Get Back, Get Back…

… Get back to where you once belonged.

-The Beatles

I have issues with space.

No, I don’t mean that I find the work of NASA to be terrifying or evil. I have some issues with personal space.

Now, on the spectrum of neurosis, with 1 being oblivious to any infringement upon my personal bubble, and 10 being a completely embarrassing meltdown over someone brushing against my arm at a party, I would fall around a 4, which would be mild annoyance and discomfort when people breach the invisible radius of comfort that extends outward from my person.

There are some needs I have that may be slightly more neurotic. Sleeping, for example, requires the perfect equilibrium (according to my standards) between freedom and confinement. This has resulted in the following prerequisites for my own sound personal sleep:

  1. I cannot sleep unless I have enough space to rest both of my scapulas upon the bed.
  2. Falling asleep becomes challenging if my partner initiates epidermis to epidermis contact (Too warm! Too warm!). Cuddling is fine, but expectations of actual sleep on my end tend to go out the window when this requirement is not met.
  3. Just to clarify, the key elements of requirement #2 are: external initiation, and falling into sleep. I can initiate epidermis connection, so long is it is after I have fallen asleep once during a given session of sleep. This sometimes leads to unconscious hostile takeovers of mattress real-estate.
  4. I must initially fall asleep with both of my arms tucked underneath the covers all the way up to ushermy shoulders. This is something I have been conditioned to do invictor1 recent years for the safety of my partner. I actually used to sleep with my arms outside of the covers, but after backhanding my partner in the nose while dreaming I was having a dance-off with Usher, and delivering a brutal elbow to her forehead while trying to box out Victor Alexander during my REM-induced scrimmage with the 1993 Golden State Warriors, the tuck rule had to be instituted. After a few short months, I actually found that I couldn’t sleep with them outside of the covers anymore.

Now while my list of prerequisites for personal sleep may rate between 5 and 7 on the personal space neurosis scale, I think my need for personal space in conversation with others is more on par with the norm. It was this need that actually inspired this post, as an interaction this weekend reminded me that I have my own personal rules, especially when it comes to physical conversational proximity with strangers.

So I was at this gathering awkwardly mingling in a crowd of about sixty people. I say “awkwardly,” because, a) I have leanings towards social awkwardness, and  b) I was probably one of only five uninebriated (is that a word?) people within the confines of the room (not that I always refrain, or have any major qualms with drinking; I just chose not to on this occasion, thus giving me a less altered view of the lubricated world around me). In any case, during this mingling, I was separated from my partner, and found myself with a friend conversing to a really gregarious and energetic guy who was taking full advantage of the open bar.

During the course of this conversation, this animated individual violated so many of my rules for conversational space with strangers, that I made a mental note in my head that I should actually articulate them in written form so as to clarify them for myself. Hence, here are a few of my rules for personal space which pertain, at the very least, to encounters with strangers or new acquaintances:

  • At least twenty-four inches of space must be placed between all faces involved in

    In searching for a picture, I discovered that Seinfeld did an episode about "close talkers."

    the conversation. This rule is fundamental for the following reasons: a) reducing the likelihood spittle-to-eye convergence, b) to protect one’s self from bad breath, c) to protect others from one’s own bad breath, and d) One may not necessarily want such intimate knowledge of one’s nose hair density. Some refer to the violators of this rule as face-talkers. Now, it should be noted that exceptions to this rule include whispering or speaking in hushed tones, occasional points of emphasis, and events with high-decibel background noise such as concerts or at a clubs. In such cases, communication with the mouth in close proximity to the ear is preferable to face to face communication within the twenty-four inch buffer zone. Additionally, cultural difference is a acceptable excuse for face-talking, as all cultures have different expectations and standards for personal space, and it would be unfair to impose my standards of space on all people.


Said perpetrator, of course, violated this first regulation. While his breath was not noticeably terrible, I did know that he was drinking hops-based libations on this particular evening. I was actually most uncomfortable speaking in such close proximity with others in this particular moment after eating artichoke dip, which always makes for a splendid mouth bouquet.  This violation unto its self is not to egregious, however, there are other standards. For example,

  • Hand to body contact should be restricted to the following areas: the arms but not the hands [unless one is in handshake or man-hug mode (an act which deserves its own post)], the back within the thorasic region (lumbar region regulations may differ depending on mood, situation, and person in question), and shoulder area. It should be pointed out that the shoulder area can get a bit iffy, as it can be hard to define the boundaries. The boundaries shall hence fourth be restricted to outside of the armpit (incase the obvious needs to be stated), and no lower than an inch and a half below the clavicle.


  • Hand to body contact shall consist of friendly pats and affirming grasps. Over-zealous slaps, and energetic pokes are strongly discouraged.

See, our excited new friend took neither of these standards into consideration. During the course of our encounter, he did a lot of tapping, poking, and resting of his hand in my pectoral region. The taps and pokes were not not aggressive, but rather they punctuated points he was trying to make. I also do not think the touching was intended to be in any way sexual, however, all of the contact made me a bit comfortable, especially him resting his fingers directly above my areola.

I honestly think this guy’s major issue was a lack of spacial awareness. This was best illuminated by his violation of the following standard.

  • If, for whatever reason, one must be in close proximity with others during conversation, gesticulation should be kept be confined to short, compact, almost abbreviated, motions.

Our new friend seemed to enjoy expressing himself with arm motions hinging at the shoulder. This made his violation of the eighteen to twenty-four inch buffer zone a bit dangerous and potentially inappropriate. I kept worrying he might poke somebody in the eye, and I actually turned my hip towards him in an effort to protect my crotch a couple times.

Eventually we were able to extricate ourselves from the face-talker, we’ll call him Finley, and continue on with awkward mingling.

About two hours later, my partner came up to me and asked me in hushed tones, “Have you met Finley?”

“Yea, he seems like a nice guy, but he’s sort of a face-talker.” I responded.

Her eyes got wide, brows arched, and she mouthed the words, “I know!” Then said, in a slightly more audible tone, “I actually had to slowly step away from the conversation.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, he kept waving his arms around, and… well… he brushed his hand up against my boob. Who does that? I actually don’t even think he realized he did it, too!”

“And now a message from Alan Thicke.”

AT“Hi, I’m Alan Thicke.

“Face-talking is one of the fastest-growing causes of socially awkward interactions in the nation today. Every day, hundreds of people come in contact with unwanted spittle, smell putrid breath, suffer from unexpected chops to the crotch region without provocation… and you may be to blame!

“There is hope. If you think you might suffer from Chronic Face-Talker Syndrome, also known as CFTS, the Institute for the Promotion of Personal Space can help. Don’t hesitate, please call their toll-free number now: 1-800-SPARE-ME. That’s 1-800-772-7363.

“And together, we can put an end to Chronic Face-Talker Syndrome.”


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