Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dear Dorothy Dix

Okay so this is totally a First World problem and a very minor one at that. If that offends you, stop reading now.

Ahem. There's this woman I know only very slightly and only from work-related meetings that we occasionally both attend. I don't know her outside this context at all. We have never had a conversation or indeed exchanged more than a couple of sentences at a time, if that. But every time we are in the same room, she greets me by patting or stroking my hand, arm or shoulder. She will occasionally do this again during the meeting if I am within striking distance. I haven't observed closely but I don't think she does this to any of the other people present.

Now I am not a cold person as a rule. I am on enthusiastic hugging and cheek-kissing (not mouth, not air) terms with family and with friends of both sexes. But I am so repelled by this woman's touching me that I can't control my distaste. I don't actually brush her off but I move away and am quite sure that my reaction is showing on my face. I hate doing this as it seems rude and hurtful, but it really is out of my control, like sneezing.

While it's a very long way from the hardcore sexual harrassment I occasionally experienced from men in my (much) younger days, and while it's hardly the sort of 'inappropriate touching' that we warn children about, I think any touching from such a slight and wholly professional acquaintance, much less stroking and patting which frankly I find a bit creepy, is inappropriate. I feel like the brat Hugo in The Slap saying 'Nobody is allowed to touch my body without my permission', and that can't possibly be a good thing.

Of course one can never know these things for sure, but I'm pretty certain that if I were attracted to women at all, this woman would not be among those to whom I was attracted. If I were a hot young thing myself then I would probably say philosophically with a flick of my blonde locks that inappropriate touching from people of all sexes was the price one paid for hotness. But, you know, seriously not the case.

If she has so far not been put off by my obvious distaste for being pawed, then it doesn't seem likely that discreetly murmuring to her 'Hello, boundaries' is likely to work either. In the meantime, I have to work with her, if only occasionally, and it's making me much more thoughtful and reserved about when and how I touch other people, which may be a good thing, but also may not.


paul walter said...

Perhaps she fancies you?
I think I'd find it a bit creepy also, at least with a relative stranger. Probably my proddy antecedents and this pleasure at a certain autonomy or territorial integrity- room to move and breathe.

elsewhere said...

Perhaps she is hoping to touch the hem of your Adelaide robe and receive healing for some disorder like misplaced semi-colons or something.

I'm probably not the best person to comment as I am totally confused by who you are meant to kiss and when in modern life (would be more comfortable in France where there are clear rules), but she sounds odd, like the boundary-less office shoulder-massager type. If you feel uncomfortable, there is probably a reason for it.

Elisabeth said...

Maybe you mean more to her than she to you, only she doesn't know it and enacts her affection for you in unspoken ways.

Have you ever considered the possibility of speaking to her about it, quietly on the side, just you and she, asking if she's aware of what she's doing, and maybe even letting her know that it troubles you.

That might seem outrageous but sometimes it helps to put things into words. I'm sure you could do it thoughtfully and kindly such that she need not be offended.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

PW -- I don't know whether she fancies me or not. If she did I would take it as a compliment, albeit an unreturnable one, but I think what is creeping me out here is a separate issue, the lack of social awareness. (Her general behaviour in meetings is also quite odd.) It's socially bad behaviour AND it's something that always bothers me: a failure/inability/unwillingness to read the way that other people are reacting to you.

El, your last sentence there is exactly right -- I trust my instincts and in this case they are quite strong and visceral. I don't know what the French rules are, so would be in terrible trouble there (Tout tutoyer, tout baiser, peut-être?), though I note that kisses on both cheeks are starting to catch on here. I avoid kissing anyone I haven't had at least one protracted conversation with but beyond that it's horses for courses. So to speak.

persiflage said...

It sounds creepy, and there could be all sorts of reasons for it, but problems in relating to other people seem a likely explanation.
I used to have to kiss stepchildren, but fortunately this will never happen again.

Casey said...

Im with Elsewhere. If you are having a visceral reaction there is a reason beyond "I wish this batty woman would stop touching me". Whatever she is seeking, is inappropriate. I am huge on trusting your visceral reactions.

Touching someone is also a way of dominating them. Men do it all the time. Like Keating when he touched the Queen. Now I love Keating. And I am no monarchist. But come on.

Also the handshake: Howard and Latham. Why didn't Latham just punch him and be done with it.

Would Kevin Rudd have kissed Kim Beazely or Simon Crean after the Carbon tax thing? No way. Poor PM has to get kissed by the mortal enemy and everyone else. Why does she have pash everyone cause she's a woman. Then of course they role out Alan Pease who analyses "the kiss" in revolting detail, noting the movement of her arse. OH revolting. The little Caesar should have shaken her hand. Wrong move little Caesar.

As for kissing, please. I am a Latin in an until recently dominant Anglo culture. #Identity confusion issue no. 337462734278346283742. I have no idea what to do anymore. Half of the population is kissy kissy, and I will have the biscotti please, and the other half moves away nervously, whilst admiring the chintz curtains. Lately I just smile a lot. Still have Chai but just smile.

librarygirl said...

I am a touching/hugging type on occasion but NEVER at work ( only when someone has died)(that sounds like a joke but it's not).
And if it makes you uncomfortable, then the behaviour is inappropriate. She sounds odd to me. It doesn't sound sexual to me, but like she wants to either know you better, or more importantly, appear to others that she knows you well or that you are old friends of long standing or something.

M-H said...

I think that Librarygirl is on to something: it is likely that this woman is trying to appear as your 'bestie' in front of the other people at the meeting, I think. A peril of celebrity - which you are, I think. Minor, you may say, but still well-known, as Els points out.

Link said...

Yes it does sound very manipulative as though she is trying to establish her power in the group. A tricky issue. You could try ducking and weaving so she doesn't actually make contact but certainly gets the message. Make sure you either turn up a tad late, bee-line to the opposite side of the room and leave early or if you find yourself alone with her simply confront her with it. Rebuffing affection always makes one feel very churlish and I guess she's inadvertently banking on your good grace. If she is doing it to increase her standing in the group, that's a bit sad and it's particularly hard to hurt people who are already 'a bit sad'.

WV: grabli. heh.

Lynne said...

Kerryn - I had a similar problem with a work colleague. Strange woman who crossed personal boundaries with everyone. First time she touched me I said "Please don't touch me. I'm not comfortable being touched by people I don't know." Nipped it in the bud. Hard to do, but I couldn't stand her coming near me.

Penelope said...

If it were a man acting like this, I imagine that you would feel no qualms about asking him to stop. So tell her it makes you uncomfortable, and that you regard it as inappropriate behaviour. Don't murmur your request, make it calmly and clearly in front of others. Don't make a joke of it. If she persists, make sure you send her the same request in writing and cc it to whoever is organising these meetings. There is no way you should put up with this.