Friday, October 18, 2013

Space Oddity

I've been reading The Beheld again, which means inevitably, I have far too many thoughts running around in response to Autumn's most recent post to fit in a comment field - which means you guys get them all, you lucky things!

(Incidentally, if you're not reading The Beheld, you really should. It doesn't update as often as it used to because the author is in the middle of writing a book, but it's always worth a look. I don't always agree with Autumn's point of view, but she has the most delicious brains and over thinks everything in the most delightful way)

Autumn's most recent post was about her experiences moving in with a partner; how that's effected her perception of public and private space, and how that in turn has effected her beauty regime. You can read all her thoughts over at the blog, but my thoughts and experiences are so different I felt like they really deserved their own post. I totally agree with her observations that the amount of primping and "beauty work" women do in various spaces is very closely connected to how public or private we consider that space to be. If you're headed somewhere you consider to be public, you're much more likely to, for example, stop and put your hair up or change your shirt. If you're somewhere you consider private, you're less likely to be concerned about how what you're wearing looks, and just go with what's most comfortable.

Of course all women look this cute just bumming around at home.

Autumn breaks down what she considers to be public and private space in a fairly simplistic way - outside the house is public, inside is private. I'm going to go ahead and guess a lot of the clear line between inside and out for her comes from having lived alone for some time. As someone who's shared a house/apartment with other people my entire life, I don't really associate the walls of my house with the bounds of my space quite so specifically. I've always had to draw my own, often kind of arbitrary lines in the houses I've lived in. But I know a lot of people associate the bounds of private space with the bounds of their house, and I find the idea fascinating.

For me the delineation between public and private is a little more complex. If I was to draw my idea of public and private spaces, this is what it would look like.

Further complicating matters is that these zones don't just exist in physical space for me, but emotionally as well. There are certain things I do, and certain ways I dress, and certain things I keep in different zones for all different reasons.My physical surroundings are inextricably linked to my emotional state, for better or worse.

I think because of this, my lines between zones are also much less fluid than some other people's, and my need to spend time in all parts of this chart is much more core to my happiness.

Starting in the very middle, we have Me space - the lines around this space are pretty much nonnegotiable, and my need to spend time in it is the same. Me Space remains Me Space - even if I'm living with a partner, I still insist on retaining a certain part of the house that is clearly designated physical Me Space. And I don't mean space for my things, or a wall where I can decide what goes on it - I need a part of the house I can draw a line around and declare Mine. I need a corner that I can leave coffee cups in, and get paint all over, and fill with random piles of junk without feeling guilty that I'm ruining someone else's space. I need at least one place I can put a weird new figurine, or a drawing, or pencils, without being concerned even the tiniest little bit with anyone else's opinions of that object.
Murder Bear and Hand Cream Husky are bestest friends.
But Me Space is a place in my head as well as a physical space. Physical Me Space is kind of like a doorway to emotional Me Space - I need one to access the other. Even in a relationship, I need to retain at least a tiny little corner of emotional space where I can stash all the bits of me I think might bother other people; the things I'm self conscious about, ashamed of, but that I can't get rid of any more than I can get rid of my skin. It's the part of my head where I let myself be exactly how I am, once all pretenses and social niceties are stripped away. It's Me in my purest form, and I need to spend a certain amount of time there to function properly. I find it really difficult to retreat to this emotional Me space unless I'm in my physical Me space. The outside world is too distracting, too distressing, too rough and covered in corners to allow me to relax enough to mess around in my emotional Me space unless I'm in a physical Me space. I need to make my physical surroundings as safe, and small as possible in order to let my guard down totally, and I just can't do that in company, ANY company. If I'm not able to spend the time I need in Me Space, both emotional and physical, I end up tense, stressed out, and impossible to be around. Me Space is where I relax ALL my muscles - I don't have to worry about being polite, or kind, or considerate. I can just flail around and let all the flotsam and jetsam of life in general fall off me. It's almost as if outside of Me Space I'm always gritting my teeth - I grit them harder and harder the further I get away from the central Me Space, but inside that little bubble is where I can at last let it all go, totally. I'm sure you can extrapolate from there what I'm like if I never get a chance to unclench my jaw.

