Life Lessons
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Don’t Stand So Close to Me. Especially at the Grocery Store

(Photo:; Graphic: Nancy Gonzalez/

I love my personal space.

At the same time, I also try to remember that I’m on the planet as one person among many, many other people. I try to help where I can and leave others in peace to be themselves — to “do them,” as it were.

Until they’re behind me in the grocery line.

Apparently, I have some deeply held beliefs about how much space I can expect to have to for myself, and about how little is too little. If I see you in a yoga studio without your mat space clearly marked on the floor, I will show you exactly what I mean.

I’m not bragging about this predisposition. I’m not excited about anything that makes me feel intolerant of other people and their pushy, all-up-on-me ways. I can concede that it’s not them, it’s me.


Sting and I are on the same lyrical page with at least one thing. Don’t stand so FREAKING CLOSE to me.

I don’t hate people, I swear. I’m not a germaphobe. I was hugged and loved adequately from birth, and I had a large extended family who sat next to each other on couches and at smallish dinner tables without unusual incident. I didn’t have a ton of friends as a young kid, but during high school and college my circle grew, and along with it came the typical cramming into cars and beach houses and concert seats and restaurant booths that always had room for one more.

All of that said, Sting and I are on the same lyrical page with at least one thing. Don’t stand so FREAKING CLOSE to me.

I wish it weren’t true — mea culpa, mea culpa — but I feel better being honest about it. Because it’s a drag to be this way in a daily life that’s a virtual minefield of people and proximity. Coffee shop lines, work meetings, interactions with students — all of it can be fodder for someone to try to sit on my lap while they conduct their lives.

But the grocery line is the worst, and it’s where I have the most trouble understanding the behavior of my fellow shoppers. I’m not a dawdler by nature. I unload my cart pretty fast, without crowding the person in front of me while she completes her transaction. She could be as space-crazy as I am, and I believe in nothing as much as the Golden Rule. But no matter how few items I have, or how quickly I move, the person behind me always seems to be jamming her cart and/or herself up as close to me as physically possible. She’ll throw her stuff on the belt as soon as there are centimeters of space. Her tomatoes will become my tomatoes. Her copy of Glamour will become dangerously close to going home with me — until she inexplicably determines that I’m trying to steal her stuff. She’ll side-eye me, pointedly putting down the stick that blocks the contents of her grocery cart from mine. The stick, I might add, that should have been put there when she first started unloading her stuff.

You know, this all may just be me. Feel free to confirm this.

The other day as I was checking out, a woman leaned her elbow on the check-writing counter just inches from where I was punching in my ATM info. I wanted not to care, but I did. I tried to breathe through it. I wanted to ask this lady if her loud sighs meant that she needed to hug it out. I wanted to be able to evaporate, to get out of there. I wanted it not to be happening.

I don’t think I was particularly nice to that lady, who may have just been tired or struggling or dealing with whatever it was that compelled her to rest her head almost directly onto a stranger’s shoulder in the grocery store line. I wonder if people who practice mindfulness meditation or Reiki or whatever would have been better behaved if they were in my shoes. Probably, and I suppose it might do me some good to start practicing one of those things. My un-meditative self left the store clutching my neck, unable to comprehend the basic difference between these two types of humans — those who will stand right on top of you without blinking, and people like me, who need to stand a few inches apart from others to conduct business. Just a few, please, and then we will be on our way. We might even wave and smile.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to reconcile these two personality types. I’ll probably always crave my personal space. But I’m committed to personal growth and increased understanding of my fellow humans. From over here.

Filed under: Life Lessons


Laurie White

Laurie White is a writer, editor, photographer, and occasional college professor and counselor. She found the internet in the late 90s and has not emerged since. A contributing editor at, pop culture writer for, and community and communications manager for Mom2.0 Summit, she is a professional aunt who lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. You can find her at LaurieMedia (, on Twitter @lauriewrites and on Instagram @laurieanne.


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