Something interesting happened to me while I was traveling last week. And my response to what happened was even more interesting. It showed me how much I have grown.
I’ve been traveling more in my new position with my employer. When you travel every couple of weeks, you start to develop preferences. I’ve discovered that I like the aisle seat best when flying. I like to be able to shift my weight and stretch out a bit on long flights. Like many people, I really dislike the middle seat, unless I’m traveling with family and can lean on and snuggle with my companion. Friday, I was traveling home after a long week in Boston. It was a three-hour flight home and I was VERY glad to see that I had scored an aisle seat.
They were putting their cases in the overhead compartment, when this man in his 40s or 50s looked at me (already seated in my aisle seat), and asked, “are you traveling alone?” and then added “because we’re separated,” motioning to a young woman in her mid to late teens – probably his daughter, “and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind switching seats.” It took me a few seconds to assess what he was requesting. “We’re separated” translated into “we’ve been assigned two middle seats -one behind the other,” and he was asking me to move into one of their middle seats so they could sit next to each other. I summed it up in my mind as a situation that was an inconvenience for them, and he was asking me to inconvenience myself to resolve his inconvenience, and I promptly responded “I’m sorry, but no. I’d rather not sit in the middle seat.”
He wasn’t sure what to do next. He hadn’t prepared for a woman traveling alone to say that she would not trade her comfort to alleviate his discomfort. I can’t say he was mean about it – just stunned. And I want to admit that although I had easily decided not to make the trade, sticking with my decision was more difficult. I immediately questioned whether I had done something I was proud of or uncomfortable with.
I spent a good portion of the trip mulling over a question: Why would I think that my comfort was any less important than his and his companion’s? Then I realized…that’s what happens in abuse. As victims, we are put in situations where our needs, our safety, ourselves are made less important than the abuser’s. Victims of childhood abuse, or any kind of long-term, systematic abuse, are placed in this position so often that we forget that our needs are of equal importance to others’ needs and that there is nothing wrong with advocating for what we need or want even if it means someone else not getting their needs met.
I realized on that airplane a few days ago that I have come a long way from being a doormat (which I was for many years), and that I have still farther to go. I’m so glad that I responded graciously, but firmly that my priorities mattered. But, I would like to get to a point where I don’t question myself for such a healthy move. I also realized that self-care happens in everyday encounters, not just in stressful situations.