It seems like a simple thing to ask: if you do not know me, do not touch me.
I am okay with being touched by a friend; a pat on the back, playing with my hair, a hug – I am comfortable with these things from friends. (I also know people who are not comfortable with these things, and that should also be respected.) My personal issue is not that I do not like being touched ever, but that I do not like being touched by strangers.
Now, maybe if I’m in a really crowded space and it’s very loud and you tap me on the shoulder to get my attention or to let me know that you need to get past me, I am okay with that. I get that.
So what is my problem?
I’ve been giving tours at my college for a year now and there is a pattern I have noticed. It’s not every once in a while; it’s all the time. Quite often, someone on my tour (usually the father of a prospective student) will touch me on the back, shoulder, or upper arms, sometimes patting me or even just leaving their hand there for a few seconds. And I am not comfortable with that. I am a friendly person; I like meeting new people and I am comfortable offering a handshake. But I am uncomfortable when people on my tours (again, usually a father) seem to feel the need to touch me. Why? Why do you need to touch me? What gives you that right?
I don’t think these are evil, predatory people. A touch on the shoulder, arm, or upper back is not sexual or wholly inappropriate; I’m just not comfortable with it when it comes from someone I don’t know. And I think they just don’t get it. I think they’re trying to be friendly. And I think we live in a world that conditions men to subconsciously think that they can touch women they don’t know, that that’s not a problem, so they don’t think that it might bother me. What’s the problem?
The problem is I don’t like being touched by strangers, especially in a setting where I need to be professional. If someone touches me during a tour, I feel on edge and shaky and jumpy for the rest of the tour. I’m afraid they’ll touch me again and I do not want them to. As a rule I try to stay out of touching distance, but even so people will move closer and touch me. In a social setting it’s easier for me to say, “please don’t touch me.” But when I’m giving a tour, I’m supposed to be friendly and a good host, so I don’t feel comfortable saying, “don’t touch me”, or even just physically moving away.
And you know what? That’s not fair.
I shouldn’t feel guilty about not wanting to be touched when I am uncomfortable with it. I shouldn’t feel like I’m being rude when I move away or ask not to be touched. There’s nothing wrong with asking people to respect your personal boundaries. But still, I always have that little nagging fear on every tour that I will be made uncomfortable and will feel powerless to stop it.