It was just a cracker.
It wasn’t a big deal, until it was.
Who would have thought that picking up a cracker from someone’s paper plate would create a scene that small children would be banned from viewing?
It never occurred to me that it wasn’t okay to liberate a morsel of food that looked left over, and make it feel welcome by popping it into my mouth. Poor cracker, I certainly didn’t want it to be thrown out.
What Was That Noise?
That is, I never thought about it until I heard the primal scream from my friend’s voice box indicating something was amiss. Apparently I had crossed a barrier that had been constructed years earlier and reinforced for 65 years by guarding one’s plate from greedy and uninvited fingers.
My friend took exception to my cavalier attitude that what was hers could be mine, especially if it was a cracker carelessly resting on a community plate that she thought was her own. How narrow minded! After all, it was just a cracker.
But, the scream, the yelling, the anger, the incredulous look, and the obvious violation of a boundary made it quite clear that I had done something VERY wrong, and had intruded onto a stage that was not meant to be shared by anyone else.
Intimacy vs. Intrusion
I learned that day about the many faces of intimacy. Often intimacy has sexual connotations, but intimacy is how we interact with others: what is appropriate and what isn’t between two people. And the acceptability is based on how well we know each other, how much we trust each other, how much we like each other, and what the code of behavior was in one’s family during those early formative years.
In some families, intimacy is kissing children good night, or sharing food. In other families intimacy is spending time together playing, camping, reading, watching television. What is considered appropriate in one group may not be okay in another.
Boundaries begin to blur with intimacy. What is yours, mine, ours, theirs, can overlap and we take liberties with those we are closest to that we wouldn’t think of doing with strangers.
In our family, we would take a bite of someone else’s food without a second thought. At least most of us would. One of my sisters couldn’t stand for someone to taste her food. That one act would violate her boundaries. The rest of us learned not to touch her plate or our hand might be pierced with a fork.
It is often hard to know when you have crossed into someone’s space. That is, until they rip the food away from you with the look of death in their eyes. Then you know that you have gone from intimacy to intrusion and you best be making amends…as you dive under the table attempting to avoid the wrath of someone who treasures their last bite and is incensed at your rudeness.
Oh dear, how stupid you feel crawling on the floor feeling you broke a rule that you should have learned in kindergarten, but apparently was covered on a day you didn’t attend.
I did apologize and have been careful about eyeing anything on my friend’s plate since that encounter. But I was surprised one night recently when that same friend snatched a shrimp from my plate without so much as a smirk, an invitation, or even an apology. I looked at her with amazement and confusion. Did she just take food from my plate without asking?
She knew that look, and she quickly said, “My gosh, it was just a shrimp!”
So much for boundaries!