Dear The People I’ve Just Met,
Hi, my name is Laura and I am writing to you in regards to my personal space and your penchant for invading it. Call me crazy, call me a bitch (actually don’t do that), and call me frigid, but I just can’t get on board with people I’ve just met getting all up in my grill.
Wanting personal space doesn’t mean a lack of affection
Currently the list of people who are allowed to touch me without warning looks like this:
- Any and all friendly doggos
- Any and all friendly kitty cats
- Established friends that I am greeting or farewelling in a social setting
- Current established love interests when we aren’t in public and I’ve otherwise indicated my consent to said touching within normal sexual guidelines
Pretty much everyone else is treated to a sliding scale of intimacy and affection which is closely based on my mood at that moment, and correlated with how much I like them and how long I’ve known them. This can range from awkward one-armed hugs, finger guns and shoulder pats through to little couch cuddles and maybe some mutual resting-my-head-on-your-shoulder action.
I want to be clear – it’s not that I don’t love my friends and family; I do, very much. It’s just that it can genuinely make me uncomfortable when people enter my personal space, if I’m not ready. When I’m in a social situation which I know is coming to a close, I do mentally prepare myself for the obligatory goodbye hugs and kisses.
And I want to be clear again; it’s not that I don’t want the hugs and the kisses. I like to feel comforted and loved as much as the next person. I just need time to prepare myself for it and I want the right to decide when and how I show my affection.
And I want the hugs and kisses from people I know.
Strangers in my personal space
Which brings me to you, the subject of this letter: the people I’ve just met. You’ll have noted that nowhere in this letter so far have I included cheek kisses from strangers.
To me, kissing me on my cheek just smacks of disrespect for my boundaries, and normalises forcing people to accept unwanted affection. When élite sports stars do it, they are banned, reprimanded and shamed. Just watching that video made you feel uncomfortable, right? It’s creepy, it’s clearly unwanted and it’s happening in a work environment – where the majority of unwanted cheek kisses seem to happen (to me). And I’m at a loss as to why I put up with it.
Just recently it’s become trendy for parents to encourage their children to vocalise their boundaries. Gone are the days of forcing children to hug and kiss their Aunts, Uncles and other miscellaneous relatives. Children are allowed to make their own decisions about who is allowed to touch their bodies. Coming from a child who rarely wanted to say yes to cheek kisses and cuddles, I couldn’t be happier about this. From a young age we were taught that our bodies are not our own, and our affections are something that can be taken from us. Don’t be so naïve as to think this isn’t inherently damaging and potentially an incredibly dangerous lesson to be teaching your children.
Recent studies show that personal space boundaries are almost universal not only across the genders but across cultures. Obvious mutual taboo places are clearly any kind of genital touching by anyone who isn’t a lover. But you’ll also note an increase in aversion from both genders for any kind of face touching, starting from relatively mild right through to extreme. (And can you see how big that taboo zone is for a male stranger?).
Didn’t feel like clicking over? General consensus: face touching = bad, genital touching = very bad.
The cheek kiss convention is outdated and gross
This is what really gets me about the stranger cheek kiss; the sexism of it all. I can be standing in a group of men in a corporate situation and see them all receive smart handshakes from a newcomer (male or female) and just know that I won’t get the same courtesy. It’s degrading, unprofessional and makes me feel like I’m less worthy of your respect. It’s evidenced in the video linked above, (and here again) in the instances where there is a woman and a man in the room, the woman is the one being harassed. You’ve shown respect for the male colleague and reduced the female one to a pretty thing. Yes, I can see all of those instances where it’s happened to men as well, but if anything it cements my point. Those men are clearly annoyed, and clearly don’t want some stranger’s lips on their face.
So, why would I?
I just want that damn handshake. Treat me like an androgynous equal rights stranger. Don’t treat me like your infirm grandmother or your girlfriend who you’re on thin ice with, by pressing your thin scratchy lips to my perfect face.
You take away my right to choose
There is no way for me to reclaim my boundaries in this situation. I can stay perfectly upright, give a strong firm handshake, maintain eye contact – do everything I’m supposed to do with my body language to make it clear that this is my boundary. But I’ll still find myself being pulled in for a cheek kiss I don’t want, and have no choice but to accept. Otherwise I’m making a scene, and making everyone around us uncomfortable instead of just me. By doing this in public, in front of people and coming from a presumed position of power, you have stolen my capacity for consent.
Society is becoming more focused on the meaning of consent, and with good reason. Why are you still trying to kiss strangers?
So please, People I’ve Just Met, do me the courtesy of respecting my boundaries, and don’t try to force an outdated and frankly sexist social norms on me when everything in society is telling you how inappropriate it is.
What do you think? Am I overreacting?
Do you actually like having strangers press their lips to your face? Tell me about it below!
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