Hanging out with my cat in bed totally counts as Me space
This space also has a certain uniform - I have a bunch of dresses, pyjamas, etc that are designated "house" clothes, by which I mean I would never leave the house in them. I wear these things for other reasons sometimes; for example simply because I'm too lazy to put on "real" clothes, and I'm not going anywhere. But if I'm spending time in Me space it will always be in "house" clothes. Just putting on a nicer T-shirt or proper pants can be enough to draw me out my Me bubble, so if I'm deliberately looking to spend some time in that space, a paint splattered dress is a great way to get into the mindset. My hair will almost always be bundled out of my face, because I only ever really wear it down because other people think it looks pretty. For myself, I like it out of the way and forgotten - to be honest, I actually prefer to be this way about almost all of my body if I'm trying to properly relax. I retreat back into my mind, and try and let go of my awareness of actually having a meatsack body dragging my brain around as much as possible. I think this is part of why I need to be alone to really get into my Me space - anyone else's presence, even Mr. Reluctant Femme, makes me aware that there is an inside and an outside of my body, and that can be enough to keep me outside my lovely little Me space.

Outside of this weird little corner though, I'm happy to have blended space - 80 per cent of the house Mr. Reluctant Femme and I share is more or less designated Us Space. And emotionally, I'm almost as comfortable with him as I am with myself. I certainly share more with him than I do with any other person, and his contribution to making my head a happier, more pleasant place to be is undeniable. His presence and comfort in my space, both emotional and physical, makes it easier for me to let bits and pieces seep out of the inner bubble that previously were firmly locked away, and that means I need less designated Me time because there is less in there pressing at the walls. This space is what I call Me+, because it feels a lot like Me space, but there's someone else there a lot of the time. Emotionally, this bubble extends around me and Mr. Reluctant Femme, and physically it extends to the walls of our house. This space is where I live most of the time these days, but unlike Me space it doesn't really have a designated uniform. I'll very rarely wear makeup if I know I'm just going to be hanging around in the house with Mr. Reluctant Femme. I've never been one to put makeup on just for my partner, unless it's a full on dress up thing and ridiculous shoes are also involved. I think this might be because way back in the way back times when I first started dating, I never wore makeup at all. This means that I knew right from the start that at least SOME people found me attractive without makeup, and so I never really got into the habit. However, the clothes I wear in Me+ space varies pretty wildly, and a lot of the time this variation is directly linked to my state of mind.

I've observed that when I'm unhappy with Mr. Reluctant Femme, or we've had a fight, I'm much more...careful about how I look around him. I put on pyjamas rather than sleeping naked, and go into my room to change instead of stripping off in front of him. I also tend to be less willing to wear "house" clothes, because they make me feel more vunerable and less put together. It's like I need to wear slightly nicer clothes in order to bolster the emotional armour that springs up whenever I'm upset. But if I'm comfortable, and happy, and relaxed, the paint spattered dress comes out and pants only make an appearance if it's really too cold to do without.

Me and Mr. Reluctant Femme being dorks in the way we only really do around each other.
Obviously, this uniform can only be worn inside the physical walls of Me+ space - ie. my house, when it's just me and Mr. Reluctant Femme. As soon as other people come into our house, it becomes something slightly different; a Friend Zone. My Friend Zone isn't just in my house though - it extends to the houses of other people I consider good friends, or public places when I'm with a sufficient number of people I'm close with. This is a space where I consider myself to be on my lowest possible level of Good Behavior - I only talk about Mr. Reluctant Femme's junk if it's going to be really, really funny, I try and limit the swearing to actual swear words instead of strings of expletives, and I try and match how much mess I make to the how much the owner of the house makes instead of dumping my stuff wherever. I'll actually take the time to put my bag in the corner, and use a coaster, and take glasses back to the kitchen when I'm done with them.

