — weirdly, amazingly — used his cigarette hand to pull me into a, like, slightly bro-ish but non-A-frame hug. I was afraid for a moment that his cigarette would burn my hair. But, guys, I kind of didn’t care. I mean, this guy was too cute to even be talking to me, let alone hugging me on a street corner.

After a second, he pulled away and wished me good luck finding the School of Gov. Which I basically floated to on a cloud of deep personal well-being.

The Verdict: Um, movie-star Harvard guys? You can hug me all you want. Everyone else? Look, I’m sorry, and don’t take it personally, but I’m just going to go ahead and sit on my side of the couch and you can sit … on another couch … in another house … and maybe we can just email each other. Unless you’re on my “people I couldn’t live without” list, there’s just no reason we ever need to touch!

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NTKOG #25: The kind of girl who, in an apparent desire to conserve body heat or show off her killer pheramones, stands really close to other people in public places. Like, will-show-up-in-your-dang-X-rays close.

I am: fiercely protective of my personal space. What? Couches were totally designed for an occupancy of one!

I am not: super into communing with strangers on any sort of physical or near-physical basis, as I learned with my failed experiment in hugging.

The Scene: Today, a treat: a medley of standing-too-close-ness, prepared three ways. If you choose to imagine this as a movie-style montage, may I recommend The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” for background music?

What? I just like to be able to watch your uvula dangle as we're talking.

What? I just like to be able to watch your uvula dangle as we're talking.

First: Waiting at my T stop on the way to work, I approach the median, which is littered with commuters in their iPod and Starbucks bubbles, each the last survivor of their own personal nuclear holocaust. Or at least you’d think, given the grim devotion with which they avoid acknowledging each other. I scan my victims and choose to stand behind a quite pretty Indian girl wearing a silky orange blouse — one of the few brave survivors sans earbuds. I am so close I can tell you her brand of shampoo (Garnier) and that she might want to consider switching to moisturizing.

For a few moments she stands still — in no small part, I’m sure, because the slightest swivel in either direction would cause her bag to make contact with my person. Then a quick glance back at me. She takes a long pace forward, and I sway slightly in her new direction. She glances back again and takes a book out of her bag, managing, while she does so, to angle herself further away. I take the hint and fall back a few strides into my own morning-fake-apocalypse bubble.

Second: After work and a quick jaunt at the fabric store (where I ended up buying a silky orange fabric for my drapes — subliminal imprinting?), I waited to board a bus to Harvard Square. When I got on, the bus was filled to less than a quarter capacity, with several rows of empty seats. I plumped myself down next to the only other person in the back right of the bus. She casts curious sidelong glances at me while, stop by stop, the bus empties down to just her, me, and one other guy.

Finally she broadly pantomimes that she needs to leave, so I let her out into the aisle, where she stands for the next six stops. We end up exiting the bus at the same place, her rushing a bit ahead.

Third: Once at Harvard Square, I am about half an hour early for the class I am taking, so I look for a place to rest my weary, persona-space-allergic bones. On the shallow white steps of some puritan building or another, a couple sits alone, having a spirited conversation. Casually casting my eyes away, I settle myself one small step below them, only inches away from the man.

Unfortunately, it becomes quickly apparently that their conversation was of a private nature. He is a professor, it seems, and she is explaining in great detail the nature of family emergency that has prevented her from completing her work. As soon as I sit, she sputters out a few words in clunky, impeded phrases, then informs him that she has to run to another class, but they can finish their discussion later.

The man, however, appears unbothered, and remains seated for the next twenty minutes, while he and I both read. Not together, but kind of together, in an oh-the-enormity-of-humanity no personal space kind of way. It’s nice, a little bit, to pretend we are friends sharing a comfortable silence.

The Verdict: Good lord. This was awkward, but not as awkward as I’d imagined it would be. It turns out that accidentally lingering too close to another living person does not, contrary to popular belief, induce spontaneous respiratory shut-down in 100% of cases. In fact, people were, though weirded out, rather nice about it. Not even one snarled “Dude!” or overtly hostile grimace. Just lots of passive-aggressive pantomime — the same types that I perform on a regular basis in these situations.

It kind of makes me wonder whether other guardians of personal space go around, like me, wondering why everyone else seems so much more comfortable being physically close to strangers, and whether it is in some way cold and a bit inhuman to recoil from casual contact. And, I mean, I would ask people about it. But I don’t want to get that close.

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