Tag Archives: personal space

Hey Random Dude Talking to Me at the Bar: My Body Language is Intentional

14 Feb

Over the lifetime of this blog I have written quite a number of times about being a girl out in the world.  I wrote about my feelings on street harassment here, and about this guy who spit on me a few times here, and then about this time when I got aggressively poked in the face by one of my customers and it was really scary here.  I have never, however, written about being a female customer in a bar and so that is what I am going to do right now.

I am sure that some of you, dear readers, are going to think that I am overreacting.  But what I talk about here is symptomatic of a larger issue which is that, as a woman, I feel as though some people think that I exist for public consumption.  That me being somewhere is an invitation for someone to enter my personal space.  That if I am alone in a bar or a cafe, that clearly I want someone to talk to me, that I am asking for someone to approach me, that I cannot possibly want to be sitting by myself.  But the thing is that I am a strong, independent woman and I don’t need a man by my side at all times to demonstrate that.  I don’t need a protective buffer.  My body language and facial expressions, which I know from experience speak loud and clear, should deter someone from approaching me at certain times unless, of course, they are so full of themselves and entitled to think that their presence in my world is necessarily a positive, and welcome, thing.  Okay.

Recently I realized that it is really difficult to go straight from spending all day in the study center of my school reading about urban agriculture to the drunken mess that is Thursday nights at work without being a little shell shocked and irritable.  So, the past few weeks I have left the study center 45 minutes early to head to a small bar near my work to unwind with a glass of wine and my beloved New Yorker.  I have no intentions of talking to anyone other the bartender and even she I only want to politely order from and then be safely on my way to “alone,” unwinding time.   Would it be nice if I could actually be alone?  Sure.  But sometimes we have to take what we can get.  The first week I did this the bar was pretty crowded and I was sitting alone somewhere in the middle of it, scarf wrapped around my shoulders (it was one of those super-cold nights and I just couldn’t shake the chill) nose deeply in magazine.  I was not looking up or around.  I was not making eye-contact with anyone other than whatever cartoon happened to be on the page I was reading and I am pretty certain those cartoons weren’t looking back at me.*  Anyway, some dude that I guess was sitting at the end of the bar closest to the door whom I hadn’t noticed because, as I just said, I was not looking around, walked by me and, as he passed said quietly

“You’re looking very elegant tonight.”

I muttered a quick ‘thank you,’ thinking it possible that I knew this man from my bar seeing as how I work only a few blocks away.  I looked up and caught his eye when he did one of those “look back over the shoulder to see if I had heard him and then wink in a super awkward way that makes me think he thinks he is way sexier than he is.”**  I definitely did not know him.  I tried my best to look uninterested and went back to reading.  (Also, in my mind a scarf wrapped around my shoulders over a teal sweatshirt is not exactly what I would call elegant but whatever, to each his own I suppose.)  When it came time to leave, I packed up all my things and could sense him looking at me from the end of the bar, awaiting the chance to talk to me again as I inevitably walked past him out the door.  I resolved myself to look straight ahead and avoid eye contact, in hopes that if he was a regular at this bar that he wouldn’t take a brief conversation now as an invitation for more conversation later.  He said a quick and quiet “good night” and I returned the pleasantry with the accompanying smile that I reserve for people that I feel I should be polite to but really would rather ignore.  I didn’t slow my steps and walked out into the chilly evening, en route to a night of work and forced socializing.

The following week I decided to give the same bar another shot figuring, hey, that guy wasn’t really that bad.  I mean, he wasn’t pushy or anything.  He didn’t know that I wasn’t interested in talking.  I walked into the bar and walked straight towards the end of the bar that was completely empty.  There was no one within 5 stools of me.  Perfect!  I opened my magazine, pulled my glass of wine and my water in close, and got to reading.  In the middle of the article I realized oh, hey, I just read like three paragraphs and retained absolutely none of it due to brain over-saturation so I directed my attention to the bookshelf directly in front of me and started looking at the items on the shelf.  I then looked back down at my magazine and just at that moment I felt a hand on my shoulder (why?!) and I heard someone say, quietly,

You look sad.

I looked over and there he was.  The same man from last week.  Maybe.  They all sort of look the same at some point.  Touching my shoulder.  I looked at him and said, in a way that I hoped came across as partially light-hearted but mostly bitchy and authoritative,

This is what I look like when I’m happy.

He looked a little shocked so I smiled a half smile and added

I am just decompressing after a long day before work.  I’m fine.

I looked back down at my magazine, hoping he would get the picture, but no.  He started asking me what I was decompressing from.  What I had been doing all day.  Where I had to be that I started work so late in the evening.  None of this conversation is particularly interesting so I will not recount it here but I do want to ask a few questions.  Why in the world was this guy talking to me?  Why was he touching my shoulder?  What about my posture, about my face in a magazine, about me staring directly in front of my seat making eye contact with no one was inviting of conversation?

Okay, so here’s the thing.  If I go to the bar by myself and I sit there, no reading, looking around, smiling at people then yes, sure, come over and say hi.  There would be something about my body language that would be inviting, that would say that maybe I felt like meeting people.  And this guy doesn’t know me.  He doesn’t know that I don’t go into a bar to have a glass of wine and meet someone new.  I go there to be alone because most of the time I am surrounded by people that I have to interact with and it’s nice to sometimes be surrounded by people all doing their own thing.  Sometimes its nice to be alone in public.  For those reasons I try to make it abundantly clear by my body language and behavior exactly what I want and what I want is to be left alone.  What I do not want is someone who does not know me at all to tell me what mood I look like I am in. That’s basically as bad as walking down the street and having a stranger say “smile princess” or “come on, sweetie, it’s not so bad.”  You know what?  Maybe it IS so bad.  Maybe I just got really bad news.  Maybe I have a tooth ache.  Maybe I am deep in thought.  Maybe I don’t want to be condescended to on my way to buy a box of tampons.  Maybe I am not here for your enjoyment.  Maybe I do not owe you a god damn thing, including a smile.  You didn’t do anything to deserve it.  What I also don’t want is someone who I don’t know touching me unless it is a warning touch like “you are about to get hit by a car.”

Basically what it boils down to is this:  I was alone.  I was not near anyone else.  I was minding my own business.  I tried to make it clear through my behavior that I wanted it that way.  That is why I sat as far away from everyone else as possible.  It wasn’t so we could have a private area to have an extra secret conversation, it was so that we wouldn’t have a conversation at all.  Take a hint.  Be aware.  My presence somewhere is not an invitation.  And just because I responded to your compliment with a terse “thank you” last week does not mean we are friends.

Also, to the guy the other night who tried to draw my while my friend was outside having a cigarette, no.  That’s weird.  Also, I took a peak at the other “drawings” on the page and I’m pretty sure they were all stick figures.  I’m pretty sure I could do that, too.

* I am thankful for this realization because if I thought they were looking back at me I would have a whole other post to write.  Mostly, it would be elucidating my experience in the psych ward.

** In reality he really wasn’t sexy at all.  I’m pretty sure he was about 25 years older than me.  Thanks but no thanks.