A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

Rules for Touching Me

by Sid

no source foundI don’t like being touched. It’s a thing. That whole “three feet of personal space”? Me all over. Get too close and you may notice me inching away (if you pick up on social cues, that is). Unilaterally decide that you need to initiate physical contact, and you may notice my entire body tensing up. Seriously, just don’t do it.

This is not to say I don’t touch anyone ever. My best friend comes up and throws her arms around me at work, and this is welcome. She and I have built up that relationship, though. We didn’t behave that way when we first met. Physical contact is a form of intimacy, and I’m very protective of intimate interactions relating to my person. You don’t get to unilaterally decide we should share an intimate moment any more than I should unilaterally decide that. This is something we come to together, over time.

Some people don’t get that, though. Or they feel like they’re close enough friends with me that they should be able to touch me whenever they choose. They don’t get that even with my closest friends, I sometimes really need that three feet. I mean, really. I can get some really bad reactions, though. And honestly? Those bad reactions make me really uncomfortable.

The more you complain about not being able to touch me, the less I want you to touch me.

Super simple inverse relationship.

Anyway, I wanted to lay down some rules. You may have seen the image I made for Rosie on this topic. Most of those were best as short and snarky, though—when I got down to writing it all out, it turned out I really only had three rules

1. Don’t touch me.

Boom. Simple. No twists, no turns, just…don’t do it. This is especially perplexing with two groups: strangers and coworkers. I don’t understand how anyone thinks it’s okay to touch a person they do not know. I can’t even wrap my head around the thought process there.

Likewise, I don’t understand why you would ever think it was okay to walk up and touch your coworker. Two days in a row at work, I had two separate men come up and touch me—one rubbed my back and one reached around me as I sat at my desk to touch both my arms. Just…why? Why would you do that? (The former, I may as well note, was after no fewer than three years of conversations where I’ve explained to him that I don’t like to be touched. So, yanno…that’s festive.)

2. If I tell you not to touch me, don’t pout.

I had a coworker once who, when he got really close to explain something and I asked him to back up, would make these little irritated noises and say, “Okay…” in that “Whatever, Crazypants” voice. I don’t know what that even is except an attempt to tell me I was not allowed to have personal space and I was wrong for requesting it.


I am allowed personal space, by the way, and I’m not ever wrong for requesting it.

Not only is this juvenile, it’s attempted manipulation. Part of it, I think, is a defense mechanism—but it’s the kind of defense mechanism that places fault on the person exercising their boundaries. It’s an attempt to show them that they are wrong and should come around to the boundary-breaker’s point off view.

3. Don’t complain about not being able to touch me. Ever.

ImageThis is possibly the creepiest thing in the ENTIRE. WORLD. I walked in on such a conversation at work once. At work. I was coming back from I’m not sure where, and two (count them, two) of my coworkers were talking to my best friend, complaining about how they couldn’t touch me the way she could. Upon my arrival, they didn’t even try to deny the conversation—in fact, they turned their complaints directly to me. “Yeah,” one said, “I tried to hug you once and you almost jumped over the cubicle wall.”

“Well then don’t do that.”

It seemed like an obvious answer to me.

And yet they continued. On an on until I finally said, “Okay…I don’t feel like should have to apologize for where my boundaries are.” Because that was obviously what they wanted—for me to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry! No, please—come on, group hug! I didn’t mean it!” But no…I did mean it, I’ve always meant it, I still mean it.

This is the creepiest conversation I have ever walked in on, and I cannot begin to express how angry I was. I tried to tell my boss about it, but I was still so shaken, I don’t think it came across that I was trying to lodge a real complaint. I think it just sounded like I was relaying this funny thing that happened—but I sure as shit wasn’t laughing.

I’m writing this right now, and I’m getting angry all over again. You do not guilt other human beings into going beyond their comfort zones just because their comfort zones hurt your feelings. You are a grown-up. Fucking act like it.

I don’t mean to keep harping on rape culture, but honestly, this is part of it. This sense that just because Person A feels a certain way about Person B, then Person B must feel the same sort of intimacy toward Person A. That sort of thought process is what leads to the attitude of “Jane wouldn’t say no” and the assumption of rights to her body.

So there you go. Those are my rules. They may not apply to you, but they may apply to people in your life. Don’t just assume you have the right to touch anyone else, and if you must, watch for signals that your touch may not be welcome.

And seriously? Your feelings don’t trump anyone else’s comfort zone. Ever. Period.

Read Sid’s previous MMAS articles in Sid’s Stuff. Follow her at @SeeSidWrite.

Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.

