Monday, September 1, 2014

A minute in the life of a HSP: nightclub

A man may throw his arm around me in a nightclub, and I will be paralysed with indecision for a few moments. There is so much to observe in those few seconds, and it takes time to process.

There will be the way he smells, and not just the dominant scent he's chosen to spritz himself with... there are so many to notice with that kind of proximity to another person. His cologne will probably be first, the smell of his drink on his breath, and cigarettes if he smokes them (no matter how much gum he has chewed to try to cover it up – I can smell that too). Then an undertone of sweat, a trace of his shampoo, his underlying body odour. What he washes his clothes with, what he has had on his hands during the day. And then for each scent that I catalogue, reactions that I cannot catch, human chemistry doing what it does. At best I can perhaps note whether I like it or not.

Then there's the pressure and warmth of his arm, where he chooses to place his hand (does he flop it over the top of my arm, or curl it around towards my breast? What is he trying to communicate?).  Whether his armpit connects with my shoulder or not, what my shirt will smell like when he moves away, whether any part of his arm is touching my bare skin.

My body reacting to being touched – usually for the first time in quite a while. It usually startles me. The sensation of my heartbeat accelerating, the quiver in my stomach, the warm twitch in my groin, my posture softening to accommodate the weight of another body, my skin crawling or raising goosebumps or warming under his flesh.

The feeling of the intention behind the touch. The differences between I-want-to-take-you-away-and-plunge-myself-into-your-body and I-am-touching-you-because-I-think-you-were-asking-for-it-with-the-way-you-dance. Or I'm-just-drunk-and-have-lost-my-sense-of-appropriate-personal-boundaries. All very different to excuse-me-you're-in-my-way-stop-dancing-for-a-second-and-let-me-through. 

The reactions of the people around me. The friends wondering why I'm still standing there with this man draped over me when they can clearly see he's a waste of time. The other men waiting to see how I'll react so they know how they can approach me when they have a go.

And all of this sometimes before I've even seen him, before I've had a chance to take in anything about this person. Before I've seen his face. Before I've been able to make the choice about whether I want this person to touch me, and then whether I want to do anything about it. And then what it means, not just for me, but the meaning this stranger will attribute to my choice, my behaviour.

The quiet question of danger, of whether I'll be able to convince him that I mean no, of whether he might try to take something from me that I don't want to give. The constant feeling of being prey, of the only choice being to accept or reject what is offered to me. That my choice is to be here and to subject myself to this peculiar intimacy with people I don't know, and to learn the myriad unspoken rules as best I can... or to go home, to not dance, to not raise my eyes to the twirling lights on the ceiling, to not spend time trying to fit my social oddities into the rituals of others.

I question my own motives. I will wonder if I really am here just to dance and spend time with people I am trying to make my friends. Or, if I know the nature of these places, the nature of what happens here, and I go in willingly, am I inviting it? Am I placing myself in the path of temptation? Do I enjoy the attention more than it repulses me?

Eventually I will push him away, pick up my drink and settle my nerves again. I'll return to dancing with my elbows swinging around me or huddle closer to my companions. And no-one will be the wiser about what has happened in that one chaotic minute.

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