Are people typically aware when their feet are touching someone else's?
May 2, 2021 10:54 PM   Subscribe

If someone's feet touch yours (you both are wearing shoes) and they don't remove them right away, would you typically assume that they are flirting? Would your same perception hold true if this happened in a professional setting?
posted by mintchip to Human Relations (25 answers total)
 
I would assume the other person is comfortable or just feeling awkward. I don't really associate feet with flirting. It seems odd to me. But I'm also an autistic queer millennial so that could be affecting things? It seems to be an older person's association in my perspective.
posted by shesaysgo at 11:08 PM on May 2


I would absolutely not assume flirting, and even less in a professional setting.
posted by alchemist at 11:10 PM on May 2 [10 favorites]


Experience on airplanes suggests that my intuition for such things is entirely unreliable.
posted by eotvos at 11:10 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Q1. No I would not conclude that they are flirting.

Are there any other cues?
Are they looking at you while they touch your shoes?
Did they choose to sit next to you?
Are they complimenting you about your shoes while they touch them?
Are they touching your shoes every time you sit next to them?
posted by calgirl at 11:14 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


No. I can't speak for women, but men's shoes are normally pretty hefty and touch-deadening. I wouldn't realise my shoe was against yours (as opposed to say, the table leg) without visually checking.

Also, deliberate, prolonged physical contact in the workplace is not so much flirting as it is a trip to HR, so if it is flirting, it's being done by someone who doesn't understand acceptable behaviour. If this is happening to you in a professional setting, especially but not only if you're a woman, you should consider at the very least making a note of it in case the other person does think they're flirting and escalates their "pursuit".
posted by underclocked at 11:20 PM on May 2 [11 favorites]


I am totally aware when someone's feet touch mine, even in shoes, but then, I'm hyper-sensitive about my feet and don't like them touched. I can think of maybe three people in my life that I've not minded?

As such, it's become very, very obvious over the years that many people can't tell the difference between a non-moving foot and a table leg, until I yank my poor foot away.
posted by stormyteal at 11:27 PM on May 2 [24 favorites]


I have definitely mistaken someone's foot for a table leg before and accidentally done this (I'm a woman, pretty much exclusively wear sneakers if that's relevant).
posted by augustimagination at 11:57 PM on May 2 [14 favorites]


If someone brushed my foot and I moved and then that person and followed me I'd conclude flirting, but otherwise I'd assume my foot got mistaken for a table leg and move it. Maybe I'd apologize as if it were my fault (even if it wasn't) to call attention to hey that's my foot don't do that without making a fuss in a professional setting.

Any time I have flirted with my feet it has
been in the context of a long term relationship, in a setting that would be like a date. Like it has been clearly intentional hi I'm here next to you and isn't that nice have my shoe next to your shoe which doesn't sound flirty at all but subtle touch is a nice thing for some people. Ymmv.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:12 AM on May 3 [11 favorites]


A “friend” of an ex partner touched my foot from across a table in a group social setting. I yanked mine back and he didn't react, so I it was pretty clear that he was trying play footsie. It's happened accidentally a couple times in other social and business situations but there's always been a lighthearted acknowledgement. I have never ever put my foot on or against anything under a table and just assumed it was a table leg.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:31 AM on May 3


Another person here who is extremely aware if my feet is touching anything. Maybe in some circumstances another person may have made contact with my shoe under the table in a professional setting but I immediately move mine in response whether accidental or not. Usually it's an awkward "oops, sorry" situation where they didn't realize it's a person and not a table leg or chair kind of thing.

I would be really uncomfortable if it was intentional and make it crystal clear that such behavior is unacceptable.
posted by VyanSelei at 4:10 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


If a person is diabetic, they may have little sensation of touch in their feet.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:12 AM on May 3


No. Yes.
posted by pompomtom at 5:29 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I would almost always notice. It's not just sense of touch, it proprioception and knowing where your body is. And where other bodies are, and where tables are.

Sure, accidental bumps happen but then usually one party says oops sorry or moves their foot.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:10 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I like to wear shoes with a wide toe box and plenty of space for my feet. I also like chunky shoes and soles. I therefore really cannot tell the difference between a table leg, someone's bag, or a foot. I feel very little through my shoes. I could easily have no idea at all that our feet were touching.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:50 AM on May 3


I very likely would not notice, given my typical shoes are pretty thick and structured. If I did notice, I'd move my foot and assume they'd mistaken me for a table leg, certainly a thing I've done often enough. Work vs. personal setting makes no difference.

If it happened repeatedly that would seem very weird. I don't know if I'd jump immediately to flirting because that's just not a form of flirtation I've ever actually seen or experienced in the wild.
posted by Stacey at 7:20 AM on May 3


I would not assume they were flirting just based on shoe-to-shoe contact.

