Do you know anyone who might be classified as a hugger? Whenever you see them, you know they’re going to greet you with a big, warm hug. Then there’s the other group of people who feel a nice smile or a firm handshake is warm enough. I started out in the handshake/you’re-too-close club and eventually joined the hug club. Now I’m much more comfortable sharing my personal space, although depending on mood and circumstance, I can easily slip back into the you're-too-close club.
I’ll give you an example. One time Terry,* a family friend, patted my pregnant belly, so I reciprocated. Surprise! Terry wasn’t expecting to get a belly-pat back, but that small gesture spoke volumes, in a humorous way. It said, “No touching the big belly, babe!” Beyond hugs or handshakes, wouldn’t most casual friends or acquaintances touch your arm or maybe your shoulder? So why do people see pregnancy as an open invitation to rub the big belly?
The rules for personal space vary by person and by culture. If you require a lot of personal space, big cities like NYC, will test your tolerance. In crowded NY subway cars strangers regularly squash up against strangers, and in parts of Japan, I hear they’re considering female-only sections on trains. Not a bad idea.
If you’ve ever had a too-close-for-your-comfort encounter where someone exceeded the unwritten rules for personal space, you’ll sympathize with these patrons:
As long as belly-rubbers pair up with natural huggers, everybody’s comfortable. When you’re forced to step beyond your comfort zone, how do you distinguish between a stretched comfort zone and compromise?