Tonight I ran into Target on a quick errand (every woman’s favorite place to be on a quiet evening, am I right?) and while bustling up the center aisle of the store was stopped by a voice behind me saying, “Hey!”
I turned to see a tall man whose face was vaguely familiar and after a moment I recognized him as someone who had attend my church when I was new to the community many years ago. Stepping towards me in a friendly manner he continued, “I haven’t seen you in a long time!” and threw out his arm for a hug. I haven’t seen this man in at least 6 years, he’s probably 10 years older than me and as he was never more familiar to me than a friendly face at church I replied with a smile and hello, responding to his invitation with a high-five. This was acknowledged by a surprised jerk of his head and a widening of his eyes…..before he completely ignored my clear though non-verbal communication and hugged me anyway.
As he pulled away I took a step back from him and straightened to be as “big” as my full 5’4 frame allows. This is a familiar response that I have practiced since childhood when feeling threatened and when he would see it my father would laugh and quote the bat from Fern Gully saying “Puff up! Puff up! They hate that!”. But I digress.
The man smiled and continued as though he hadn’t just tramped through my physical boundaries asking, “How ya doin?”
Swallowing my frustration for the sake of being polite I replied “Great!”
“Oh yeah, what are you up to these days?”
“Oh, you know, just working.”
The conversation continued another minute of him asking questions and my attempting to politely reply with vague answers when without warning he stepped towards me, removing the distance I had intentionally put between us. “So…..hey…..?” and raising his eyebrows in a question he placed his hand on my left elbow before running it down my arm to grab my hand and hold it high while lightly rubbing his thumb across my bare ring finger…… as I stared, dumbfounded. Snatching my hand back and thrusting both hands into my pockets I again stepped back from him, shaking my head and stammering, “Oh no, no no.” His eyebrows raised higher and he asked with a smile and suggestive tone, “Really….No?”.
By now my blood was boiling. I smiled again and firmly said, “I’m on a time crunch and need to go”. Turning on my heel I heard his voice behind me say, “It was great to see you….. Christina, isn’t it?” and glancing over my shoulder I saw him grinning, watching me do my best to not storm down the aisle.
Walking through the store I found the brief, bizarre interaction playing over in my mind as I tried to analyze what in the world had just happened. Had I done something to encouraged his over familiar, rude behavior? Was there any situation in the past that would have led him to believe that he had the right to both touch and treat me that way? Why did I feel the need to be polite to someone treating me with such a lack of respect? I can already hear the defenses coming starting with, “That’s really not a big deal….” so I’ll step back and reiterate a few points. I don’t know this man. He was never more than a familiar face from a long time ago. There was never a friendship. I do not even know his last name but for reasons beyond me this man who is both older and larger than me felt that he had the right to ignore my very clear physical boundaries. And just so we are all clear may I say gently that it is never ok to force someone to touch you in any manner?
As a single 30-year-old woman living in a conservative community I have heard just about all that there is to hear related to singleness and marriage. I don’t mean that in a negative way whatsoever. I love community, love my church, deeply love family and would like to have my own one day! I have read many books, attended seminars and listed to sermons related to both topics and am neither bitter towards my married friends or angry at the season of life that I am in. However, I find that just about everyone else seems to feel differently about that than I do. I have been questioned as though there is something wrong with my being single, not by close friends mind you but by acquaintances, people who at one time may have had an invitation from me to speak into my life, people who assume that familiarity grants them that right and recently, by perfect strangers. I wish that there would be a way to communicate the sincere gentleness in my tone as I make this statement…. frankly, it is not anyone’s business. I have no need to make excuses and I do not owe anyone an explanation. I’m not angry, but I am TIRED of being asked to give a defense for my life as though there is a) something wrong or b) an answer that I could give that would make the questioner feel that my singleness is somehow justified to them.
The interaction that I had with this man tonight is the perfect example(although a little extreme) of the over familiarity and lack of manners that I am continually running into and as I type this in the back of my mind I hear a little grey rabbit chiding, “Mind yo’ mannews!”. I’d like to trumpet that to a whole culture that assumes familiarity where it hasn’t been earned. To the people who make unwelcome comments and suggestions to my married friends who do not have children, to the strangers who grill my friends at the playground because they have several small children close in age, to the voices asking and prodding where they have no room to speak. Have we all forgotten our manners? When did it become appropriate to stop treating each other with honor and respect, to believe it acceptable to demand answers where we have no right or room to ask questions? When did we stop treating each other with basic dignity?
And when did it become acceptable to force touch? To not ask permission? As a small person I have spent my whole life being forced into physical interactions that were unwanted. In high school it was a game among many of my male friends to literally pick me up and carry me around. As an adult I find myself regularly in the awkward position of being forced to hug people who assume that it’s ok to sweep me up in a friendly squeeze but my stature shouldn’t determine someone else’s right to my body. I used to frame the situation as “I’m being treated as though I am a child” but now I realize that the flaw in that thinking is the assumption that a child somehow has less rights and responsibility over their body than an adult. The humiliation that I felt as 90 pound 15-year-old being thrown on the shoulder of a high school quarter back and the humiliation that I felt tonight as a stranger ran his hand down my arm is the same. This body is mine, and I should be allowed the dignity of deciding who has access to me.
Again, none of this is said in anger but rather as a plea. People, mind your manners. Remember that you do not ever know the whole of the story and that the one piece of information that you might possess doesn’t give you the right to someones personal life. Let’s THINK before we speak, before we ask, before we act. Let’s consider one another, let’s respect each other enough to ask permission and not assume. No one owes you an answer, no one owes you a touch. And to everyone out there who feels the weight of unwarranted questions, you don’t have to make an excuse and you don’t owe anyone a response :).