(I hardly ever do this at home. Yes, I know, I'm a complete grot.)

I still consider Friend Zone to be a relatively safe space though. I WILL talk about Mr. Reluctant Femme's junk (if it's going to be really funny), I will talk about being a brothel receptionist, I will swear, I will take my shoes off if it's hot, or admit I'm cold and ask for a jumper if it's freezing. The uniform is generally anything nicer than "house" clothes - sometimes I'll put makeup on, sometimes not. I'm not really that fussed about looking pretty around friends, but I do like to look like I've gotten dressed deliberately.

This is MUCH cleaner than my actual room
Emotionally, Friend Zone is kind of an in between situation. If I'm not entirely okay, I will let the people I'm with know, at least a little bit. In Me or Me+ space, if I'm not okay I feel free to do whatever I need to do in order to deal with my brain. I'll hide under a doona, or curl up on the couch with a stupid rabbit hat on and the ears pulled down over my eyes. But in Friend Zone, while I don't hide my crazy entirely, I do try and moderate how much of it leaks out. I'll go outside to do a little angry dance, or go to the bathroom if I need to cry. If someone is pissing me off, I'll say, "Hmm. Perhaps." instead of "Don't be so fucking ridiculous!"

In this space, my jaw is always a little clenched. I'm very...aware of being a physical being, and of being observed, and that means I'm aware of how other people are reacting to me, all the time. It's kind of exhausting, which is why I tend to only make time to see people in meat space relatively infrequently these days. It's not that I don't get anything out of spending time with my friends; on the contrary, I get an enormous amount out of it. My friends are clever, and interesting, and often teach me things or make me think about things that never would have crossed my mind otherwise. They're absolutely vital for me in terms of keeping my self esteem at a workable level, and are tireless cheerleaders when I need a kick in the butt. Unfortunately, however, there is always an investment of energy involved, an inevitable cost. I have a finite ability to deal with being on Good Behavior, even at the lowest setting, and even when I'm getting so much back. It's like I have a big glass of Give A Damn inside, and every hour I spend outside of Me or Me+ space a little drop of Give A Damn trickles out. Once it runs out, I'm done, and I HAVE to go home. How fast this Give A Damn runs out depends very much on the company and the circumstances, and I don't always start an evening with a full glass. You see, being at work draws from this same source of Give A Damn, and at work it runs out MUCH quicker because I find it much more challenging.

Work is absolutely Public Space for me, and Public Space is without a doubt the most stressful place I spend time. Unfortunately it's also where I have to spend the majority of my time these days. Remember how I said I feel like I'm gritting my teeth harder and harder the further I get from my Me space? Being at work is so firmly in Public Space I often get headaches from inadvertently physically gritting my teeth all day, just as a reaction to being in Public Space for so long without a break. Public Space is the part of my life where I never talk about Mr. Reluctant Femme's junk, ever, no matter how funny it might be. I never, ever talk about having worked in the sex industry. I never talk about being queer. I never talk about being kinky, or poly. I never talk about being political. I never talk about anything of any substance if I can help it. I try not to swear, at all. I actually say "flipping heck" instead of "fucking hell." I am intensely, painfully aware of being observed at all times, even if I'm not actually being specifically observed by anyone. The reality is that while my office is open plan, and people walk past my desk all the time (which I HATE) my co-workers don't ACTUALLY pay that much attention to what I'm doing at any given time. But I can't shake the feeling of being on display, of having to be on not just Good Behavior but Best Behavior at all times. I have to be nice ALL THE TIME, I have to be considerate ALL THE TIME, I have to shove any annoyance way the fuck down inside so I can answer ridiculous questions over and over without telling people to get their fucking shit together. I can't make weird little wiggly motions with my hands while I'm thinking, and I can't scowl at people even if I really want to. If I'm stressed out and in one of the three inner circles, I can vent steam and carry on.In Public Space I just have to sit on it, until I can get to an appropriate space to let it out.

