Violation of Personal Space in Dating

Sitting too close can make a person uncomfortable in the initial stages of dating.
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Standing too close to a date can make her feel uncomfortable, so it is important to know the rules of personal space -- and how not to violate them. The distance we keep between ourselves and another person depends on how well we know them. When you have been dating for a while, getting up close and personal won't be so threatening. But when you are just flirting or in the initial stages of dating, it is best to go slow.

1 Personal Space Zones

Four zones make up the space around each person: intimate, personal, social and public, according to psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne, in the "Psychology Today" article "Polish Off Your Personal Space." The intimate zone is reserved for loved ones, close friends and family, and is within 18 inches. The personal zone is from 18 inches to 4 feet, and is for those people you are getting to know. The social zone stretches from 4 to 12 feet, while the public zone is everything beyond 12 feet. These distances also vary by culture, with people from North America and Britain prefer more personal space than those from Latin American cultures. A dating partner who moves too quickly into the intimate zone will make the other person uncomfortable.

2 Role of the Amygdala

Violation of personal space causes feelings of discomfort, because of the activation of the brain structure known as the amygdala, says Whitbourne. The amygdala is responsible for the fear response, and may be triggered if someone moves too quickly into your personal or intimate zones. Although we are able to control our emotional reactions with the rational part of the brain (the frontal cortex), if the amygdala is overloaded, discomfort will result. This means you may feel the need to turn away or step back if someone gets too close.

3 Moving Too Fast

Moving too quickly into a person's personal or intimate zone is a violation of private space. You can avoid this during dating by making eye contact at 4 feet away, and waiting for a reaction, according to the Social Issues Research Centre article "Guide to Flirting." If you receive a positive response, move to arm's length, or about 2.5 feet away. Instead of getting too close quickly, make slow and subtle moves to get closer. For example, when you return from the restroom, move your chair a little closer, says author Caroline Tiger, in the book "How to Behave: Dating and Sex."

4 Adjust Your Distance

Learn to read the signals of your date to see if you are violating her personal space. If she leans away or looks away, you might want to move back. Sitting side by side is less threatening, and may be a good option to reduce a feeling of being too close. If you have trouble with personal space issues yourself, and don't feel comfortable getting close when dating, that may be a signal of larger intimacy issues, says Whitbourne. Dating means eventually getting close, and if that is uncomfortable for you, those are issues that you may need help to resolve.

5 Appropriate Boundaries

Violation of personal space during dating can sometimes be a sign of potential controlling or abusive behavior to come, advises psychologist Lynne Namka, in the article "Appropriate Boundaries are Necessary for Healthy Relationships." If someone violates your physical space and does not respect your boundaries -- for example, by continuing to move closer when you try to move away -- pay attention. You have the right to be assertive and have others respect your limits.

Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.