Choosing a Seat

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Photo by Jack Lyons via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I have developed almost a phobia about choosing a seat when I’m out somewhere. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s because I have often gotten it wrong. Not only is finding a spot where I’ll be comfortable a challenge, but it also seems that there is a certain etiquette surrounding where to sit that other people intuitively know and I don’t.

I suppose it started when I was a kid. At Christmas dinner with the extended family (which we didn’t usually attend), I went to sit down at the dining table and my aunt snapped at me that I had to sit at the kids’ table. Until then I had never heard of such a thing as a kids’ table. I suppose if I’d been more savvy I would have noticed where my cousins were going and realized I was in the same category as them, but I have never been very savvy or observant. Oops.

And then there was the school bus. My mom stopped driving me to school after her breakdown, so I had to take the bus. Even though I didn’t live close to the school, my stop was the last one on the route, and by the time it got there, there was at least one kid already sitting in each two-person seat. None of those kids would let me sit down next to them. So I would walk down the aisle trying to find a place to sit, only to be denied again and again, usually along with insults like “freak” and “weirdo.” Then the bus driver would scream at me to sit down, as if I were being deliberately difficult. This is yet another thing that contributed to me quitting school.

Then there was this time after my dad left when he decided to try to be civil for once and took my mom and I out for dinner. We were led to a booth and he sat down first, and then I sat down across from him. I wasn’t thinking about where I was sitting, I was overwhelmed as I usually am in public and just sat down wherever. When my mom and I got home, she screamed at me at length, saying that couples sit across from each other in restaurants so that they can look into each other’s eyes and that I had made it look like my dad and I were a couple. She said she should have been sitting across from him, not me. I was baffled, and I still kind of am. When my husband and I go to a restaurant with another couple, we tend to sit side-by-side with each other, and across from the other couple. I try to be more mindful of this kind of thing now, and not make it look like I want to be a couple with anyone other than my husband, so if I have a choice I try to sit beside my husband and across from the woman instead of the man, but I might still be getting this wrong because I don’t understand these supposed unwritten rules.

My mother also screamed at me once for choosing a seat across from a window, accusing me of wanting to admire my own reflection, and saying that everyone could tell how conceited I was. Again, I was baffled. I’d just sat down in the first available chair without any ulterior motive whatsoever. I didn’t understand why my mom read so much into everything I did, and I still don’t know if other people think like her or not.

Then there are issues at other people’s houses, like in the past when my husband and I have been part of a church home group. Probably because of my poor balance, unless I have a table or something in front of me to rest my arms on, I am extremely uncomfortable in any sitting position other than cross-legged. Like, really, unbearably uncomfortable. Sometimes I have no choice, like in church, but if I’m somewhere where there are different kinds of seats to choose from, like in someone else’s living room, I look for a place where I can sit cross-legged, like a couch or a large easy chair. If those are already occupied, and the only seats left are hard chairs that have been brought in from the dining room, I would much rather sit on the floor. It’s still hard, but at least I can sit in my preferred position. But people make a big deal about it if I sit on the floor. Even if I explain that I’m comfortable there, they don’t seem to believe me.

But then, people have even made comments when I’ve sat in an easy chair, saying almost teasingly, “Oh yeah, of course you’d choose the most comfortable seat in the place!” Okay, why is that something tease-worthy? Is it a faux pas? I guess it’s selfish? Like I should have left the most comfortable seat in the place for someone else? I can understand saving it for an elderly person, but we didn’t have any elderly people in our group. So why was it selfish of me to take that seat, but it wouldn’t have been selfish of someone else to take it if I hadn’t? It’s not like that seat remained empty if I didn’t sit there. I just don’t get it.

And then there’s church. I don’t actually go to church anymore, but I plan to again in the future, and seating is always an issue for me. I am most comfortable sitting at the back, where I feel like I can make a quick escape if I get overstimulated beyond my ability to bear, and also where the speaker or singers can’t see my facial expression, which apparently often looks unpleasant or disapproving. But when attending a new church (I have lived in four cities in ten years, so I’ve done that a lot) I’ve sat through a whole service in the back row before realizing it had a sign at the end of it saying, “Reserved for families with small children.” Oops. I hadn’t even seen that sign when I’d arrived because the sensory overload caused by entering a new building and trying to find a seat makes everything a blur to me. I am not very observant at the best of times, but at those times I am even less so.