Public Space isn't 100 per cent work, of course. It applies to any situation where I'm out of the house, and not at a friend's house. On the bus with other people, at the food court during the weekday lunchtime rush, at a party where I don't know many people - these are all situations where I feel the need to be on my Best Behavior, and so they definitely count as Public Space for me. The uniform for this space is pretty standardised - clothes have to be not only nicer than "house" clothes, they have to actually look good, and for work, look professional as well. I wear makeup for work every day, largely out of habit rather than any workplace requirement. Putting my face on of a morning helps me get into Public Space emotionally, as well as allowing me some semblance of individual expression in terms of the colours I choose to wear. I associate putting on makeup so strongly with Public Space that the process of putting it on can sometimes put me in a Public Space mindset all by itself. (I wrote more about that here)

Thou art not ready for this finely garbed jelly
Public Space is where cosmetics, nice clothes, nice hair, all those trappings of femme really take on importance for me. In Me space, Me+, even Friend Zone, having nice eyeshadow on doesn't really contribute anything to my state of mind. But in public, feeling like I look good can mean the difference between being able to cope and having to retreat. Because I associate public space so closely with being observed, it suddenly becomes really important to me that people approve of what they're observing. I can be feeling awful on the inside, but so long as I LOOK put together, sane, and appropriate, my appearance can create a shell that helps to stop the Give A Damn leaking out quite so quickly.

As an example of how valuable "time off" from public space is to me, I recently negotiated for extra days off at work in lieu of a payrise. The payrise they initially offered was totally laughable, and I would have been well within my rights to put my foot down and demand something reasonable, but I didn't. More money would be nice, sure, but time out of the office is far more valuable to me. When deciding how to respond to their ridiculous initial offer, I had the bright idea to ask for an RDO each month instead of more money. I like time off, my company hates spending money, everyone  is happy. But before I put it to them, I tried to calculate how much money they would have to offer me to stay if they refused my request for RDO's instead. How much were those extra days out of Public Space worth to me? An extra 100 a week? 200? I rolled it around in my head and simply couldn't come up with an answer. There is no amount of money though could have offered me that would have been more valuable to me than an extra day per month to sit on the couch in my pyjamas. That's how draining I find being in Public Space. It's not even a matter of not doing work - I actually don't mind doing bits and pieces of work when I'm technically out of the office. The days I've been at home for whatever reason, I actually find it much EASIER to get work done than when I'm actually at my desk. I'm so much more relaxed, capable, and calm that I can get things done quicker, and with better results. Maybe it's just because I'm not having to answer the phone every five minutes though.

All of this...stuff...I have around space is why inviting people to my home is such a big deal for me, and why I don't do it terribly often. When I was sharehousing I would have people over all the time, to stay for as long as they liked - by in share houses, my bedroom was the bounds of Me+ space. In my flat now, the whole thing is Me+ space, and I find it hard to reel those boundaries back in enough to let other people in for long. Sometimes I miss the constant ebb and flow of visitors I used to have...but then I remember I can go to the bathroom in the middle of the night naked now, and it's totally fucking worth it.

I'm curious to hear how other people feel about this whole thing of public and private space. (And also curious to know if anyone made it through this whole thing) Am I actually that odd, or do I just think about it more than other people?

As a reward for those of you who stuck it out to the end, here's my obligitary David Bowie picture. I couldn't use that title and leave y'all TOTALLY hanging now.



  1. I made it throughhhhhhh! (but I will admit to skimming some of the larger paragraphs.) I love your Me, Me+, Friend zone circles and agree that's how it is for me. However, I let a LOT of people into my Me+ zone, I have a lot of friends that come to visit and I stay in my pj's, leave my greasy locks abounding and neglect to wear a bra. Weekends are precious, I ain't wasting them with layers of underwear!