The one time I "played footsie" at a work cocktail hour with a coworker (we ended up in a serious relationship for several years that outlasted the job), I had slipped my shoe off and was coquettishly stroking his ankle, up above his shoe against his sock and bare skin and he reached under the table (unbeknownst to our coworkers, part of the fun), and was touching my calf with his hands.

Probably at the exact same moment my other shoe might have been resting unmoving against some other coworker's shoe, because it was a crowded family-style table on a bar rooftop that we were all smooshed into.

All that's to say: don't assume anyone is flirting, and if you are trying to flirt, a) be careful with a professional colleague and when in doubt default to clear expression of interest using your words and seeking consent to a clear date outside of professional settings, b) just touching shoes probably isn't going to get the message through.
posted by amaire at 7:24 AM on May 3


I would say that I am, yes, typically aware when my foot is touching someone else's foot but that I have also had occasion to make the mistake that something foot was not-foot. Oops! I have never tried to flirt with my feet other than ironically with the object of my flirtation.
posted by amanda at 7:25 AM on May 3


Even if I *did* notice, I might not move my foot because moving the foot draws attention to the contact.
posted by amtho at 7:40 AM on May 3


I am not a good judge of what is flirting vs not, I know have misinterepreted such things quite a lot back in my younger days. Mostly I found it simpler to assume no one was ever flirting with me unless they said something, it was less embarassing that way. But I was never a target of anything unwelcome in that exact way (unless I just didn't notice?) My experience was more with 'non-consensual shoulder rub' guys, and 'I'm just a hugger' types, rather than footsie guys.

I typically wear hiking boots or other heavy, rigid shoes and would have no idea that a foot was against mine, vs a chair or table leg, unless that foot was moving.

As someone with very poor proprioception, knees that hate staying bent at right angles, and major fidgeting issues, I know for sure I have accidentally touched my foot to my neighbor's at a conference table, many times. To the point where I try to always sit at a corner so I can angle my legs out from under the table. I even annoy myself when forced to sit still, I feel sorry for whoever is stuck next to me.
posted by buildmyworld at 8:09 AM on May 3


I would not assume a mutual flirtation based on shoe proximity alone. Non-flirty possibilities by the contact receiver would include "has neuropathy and doesn't feel much in the lower extremities", "capable of feeling contact but doesn't notice/care much about their personal bubble", "assumes space is tight and everyone pretty much has to touch to fit in at the table", "is expecting a secret but not necessarily flirtatious message to be sent below the table", or "considers the contact to be a non-flirtatious form of reassurance". Some of those might indicate more than a purely professional relationship, or could indicate some crummy/unusual boundaries in the business settings I've been in, but they aren't flirtatious interpretations.

I might assume it was flirtatious in the context of other behaviors though. If the person leaves their foot there, then looks over and smiles, and has been flirting previously, then it's way more likely.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:39 AM on May 3 [2 favorites]


I always notice when someone's foot is touching mine, and I don't like it and move away. I almost never know when my foot is touching someone else's foot vs a table leg unless I see it or it moves (and then if it's a stranger or a business acquaintance I am horrified and embarrassed far beyond what is reasonable). It would not occur to me that someone else touching their foot against mine was flirting unless they repeated it after I moved away, or it was under a bathroom stall or otherwise required straining on their part for their foot to reach mine (ew).
posted by Mchelly at 9:30 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Another vote for it really depends on the shoes involved, and how much else is under the table - I've definitely accidentally rested against someone's foot thinking it was table leg. And as others have stated, generally a flirtatious footsie is more than just two feet making contact - there is usually a bit of movement involved.
posted by coffeecat at 10:08 AM on May 3


A few years ago I heard someone on a podcast talk about how they were in some important meeting, maybe a pitch, and they were tapping their foot quietly and kept hitting a part of the table... and about 30 minutes in, they realized in horror that they had been tapping the leg of the person who was getting the pitch. The foot tapper was a man and the person being tapped was a woman, and he was horrified. I might have the details wrong... but, yeah, someone might not realize they're touching you.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:37 PM on May 3


I’m a very hands-on person with friends and a very hands-off person with colleagues or strangers. I definitely would not let my foot rest against someone else’s if I knew that it was happening.

A direct approach I might take with a colleague (which informs them that either their proprioception or their flirtation is off) would be to move my foot, but say, “That’s my foot! I’ll give you a bit of space.” This assumes best intent and lets them know that they need to pay attention in future. With a stranger, I might do the same, but only say, “Pardon,” while giving them some strong but friendly eye contact.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 7:46 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Additional details: This was not taking place under a table but sitting directly across from (in front of) each other.
posted by mintchip at 8:21 AM on May 4


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