The title here may be unintentionally misleading. I refer not to a space bubble, as I have no real issues with being around droves of people in a public space. After all, some of my favorites places in the world are dance clubs and arcades. Unless someone is actively (and painfully) running into me, I’m unbothered by people being in close proximity.
When I talk about personal space, I’m thinking of where I live. Or, for that matter, places I’ve lived.
Growing up, we didn’t have money. We lived in a tiny house long before tiny houses were cute and desirable. We lived in a tiny house because that was what we could afford. I shared a tiny room with my parents until the summer between my fifth and sixth grade year. As you walked into the room (or edged in, more accurately), their bed was to the right, and my “bed” was along the far wall, under the window facing the side yard with the filbert tree and the hammock. I use quotes around bed because my bed was actually a converted couch (I believe we had a matching one in the living room) with the back cushions not present (thinking about it now, I have no idea where those cushions were or what happened to them). Next to my bed I had a teeny tiny wooden desk, and I remember thinking the top drawer of that desk was reserved for only the finest treasures (which probably consisted of leaves I thought were pretty and various nuts from the trees outside).
You could barely walk between the beds. The room was small. Just outside of that room to the left (under the stairs to the attic), was a small closet, and I recall being keen on going in there and pretending it was my very own room. Sure it was filled with clothes and various other things, but it was perfectly me-sized (at the time), and I recall liking that it existed.
I was often to be found in our yard. It was large and our gardens were not only big and bountiful, but, to me, magical. I’d spend time watching things grow and wondering just where the potatoes might be once I was given the go ahead to dig them up (one of my favorite things in childhood). I would pick the tomatoes off the vine and eat them like apples, and sweet peas were also an immediate treat. No one ever bothered me when I was out there, and I loved having time and space to myself.
Things in the house were often tense. I can’t imagine how difficult and stressful it must have been to be my parents at that time.
But, that fateful summer between my fifth and sixth grade year arrived. My parents were finally in a position to replace our long-broken refrigerator. They found one at a yard sale in the downtown area of our town and, through some stroke of luck, managed to rent the house where that yard sale was held.
I can not overstate how huge that house was, particularly to us. We each had our own room. There was one floor that had a living room, a kitchen, and a bedroom. That one floor was more space than our entire previous house. My brothers and I had rooms upstairs, and the bottom floor was being remodeled for my father’s business.
When we were shown our rooms, I noticed something odd: both of my brothers had doors on their rooms; I did not. I asked about it and my parents said they were looking for a suitable door and would put it on once they found one. Apparently the door from my room had been put on the upstairs bathroom because that bathroom used to be a closet and I guess people didn’t want to relieve themselves and shower in full view of everyone else.
Okay, fair enough.
Years went by and finally a door was found. In the meantime, my parents had put a curtain up over my doorway. Let me just tell you that that was ridiculous and offered pretty much no privacy. My brothers would barge in at all times. How many times they hit their heads on that curtain rod, I couldn’t tell you, but it was a lot.
When a door was finally procured, my parents didn’t put it on. They made a bevy of excuses, but none were terribly valid. They said it needed to be refinished (it probably did). I offered to do it myself. They said no. I offered to put it up myself. They said no. I told them it was important to me. No one gave a crap.
When I finally moved out at 18, there was still no door on my room.
My first apartment was actually quite nice. I had a front door, a back door, two sliding doors to the bathroom (two doors to one bathroom!), and a bedroom door; the first bedroom door that was all mine.
Ironically, I didn’t like it shut. Once I was out of the house, that would become a long-standing thing with me: I don’t like to shut doors. Of course, this only pertains to my own space (well, my and my partner’s space). I like things to feel open.
All of those things had odd repercussions. Up until I met my partner, living with anyone else was a struggle. I didn’t like sharing my space. If I had to, it felt like that space was being invaded. That sounds ridiculous and melodramatic, but it was also true. It was magnified a hundred times over if people came over.
Now, I love people. But I always feel uncomfortable when people come over. It doesn’t matter how much I like them, or love them, I still feel uncomfortable. That also extends to when I go to people’s houses. I feel uncomfortable, as though I’m infringing upon their personal space. There are very few exceptions to this (my partner’s parent’s house, for example). It’s not that I don’t feel welcome, it’s that I feel like I shouldn’t be there.
If someone is coming in to perform maintenance, I have no trouble with that. If someone is coming over to “hang out,” no matter how much I like them (and it can be quite a lot), I still feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that any sort of correlation was drawn between my upbringing and this discomfort of people in my personal space.
When I lived in Germany, I knew a man who felt so similarly, if people came over, he would literally leave the house because it bothered him so much. He would wander down to the old city for a coffee and continue wandering until said company departed. And he didn’t live close to the old city.
I wish I was the kind of person who didn’t mind people in my space. Honestly, when I met, then moved in with, my partner, I was amazed that I enjoyed sharing close quarters with him (our first apartment was 250 square feet). Over the years, I find I enjoy it more and more. I like when I manage to surprise myself.
When we adopted Cloud, it was a real struggle for me those first few weeks. I don’t do well with change (even apparently good change), and I don’t do well with different beings in my personal space. Here was a brand new creature around me all the time, and I was at maximum stress. I loved him, absolutely, but that adjustment was incredibly difficult for me. And that’s an understatement.
Now, I can’t imagine not being around Cloud all the time. It’s his space as much as ours. On the days he is at camp and I am here alone, I think I hear him scuttling around. When I realize it’s not him, I feel sad for a shade of a moment because I miss him even though I saw him only hours ago.
Life is funny.
I’ve come to terms that I probably won’t ever feel comfortable with people other than my partner and dog in my space. The few times it comes up, I try to remind myself to take deep breaths, and that it’s all okay. It still makes me highly uncomfortable, but I can get through it. I also still get uncomfortable going into other people’s personal space, even if I know they are glad to have me there. I do wonder if that will ever change.
I hope I can continue to make progress, one caterpillar inch at a time.