    The main thing I gleaned from considering the differences between you and I is that you sound like an introvert, whereas I am wholly extroverted. I am recharged and energised by being around other people, whereas it sounds like you eventually find it draining (esp in the public zone), and need to be recharged by being in your Me space. If left all alone for a whole day at home, you would probably thrive whereas I wind up feeling depressed and unmotivated. I work best when the office is filled with other staff. I have NEED for housemates, and as much as I love my bf, have no desire to live just the two of us until he is working a job where he is around on the weekends.

    I also have no Me space in my head. If I can't talk about it, it's going to eat me up inside. I need to share EVERYTHING, and it's a matter of being able to choose which people it's appropriate to share what with.

    So to answer your question, I don't think you are at all odd, just more introverted than someone like me! And my 'house' clothes look always involves a high side ponytail. It's just what makes me feel most like ME.

    1. I think you're right about most of the differences coming down to introvert Vs extrovert. I used to be a lot more extroverted, but I also used to be a lot more emotionally unstable. I think for me, being introverted is actually my natural state and all the effort of trying to be extroverted was a large part of what was making my crazy flare up.

      Interesting that you say you prefer your office full of staff...I have to tell you, the days where my floor is entirely full are just HELL for me. I get so stressed my skin actually tingles, from all the stimulus. If you're the person always wandering around having a chat, imagine me as the person attempting to hide in the corner, even when there's cake on offer :D

      Out of curiosity, since your bf isn't around all the time, do you wear makeup for his vists, or not always?

      And finally, ROCK the side ponytails. Eighties kids forever!!

    2. My boyfriend almost never sees me with makeup on, to the point where I feel sorry for him! I leave in the morning for the gym and get ready there, so he doesn't see me in my work clothes/makeup - then I go straight back to the gym at night so when I get home I shower and remove my makeup, and then we hang out. So the Julia he gets to see 90% of the time is in gym gear or pj's, no makeup, and aforementioned high side pony. Hence we make an effort to have 'date nights', because then I get prettied up again - the plus side to our scenario is that when I do get prettied up he almost always makes comment that I look lovely, because it's not the face he's used to seeing. (although he loves both my 'faces'! We actually MET at the gym at 6am, so he met Unmadeup Sweaty Stinky Julia first....things could only improve from there)

  2. I identify with your space designations, with some differences (obviously). My lines between Me and Me+ are a lot less stringent, and I don't need much Me if I've had plenty of Me+. My friend zone also extends to my living room enough, that I like people in there without feeling like they're infringing on Me+.
    I also find it much harder to leave my house even if it is to go to a friend's place, so not sure what that's about. I've always been like that, though.
    It's quite draining to be an introvert with social anxieties. I find work really draining, which is to be expected, but also I'm drained by socialising with friends, like you. And then I feel awful for feeling drained by people I love. Like I'm inadvertently turning them into social vampires or something. Anyway. I ummm... that's part of my crazy. And I'm working on it.

    Thanks for the post, it resonates :)


    1. As I said in the comment above, I used to try and be extroverted, because I felt like that was what I was supposed to do. But over the years I've realised that I was actually always introverted on the inside, I was just putting on an extrovert costume, and it did terrible things to my mental health. These days I mostly put my efforts into figuring out just how much time I need in each circle - still getting the balance right!

  3. Really well explained Cassie! I have similar boundaries! I live with my fiance and baby so "Me" space is harder to come up with. My other half knows when its me time because I will be watching cheesy movies/ youtube vlogs and have a candle lit! When he comes home I normally turn these off - my Me space has been compromised - but I don't mind! (most days!) Some days, once he comes home, I hand over the baby and retreat to our bedroom for some sanity!

