No, this seat isn’t taken
I write this as I sit alone in Bear’s Den, taking up a whole booth to myself.
Dear person endlessly walking around looking for a place to sit,
No, these other three seats aren’t taken. No, you do not have to stand idly by and wait for a table to become completely vacant. And, no, I won’t be disturbed, creeped out or think you’re some kind of psycho if you ask to sit at my table if I don’t know you. I shouldn’t even really call it “my table”—my butt is only taking up one small partition of the cushion. I have no feasible claim on every single one of these seats that just happen to surround mine. I really don’t need all this space for myself. Yet you still wander, looking for your own private corner to claim.
There such a social stigma about siting at a table with someone you don’t know. Lord knows I would never, ever consider—even for a second—sitting at a table where someone else is already sitting. I would just keep looking for a completely barren table upon which to stake my claim and call my own. The problem is when everyone goes through this process, the end result is that a majority of seats are left empty, even though every table is occupied—all because none of us want to feel the social backlash that comes from being in the proximity of a person not expecting our company. Everyone sticks to this unwritten social rule, thereby making the situation worse off than if they would break the rules and sit together. No one wants to be the first defector.
Much of this problem is because of the expectations that come with sitting with someone you do know. Sitting in close proximity naturally implies some degree of socialization. When a group of people get food or go somewhere together, there is a general expectation for everyone to converse and interact to some degree. You rarely see a group of friends eating dinner together in total silence. But if you don’t know the people sitting around you, the social expectations are less clear. Should you introduce yourself and try and make a new friend? Or should you both just sit in awkward silence, trying to avoid eye contact? This uncomfortable predicament forces people to avoid the whole situation all together.
I’m not expecting us to have a full-length conversation or for you to become my new best friend. I understand that you’re just trying scarf down a half-and-half in the short break you have in-between classes and don’t want to have to do so standing up.
I think I don’t just speak for myself when I say that this supposed social rule that exists in the most populous buildings on campus is just dumb and inefficient. The amount of times I’ll walk into the Danforth University Center and see every large circular table in Tisch Commons occupied by only one or two people at a time is staggering. Everyone is worried about interjecting in someone else’s “space” and disrupting the social order. I get that no one wants to be uncomfortable (or make someone else feel uncomfortable), but that discomfort ends up making the use of any of these spaces so impractical. We shouldn’t be stringent about needing to be so isolated every time we aren’t with someone we know. It would be much better if we were to let go of this stigma and allow ourselves to be more open, both to letting others sit around us and sitting around others. So, no, this seat isn’t taken.