25 responses

  1. Charity

    Wow! This article makes me cry because I finally feel understood. I don’t hug unless I really, really know you. If you’re all touchy, feely with me, I will pull back. I think women are expected to be affectionate to all at all times and when I don’t return their affection I’m considered strange. Both of my parents severely neglected and abused me one way or another most of my life. Touching was to hurt, not comfort, in my family. I had also been subjected to many cruel churches where members would go out of their way to gossip about you or insult you to your face then reach out to you in hugs and handshakes. I have no issue in showing my little boys lots of love in kisses, hugs and cuddles. They are young and innocent, it’s different. Yet, it’s a little difficult for me to always show my husband (their dad) affection. We’ve been together for over a decade. He understands what I’ve been through and the process I’ve gone through in coming around to him. Because of this he appreciates my hugs, kisses and butt grabs more and more every day.

    Thank you, Sid. I definitely appreciate this post.

    July 23, 2014 at 10:10 am

  2. Roadannie

    I’m just starting my don’t touch me campaign as I just started to realize how uncomfortable unwanted touching at work made me feel. Anyway today after asking politely as possible for a guy not to touch me this
    a– says it should be an honor to have his blessed hands on me. That made me even more furious. Why do these touchy types think it ok?

    June 4, 2014 at 8:00 pm

  3. Kimberley

    Hello! I just stumbled onto this article when I googled “I don’t like people touching me” Because holy crap I’m in the same boat! Just because you want to touch me doesn’t mean I’m mutual! to be honest I only allow to be touched by my VERY close friends (hugging a bestie sometimes..) family (relatives hugs) and my partner. I have built relationships with these people and I trust them. But people will actually call me uptight because I back away when they try to touch me!

    I have even had a situation when a security guard at our local shopping centre got very close to my back when I was talking to someone else, I asked him kindly “can you please not get so close to me” he thought I was joking or something because he didnt move! I repeated myself, he laughed a bit and still didn’t move! I turned around and the person I was talking to interrupted me because I was about to explode. They politely explained to him that I’m just not a touchy person and like my space. The security guards response was “wow you sure are uptight, you must do wonders with men” wooooow. So I have to be willing to be touched to do well with men? Jesus christ people, I respect myself and my mental need for boundaries, why can’t they understand that!!

    January 9, 2014 at 1:50 am

  4. JJ

    OMG.. story of my life!!
    I think I felt sorta relieved after reading this.. made me feel a little less weird.
    However, when someone does hug me I just deal with it, regardless of how awkward it feels.
    But, I for one has never initiated a hug.

    July 16, 2013 at 11:52 am

  5. I’ve had limited online time the last few months, busy playing catch-up here; Just wanted to say this was an awesome article. I hate being touched as well, I’ve come across too many people who constantly insist on doing it anyhow to “open me up” to affection. Not liking being randomly pawed or having someones hot nasty breath in my face does not mean I lack the ability to give or receive physical affection. It means I like my personal space. And I want to make that first picture you have in this post into a t-shirt, or maybe tattoo it somewhere highly visible — like my forehead.

    June 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    • “Not liking being randomly pawed or having someones hot nasty breath in my face does not mean I lack the ability to give or receive physical affection. It means I like my personal space.”

      I agree completely. Your ability to give or receive affection is not relevant, but your personal space is and needs to be respected by all. And especially in the work place. I may be old fashioned but, I was raised to respect every girls’ and woman’s privacy and personal space all of the time.

      June 14, 2013 at 7:28 am

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  8. GirlCalledBob

    It’s not even like it’s impossible for people to learn; I have a friend with a very hug-happy family, but the first time I met them I informed them politely that I prefer not to be touched, and now they don’t hug me without asking. So, in my opinion, anyone who doesn’t get this, isn’t listening. Just being ‘raised that way’ isn’t an excuse.
    (been lurking around here on and off for a while, finally felt like I might have something to add. And now I return to lurking….)

    May 20, 2013 at 6:22 am

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  10. Heather

    I feel the same exact way about people touching me. I got fired from a respectable job to a lower one, and man, those people, I should say guys, thought that they had a right (a right!) to tell me that I was sexy or wanted to hug me. It was disgusting.

    May 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm

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  12. I’ve been reading a bunch of articles on here today, playing catch up. It often makes me uncomfortable when people touch me without asking. I have stomach issues, and that area is sensitive to the touch. It drives me crazy when people poke or touch me there.

