Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Hard Facts: Don’t Stand So Close To Me

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Commuters often go to great lengths to close themselves off to strangers while traveling and now a Yale researcher has documented some of these antisocial tactics. … The most sacred rule, she found, was that sitting down next to someone when there are rows of open seats makes you look like a ‘weirdo.’ But these rules change when passengers know the bus will be full and they will have to sit next to someone, [study author Esther] Kim found. ‘The objective changes, from sitting alone to sitting next to a ‘normal’ person,’ she explained in a statement.” (“Study Reveals How Commuters Avoid Each Other” August 1, 2012)

When people ask me if I’ve changed since I started my year of friending, I often use my behavior on an airplane as an example. “Before I did my year, I was that girl who put on her headphones and stuck her nose in a book the minute she sat down on an airplane,” I explain. “Now I look around, make eye contact, smile at people.”

Notice I don’t say “Now I sidle up to my neighbor and chat for the whole flight whether she likes it or not.”

There is a fine line between being friendly and being intense, and I aim for the former.

Similar rules apply to other forms of public transportation. The unwritten rules that Esther Kim refers to above are spot on. It’s not about friendliness so much as it is about personal space. If I’m on a bus or a train, I don’t sit next to someone when there are empty seats. But I don’t consider this being antisocial, I think of it as being respectful of a person’s area. Take last weekend. I was in Las Vegas, and the drunk woman next to me kept pulling up close to me with her chair and whispering in my ear with her hot drunk breath. Ugh. That’s not friendly, that’s having no concept of boundaries.

But even when I’m on a bus or a train, I try to develop an unspoken camaraderie with my nearby passengers. I like to establish myself as friendly early on so that if the occasion arises for us to chat, we will. I also like being polite so that when I inevitably ask to borrow a pen or what time it is, people will respond kindly. Basically, the message I go for is sort of “We could be friends” rather than the super-aggressive “We will be friends.”

What do you think about the unwritten rules of public transportation as Esther Kim outlines them above? Do you agree? (It goes without saying that ‘normal’ is a subjective term.) Ever had to deal with someone who didn’t abide?


Filed under The Search