Another issue with church is that I feel I have to get there early so I can choose my own seat, because I feel really overwhelmed if the church is almost full and an usher needs to find a seat for me. Inevitably this means having to squeeze by other people who are already seated. I fear stepping on people’s toes (literally) and I’m ashamed that my big butt is practically right in their faces. I end up apologizing profusely, which other people seem to find odd or amusing. Then I can’t even pay attention to the service because things remain a blur for me. It’s best for me to just get there early so I can choose a seat while the place is still mostly empty.

This is yet another reason I am so much more comfortable at home. Much like Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, at home I have my own spot, which works for me for several reasons. First of all, it’s a spot I know I can sit comfortably in. Secondly, it takes away having to make any kind of choice or decision about where to sit. Thirdly, I have all my stuff stored in the drawer in the end table beside my spot. My tablet, e-reader, phone charger, nail clippers, prescription medications, notebook and pen, etc. There are times when a visitor sits in my spot, and unlike Sheldon Cooper, I don’t say anything because I know it would be impolite, but on the inside I feel very agitated and uncomfortable.

 

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9 thoughts on “Choosing a Seat

  1. I prefer the floor, also, at care group – but the one I am at doesn’t have space on the floor for me to sit. I will sit on a couch or armchair if I can, but if I have to sit on a hard chair, it becomes a problem. I am weak, and spend my time struggling not to fall over. Also, my legs and arms go numb, and I get really dizzy sitting on a dining chair with no side support.

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  2. Do either of you ever bring something soft to sit on? A portable cushion or even a soft jacket you could kind of fold underneath you? Or is that too socially unacceptable…? I hate having to worry about all of this kind of stuff. Physical comfort and looking normal, though, have never gone hand-in-hand for me.

    I definitely understand feeling confused and overwhelmed and missing written signs and social signals indicating where to sit (or stand or whatever). I’ve kind of gathered that NT’s are naturally sensitive or observant of small ‘micro-cues’ about where to sit, stand, or walk in a group or crowd and that this can vary depending on the social ‘chemistry’ or who’s who in the group. I don’t have this amazing ability to read these cues myself so I make a lot of mistakes and often feel very awkward.

    As for your mom’s anger at you and misreading you, she reminds me of my own mom a bit. When I was a teen my mother could get weird about things too. She didn’t seem to understand me at all and sometimes read the worst (or sometimes just weird) motives for my behavior. I dealt with it by withdrawing from her but that only made things worse in other ways.
    Maybe I’ll write about it someday. 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

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    1. On the one I go to, they do have soft cushions on the hard chairs, but it is the lack of support that I really struggle with. I need my legs up, and something along both sides to stop me from feeling like I am going to fall over. Even when I am lying down sleeping, I feel like I am going to fall if I don’t have supports along my sides (usually pillows.)

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        1. I assume mine is related to joint hypermobility syndrome (which I wrote about here), which means I have an inadequate amount of connective tissue in my joints. This causes weakness and instability (and interestingly there is a strong correlation between this syndrome and autism). My hypothyroidism could factor into it as well, since when it goes undiagnosed for many years like mine did, it can cause muscle weakness. But when you have as much physically wrong with you as I do, you can’t go running to the doctor about every little thing or you quickly get labelled a hypochondriac and they become less willing to help.

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  3. I’m so sorry about how your mom dealt with social situations. Take it from me, your mom was bonkers. I would have been completely confused about her rules too and always feel like I was walking on eggshells. I mean, where did some of those “rules” come from?? They sound more like the relationship quizzes in Cosmopolitan magazine.

    As far as feeling out social queues goes, I am thinking you are more of an expert than you give yourself credit. You have been watching facial expressions and body language all your life; I would lay your feelings of awkwardness at the feet of those who make you feel that way, because often their words don’t match their bodies. I know it’s difficult and lonely to have to interact with others who don’t “get” you. I applaud you for continuing to try to find your place in your surroundings.

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