Responding to a line move
- If someone moves the line on you, you have four basic options.
- You can ignore it—but the situation may not improve.
- You can confront the mover—but they could get aggressive in return.
- You could leave the situation—but the mover may not let you go.
- You could recruit help—but this means sacrificing some privacy.
- If you are the mover, there are also things you can do to improve the situation.
- You can make an apology—and there are good and bad ways to make an apology.
- You can make some other kind of repair attempt, although this may be rejected.
- You can give the other person space to resolve their own feelings.
What can you do if someone moves the line on you?
If someone moves the line on you, you have four basic options:
Each of these has pros and cons, and which one you choose depends on your specific situation and what you want to achieve.
Perhaps the most common choice is to ignore the move altogether and pretend as if nothing happened.
We might do this because we genuinely don’t care, but more often we ignore line moves because we weigh up the cost of action—the awkwardness of bringing it up, the stress of a confrontation, the risk of escalation—and we decide it’s not worth the effort or the risk.
This option is easy, but there are downsides:
- If the move really bothers us, it can become a source of resentment that can fester and build.
- The mover might think the line move was accepted or welcome—or at least something they can get away with—and keep doing it to both you and other people.
- And if the mover thinks this type of line move is fine, then eventually other people will too, and that’s how disrespectful behaviour gets normalised.
Another option is to confront the mover. This could mean:
- simply calling the move to their attention and saying how it makes you feel
- or being more assertive and forceful, like shouting and pushing someone away (but avoiding violence, except in the most extreme cases of self-defense).
There are some benefits:
- You make yourself heard, which can be a relief in and of itself.
- You can affect the mover’s behaviour, perhaps getting them to stop or make an apology or some other repair.
- You might also affect the mover’s long-term behaviour, so they don’t do the same thing to you or someone else later.
But there are also costs:
- You might have to deal with feeling awkward, embarrassed or afraid.
- The mover might react badly—getting defensive, avoidant or even violent.
If you’re in an otherwise respectful relationship, it’s good to confront the mover because these exchanges are part of how you learn to get along and interact respectfully with each other. A truly respectful partner will listen and want to find ways to improve the relationship.
If you’re in a disrespectful relationship, you are better off leaving.
In an abusive relationship, confrontation can be more complicated, and leaving or recruiting might be better options.
Another option is to walk away from the situation and/or relationship. This could mean:
- physically moving away from the person
- cutting off contact—not texting, not talking
- ending the relationship entirely.
Again, there are benefits:
- It’s simple; you don’t have to confront anyone, you can just leave and move on.
- You avoid getting sucked into further discussion or conflict. Especially if the mover really doesn’t care about you, then the best option for you might be to put distance between yourself and them.
But there are downsides:
- The mover might block you from leaving or follow you.
- If you’re in an abusive relationship, the mover might be too controlling or possessive to let you leave.
- If your lives are entangled—for instance, you are part of the same friendship group or you live together—then leaving can be really complicated.
- It’s unfair. Why do you have to be the one to leave? If you’re at a party and someone is groping you, why should you have to be the one to move away? The mover is the one who broke the rules, why shouldn’t they be the one to leave?
So in a low-stakes relationship, leaving can be a quick fix. In a more high-stakes, complicated relationship, leaving may not be practical, and you may want to look at the next option, recruiting help.
Finally, we can recruit others to help us respond to the mover. This includes:
- personal supports such as friends and family
- formal supports such as helplines, venue staff or police
- even recruiting random bystanders.
The benefits of recruiting include:
- Social and emotional support. We’re social creatures! You don’t have to deal with line movers alone. Just asking other people to help you (or even just talking to them about the situation) can give you valuable emotional and social support.
- Improved safety. Strength of numbers, and the support of formal authorities such as venue staff or police, can help you maintain personal safety.
- Compensate for power imbalances. Strength of numbers can help you overcome power imbalances in the relationship. Someone might be bigger and stronger than you alone, but not bigger and stronger than you and your squad.
There’s almost no downside to recruiting help. The only real costs are:
- Time and effort. To recruit someone you have to contact them, explain the situation, coordinate with them—maybe it’s not worth the time and effort to you.
- Loss of privacy. Recruiting someone means bringing them inside the situation, but you may fear shame or embarrassment and feel like you want to keep things private.
If a situation is low stakes—a small line move, not a close relationship, no power imbalance—then recruiting might be unnecessary. But for anything bigger, then recruiting could be essential.
What can you do if you’ve moved the line?
Hopefully, if you follow the principles and rules of the Field Model, you won’t move the line on anyone.
But if you do move the line, whether deliberately or by accident, then you have to decide what to do next. There are a range of disrespectful options:
- Deliberately continue to move the line.
- Dismiss or ignore what the other person thinks or feels.
And there are a range of respectful options:
- Make an attempt to repair the hurt or damage.
- Give the other person space.
Deliberately continuing to move the line
There’s not much to say about this except to note it is probably being deliberately cruel, and if this is what you are doing you need to stop, take a step back and think about why you are so intent on hurting another person. What you are doing is at best anti-social, and at worst criminal. Stop.
Dismissing or ignoring what the other person thinks or feels
This is a common defensive response when someone gets confronted for moving the line: they dismiss or ignore the victim, and basically act as if nothing important happened.
While the line mover isn’t deliberately continuing to move the line, dismissing can still be extremely hurtful. If the victim doesn’t feel heard or understood, then they can hold onto their injuries and line moves can fester and build.
The right thing to do is take the victim seriously and attend to what they think or feel.
Making an effective apology
One of the first things you can do if you move the line is apologise.
There are good and bad apologies:
- A good apology shows the victim that you understand what you did, that they are right to be upset, and that you have the self-awareness to not do it again.
- Good apologies are precise and clear: the mover can identify what they did.
- Good apologies aren’t defensive: the mover owns their actions and accepts responsibility.
- Good apologies focus on the impact on the victim, not the motivations or feelings of the mover. The mover can understand and describe how their actions made the victim feel.
- Bad apologies focus on excusing the mover. They become more about why the mover did what they did, or making it seem like no big deal.
That said, apologies don’t have to be a big production. For small line moves, a simple “Sorry!” might be all that’s needed, but for bigger line moves, a more detailed and thorough apology might be necessary.
Making some other repair attempt
An apology is an example of a repair attempt, which is basically anything you might do to repair any kind of breach in a relationship - whether it’s a line move, or just an individual decision you made that hurt or offended the other person.
Other repair attempts might be giving someone a gift, sending a text, making a joke, inviting someone out for a neutral or fun activity.
Repair attempts are important, because even in the best relationships people can hurt each other and someone has to be responsible for trying to patch things up.
The thing to recognise is that the repair attempt needs to be accepted to be effective.
Giving the other person space
If you have moved the line, you might find yourself in a situation where the other person is upset at you and you’re upset at yourself, and you’re trying to make it all right and make the pain and embarrassment go away, and this can lead you to pushing too hard to repair the situation.
As with a bad apology, a bad repair attempt is about easing the suffering of the mover.
Sometimes the other person needs time to calm down and process the situation, and the best thing you can do as a remorseful mover is to give them some space.