    It occurred to me that boys and men rough house and touch one another all the time without asking. And that isn’t okay either. I know that it isn’t necessarily relevant to this specific conversation, but if you think about it, it shows that many men treat other men as objects as well. Like when a guy falls asleep (or passes out) and his frat bros draw a penis on his forehead, or something like that. Or how many boys hit, kick, tussle with one another; I don’t know about many other guys, but it always made me feel uncomfortable. I got sick of being poked at or pushed or whatever (talking playful shoving here).

    May 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    • Alan

      Obviously its fine to be your own person, with different attitudes etc. But it is pretty arrogant to label ‘normal’ male behaviour as deviant and/or wrong. If you don’t like touching, your friends will respect that, but don’t assume other men fight because they objectify each other. It is friendly competition born of natural testosterone highs, and the drunken body art is just fun, a story.
      In society assumptions have to be made to enable small talk, such as: they won’t mind talking, they are fine with me looking at their face etc. If we then move onto censuring minor behaviours because of minority opposition it removes our fraternity because of your lack of involvement.

      May 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm

  13. chatalee

    I had just started my new job at an aerospace company, my second job after graduating from college. And at this new job I had a lot of exploring to do which required me to walk down long hallways, through different rooms, but kind of on my toes because everything was new and strange. Without any warning or noise some man, coworker I suppose, came right up behind me and seemed to grab my shoulder to stop me and without thinking at all, my right elbow shot back and that man got knocked down to the floor and had the air knocked out of him in front of people who knew him better than they knew me. I did not exactly apologize. I explained that I was sorry if I hurt him, taller than me, heavier than me, that I had simply reacted as I expect I would anytime someone startled/scared/touched me without asking first, with a smile on my face. My instincts were good.

    April 27, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    • Alan

      So you assaulted a man because of personal phobias. Congratulations.
      Women innately fearing men is disgusting and abhorrent: it assumes that minority douches represent all of us. Respecting a man’s size and power as a potential threat is fine, but assuming danger is demeaning. It is misandry of the most basic sort.
      If a women touched me and i punched her in the stomach because i feared she might use her smaller stature to steal or attack me stealthily then I would probably be arrested. Because inferring danger does not equal actual violence.

      May 3, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      • D~

        read it again more carefully. she waas startled and her elbow shot back. she didn’t mean to hurt him and he should have known better than to sneak up on and grab a stranger.

        June 12, 2013 at 11:11 am

      • no. you are simply wrong. don’t get mad at women for internalizing all the rape culture that abounds. if she HAD been assaulted, you’d be sitting here with your sexist bingo card, sure to ask why she was there and why she didn’t just KNOW he was a rapist. how about don’t go around grabbing people you don’t know? what was she supposed to think? never mind that it was reflex. you’re ridiculous.

        June 17, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    • nik

      This is exactly what I would have done. It’s a reaction to a threat, and that’s the chance you take when touching someone without at the very least alerting them to your presence.

      June 10, 2013 at 8:05 am

  14. Reblogged this on FEMBORG.

    April 27, 2013 at 11:10 am

  15. Shelly Rae Clift

    What i say…
    “Don’t touch me. Also, don’t stand so close to me that I can make out the pores on your face or smell your breath. And definitely don’t stand close to be when I’m backed against a desk, wall, or other unmovable object. Chances are I’ll tread on you to get away. Back off jack or I’ll do something unsettling with this rusty plastic fork.” In a nice way of course.

    I really don’t think it’s appropriate to be touching co-workers. Or strangers. Or pregnant women. Definitely not.

    April 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    • “I really don’t think it’s appropriate to be touching co-workers. Or strangers. Or pregnant women. Definitely not.”

      I agree 110%. I wouldn’t even consider laying a finger on a female co worker, even if we had worked well together for years and I have worked many years with several female co workers over the years. You go to work to do the job you are paid to to do. Period! I’ve always been friendly and polite to all female co workers I have ever worked with in my entire working life, which is very long.

      May 28, 2013 at 12:11 am

  16. janetl

    I used to work with a woman who hugged everybody—even coworkers that she was meeting for the first time. When you backed away and tried to fend her off, she’d say “Oh, you just have to understand that I grew up in a big Italian family in New York and this is just how I am!” The answer “I grew up in an uptight WASP family in the Midwest and this is just how I am” completely bounced off of her.

    April 25, 2013 at 1:32 pm

  17. RennieGoddess

    Just some friendly advice…don’t EVER visit the South. Southern people are big huggers, it’s an expression of their sincere and generous nature and they will hug you without permission as they can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t want a sincere hug.

    April 25, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    • People in the South are as varied as people in other places. Some non-huggers have to live there too.

      April 26, 2013 at 2:53 pm

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