Your space or mine: a model for relationships?

Last weekend I bought an ipod docking station. The shop assistant and I had little in common; unlike me, he was probably in his late teens, he clearly knew all about sound systems (after all he had just advised me on the pros and cons of buying a machine with ‘an ultra thin hi-fi MC-DX460i system with powered subwoofer and DAB /FM RDS tuner’), and he had rather little knowledge about higher education (‘What did the ‘Prof’ stand for before my name on the cheque card’?!). Nevertheless, during a delay while the purchase was sorted electronically, we were soon chatting away like old pals. We had found some common ground and for several minutes we were as one, our dreams exchanged, our differences evaporated. We had entered shared ‘football’ space.

Your space or mine?The idea of sharing space is handy as it so obviously describes what happens in every day life. At the beginning of relationships we tend to share ‘public’ space. There are clear rules of engagement (quietness, respect for privacy, respect for the physical space surrounding others, no interference, etc). We keep our distance and any conversation is formulaic and usually inconsequential. Then, for those who wish to befriend, and this involves some ‘negotiation’ (usually verbal, occasionally by body language), an agreement is struck to move from sharing ‘public’ space, to sharing ‘personal’ space, and so to meet together, talk together, spend time together etc.

But we may also wish only to share ‘intellectual’ space. In the academic world ‘intellectual’ space is space for exchanging/sharing knowledge, understanding, scholarly thoughts and ideas etc. But there are a myriad other spaces of a similar ilk, and which are all equally valid. Hence ‘football’ space, ‘marketing’ space, ‘banking’ space, ‘student’ space, ‘parent’ space, ‘retired person’ space etc.

When we are in our particular shared space, we know the lingo, we share a common currency, and there is a sense of equality as other parts of our persona (class, wealth, gender, age! etc) somehow become irrelevant. Importantly, often it is safest to stay in the ‘original’ space, as straying outside can cause real trouble. So, Celtic and Rangers fans who share ‘football’ space would probably know better than to drift into ‘religious’ space (this would be an example of a ‘clashing’ space)!

Continuing the theme – close friendships can arise when one-time, single-space friends discover that they actually share space in many domains. In contrast, there will be those who did share lots of spaces whose interests gradually drift apart such that they find themselves with only the occasional shared space, and rather more ‘clashing’ spaces. Finally, one should recognise that spaces vary in importance from the trivial (as I would classify say ‘gossip column’ space) to the more fundamental (‘religious’ or ‘atheist’ space, ‘race’ space, ‘family’ space etc). Sharing these deeper spaces gives an altogether different complexion to a relationship.

Space sharing is hardly a new phenomenon, but adopting it as a model for relationships might help better clarify what exactly goes on.

2 thoughts on “Your space or mine?

  1. What might “atheist space” feel like?

    Surely there are only levels, “spaces”, of greater intimacy where we feel we can discuss things of an increasingly personal nature with someone, depending on how well we feel we know and trust them. Why make a case for a special kind of interaction that happens around a particular subject (atheism).

    In general, shared space progressively unfurls itself in every direction simultaneously, not area by area, subject by subject. Nice piece though.

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  2. Yes, ‘space’ can be used to share ‘a common currency’ and a ‘sense of equality’ but it can also be used to exclude. Although I have often experienced the sort of shared space described in this article, I have equally experienced being ‘excluded’ from a shared space by others. It can even feel as if one has become invisible to those who are deeply engaged in sharing their ‘space’, it can be difficult to break in to their ‘space’ and those who are doing the excluding may even ignore any remark that has broken their ‘spell’ and return to ‘their space’ as if one had simply been an intruder.

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