    Something else that is new for me is having really close neighbours. At home I rock a singlet top (ahem bra-less) like nobodys business. Which is fine until I need to hang the washing out. All of our neighbours can see me, and they are lovely and chatty, but I don't want anyone seeing me in my topknot & singlet top haha. It was definitely an advantage living on a massive block with no neighbours!

    To make venturing out into public space worse I create and apply makeup for a living! So my primping and preening for a full day out can take a while! I need to remove all my tester nail polish patches and look presentable. I've figured out a 5 min routine so I can run to the bank and post office - if I don't guaranteed someone will ask me about what I do for work. If I am feeling really frumpy at home I get dressed in my best "home" clothes - fancier than pjs but I can still wreck them if I spill polish on them, and slap some foundation, lippy and mascara on - and damn I feel 100 times better!! Shoes helps too!

    Working from home makes me want to stay home even more. I love everything about being home. I like to be a hermit - I walk a line between being extroverted and introverted.

    Was great to see that other people have "home clothes" and habits like I do!

  4. This is really interesting Cassie. It's not something I'd thought about before but I can relate bits of it to my own experiences. Living at home with two brothers then in student Halls and three shared houses in succession, my room was always Me Space. I'd invite very good friends into it occasionally/often but at that point it became Me+. The friends I'd invite over were the ones I'm happy being braless in PJs in front of.

    Public space is work/out of the house for any reason, but I'm far less fussed about people in general observing me in general and make-up is not something I use as a defence because eh, effort. Make up is for fancy dress/dressing up. Goth nights are full rig, as is any group social event above four people. I tried doing make-up daily for work for a couple of months as an effort to play at being 'professional' but it didn't stick. At least I know I can do it again, if I need to.

    What I have learned from a couple of disastrous house-shares is that the living room/kitchen need to feel like communal areas. I need to be able to be my relaxed self in them, which I can't do if the other person(s) are antagonising me. That sends my stress levels through the roof and the whole house becomes a war-zone and my room, previously my safe Me space, becomes a prison, so no matter how much I can be myself in it, it doesn't make any difference.

    I then, blessedly, lived on my own for a year. Oh my word, that was amazing. My inner control freak got to have everything exactly how she wanted, and it made it so much better, because it removed the passive-aggressive pissed off-ness that 'so-&-so hasn't done the dishes/whatever'. My reaction after moving from this wonderful situation back into a house-share makes me wonder exactly how I'll handle moving in with my partner, if that eventually happens. I think we will need to sort out a room that is just mine but then he'd want the same so we'd need a two or even three bed house! I *think* if we found somewhere together that was not somewhere either of us had lived before that might be okay. I moved in with a previous boyfriend once but it was temporary, to a place he'd chosen on his own. It was not okay. There's that weird feeling where you're not a guest but it's not your place either so you get stuck in the middle with nowhere to go. I'm not putting myself in that situation ever again, if I can possibly help it!

  5. On the intro/extrovert thing - does Mr Reluctant Femme also share the needs-own-time thing? I've noticed that I really need "off-time" which excludes Mr Muffin (heh) due to what I will refer to as Introvyrt Stryfe - I don't wear makeup around him and play with my flabby bits in front of him, but he's an extrovert in the sense that he gets depressed if he doesn't interact with people enough, whereas I recharge by being silent and by myself with my thoughts (and/or nail polish). So sometimes I need to tell him to piss off or shut the hell up, whereas he never has the urge to get rid of me, which feels horribly unfair.

    As you may know from being around me in person a few times, I have almost no boundaries in terms of conversational appropriateness - sometimes I kind of steer the conversation into controversial/taboo/slightly sick humour areas, maybe in a subconscious attempt to turn the Public into something more resembling the Friend Zone space where I feel more comfortable. I can't deal with bland conversation! Mr Muffin has a more severe phobia of Formal Public, which is nice because then both our junks are ALWAYS up for discussion, but also not-nice because he either immediately bonds with people or immediately offends them.


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