Growing up in a joint family meant there was always at least one member, ready to play with me when I was a kid, listen to my concerns as a teenager, and cook me my favorite items when I returned home as a supposedly responsible adult. 

But, growing up in a joint family also meant that personal space and privacy were foreign concepts for my family – a fact that hasn’t changed in all these years!

Don’t get me wrong. I am forever grateful and blessed to have received my family members’ love and support growing up. But that does not mean I can’t seek independence and time for just myself. 

A person can and does need time alone – not just from extended family and relatives, but also from immediate family (parents and/or siblings), colleagues, friends, and even your partner. 

And yet, this concept of personal space is largely missing from all relations. And if you’re a woman, then the very idea of putting yourself over your family’s needs is an alien concept. But why?

Why is the idea that people could need time for themselves, free from their parents, partners, and all loved ones, so shocking? Why do we resort to emotionally blackmailing someone who is simply keeping themselves first? Why do we keep confusing self-love with selfishness?

Needing personal space is not an indication of a lack of love or trust in a relationship. Rather, it is simply the space and time to look after my own needs, my own concerns, and place myself first. 

Whether I sleep, pick up an old hobby, workout, binge-watch Schitts Creek, yet again, or simply listen to old songs on a loop, it is my personal time.

And I don’t owe anyone an explanation for what I do with that time – or why I even need it, in the first place. Because there is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping yourself first, from time to time.

With the way the pandemic redefined boundaries, both professional and personal, the idea of personal space has become even more important. And in the age of social media, the concept of personal space means you need to distance yourself from people online and offline. 

I should have the liberty to scroll Instagram without responding to your DM or not respond to your text the second I get a message or mute a WhatsApp group for some time. It does not mean I never respond. It simply means, for some time, I am keeping myself first.

Personally, it has actually made me better equipped to look after other people’s needs. Because my own concerns and needs are not being sidelined, ignored, or ‘sacrificed’ in the name of love, care, and duty.  

Indian culture often uses guilt as a building block for children and teaches sacrifice as the supreme form of affection. Not only does this flawed logic create unrealistic expectations, but it also makes it difficult for a person to take time out for themselves, without feeling guilty about it. 

But that kind of thinking benefits no one. Least of all, the person who is taking the time off. After all, if I spend all my time feeling guilty about something as basic as looking after my needs, then what is the use of that alone time?

As cliched and philosophical as it may sound, the fact is, you can not pour from an empty cup. So it’s time we recognize people need time for themselves and alone time does not equate to being lonely. It’s time we stop guilting people into thinking otherwise, and normalize the concept of personal space. 

Or in the words of the famous Moira Rose, “If airplane safety videos have taught me anything, it’s that a mother puts her own mask on first.”