Your Space or Mine?

February 28, 2017

Question:  What do a lion and a woman walking into her Zumba class have in common?

Before you make a phone call to the nearest mental health facility, please read further and allow me to explain my seemingly ridiculous question.

A fact about lions:  they are very territorial and have been known to occupy the same area for generations.  They are protective of their boundaries and will take on all challengers.

A fact about my friend walking into her Zumba class:  she is very territorial about a certain spot on the dance floor that she has been occupying for years.  When that spot was invaded, she, like the lion, engaged in confrontation with the challenger.

Amazed at herself for feeling so proprietary about a few square feet of wooden floor that really was, after all, public space, she felt compelled to share the story.  Therefore I became part of a small group of women, who, after listening, assured her that her behavior was perfectly understandable.  Possession is, in fact, nine-tenths of the law, and each of us, under similar circumstances, would not have hesitated to bare our teeth and roar.  She seemed comforted.

Was my friend’s response to this invasion universal? I believe that it was.  Like animals, humans exhibit territorial behavior that is definitely not limited to Zumba classes.  There are so many examples in our everyday lives that I’m surprised we’re not constantly engaged in turf wars.

Blame it on school.  We start out with the very early social experience of having assigned seats in a group setting.  Remember seating charts? Who we were and where we sat was represented by little cards which were placed in little slots.  So we sat in the same seat every day to enable the teacher to remember our names.  Do you see a pattern developing here?

As a result of this programming, perhaps we develop a seating chart mentality which we carry into our adult lives.

Have you ever signed up for a lecture series that meets once a week?  You choose a seat on the first night, and in doing so, unconsciously stake a claim.  You might as well lift your leg and piss on it.  It’s yours.  The second night, you return, and go directly to the same seat.  So much easier than renegotiating the room each time.  But on the third night, someone has taken your space.

Notice I said “your space” because you now think of it that way.   Realistically, you know it’s not yours.  The seats are not reserved.  Nevertheless, like my friend in the Zumba class, you are indignant.   Responding to some primitive instinct, you want to confront this person and regain your stolen territory.  You want to request, politely, or otherwise, that he get the hell out of your seat.  But do you? Should you? I will leave that moral quandary in your hands.

There are many other examples.  Your favorite counter stool in the coffee shop, or bar stool at the bar, or table at a restaurant that you consider yours.  We really do get attached to “place,” even if it’s outside of our private domain.

And speaking of our private domain, personal space, while easier to control, continues to be something to which we feel entitled.

In your own home, don’t you  have what is known as “your” seat on the couch when you’re watching TV?  Or “your” chair at the dining table?   And if your spouse or someone else should happen to occupy “your” spot, you have no qualms about reminding them that they were sitting in “your seat.”

We are so familiar with this orientation that as guests for dinner at another’s home, we are prone to ask “Where would you like me to sit?” for fear of resting our tushes where someone else has already made an indelible indentation.

As for me, personally, while I do pride myself on my generous flexibility and highly evolved willingness to accommodate, there is a place where I am unrelenting.  The right side of the bed is mine!

This is not open for discussion or negotiation.  I invoke a higher power.  It is my God-given right to sleep on the right side of the bed.  In fact, I insisted this provision be included in my pre-nup.

And this is not limited to my own bed.  The same rule holds in a hotel, or as a guest in someone’s home.  Even if we were camping out in a sleeping bag, which is most unlikely, the right side would still be mine.

Why the right side, you might ask?  I really don’t know.  I have no logical explanation.  But I do know that I would fiercely defend my 30 or so inches of the mattress.  Perhaps it’s due only to a long-term habit.  Or maybe something deeper.  Could be I’m just a romantic, but I like to think of it as the Law of the Jungle.

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  • Reply Ronni February 28, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    This is fun! We had a discussion about seats in our peer group. I, for one, insist on the same one everytime.

    • Reply Susan Goldfein February 28, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      It’s the Stockholm Syndrome!

  • Reply Bruder February 28, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Remember, not that long ago, I told you about my feelings whenever I see another individual standing in ‘my’ subway platform spot? I haven’t pushed anyone onto the tracks yet, but it may happen someday.

  • Reply Susan Goldfein February 28, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    Before you do that, try a Zumba class!

  • Reply Suzanne Chait-Magenheim, LCSW February 28, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    OMG. Your wit did not hit home until you reached into my bedroom. Just this week my husband decided he can only sleep on the right side of the bed-Always MINE. I think when I was in rehab for my fractures he had stretched out on the whole bed diagonally and now thinks it’s his turf. He is still moving over for me so I hope he soon forgets this no-no. My reasons are rational and irrational!
    Suzanne Chait-Magenheim, LCSW

    • Reply Susan Goldfein February 28, 2017 at 8:47 pm

      Weird, isn’t it?

  • Reply gail March 3, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    the right side of the bed looking from the foot, or from the headboard?
    Enjoyed this column and am still trying to decide if I fit the mold. One thing I know: In a restaurant, I must have the seat the faces outward – no ifs, ands, or buts!..

  • Reply Marjorie Weiss March 25, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    A woman came into a church and told the woman in “her” pew that she was sitting in her seat. She said it to the new pastor’s wife! Good observations.

    • Reply Susan Goldfein March 25, 2017 at 8:39 pm

      This is not surprising. Thanks for your comment.

  • Reply Sue Leese April 1, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Sorry that it took me so long to respond to your blog but I was trapped in the gym saving my spot for my Silver Sneakers class.

    • Reply Susan Goldfein April 1, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      Did you have to sleep over?

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