Last week I was at the gym — yes, now that I have actually started going to the gym again, I just can’t stop talking about it! Anyway, last week at the gym I decided to go for a swim, to do some laps. So I put on my one piece bathing suit, brought my flippers, put on my old silver-gray swim cap and walked to the pool. There are only four lanes, and as I approached I saw that all of them were in use. I figured I’d have to share a lane since that’s swimming people’s protocol and I spent some time thinking about that as I walked to get a kick board and pull buoy from the plastic rack. Then as I was grabbing my stuff the swimmer on the end said it was his last lap so I could take his spot. Yay! I waited while he finished and hopped in. Not more than a few strokes through my first lap I saw a couple enter. Eh, more lap swimmers, I thought. And I put my head down and started to swim very seriously, trying to make myself look as unwelcoming as possible, hoping the swimmers wouldn’t pick my lane to share. I don’t know what it is — if it’s because I’m female, I’m fairly small, I swim kind of slow — but men and women choose to split a lane with me most of the time. This was no exception.
So after ignoring the male swimmer hovering at the end of the lane I had to take a breath and he leaned over to ask if we could share. I said sure and we split the lane. I was kind of irritated — being chosen to share yet again — but I had a little chat with myself as I swam to the deep end. He wouldn’t be that hard to share with. After all, he actually asked to share, whereas many swimmers just jump in and start swimming. Also, this would be like, what, 20 or 25 minutes of my life? This is not a a big deal. I continued swimming tranquilly enough. However, about halfway through my workout, I noticed that I was unconsciously accommodating him in the lane, trying to scoot over towards the wall so I wouldn’t get splashed or touched whenever he approached. And because he was a slower swimmer than me I was stopping to space out our laps so I wouldn’t have to have an awkward passing situation with him.
After I realized what was happening, I felt frustrated. I wondered how much thought he was giving to his space and how he was affecting my swim. Based on his uninterrupted flow, I assumed little to none. So I decided to not accommodate anymore. If he’s taking up space and not worrying about how he’s affecting me, then I’m not going to worry about him! That may seem selfish, but sometimes enough is enough.
It happens in other parts of the gym, too — just like in life. In the weight room — even walking towards the weight room — men will not budge if I’m walking right next to them. Even if it means that we’d bump into one another! They leave their towels and water bottles on multiple machines or benches, claiming space that they’re not actively using. They shout talk over their headphone music, grunt loudly, drop weights. My little ole self feels very small and intimidated.
To be sure, some of their behavior is unintentional — or more likely unconscious — so this is not about slamming men and saying they’re the worst. For me, this is more an exercise about claiming my space, and about unapologetically being present. So now I push myself to not slow down or move over when I’m walking — because I’m here in this space, too. I push myself to claim a bench or a machine, because I can take up space and use it, too. I set up my stuff where I want, with a good view in the mirror, because I deserve to use the space, to see myself, and to enjoy my time there, too. I’ve gotten some looks from the men using weights, now that I’m not accommodating. But it feels like they see me, they see me taking up space, and they’re generally okay with it.
So for me this is a reminder. It’s not that I walk around now, knocking into people or slamming doors in people’s faces. But it’s about being physically present and not apologizing for it through how I place — or displace — my body. I am here and I belong here.
I encourage you, reader, to observe yourself and to see where you fall. Are you one to expect others to accommodate you and your space? Are you one to do the accommodating? Just notice and observe and ask yourself: What would happen if you adjusted a little to allow others to take up space? What would happen if you decided to claim your space a little more?