November 24th, 2009

"I'm a nun - I'm a penguin!"

Writer's Block: I need my space ...

Do you tend to get turned off when someone you start dating seems too interested too soon? How do you politely tell someone to stop being so clingy?

This question brings up an issue I have, not with dating in particular, but in general. I'm big on personal space. I usually get really uncomfortable when people get too close to me physically, and the same goes for... uh, not-physically? What's the word for closeness on a non-physical level? It's not necessarily emotional, intellectual, etc. There must be a word that's escaping me. Anyway, when people get too close to me physically, I usually get annoyed and push them away. The same goes for when they get too close on a personal level. Then I become cold and distant and sometimes mean, instead of just telling them to back off.

"But Ade," you say, "you've never acted that way around me, and we're close." Well, you're an exception. You didn't rush or try to force closeness. I chose to let you in. This is not directed at you.

I have a hard time communicating with people. It may not seem like it if you haven't seen me in person a lot, because I'm much better at written communication than verbal. I don't usually tell people what I want or need from them. So it often catches them off-guard when I suddenly go from being my usual goofy self to bitching at them to go away and leave me alone. I need to work on this. I need to stop pushing people away. I need to figure out how to communicate my need for personal space in a way that doesn't involve withdrawing and/or irrational behavior.

I've sort of figured out how to work around the whole physical thing. If someone wants a hug and I don't, I offer a handshake instead. People tend to get offended when you just flat-out refuse to hug them, but handshakes are much less invasive, and people are usually ok with that alternative. I still haven't figured out what to do when someone randomly puts a hand on my shoulder or something, so I still resort to freezing up and yelling "don't touch me!" (Though if I see the person coming and have enough time to "tame" my reaction, I'll say "please don't touch me" as calmly as possible.) With some people, I don't mind as much. It really depends on the person. I mean, with some friends, I've known them for ages, but physical contact is a no-no (usually it's a mutual thing - I have several friends with similar touch issues), and then sometimes I meet people for the first time and some level of touching is ok. It really does depend on the person.

But with non-physical closeness, it's another matter. It's hard to tell someone they're bothering you without them taking it personally. I usually respond by backing away and limiting contact with them. But when they push it, then I start acting cold and irritable. It happened a few weeks ago. A good friend was being a little pushy and brought up something that hit a nerve with me (when I was already tired and socially exhausted), and I suddenly went nuts and just closed myself off from him and said some rather irrational, crazy things. The next day, I realized I was a huge jerk and apologized. I wrote a really long email trying to explain why I acted that way and what he could do to accomodate my issues. But I really need to work on letting people know in a nice way that they're making me feel uncomfortable and need to back off. And this was a good friend, someone I can talk to and stuff, it's just that sometimes he tries to push the non-physical closeness thing, and then I feel overwhelmed. But he let me know he needs to be directly told to back off, because he's not so great with the communication thing either, so I guess I'll have to resort to actually saying "back off" if it happens again.

And don't even get me started on when people hit on me. It's not a regular thing, and usually only one or two people hit on me in a year (though there was one year when four people hit on me... that was really weird), but I have no idea how to react to any of that. Half the time, I just think they're being friendly and don't realize it until they do something questionable or someone else comments on it. I don't understand why it happens in the first place, since I tend to neglect my appearance and make it pretty obvious to everyone that I'm batshit crazy, but apparently some people are into tiny, sloppy nutcases. It's like rule 34 for people. If you exist, someone is into you. And being female probably doesn't help... I think if I was male, I wouldn't have to deal with being hit on as much. But dressing/acting like a guy doesn't make a difference, I've found. I just don't know how to react to any of it. It's just weird. It's just another social thing I need to learn, I guess.