Saturday, November 14, 2009

Personal space

Lighthouse - M Charlton

My brother in law has come to visit.

Before I go any further I should tell you he's a big chap and he reads this blog, so I've got to be carefu.... and of course he's very welcome and we love having him round!

Actually he is and we do; I shall enjoy cooking tonight, we'll have a laugh and no doubt too much wine will be drunk. But much though I enjoy his company, I always hesitate a moment when he comes to the door. The reason is that I can think of no two people who so epitomise different attitudes to personal space.

Gavin's idea of a welcome is an arm round the shoulder bordering on a bear-hug. His concept of playing with the kids is to rough and tumble, trip up and scoop up, throw skyward and cradle with love. This afternoon, he, Jane and the kids have gone swimming; I have stayed at home.

I often wonder why I so dislike physical play. I hated rugby at school, and even worse, all those playground variants with names like Murder Ball or British Bulldog. It wasn't that I feared being hurt - though I can't match Gavin's six foot and six inches, I'm hardly a delicate flower - it was the whole unstructured, grasping, mauling, upside down, back to front confusion of it ... aghhhh!

I think this explains why I have no problem with sports like boxing or judo: they have rules that contain and limit the game - you know how you stand, or fall. But I could never quite grasp how, in rugby for instance, a level of unspecified aggression is deemed acceptable - why? how much? how far?

So is it the lack of boundaries that unnerves me? Does that explain why the thought of wrestling in a play fight makes me feel sick? Or is this, as I suspect, too analytical; my response is visceral, not logical or open to justification.

And personal space is about more than physical play.

A friend once told me how he loved crowded parties; he invariably came away with phone numbers, extra business and the offer of a trip to the Arms Park. I suspect my brother in law would be centre of attention too - and brilliant at it. I know I'd be in the corner talking to the same two people all night.

Despite this, I like to think I can be a generous host and a not unpleasant house guest. I enjoy company, especially of close friends, and most of those are of many years standing. My guess is that I am near to what Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point would call a Maven: a sharer of information and ideas - but not a connector or a networker.

Most of all - and this is entirely compatible with the above - I am an introvert. That is not the same as a recluse who withdraws from the world. It is someone who needs the space to think before acting, to understand the rules before wrestling with the outcome. Ultimately, to project the world on themself, before returning the favour.

And, you know, I'm comfortable with that.


  1. Totally with you. I love my friends but need my own space. It's a control thing I'm sure but it's just the way I am.

  2. I sometimes wish I could network and connect...but can't. I withdraw from contact like a hedgehog rolling into a ball except with old friends.
    Too thin skinned...that's the problem.

  3. It's funny...In a social situation I would be exactly the same as the corner chatting to a couple of people but when it comes to work I network very well and can talk to complete strangers about very sensitive issues.

    (Actually, I've just told Chris the bit about being in the corner chatting and he laughed...apparently by the end of the night I know everyone and have a couple of invitations to dinner or drinks!! I don't see myself like that at all!!)

    C x

  4. You sound like you have stayed the same over the years - sensible and insulated. I used to be the original party animal and now have turned into quite an introverted character. The thought of being surrounded by a noisy party crowd sees scary to me - isn't it funny how some people change completely and others become more like themselves