In my anthropology lecture today, we talked about proxemics, that is the study of how space is used and negotiated in communication. One of the things we touched on briefly was the idea of space and intimacy.
Defining intimacy is interesting, because it can take so many forms and mean different things to different people. And there are different kinds of intimacy as well – intimacy that you have with family and friends, intimacy that you have with a romantic or sexual partner.
Being asexual has quite an influence on what I consider intimate and what I don’t. It can be quite specific sometimes. For instance, I crave backrubs and will ask for one from just about anyone, even if I don’t know them very well. That sort of touch/spatial relationship has nothing to do with sexuality or intimacy for me. However, I once had someone tell me that they assumed that I was flirting with them when I asked them for a back rub at a party-like event.
In another example recently, I was out dancing at a club with some friends. I have only been to a club twice in my life, so I’m still learning to negotiate the spaces there. I was dancing on my own and a guy came up and danced close to me for a while – I guess you could say we connected without touching for a while. But then he went to put his hand on my waist and immediately it felt very wrong, so I shrugged him off and he got the message and headed off.
I’m very comfortable with touches between close friends. I love hugs and friends lying sprawled across me. I don’t mind shaking hands with people I don’t know, or hugs with people I know slightly less. But I don’t like little touches, to my arms or shoulders, especially not without warning. Sometimes it seems the smaller the touch, the less I am comfortable with it.
Connotation and intention seem to be very important for me in whether a touch feels ok (or even nice) or whether it feels threatening. Unfortunately, it’s something I’m very bad at reading in people. I also often worry about the way I am read as well. I’m terrified of people reading romantic or sexual connotations into things I do, like hugs, compliments, even smiles. For me, those things are completely unconnected to any sort of flirting or romantic interest.
Affection to me is platonic and completely non-sexual, rather than something tangled up in interest, motivation and sexuality. It’s one sort of intimacy, the sort I’m comfortable with and enjoy. I’ve always seen the other sort of intimacy as a little threatening, to be honest. It’s not something I want for myself. But it’s interesting to examine what I perceive as friendship-intimate and what I don’t. Sometimes they can be quite different, but not in the way you’d imagine.
What about you, dear readers? How do you configure space and intimacy?