Stretching out my middle splits can be a little, well, intimate. It’s not that I intend to flash my crotch at the gym but accidents happen – running shorts or see-through tights are repeat offenders – and so to prevent any accidental uncomfortable moments I generally face the Gym Buddies (I don’t have anything they haven’t seen) or if they’re not available, a wall. (Side note: Gym Buddy Allison’s solution to this problem is to tuck her bright orange towel into the front of her pants like a twee little loin cloth. I love her for this.) So there I was today, all spread eagled on the floor when I sense someone settle down right behind me – and I do mean right behind me. I scooted forward to give him some more room. But he scooted with me. So I scooted again. As did he. By this point I was so uncomfortable – and not just because I was waaay into the straddle splits – I finally peeked over my shoulder. Only to discover it was my husband punking me. He had the day off work today and decided to spend it popping my personal bubble.
My boundary bubble is a source of much entertainment for my friends as it’s generally a bit larger than most people’s. While I’m getting better about people bumping into me, people standing too close to me when they talk and children that did not spring from my loins patting my bum, I still have a hard time sometimes with the close quarters gyms often require.
- A random elderly man laying down right in my lap at the gym. For those of you who don’t remember – it turned out I was in his “spot” and we played a lovely game of chicken until I got tired of staring at his ear hair and moved.
- The time I kicked Gym Buddy Dennis in our no-contact kickboxing class.
All true stories but the one I need your help with today is how to politely tell someone to get out of your space. While the Gym Buddies and I generally work out at a time of day when the gym isn’t too crowded, occasionally there are days like today when it’s packed and people are stepping all over each other. We couldn’t get through a whole set of P90X 2 (which is getting better by the way – I’m liking Phase II much better than Phase I) without half a dozen “I’m sorry”s and “excuse me”s. It was crowded. I get it. But there was one person who seemed to always end up within 12 inches of me*. I don’t think he was hitting on me or purposely trying to bother me – honestly it was like he didn’t even see me – but by the tenth time of having to step over his outstretched leg to get to my weights I started feeling anxious and boxed-in.
My instinct in this type of situation is to just get out of the way and give people more space but that wasn’t working this morning. Neither did some very pointed glares. And so I ended up very firmly… doing nothing. I just finished my weights as quickly as I could so I could move on to more open pastures (so that I could get sat on by my husband).
For most of my life I have thought it was polite to let other people set the boundaries for our interactions and if I did end up saying something I always felt embarrassed like I was wrong for being uncomfortable when they weren’t. (This is one of the primary reasons I believe I ended up in a position to be sexually assaulted back when I was dating my ex.) But one of the things my therapist has helped me see is that what I feel is what I feel and it isn’t wrong. It just is. And I have as much right to be comfortable as does the other person. Ideally people would recognize when they are invading someone’s space and stop – as is so well illustrated by this post on Jezebel “How to be a good guy on the sidewalk“. But everyone’s comfort level and awareness level is different. Which means that I have to actually do something to let people know where I stand – literally and figuratively. This does not come easily to me. Not with friends and not with strangers.
So help me out – how big is your personal bubble? Have you ever had a problem at the gym with someone being in your space (not your spot)? How do you set physical boundaries without seeming like a jerk??
*And because I know someone will ask, he didn’t seem to be from a culture that has different personal-space norms.